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One of my favorite parts of planning a Walt Disney World vacation is deciding on what restaurants we’ll dine at. Disney has so many choices for sit-down meals, from fun and highly themed to classy and gourmet. We try and book at least 1 sit-down meal per day of our visit (don’t forget those Advanced Dining Reservations, people!). And while we love to try new places each vacation in our quest to dine at every restaurant on property once, we always leave time for one or two old favorites.

When thinking about my favorite restaurants on property, I don’t mean “the best”. There are plenty of restaurants where I know categorically the food is better, but that’s not all that goes into making a Disney dining experience my favorite. It is a combination of food, theming, location, general atmosphere and the feeling I get just being there. So, here our my 5 favorite sit-downs restaurants in Walt Disney World, 5 restaurants I try to make time for on each visit and look forward to returning to year after year.

DSC06191Ohana

We tried Ohana for the very first time just last year after countless recommendations, and it quickly became a favorite before the meal was even over. First, it’s situated in the amazing Polynesian Village Resort, one of the best resort on property. Stepping into the hotel transports you Hawaii, and Ohana provides the tropical island feast. Ohana’s dinner menu is served family-style. Plate after plate of delicious meats, grilled vegetables and noodles keep coming until you’ve had enough. The meal starts with salad and noodles, and 2 of my personal favorites, the delicious Coriander Chicken Wings and potstickers. I’d be happy with just these items, but next comes the assorted meats, and finally dessert. It is a ton of food- a ton of excellent, mouthwatering food. If you sample one of everything, you’ll probably be full. Add into all the the fun island atmosphere, with a woman and her ukulele serenading guests and kids playing games like coconut races and hula-hoop contests, Ohana is as much fun as it is delicious.

garden-grillGarden Grill

My favorite Character meal has to be the Garden Grill, located in Epcot’s Land pavilion. This family-style restaurant serves country-cooking items like fresh salad, grilled catfish, sliced beef and grilled vegetables. Most of the items featured on the menu are ground in the Living With The Land attraction just below it. In fact, the attraction can be seen from the restaurant, as the whole dining location actually slowly rotates, giving you a glimpse into the farmhouse scene of the ride. Mickey and friends also stop by your table in their finest country attire. Here, theming is key. I love the country atmosphere and the food items that compliment it so well. I love being able to see into one of my favorite attractions, like getting a small behind-the-scenes tour while you dine. The characters combined with the unique concept of the restaurant embody everything Disney dining is about.

DSC0326650’s Primetime Café

You’ll notice a theme with my restaurant list, and that is theming. Sure, anywhere can have great food, but what makes a dining location a Disney experience is the theming. Located in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, 50’s Primetime Café is overflowing with character. Each table is a mini 1950’s kitchen complete with retro, mismatched silverware, Formica tables and black and white TV’s. Every server is your Mom or your brother, and they treat you accordingly. I was about 12 the first time I went here, and was incredibly nervous when the server spotted that I didn’t finish my vegetables. She asked what resort I was staying at, and after I told her, she informed me that they would be waiting outside my door for breakfast tomorrow. And I totally believed her. The menu here features a lot of home-cooked classics, like pot roast, meatloaf and fried chicken. I’ve loved everything I’ve ever ordered here, and the retro atmosphere is amazing.

DSC07011Beirgarten

I grew up with German and Austrian grandparents, so authentic Bavarian food was a regular part of my culinary upbringing. Give me some sausage, schnitzel, or chicken paprikash and I’m in Heaven. The Beirgarten, located in Epcot’s Germany pavilion, is a buffet overflowing with German favorites. I’ve attempted to sample one of everything there and it has left me wanting to just nap on a bench until Illuminations starts. The interior of the restaurant is themed to an outdoor German beirgarten, where you share tables with fellow diners and enjoy the sounds of a live oompah band. The food is fairly authentic and the feel of the entire experience will transport you straight to the Old Country.

DSC06269Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater

Without a doubt, my favorite Walt Disney World restaurant is the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. If I was to recommend one Disney World restaurant to a first time visitor, to ensure they fully appreciate the attention to detail that goes into every corner of the parks, resorts and specifically the restaurants, it would be the Sci-Fi. You enter the establishment via the backside of a movie sound-stage, carrying over the Hollywood theming of the park. Once inside, you’re transported to a 1950’s drive-in in the California hills. Stars twinkle in the night sky as 50’s sci-fi and monster movie clips and commercials play on the giant drive-in screen. Tables are shaped like cars and your meal is served on the dashboard. I actually think the food here is fairly average, I usually stick to the burgers and shakes, and I usually enjoy my meal, but I’m not blown away. But the concept and execution of the restaurant is what keeps me coming back nearly every trip. Being inside the building is like hopping in a time machine to an era I never knew, but love for its retro Americana charm. I love the restaurant so much that I make a point just to use the restrooms that the restaurant shares with the outside of the park, just so I can pop my head in and enjoy a few minutes of giant monster movie madness.

Jason will happily discuss Mickey Bars, 80’s EPCOT Center, that Pirates of the Caribbean water smell, Hitchhiking Ghosts or the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater anytime you'd like. Jason lives in Illinois with his wife, and is a freelance graphic designer and illustrator. His is work can be found at jasonmuhr.com.