Legend has it that Disney Springs was settled in the mid-1800s by a cattle rancher who discovered the town’s namesake springs and the town subsequently expanded from the springs outwards. It is a legend, though, created by Walt Disney Imagineering, and planted in this area that resembles other coastal towns throughout Florida.
Disney Springs’ 120 acres include four district areas: West Side, Town Center, The Landing, and Marketplace. I was glad to find free parking on the surface and any of the color-coded garages (Orange, Lime, and Grapefruit) to visit new places and old favorites alike.
You see, last time I was in Orlando, this was all part of Downtown Disney, which had evolved from the Disney Village Marketplace and Pleasure Island. The Springs, Town Center and The Landing were all parking lots back then, and so much more fun to explore now.
While in Walt Disney World, and the surrounding area, you can find plenty of Disney Springs restaurants, and chains like Planet Hollywood, the Rainforest Café, STK, City Works (their Peanut Butter Snickers Cup is still awesome), Starbucks, and even the House of Blues. But you’ll also find that Disney Springs food improved the selection and nutrition value over the past 50 years.
When I checked Disney Springs with a fresh eye (my first time here as a travel writer), I was impressed to find a couple of Disney Spring restaurants that even pre-dated Disney. Or so they say.
We were a Disney family before Walt Disney World opened on October 1, 1971, with my parents honeymooning in the area before WDW opened. They took us to Disney in the mid- ‘70s, when WDW still used the ticket system rather than a daily fee, and my mother was dubbed Snow White, my father, Prince Charming, with the seven of us trailing them like little ducks, it was someone there at the parks that dubbed us the Seven Dwarfs.
I was always Doc, the other doctorate holder in the family Happy, and my oldest sister still proudly recalling herself as Dopey. Any time we saw our matching character was a good time for those memories. It was even a family-made Jeopardy question for my dad’s birthday one year.
When my daughter was little, I lost about 10 pounds taking her to the Disney parks for 3 days and the cruise on the Wonder for 4. I just couldn’t eat any more burgers, fries, chicken fingers, or hot dogs. Somehow, I don’t think that’s going to happen anymore. The options have improved too much.
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13 Best Disney Springs Restaurants
1640 Buena Vista Dr // +14079380300
With our home in Dublin, it’s hard for us to pass up this Disney Springs Irish Pub. And this one has two different areas. The true pub side is Raglan Road with outside seating not far from a forged statue of Irish poet Patrick Kavanaugh, seated on a bench with room for a photo opportunity. The hostess told me the two restaurants share the same space.
They have Irish music and dancing in the evenings and some fun merchandise in the store, from Irish sayings to Trinity College Dublin merchandise.
The names on the brunch menu make me smile. “Nom Nom Wings” or “Rack of Heaven” … though the latter is a Guinness glazed full rack of baby back ribs, so that seems pretty appropriate.
The “Kiss Before Shrimp” name helps remind you to kiss your loved one (unless they’re eating it, too) before you try it. It’s powerful garlic and chili lemon butter sauce that you may be secreted from your pores for days to come.
If you are checking Disney Springs restaurants for a great Irish breakfast, this is your spot. Purchase the “Full Irish” with Cheshire heritage pork Irish banger, black & white pudding, bacon, roasted tomato, mushrooms, and fried eggs with roasted potatoes.
For a truly safe bet, try the “OMG Burger.” It’s a short rib and brisket beef burger, and the Irish bacon is good, Dubliner Irish cheddar sharp, and the crispy potato straws are yummy, but it’s the Jameson Irish whiskey BBQ sauce that tends to garner the OMG response.
At dinner time, head back for Cookes, said to have been established in 1934. I couldn’t find any match in Ireland, but don’t let that dissuade you, the food is fresh and delicious. Choose from their famous fish ‘n chips, pie of the day, hog in a box (pork shoulder), chicken sandwich, Cookes Classic Battered Burger, BBQ Dream Burger, or Buffalo Chicken Sandwich.
While I hold the Dubliner Cheese, the Dubliner Burger gets my vote. The sirloin burger is perfectly cooked to the well done I prefer, and the garlic mayonnaise is a nice combination with their ketchup. I still can’t do the crushed peas, but it’s a common thing to see here or back in Dublin.
Pleasure Island Boat Dock // +14079395277
Established in 1955, the Hangar Bar is a Disney Springs restaurant that may pre-date Walt Disney World. The information I found confirmed that it was modeled after the Indiana Jones’ movies, which was no surprise after I heard a cast member say, “We don’t accept artifacts in payment.” No one could tell me that the restaurant existed before Disney Springs. One of those Imagineering marvels, I suspect.
Now serving tapas-style dining with shareable plates, it’s easy to enjoy a Happy Hour here. Especially since it starts at noon. They said it’s always been that way, not specific to the pandemic, but perhaps due to the aging population in Central Florida.
The Air Pirates Cargo Loaded Pretzel was delicious and one I’d have again and again. The snakebite sliders worried me a little too much to try – let me know if you’re more adventurous. The flatbreads were popular at many surrounding tables, as were the chicken wings and Doctor Astorga’s Queso Dip.
The Seasonal Tacos (fish for me) and the Satipos Empanadas have become family favorites – just the right combination of flavors and savoriness with enough acid to balance it all out.
Disney Springs, 1560 E Buena Vista Dr // +14075603696
Tucked under a bridge like your favorite little secret, the hideaway wasn’t open when I was there, but I’d really like to get back to see it. The ambiance in the seating area under the walking overpass is calm and exclusive. The chicken parmesan looks delicious, and their promise of gelato sounds like a delicious combination.
Without the romantic date, you can check out the full restaurant above the bridge… complete with a pizzeria, seafood, and grill. It’s crowded and cheerful and filled with that happy buzz of contented consumers.
1620 E Buena Vista Dr // +14079392628
One of the more entertaining entrances with Amphicars coming in or out of the water, the Oyster Bar Neon Sign will capture your attention in this otherwise calm, collected corner.
With their heavy concentration on fresh shellfish, we knew this would be more my daughter’s speed than mine, but I was up for the challenge. The environment is so cheerful, with boat equipment and motors hanging from the walls.
Their raw bar keeps a large supply of oysters on the half shell, then wild-caught sea of Cortez shrimp, Yellowfin Tuna Poke (my daughter loves the avocado, mango, and soy lime vinaigrette), or jumbo lump crab and avocado.
Their market-fresh fish that day included a coriander seared yellowfin tuna, Gulf of Mexico red grouper, and cedar-planked Gulf of Maine Salmon. With my penchant for Copper River cedar-planked salmon, I thought the latter would be a great choice. It really was. Served with green beans, new potatoes with a lemon vinaigrette, it was deliciously filling.
My daughter does like the thinly sliced truffle fries and their lemon aioli didn’t last as long as the fries. They happily supplied more. We both agreed this was one of the best places to eat in Disney Springs.
She’ll like the Firecracker Shrimp next time we’re in the area. I’ve already got my eye on the grilled Mahi tacos. Or the Gibsons Heritage Steaks. I know they’re USDA Blue Star Heritage Angus Beef and I think they’re from Australia. Next time I’m back, I’ll ask for more of the story.
1676 E Buena Vista Dr // +14078288739
Want some dinosaur fun with the jungle jeep parked right out in front? Stop at T-Rex Café, operated by Landry’s Restaurants.
If you’ve got a large group, you may want to try the Supersaurus Sampler of appetizers while you wait for your meal. It includes meatballs, boneless wings, chili con queso, Caprese flatbread, mozzarella sticks, and pork spareribs. Definitely enough to help any hangry children or adults.
The server told us that the Whiskey Salmon & Shrimp is one of the more popular choices but for a lighter choice, the “Tar Pit Fried Shrimp” was a great choice.
There are burgers and sandwiches, soups & salads, and prehistoric pasta with your choice of chicken or shrimp.
But for carnivores, you can go with a meteor meatloaf, boneyard buffet, Mes-O-Bones, or Triassic Trio. It’s great fun to look through the names and imagine what your kids might enjoy.
This time, for me, I just couldn’t bring myself to try the Chocolate Extinction – though it looked super tempting – so it was time for the Jurassic Salad with nice crunchy celery and carrots to balance the lettuce.
Walking out the door, you’ll find the Marketplace Causeway that takes you right over to the Lego Store and their latest masterpiece. It was hard for me to declare a winner between the Star Wars and the Frozen tableaus, but the look of relaxation on Elsa’s face took the cake for me that day.
1590 Buena Vista Drive Orlando // +14079343700
Ready for something fresh and light? Check out Paradiso 37 where dishes from across the Americas – from poutines to quesadillas Argentina can tickle your taste buds and re-energize you to get back to shopping or return to the Parks.
Baja Fish Tacos from Peru was my favored choice. Light and fluffy, with savory corn salsa and sharp coleslaw, were a great choice. Three tacos were a little much for me but were easy to share.
The San Juan-style Beef Empanadas will be my next choice, though I kinda wish they were from the San Juan Islands rather than San Juan, Argentina as the server thought these were, there’s no reason other than I’d been there already. Argentina is still on the “someday” list.
My daughter says the veggie burger or (maybe and?) the South American Crazy Corn is next on her list.
1670 Buena Vista Dr // +14079342628
If this steamboat looks familiar to you, you’ve got a good eye. Originally known as Empress Lilly, named for Lillian Disney, Walt Disney’s widow, it held entertainment and dining areas for 20 years, until it closed in 1995. It opened as Fulton’s Crab House for another 20 years (1996-2016) and was then remodeled into the current iteration, Paddlefish, with new smokestacks and paddlewheel installed.
The steamboat is permanently moored (I think) at the pier with indoor and outdoor seating. In the middle of the afternoon, flames shot from the smokestacks from somewhere in the area. I think it was from Paddlefish since the Lego Loch Ness Monster was facing the other direction.
Sitting outdoors (starboard), you have a nice view of the Boathouse, but if you’re closer to the bow, you can watch out over the lake as the transport to some of the resort hotels ferries guests back and forth.
Lunch starts (appetizers) include crab cakes, calamari, jumbo lump crab topped fries, beef skewers, fried green tomatoes, and sausage & peppers.
If you like chilled and raw seafood, you will likely enjoy the ahi poke, shrimp cocktail, crab ceviche, or crab guacamole.
My daughter’s good with the soup & salad combo. She likes New England Clam Chowder and this concoction includes bacon and potatoes in the creamy soup. The green salad is made of romaine hearts, cucumber, grape tomatoes, red onions with a savory roasted shallot vinaigrette. Alternatively, you could choose their Caesar salad, wedge salad, or Caprese salad.
Her choice for main was a tougher one. They have a stuffed cod with shrimp & scallop cornbread stuffing, asparagus, red potato, and mustard cream sauce. My mother would’ve loved the catfish. But the safest choice for my daughter is always the shrimp – and they offered crispy shrimp as well as shrimp pasta (a linguine dish with crab broth). Not much of a contest. Until she saw the Crab Cake “BLT” … but the server recommended the shrimp, so there you go.
For me, salmon would have been the choice, but they use a miso vinaigrette I’ve never acquired the taste for so got to choose between the vegetarian pasta, chicken breast, pork chop, or filet mignon. The filet with mashed potatoes and asparagus was the perfect choice for me. Though if I hadn’t been quite that hungry, the fish tacos would have been great – it’s the market catch so you know it will be fresh.
Those of you who read about our journeys often know I’m a firm believer in “dessert first.” Here, the options were chocolate layer cake, cheesecake, chocolate chip cookie Sunday (yes, really a sundae), Key Lime Pie, or Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. We’d had too much from other places, so didn’t have room this time through.
If you go at dinner time, you can purchase snow crab, whole Maine lobster, or peel & eat Key West Pink Shrimp, fresh from the steamer. One of the places to eat at Disney Springs we would count to re-visit.
1650 E Buena Vista Dr // +14079395277
Long lines waited outside this Italian Disney Springs restaurant but were quickly dealt with. They’ve got quick and efficient staff that remained pleasant despite the heat.
They may be most well known for their antipasti tower. It’s gluten-free, which appeals to me, with a long list of Italian ingredients: prosciutto, spicy capicola, Grana Padano, bocconcini, tomatoes, pickled vegetables, grilled zucchini, parmesan crisp, olives, and housemade truffle chips. It serves 4, which was too much for us. So, I got to choose something else this time.
We’ve had fried olives, bruschetta, and (beef) meatballs before, but had never seen Italian fries in all our journeys. Fries with a creamy cheese sauce and salami? Different.
The garden choices were very safe: a Caprese salad, baby greens, Caesar Salad, or Terralina Crafted Italian Salad. This specialty was made with romaine salad, bocconcini, shaved parmesan, fennel, cherry tomatoes, red onion, salami, pepperoncini with a red wine vinaigrette. Yum.
Their wood-fired pizzas remain very popular, especially with the kids. My favorite is the Margherita, but they also have Artisan Pepperoni, Spicy Capicola, Wild Mushroom, Pesto Alla Genovese, and a Pizza of the Week.
The pasta options had the typical spaghetti Pomodoro with meatballs, housemade lasagna, spaghetti Bolognese, shrimp scampi, and seafood fettuccini but their specialty Terralina Alfredo already has chicken with sun-dried tomatoes, and their gnocchi has “Nonna’s pork ragu.” If you like pork, you should try the gnocchi. If you love mushrooms, the Wild Mushroom Orecchiette would be a great choice, served with asparagus and sun-dried tomatoes.
My mom was always on the hunt for eggplant parmesan, so it always catches my eye on the menu. They serve it here with spaghetti Pomodoro. My choice is the chicken parmesan, but they’re so great here, they even offer a Parmesan Duo, with both chicken AND eggplant. If you’re really hungry, the Chicken Marsala would be a great choice for you – it’s half of a chicken!
And, when in doubt, you can stick with the ever-popular crafted burger (with fontina cheese and a chili-sage aioli) but you can pick another side if you don’t care for the housemade truffle potato chips. I chose the mashed potatoes over the fried potato planks.
For dessert, you can choose from sundaes, sorbets, and fresh fruit. Or stop at a nearby shop for some chocolate confection.
1642 E Buena Vista Dr B // +18554622292
Not far from Terralina, we were surprised to find another Disney Springs restaurant with all items dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, and certified Kosher. Walk in the door and you’re assailed with the most wonderful aromas! And, if not for the calories, you could work your way through the display cases over the course of a couple of weeks.
The founder, Erin McKenna, opened on the Lower East Side of Manhattan with two rules: a bakery free of harmful ingredients to allergic kids and cute uniforms. She’s succeeded with both, allowing for all to indulge in delicious treats.
We saw cupcakes, donuts, cookie sandwiches, thin mints, crumb cakes, banana bread loaves, chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodles, teacakes (iced lemon is my favorite!), chocolate chip brownie bites, coconut mounds (an easy choice for my daughter) and ice cream cookie sandwiches.
I highly recommend choosing one, walking around for a while, then stopping on the way out with your second choice. This is one of those places to eat in Disney Springs you’ll hardly resist.
1750 E Buena Vista Dr // +14074409658
The Disney Dining Plan, should you stay at one of the resort hotels or purchase it with your tickets, includes one entrée item, one side or dessert, and one beverage. This is one of the locations where you can choose from sandwiches, salads, wraps, soups, and hot sides.
And they have a little history corner you can check out while you wait (or eat). According to their display, Captain James Cook (1728-1799) of England’s Royal Navy became the first European to visit the Hawaiian Islands in 1778. He named the archipelago the “Sandwich Islands after the 4th Earl of Sandwich, as well as Montague Island in Alaska.
Prior to Cook’s discovery, by their description, in 1762, John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich commanded the mighty British Navy as its first Sea Lord. A noted explorer, he worked several government posts and also had a love for day-long card games.
As the story goes, this left little time for food so came up with the idea of putting meat between two slices of bread. So, in 1762, the Sandwich was named after this inventor, and now John, the current 11th Earl of Sandwich, and his family remain passionate about this quick food.
This story does pan out. Next time you’re in Washington, DC, check out the National Portrait Gallery and see if John Hamilton Mortimer’s painting of Captain Cook, John Montagu, Sir Joseph Banks, and two unidentified men is on display. Sometimes, you just have to do a little more research to discover what is Disney magic and what is real.
Open for breakfast, you can choose a sandwich with egg and a combination of cheese, bacon or ham, or sausage. You could choose a burrito or breakfast bowl or have a nice bowl of oatmeal with brown sugar and dried cranberries.
Here for lunch, though, you can also choose a hot, freshly baked sandwich like The Earl’s Club, The Original 1762 (beef, cheddar & horseradish), chipotle chicken avocado (my daughter’s choice), tuna melt, French dip (my choice), or The Full Montagu, a combination of beef, turkey, multiple kinds of cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mustard.
When in doubt, you can’t go wrong with the “Best BLT” or Cheese of Pepperoni Pizza.
My next time here, I’m going to try the Thai Chicken Wrap. My daughter’s debating between the buffalo chicken and the spicy tuna. But that Berry Chicken Almond Salad looks good, too.
The Food Trucks
Not even halfway through Disney Springs (from the Cirque de Soleil side), you’ll come to most kid’s dream … three food trucks with their favorite childhood dishes, including hot dogs and mac & cheese. But this isn’t your mother’s mac & cheese, and you may find yourself staying long enough to get a snack, if not a meal.
4 Rivers Cantina Barbacoa
With five choices of protein, it is surprisingly quick to choose here. From Birria tacos or Birria quesadilla to Mulita (a crispy tortilla stack with melted Oaxaca cheese and choice of protein topped with queso fresco and onion cilantro salsa), street tacos or burrito bowl filled with your choice of brisket barbacoa, chicken tinga, adobo pork, tri-tip steak or roasted sweet potato. The chicken with Mulita was an easy choice. For the vegetarians, they also had a black beans & cilantro rice option.
Mac & Cheese
This cheery blue and gold-colored food truck attracted kids and adults alike. While the kids probably had the cleanest time with the Mac & Cheese Fritters, there were more squeals of delight around the Barbecued Beef Mac & Cheese served with onion rings. Just pure fun.
The Lobster and Shrimp Mac & Cheese reminded me this isn’t my mom’s mac ‘n cheese (from the dark blue and yellow box). Other options included six-cheese crunchy mac & cheese, topped with crunchy cheese puffs(!) and chicken parmesan mac & cheese. The Texas Chili Mac & cheese was served with corn chips. Oh, how things have changed.
Hot Diggity Dogs
The hot dog food truck seems to be the big dog on the playground. Serving The King Dog (with Thai Peanut Sauce), a BLT All-Beef Hot Dog, the Santa Fe (with Chipotle Mayo, street corn and chili powder), Reuben, Chicago (pickles and sport peppers), Texas Chili-Cheese hot dogs with loaded house-made chips. If you don’t think you have quite enough sweet or heat, you’ll definitely want to add the Hot Diggity Sauce. Thank goodness they have water.
Gail Clifford, MD, a physician for more than 25 years, has traveled to five continents and all 50 United States. An avid traveler, she happily goes on new adventures, especially on birthdays. Multi-generational travel remains a treasured pastime. She divides her time between Ireland and the U.S. You can find her on Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook.