is the latest Table Service addition to the Disney Springs dining scene!
Frontera Cocina is headed by Celebrity Chef Rick Bayless. It’s located in the Town Center of Disney Springs, which still has a few eateries on the way throughout the summer; among them, Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Southern Shine and Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza.
Chef Bayless may be best known as the host of the PBS show “Mexico—One Plate at a Time” (though he has received numerous accolades throughout his career), and Frontera Cocina likewise showcases authentic Mexican cuisine.
You’ll find Frontera Cocina right across from Sprinkles (though, since Sprinkles is still new itself, more familiar landmarks are seen just across the walking bridge — spots like Raglan Road and Morimoto Asia).
Now that we know where it is, let’s step inside…
…for our first visit to Frontera Cocina!
Frontera Cocina stands out a bit from the rest of its Town Center neighbors. While most of the surrounding retail spots feature “Mediterranean Revival” architecture, Frontera Cocina’s outdoor color scheme is gray with splashes of red, complete with lots of windows to convey a more modern feel.
Upon stepping inside, the decor changes. Though it still relies on clean lines, bright pops of color become another hallmark.
It’s this somewhat minimalist approach that really helps the eye focus on a few more striking features like the bright chandelier in the front dining room.
It also helps direct some of your attention to the open kitchen, where you can watch the busy chefs (yep, Frontera Cocina is already hoppin’!) preparing the plates.
Another fun element of the decor can be found all over the restaurant: you’ll spy bottles — primarily Tequila — just about everywhere, including all along what’s referred to as the “Wall of Fame” in the main dining room.
While the majority of the seating is in this main area, there is a small dining area in the middle of the restaurant, situated under unique blue lighting fixtures.
The final portion of the indoor seating features the bar (which is brightly lit underneath the counter), which is surrounded by further table seating.
The altogether effect indoors is simple and clean, but still comfortable and approachable. It’s also interesting to see how the overall simplicity plays a nice contrast to the bustling Town Center, which you can see from the windows that line much of the restaurant.
Stepping outside, the outdoor patio is small and tables are basic, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a lovely space…
…especially given the view.
Guests eating on the patio will literally be able to wave to the diners directly across the water at Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Southern Shine when it opens!
While we’re outside, we definitely want to point out the walkup window, which is a great place to try some tacos or margaritas without taking in a full sit-down meal. (It’s located at the back of the restaurant, next to the patio).
But it’s time to head back in for the full experience!
As expected from Chef Rick Bayless, the menu at Frontera Cocina is based on authentic and modern Mexican cuisine.
That’s because the team at La Cava has been working in partnership with Frontera Cocina since well before the opening. You may even spot Hilda Castillo, one of our favorite Tequila Ambassadors, on your visit to Frontera Cocina!
It seems that lots of creativity has gone into the drink menu, which also features plenty of its own beverages, like the Lucy, which begins with pieces of candied mango presented on the bottom of a martini glass.
The mango is poured over with a shaken mix of Por Siempre Sotol (a strong trend in the cocktail arena right now) with fresh carrot juice, Torres orange liqueur, ginger cordial, and fresh lime.
From the color to the flavor, there is nothing shy about this intense drink, which carries something of a bite. Though my friends both found it too “carrot-y” for their liking (it’s definitely not for everyone), I enjoyed it.
My favorite mix of flavors, though, came together in People Watching: Montelobos blanco mezcal, pineapple juice, mint cordial, and Luxardo cherry liqueur with a hormigas negras salt rim. In case you’re unfamiliar with the translation, that would be a blank ant rim. Yep — there are crushed up black ants mixed with the salt. If you look really closely, you can see little legs and antennae.
Yep. My personal preference is to order my drinks without salt (black ants or no 😉 ), but I tend to order as-is for the DFB so you can see items the way they are served. And you want to know the funny thing?
I still can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually kind of liked the rim! Basically, I tried it once, then did the rest of my sipping through the un-rimmed side (La Cava and Frontera are both serving their margs with a half-rim these days, so customers can sample with and without salt)… but going on taste alone, I actually preferred it over regular salt. It was the basic idea of actual ants in the mix that I couldn’t get my head around, more then the flavor. Once you get past that whole thing 😉 , the drink itself carries the fruity flavors with just a hint of mint very well.
(FYI – you can find this same drink, called a Pineapple Margarita, at La Cava.)
All the Pretty Girls is a pleasant mix of St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, fresh grapefruit, and cava.
I was expecting it to be really tart due to the grapefruit, but it was actually very smooth, with an emphasis on the sweet sparkling wine over the citrus.
But since neither man nor woman can live by tequila and sparkling wine alone, it was time to dive into some of the Starters, and there’s no shortage of them here! After all, what beats chips or corn tortillas with… well, just about anything?
The Queso Fundido is melted jacked cheese over roasted poblano peppers and caramelized onions.
It’s served with warm corn tortillas for dipping.
Though the poblano peppers add a hint of smokiness and the onions carry a bit of sweetness adding depth to the flavor, it’s really all about the hot, gooey melted cheese.
With an appetizer this rich, the smart move would typically be to indulge a little, but save some room for everything still to come. In this case, though, the smarter move — which is the one we made — is to Eat. It. ALL. It was just too good not to.
We also tried the Bacon Guacamole served with tortilla chips.
The guacamole was incredibly fresh and rich, and my only suggestion would be… more bacon.
Now, I know that comes off like an easy little joke to throw out, but I really I would have loved to have had the bacon dispersed throughout the whole dip, as opposed to just sprinkled on top, because the salty bacon with the creamy avocado pairs together so well. It’s totally addictive.
We also received the house salsas on the side, which were a smoky chipotle and herby salsa verde.
Both were tasty (the chipotle isn’t smoky in name only — it really has a great smoky flavor), but we had a bigger challenge to tackle.
Because we couldn’t resist the chance to try the Atomic Guacamole with habanero salsa, which is also served with chips. After all, this is Disney World, where most menu items shy away from very much spice… how “atomic” can it really be?
As it turns out… VERY! Our server gave us plenty of warning regarding the level of heat, emphasizing that the goal was to provide a very authentic experience with the amount of habanero salsa present with the guacamole (which helps to cut the spice a bit). The intense heat kicked in instantly.
I enjoy some good kick, but this dish is made for the tried-and-true fans of heat out there. That said, I had a lot of fun trying it. My friend brought up the good point that it’s very much a pepper-y heat, as opposed to a hot-sauce heat (the kind that draws sweat out of your pores). It stays on the tongue for a bit, but dissipates after a short time so you can enjoy the rest of your meal. So, Heat Seekers rejoice! There’s something for you here!
Even after all that, it was time to move on to our Entrees.
The Shrimp Mojo de Ajo features Mazatlan blue shrimp with mojo de ajo sauce served over plantain rice.
The plump shrimp were incredibly savory, thanks to the hefty dose of garlic in the sauce.
This is a great find for shrimp lovers, and makes me suspect that the Shrimp Enchiladas Suizas are likely another winner.
More than anything, though, I had been looking forward to trying the Carnitas, since the first episode of “Mexico–One Plate at a Time” I ever saw focused on the dish. The slow-cooked pork shoulder is served with refried black beans and guacamole.
The nicely crisped, mildly seasoned edges surrounding the flavorful pork was everything I had hoped it would be. And the portion here, which looked fairly standard at first glance, was HUGE once we started digging in.
My takeaway here… I guess you don’t become a celebrity chef for nothin’ 😉 .
We included a selection from the Tacos and Tortas section of the menu among our entrees.
We chose the Carne Asada for Soft Tacos (though it’s worth noting that our neighbors at the next table raved about the Mushroom Torta). As expected, more warm tortillas came alongside for the taco makings, along with guacamole (non-atomic 😉 ), salsa verde, and a heaping helping of peppers. Refried black beans are also served on the side.
The meat was well prepared; nicely tender with a hint of pink center. And the guacamole and salsa all came together to make for some pretty stellar tacos.
But if you’re going for meat, I still have to hand my recommendation to the Carnitas, which were just such a standout.
No matter which entree you choose, I can’t suggest strongly enough that you pick up some sides to share at your table.
We opted for the Fried Plantains and Queso Anejo Mashed Potatoes.
Actually, you may want to disregard what I said about sharing once you take your first bite of the Queso Anejo Mashed Potatoes, made with Yukon potatoes and aged Cotija cheese.
Even with the great texture variations from the chunks of potato and skin throughout the dish, the potatoes are still somehow melt-in-your-mouth smooth, with just the right amount of cheese pumping up the flavor. Do yourself a favor and order these. Even though it’s simply a side item, it’s memorable.
The Fried Plantains also utilize the Cotija cheese, which tops the plantains along with cream.
The rich and creamy topping provided a nice contrast to the sweet, slightly caramelized plantains.
This does make a great side dish, but you’ll see the fried plantains again on the next menu that comes your way, so you may want to hold off once you find out where they show up next…
When the menu for Frontera Cocina was first revealed, I was a little surprised by the small dessert menu, which only has three choices accompanied with some coffee options using Sparrow Coffee.
I would have been seriously tempted by the Platano Sundae had we not chosen the plantains as a side item. We went with the Coconut Lime Quatro Leches instead.
Coconut milk is what turns the typical Tres Leches cake into a Quatro Leches cake in this case, which is great news for us coconut fans (along with the generous slices of toasted coconut on the top).
The moist sponge cake and whipped topping provided a nice, lighter ending (speaking about texture, that is — not calories) to a meal where we had come very close to eating every bite on our well-packed table. But, of course, we didn’t stop there!
I have to admit, when I read the words Pecan Pie Bar on the menu, my initial reaction was… “Huh?” It just didn’t seem to fit in among the other options, which are more naturally associated with the restaurant’s cuisine. But the presence of the Pecan Pie Bar made much more sense once our server explained that the original recipe belonged to Rick Bayless’s grandmother.
My hesitations about the Pecan Pie Bar disappeared right after I took my first bite. My thoughts went from “meh” to “WOW.” Though I would’ve preferred the ice cream to be a hard-scooped vanilla bean (as opposed to soft-serve — seriously?! soft-serve at this level of restaurant?), there are no complaints at all about the fudgy, dense bar itself, with the pecan providing just a bit of crunch along with an aftertaste that really did bring to mind pecan pie.
With thanks to our server and the clearly enthusiastic and fun staff, it was time to grab our leftover bag holding what little remained on the table, and say goodbye to Frontera Cocina.
As always for a first run, we’ve got some logistics to give ya! Frontera Cocina does not yet accept Tables in Wonderland, but it is a participant on the Disney Dining Plan as a one-credit Table Service meal.
The rollout for reservations at Frontera Cocina has been… less than smooth. Originally, reservations were available through Open Table. However, it appears the release of tables came earlier than the restaurant intended, and original reservations for late June via that system were cancelled with options not showing up again until July 21st. Our original Open Table reservation, though, was still in the system and was honored. So if you do have an Open Table reservation for these first weeks, you may want to give Frontera Cocina (407-560-9197) a call to verify that you’re still in the system just to be certain.
Primarily, though, the location will remain very walk-in friendly in these opening weeks. Advance Dining Reservations are now available through the Disney World reservation system for dates beginning July 23rd. Though the opening reservation situation was frustrating, I’m glad to say that it didn’t ruin what was ultimately a truly terrific dining experience.
Because that’s what I’ll remember about Frontera Cocina: terrific food, a lively staff, and a great place to enjoy a really wonderful meal with friends or family. It’s an excellent addition to the Town Center, and definitely worthy of receiving a LOT of consideration among your ever-expanding list of options in Disney Springs!
Contributing to this post: Tina, Wendy, and AJ
Are you hoping to dine at Frontera Cocina? Please let us know with a comment!