Animal Kingdom Lodge is a mecca for unique dining at Walt Disney World.
Whether you’re sampling the buffet at Boma, selecting stellar wines at Jiko, or digging into soulful food at Sanaa, Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Jambo House and Kidani Village have always been destination eating.
And it’s clear to see why. From the moment that you set foot into one of these restaurants, you are embraced by the warm atmosphere and intrigued by the art of Africa all around you. And then there’s the aroma, which you know means amazing eats await.
Sanaa is the newest of the three Animal Kingdom Lodge restaurants, and it’s made its mark on guests since day one. We’ve loved the Indian-Style Bread Service every time we’ve tried it, and the Butter Chicken has stood the test of time.
But I’d been hearing from some of our readers and followers that Sanaa’s time was up. That the experience there wasn’t living up to the hype and the food just wasn’t what it used to be. So I made a reservation and headed over ASAP to experience it again for myself.
Sanaa is themed and highly visual, with artwork greeting guests from the moment they arrive. The sign outside the restaurant is surrounded by woven baskets of various designs. And while they are stationary, something about their arrangement is still energetic.
Sanaa Lounge offers potential for walk-up guests who want to drink a little African wine or a unique cocktail — or who want to taste one or more of Sanaa’s signature appetizers!
Inside the restaurant proper, you’ll feel like you’ve entered an artist’s rendering of a cozy forest. Around and above you are trees, their canopies wide and dark. You’ll also see depictions of African art — like pillars that look like stacked drums — and lovely woven and wooden pieces.
Seating varies, including cozy banquets upholstered in beautiful batik fabrics and carved wooden tables and chairs.
And don’t be surprised if you’re joined by some of Animal Kingdom Lodge’s permanent residents — including zebra, giraffe, and crowned cranes. All saunter by on the savannah throughout the day.
But while the animals are content to munch on the grasslands, what should the humans eat? Come, I’ll show you!
Sanaa features a terrific selection of specialty cocktails, non-alcoholic specialties, draft beer, bottled beer, and typical soft drinks on its drink menu.
You can see on the bottom of the Drinks Menu the listing for Indian-Style Bread Service. That was my first stop. And it was an easy choice to make. The Indian-Style Bread Service gives you a choice of five breads and three accompaniments — unless you’re like me and you just have to try them all. That option exists, too!
Bread choices include Traditional Naan, Garlic-Ginger Naan, Spiced Naan, Onion Kulcha, or Paneer Paratha. On this visit I went with three traditional naan with three different butters — regular, garlic, and sriracha (!!!) — one paneer paratha (flatbread with Indian-style cheese in the dough), and an onion kulcha.
When I say all the accompaniments, this is what I mean: nine specially prepared Indian-style sauces to eat with the bread. The sauces include (on the right, front to back) Garlic Pickle, Coriander Chutney, Spicy Jalapeno-Lime Pickle, and Red Chile Sambal and (on the left, front to back) Red Pepper Hummus, Tomato-Date Jam, Tamarind Chutney, Mango Chutney, and Cucumber Raita.
The sauces are complex and exceptional. And each has a unique flavor profile, showcasing the wonder that is the world of Indian sauces. I like to combine flavors, making this a fun, interactive part of the meal at Sanaa. For example, the cooling Cucumber Raita pairs well with the spicier Red Chili Sambal, and the tart Tamarind Chutney goes well with the potent Garlic Pickle.
And as if that Bread Service wasn’t marvelous enough, look who joined me. I figured this crane was ready for its close-up (and wanted in on my bread!). But in reality, the Sanaa windows have a mirror-like coating on them that makes it difficult for the animals to see inside (makes sense), so this fella was actually just preening at a view of himself.
My server said that this particular location was kind of a “home base” for these birds, since the larger animals can’t get to the area so close to the building.
Anyway, back to the food. The Bread Service is quite filling, but you’ll want to eat all of it because it’s just that good. And it’s STILL that good. No drop-off in excellence with the Sanaa cult classic appetizer IMO. Still, sharing might help you to save space for the entrees here because they are also fantastic.
First up is Mishkaki. This dish consists of Gingered Braai Beef Kabab with Kenyan Mukimo and Braised Greens. Braai refers to the cooking process for the beef, which entails using tongs rather than forks to turn the meat, thus preventing the escape of the meat’s succulent juices.
The Kenyan Mukimo is the green mashed side in the background, which is traditionally a combination of Potatoes, Pumpkin Leaves (or other greens), Peas, and Corn. This version was delicious and a nice partner to the flavorful beef. Meanwhile the Braised Greens were terrific — a savory combination of chopped collard greens, tomatoes, and spices.
This was easily one of my favorite dishes of the day. The meat was cooked just right, the flavors were great, and I loved the uniqueness (but still totally picky-eater-friendly) Mukimo.
The Sanaa Burger looks simple — but there’s a little more to it than you’d think. It’s a thick, juicy beef patty served on a Naan Bun and topped with Spiced Mustard and Peppadew-Goat Cheese. Sides include Sanaa Chips and pickle spear. You’ll also get a little red onion and lettuce on the side in case you want to add them to the burger.
The bun itself was soft enough to enjoy but sturdy enough to control that thick patty. And the meat was flavorful and perfectly cooked. Picky eaters might be able to get by with this — but ask for the sauces on the side because they do have unique flavors. For those with more adventurous tastes, skip the burger — there are other great options on the Sanaa menu that are worth your while.
My final entree of the day was the Boerewores Sausage Sandwich. This traditional South African sausage consists of various cuts of meat mixed with spices like cloves, nutmeg, and coriander. This version was good, and the texture was there. The sandwich comes with and benefits from the Balsamic-Glazed Red Onions and Confit Cherry Tomatoes that accompany it.
But I wanted the sausage itself to be a bit more flavorful than it was. It didn’t capture me like the Mishkaki did.
One of the more popular options at Sanaa is the Potjie Inspired. This dish allows diners to select two (not so) small dishes alongside a serving of Basmati Rice. Diners choose one item from Journey (Goan Seafood Curry, Butter Chicken, Braised Beef, or Spicy Durban Shrimp) and one item from Harvest (Aloo Masala, Chickpea Wit, Lentil Dhal, Paneer Tikka, or Cilantro-Coconut Vegetables).
I went with Butter Chicken and Paneer Tikka (Chicken and Cheese — my favorites! ;-D). The Butter Chicken is a heavily spiced (flavor spicy, not hot spicy) sauce in which chicken has stewed. The sauce includes butter (or ghee) and is super rich. This has been a favorite of mine at Sanaa for YEARS.
Paneer Tikka is another flavorful sauce, this time with a tomato and yogurt base. The paneer is soft, mild Indian-style cheese, cubed, and often described as a solid cottage cheese.
There’s a reason these are some of Sanaa’s most popular dishes. They’re still incredible and well worth an order.
You might think all of that was sufficient, but on this visit, I wanted to try several desserts. And so I did! All of them save for the Letite Creme.
African Triple Mousse consists of layers of Manjari 64% Dark Chocolate Mousse from Madagascar, Jivara Chocolate Mousse, and Ivoire White Chocolate Mousse. These top a Chocolate Biscuit. Strawberry compote and fresh berries garnish the dish. There’s also some tasty crumble on the plate, which helps to break up all the soft textures.
Overall, this was kind of meh. It’s beautiful, but the flavors weren’t there for me and I really wasn’t impressed. So I’d say skip this one.
The Chocolate-Orange Tart comes in a stunning tart shell and consists of Blood Orange Crémeux, Chocolate Mousse, Candied Blueberries, and Orange Gel. The plating is artistic, with chocolate mousse domes accenting the top of the tart.
The Orange Cremeux is beautiful: smooth, tangy, and sweet. It paired well with the chocolate, and those blueberries were a really interesting foil. Overall, this one was fine, especially if you like stronger flavors. But still wasn’t a favorite.
Serradura is plated simply with Butterscotch Pudding, Almond Coffee Streusel, Pineapple, Mango, and Breton Shortbread. It’s kind of a small portion, but the pudding itself was killer. Smooth and rich, I basically couldn’t stop eating it! Definitely should be a consideration for you!
This last dessert is the most fun — and the most delicious — of the four I tried.
Now to preface, “candy bars” have been common on many dessert menus lately. Most of the time they’re cake or mousse based without any real resemblance to “candy,” and without a whole lot of flavor. So much so that I’ve actually avoided ordering these candy bars on most dessert menus because they’re always a disappointment.
But THIS WAS DIFFERENT, MY FRIENDS. The Spice Road Candy Bar is a Coconut, Apricot, Caramel, Pistachio, and Cashew Bar coated with Milk Chocolate, topped with Chai Cream, Pistachio Crumb, and Apricot Gelee. It definitely sounds like a lot, right? But it’s basically the best Snickers bar I’ve ever eaten.
This is no cop-out. It’s a straight up candy bar, and a gourmet one at that. Caramel, nuts, coconut, and a milk chocolate coating — it’s truly amazing. And the fruity elements with the chocolate — again in this dish! — work well. Particularly with the coconut inside, which is slightly sweet and a nice addition to the bar.
Excellent way to end the meal! THIS is the dessert you choose when you’re at Sanaa.
Nosh or Not?
Embrace Sanaa if:
- You love the feeling of Animal Kingdom Lodge and want to spend time in its warm, welcoming restaurants.
- You enjoy trying foods that are a little more uncommon in this country.
- You like consistently awesome food and unique dining experiences.
Skip Sanaa if:
- You don’t plan on spending any time at Animal Kingdom Lodge and don’t want to go out of your way to dine here.
- You prefer food that’s less adventurous.
- You don’t care for table service dining during your WDW vacation — you just wanna ride Expedition: Everest already!
Welp, in my experience, Sanaa still got it. I’m not discounting my readers’ and followers’ less-than-stellar experiences, and those should definitely be noted and considered since I heard from several people that Sanaa wasn’t living up to expectations. But on my recent visit, it was just as charming and delicious as always, and the service was attentive, knowledgable, and personable.
Great food, good service, a view that’s 100% unique to this restaurant — absolute bonuses that create a recommended dining experience. But the food itself has the power to transport diners to another place. And that’s what Sanaa’s all about. It means “work of beauty” in Swahili, and, for me, it still rings true.
What’s been your experience with Sanaa? Let us know in the comments.