The place to go for food that reflects the many cooking traditions of Mexico is Frontera Cocina, a table service restaurant located in Walt Disney World’s Disney Springs. And the mantra of the restaurant’s owner and leader, Chef Rick Bayless, is all about seasonality and respect for Mexican ingredients, methods, and food culture.
That’s why you’ll find that the menu at Frontera Cocina changes with some regularity, reflecting both the season and the vibrancy of Mexican food. Chef Bayless is world-renowned for his cooking, which he has shared on his show, Mexico: One Plate at a Time and Top Chef Masters. And if you’ve had the pleasure of hearing him talk about cuisine on these programs or podcasts over the years, you already know how much he cares about his craft.
And so it was great to see the chef out and about in his Disney Springs restaurant during a media preview for Frontera Cocina’s new seasonal menu and Taste of Oaxaca menu. Also on hand were entertainers who will be at the restaurant from time to time through early November to celebrate Dia de los Muertos.
We were invited to preview the new menus, and it was a good opportunity to return to Frontera Cocina. Previous specialty menus have delivered, but other visits to the restaurant have been more mediocre or fallen flat.
First up was the Taste of Oaxaca.
We started with three Featured Drinks, each unique and using ingredients specially curated for quality and impact. The Oaxaca Daiquiri was our favorite drink of the night, crafted as it was with a genuinely unique rum. (More on that in a moment!)
Aside from the delicious Paranubes Oaxacan rum, the Daiquiri is comprised of banana, guanabana liquor, and agave nectar. It’s served frozen with a brown sugar-chia seed rim.
This unusual rim was delicious with the sweetness of the drink. But this one is strong… and tastes potent. On the other hand, the fruitiness was so delicious, you might get over the strength of the alcohol even if that taste isn’t typically your preference.
One ingredient behind the Oaxaca Daiquiri’s delicious uniqueness is the Paranubes Rum, which is derived from plantains. It’s that custom flavor which drives the drink.
Our server brought us a shot of the rum so we could sample it on its own, and we have to say, we’ve never tasted anything like it — in a good way!
The Mezcalita is Banhez mezcal, Ancho Reyes liquor, orange juice, and chocolate bitters. It’s a lovely color, owing to the orange juice.
This drink is a delightful, balanced combination of smoky mezcal and sweet orange. And while the chocolate bitters add an unexpected element, it’s more of an aftertaste. The Mezcalita was the least memorable of the drinks, but it’s also the least intimidating (read: strong!) of the three drinks we tried. Note that mezcal really does have a much smokier flavor than tequila, so if you don’t like that element in your cocktails, skip this one.
We also enjoyed the Mexican Chocolate Martini, which basically tasted like Christmas in a glass. Comprised of Montelobos mezcal, chocolate liqueur, and Avión espresso tequila liqueur, this is a strong drink that’s easy (a little too easy, maybe!) to drink. And that rim: it tastes like cocoa and brown sugar. Totally tasty.
Food at Frontera has been hit or miss for us, but the guac has always been good. But this time was a bit different… .We started with an updated version of guacamole — Guacamole with Chile Lime Chapulines.
As ever the chips were a great base for the fresh, flavorful guac. And unlike some Mexican restaurants, these aren’t greasy and unnecessarily heavy.
If you were wondering what chapulines are, they’re grasshoppers. Yep. Chef Bayless doesn’t include insects for shock value, though; rather his intention is to celebrate the cuisine of Oaxaca, where grasshoppers are a popular ingredient to provide texture and protein. And in our experience, it’s really the texture that the chapulines provide, rather than a powerful flavor.
But, yeah. Still grasshoppers. So…wanted to warn you about that one.
Along with the guac and chips come the restaurant’s two classic salsas: chipotle and salsa verde.
Entrees for the Taste of Oaxaca started with the rich Roasted Bone-In Beef Shortrib.
Served with Cotija mashed potatoes, sauteed Swiss chard, crispy onions, and toasted peanuts, the shortrib is roasted for 12 hours!
The Cotija mashed potatoes were the big stand-out. They were rich and creamy without being heavy, and they were excellent with the beef. (These are also available as a side order on the regular menu, so don’t miss these!)
The play of textures is fantastic here. We loved the simple fried onions, which added a lot of visual interest as well as flavor.
The dish is enhanced by a roasted peanut mole, which is as complex as you’d expect!
The peanuts are a surprising addition — and they’re here in two forms: toasted as a garnish and roasted in the mole. But they work really well, both adding to the dish rather than overwhelming it.
Did we mention the shortrib is roasted for TWELVE HOURS? Totally worth it when you see how fork-tender and pleasant the meat is. Our server told us this dish is the culinary team’s favorite, and we can totally see why!
The next entree, though, was our favorite. Oaxacan Mole Chicken. It’s gorgeous to look at, with the dark, developed Oaxacan red mole making a major statement.
The simplicity of the basic components here are a foil to the complex, highly-finessed mole, which you can bet was cooked over several hours. The base of the dish is plantain rice.
The plantains are soft and fruity, which works with the various notes in the mole.
The protein is a crispy half chicken, bone-in. It remains moist — not always a given.
The red mole is set off by garnishes of sesame seeds and cilantro.
And to top it all off, you also receive warm corn tortillas to wrap.
The Taste of Oaxaca ends with dessert. First up — the Bunuelitos.
The dessert was crispy and creamy, sweet and salty, cinnamon and chocolate. (Okay, those last two might be diner-specific, but you get it.)
Bunuelitos consists of crispy flour tortillas, cajeta-caramel mousse, red wine drizzle, raw sugar, Mexican cinnamon, dark chocolate shavings, mezcal-infused dried cranberries, and roasted almonds. It sounds like a lot, right?
The chocolate, cranberries, and nuts sprinkled atop the freshly-fried tortilla make their way into every bite.
We really enjoyed this one.
But, y’all, we didn’t stop after this. We had a whole new seasonal menu left to try.
Thank goodness we started with something light — the Frontera Harvest Salad.
The peppery arugula and shaved Brussels sprouts are a good combination of greens, and they’re tossed with goats cheese, mezcal-infused cranberries, bacon, and pomegranate seeds. This is all carefully dressed with cilantro-serrano vinaigrette.
There’s nothing heavy about this salad, but the creamy goat cheese helps to make it feel like a meal. Order it without bacon, and you don’t miss having a meat at all. Vegetarians unite for this one!
When we told Chef Bayless how much we enjoyed it, you could tell he and his team really put their hearts into this one. It’s in no way a throwaway dish simply added for the vegetarians; it’s a winner for any diner.
Herby Spicy Grilled Swordfish
The swordfish grilled and well-cooked. The char from the grill gives it the distinctive grilled flavor, too.
The Herby-Spicy of this dish is in the sauce that tops the fish. It’s packed with flavor with a nice saltiness as well. We hit on lots of garlic and pepper.
The base of the dish is plantain rice, which, again, serves the purpose of absorbing the sauces and juices from the protein. There’s also some Swiss chard under there.
The cilantro-serrano aioli is a good addition, although the fish doesn’t necessarily need it.
You get a wedge of lime, too. That acid can cut through the savory fish.
The Chile Roasted Cauliflower Gratinado was least memorable of all the food we tried. The sauce is tomato-based and overpowered the cauliflower — which isn’t entirely surprising.
It’s comprised of interesting components: golden raisins, toasted sesame seeds, and crunchy Cotija cheese. And the topping is texturally satisfying. But overall, it’s a little washed out.
The Spiced Pumpkin Tart dessert offered a graham cracker tart crust, pumpkin espuma, whipped cajeta cream, and candied spiced pumpkin seeds.
It’s pumpkin done in a thoughtful way, lightened up as an espuma — essentially a foam — but rich due to the whipped cajeta cream. Overall, it’s really satisfying and tasty.
Our experience at this event was a good one. While Frontera doesn’t always deliver, these new menus are an interesting and engaging choice if you’re visiting Disney Springs during the holiday season.
Have you been to Frontera Cocina? Let us know what you thought about your experience!
Disclosure: In nearly all circumstances, Disney Food Blog writers and photographers pay full price for their own travel, hotel, food, beverage, and event tickets. We do this because it’s important to us as journalists to ensure not only that we give you unbiased opinions, but also that you can trust us to do so since we’re paying our own way. On rare occasions, when we are invited by a company to attend a preview as media, and when we choose to accept that invitation, we will always make you, our readers, aware of that situation. Today, we were invited by Frontera Cocina to attend their media preview for their new menus. Note that when we attend events as media we are 1) Not required to review that event/food on any of our channels, and 2) Not required to review that event/food favorably. You can always count on DFB to give you a 100% unbiased and honest review of any event that we attend, food that we eat, or beverage that we drink. You can see more in our Disclosure Policy. Thank you for reading. — AJ