Top 5 Non-Traditional WDW Counter Service Restaurants

by Brady Aymond

How many times do you find yourself in Walt Disney World waiting in line at a counter-service restaurant dreading the notion of eating yet another cheeseburger or chicken strips meal? How often do you find yourself ordering the same thing over and over and eating at the same counter-service restaurant over and over? If you’re anything like me, or my family, it’s too many to count. Sometimes safe is easy. I know I like cheeseburgers. I know I like chicken strips. I know I like hot dogs. But there are times when we all want something different. Something unique. So today, I offer up my top 5 non-traditional counter service restaurants. They may be places you go to on a regular basis, but this list is for those looking for something other than chicken-strips and cheeseburgers:

5. Columbia Harbour House in Magic Kingdom – Located on the outskirts of Liberty Square, Columbia Harbour House gives you a chance to fulfill your desire for seafood. From a white tuna sandwich to grilled salmon and a fried shrimp or fish basket, Columbia Harbour House is definitely a seafood-lovers haven. It’s a nice break from eating beef or chicken all week, and is pretty cool in the fact that part of it is located in Liberty Square and part is in Fantasyland. Next time you visit, go check out how the décor changes when you transition into the Fantasyland area. (Ed. Note: My favorite thing about Columbia Harbour House is the often-overlooked upstairs seating area – it’s spacious, often empty, and offers some great views).

4. Everything Pop food court at Pop Century Resort – Strictly speaking, this is cheating, because you’d have to leave the parks. But if you want a break and you want variety, Everything Pop has it for you. There’s an area for oven fired flatbreads, which also serves pretty good-sized salads. The pizza shop is, I think, the best counter-service pizza option on property. And there’s a specialty shop that varies, but is mostly Asian-inspired dishes. Again, it’s one of those all-inclusive food courts that gives you a little bit of everything.

3. Flame Tree Barbecue in Animal Kingdom – I don’t know about you guys, but I feel a tad bit guilty when I think about consuming large quantities of meat when I’m at Animal Kingdom. Maybe I’m weird. Anyway, if you want to consume large quantities of meat while in Animal Kingdom, there’s no better spot than Flame Tree Barbecue. You can’t tell me you haven’t made the walk to Dinoland and had the smell of the BBQ seep out and slap you right across the face. The eatery offers a 1/2 slab of ribs, a 1/2 chicken, and a rib and chicken combo. For those of you wanting some grass with your meat, there’s a barbecued chicken salad. It’s definitely a unique counter-service meal, and one for the BBQ fans out there. (Ed. Note: My wife is particularly fond of the excellent fresh fruit plate).

2. Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café in Magic Kingdom – Like every other counter-service eatery in Walt Disney World, Cosmic Ray’s does have its fair share of chicken strips and burgers. The beauty of this place is that while your kids are chowing down on chicken nuggets and burgers, you can head over to Bay 1 and get a 1/2 chicken and BBQ rib combo or a BBQ pork sandwich. I personally love Cosmic Ray’s for the fact that there’s something for everyone. And the entertainment isn’t bad.

1. Sunshine Seasons in Epcot – This is probably a no-brainer because the best non-traditional counter-service restaurant may in fact be the best counter-service restaurant on property, period. Sunshine Seasons may have the most extensive menu of all the counter-service restaurants. As for as non-traditional fare, you won’t find a chicken strip or burger on the menu. But you will find Mongolian beef, roasted pork chop, sweet-and-sour chicken, roasted beets and goat cheese salad, reuben Panini and a togarashi seared tuna noodle salad. So, if you’re tired of burgers and chicken strips, Sunshine Seasons should be your next stop.

7 thoughts to “Top 5 Non-Traditional WDW Counter Service Restaurants”

  1. Again there are place off the beaten path that I don’t frequent as they are not in my must do’s while in the World.
    I can concur as DD and I stayed at Pop in June and were completely impressed with the menu options.
    First thing we did was the Burrito bar. It reminded us of Freebirds(one of our at home favorites)with the ability to build your own burrito. The Pizza counter was fresh and delicious.

    Cosmic Rays is one that is on our Must Do’s. Its in the right place at the right time of the evening as we have made our way around the Hub. It too has the right variety of menu options.

    Columbia Harbour is not an option as DD does not eat seafood.

    Flame Tree is BBQ and well thats a given.

    Sunshine Seasons is one of those over-looked places becuase its overshadowed by Garden Grill. Also a Must Do on our list.
    Hopefully we can get some of these less fortunate places back onto my list during the DDC.

    Great job Brady.

  2. The one that I would have put on the list (probably in place of Cosmic Ray’s – I just really don’t like the “Bay” system) is Sleepy Hollow. The menu is small. And it’s not open for dinner. But I LOVE their chicken and waffle sandwich, and there are a couple of other waffle sandwich options.

  3. I will completely agree with you Aaron on Cosmic Ray’s Bay system. It frustrates me to no end, but I just love the place for the options. Inevitably though, we end up with one kid wanting a burger, one wanting chicken nuggets and me wanting a turkey sandwich. It’s hard to split two adults and two kids into three Bays at the same time. LOL

  4. Only open seasonally, but got to throw in the Tomorrowland Noodle Station. good value as you get very nice portions for your $$. I’ve never found it to be very crowded, and there is plenty of great seating in a covered, yet open area, with a great view of the castle.

  5. Can’t argue with the list… may shuffle the order a little…

    No doubt Sunshine Seasons is #1. I might also add the Golden Oak Outpost at MK. Their Chicken Ranch sandwiches are pretty tasty.

  6. I’m with Aaron in the Cosmic Rays camp. I really like Tomorrowland Noodle Station, but its not open often. I’ll have to check out Sleepy Hollow. Only other one I’d add to this list is the counter service of La Hacienda. It’s a nice break from the traditional CS meals. The CS in Morocco also usually does well in food polls but I haven’t eaten there yet.

  7. I feel like an outsider saying this, but we aren’t particularly big fans of Sunshine Seasons. DW and I went there for lunch last year, looked around and while there are tons of options, we just didn’t see anything that we really wanted. We ended up heading over to Mexico for the CS, which as Ryan mentioned is another non-traditional counter service, and it is one we always visit at least once, if not twice per trip.

    Granted the food quality is great at Sunshine Seasons, and we do tend stop by there regularly to grab some fruit or drinks if we want a snack, but the entrees when we were there last just weren’t what we were looking for that day I guess.

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