It sorta crept up on us, because we aren't big theme park-goers nor habitual mallrats, but ... Disney's renovation of the area formerly known as Downtown Disney is kind of rad. We've nibbled at the edges of the Disney Springs development here and there over the past year – a restaurant review here, a snarky Best of Orlando writer's pick there – but now, forced to contemplate the Disney Springs gestalt by the arrival of out-of-town visitors and the, ahem, Holiday Shopping Season, we have to admit that a visit to the Springs is a day well-spent. That is, if you place eating and drinking well near the top in your definition of a good day.
Technically, this dessert shop should be your last stop, but on this list we are (kind of) slaves to the alphabet. A glass of Iron Horse champagne and a spot of crumbly, airy pavlova topped with raspberry pâte de fruit and Chantilly cream is the perfect button to a day spent shopping till you're dropping.
AMC 24 Dine-In Theater
Abandon the hard-core bag ladies to their retail therapy and take in a flick at Disney Springs' 24-screen AMC theater, where you can eat an entire meal in your seat. I mean, don't (you are not coordinated enough to deal with a bacon-and-ranch burger in the dark) but the option of crispy Brussels sprouts instead of plain old popcorn is intriguing.
B.B. Wolf's Sausage Co.
This kiosk offers more than a bite on the run; the Portuguese sausage sandwich with pickled vegetable slaw is worth a dedicated trip.
Blaze Fast-Fired Pizza
This is decidedly a step above a mall food-court slice and a Sprite: a quick-fired individual Red Vine pie (fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, Parmesan, basil, red sauce and an olive-oil drizzle) and a blood-orange lemonade.
The El Diablo burger, with a chorizo-blend patty scattered with fried banana peppers and slathered with chipotle mayonnaise, is enough fuel to power you through hours of the this-one-or-that-one game: lipstick colors at MAC, floaty dresses at Anthropologie, crazy-cheap cashmere at Uniqlo, or whatever other Disney Springs store where you find yourself playing arbiter of taste.
The Daily Poutine
Another kiosk whose offerings punch way above its weight, the Daily Poutine serves international takes on the Canadian speciality. We like the "French" one (fries drowned in mushroom cream sauce and topped with Gruyère) plus a nice dry Unibroue Blanche de Chambly to wash it down.
Erin McKenna's Bakery NYC (formerly Babycakes)
Got vegans? Make them happy. Cupcakes, cookies, doughnuts etc., all animal- and gluten-free. McKenna serves one of the most legit vegan brownies in the country, TBH.
- Photo by Rob Bartlett
If you can score a seat at the bar, down a margarita or three and a bowl of guacamole: they offer bacon, "green" or "atomic" variations. Wanna give your cardiologist job security? The queso fundido – Jack cheese melted with roasted poblanos and caramelized onions – is heaven in a tiny cast-iron pan. In a rush or no room inside? Visit the takeout window and snarf up a short-rib taco and some of the excellent guacamole. Seriously, don't skip this guacamole.
- Photo by Jason Ferguson
Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar
First things first: You're going to need a high tolerance for theming and artificiality in this bar "based on" the "legend" of "Indiana Jones' pilot" – but you're at Disney, so clearly you've got that covered. That said, Jock Lindsey's is one of the few places in the Springs to get a not-super-sweet alcoholic drink, and the bar food is above average to boot. We like the pretzel flight, but they've got a couple of holiday specials on right now, a rösti (yum) and a flatbread that's basically Thanksgiving on a crust: turkey, cranberry-onion jam, butternut squash, greens, chèvre, and candied pecans with a splash of sage oil. Remember, turkey goes great with rye.
Morimoto Street Kitchen
We've left out a lot of great restaurants that require reservations here – like Homecoming Kitchen, STK, Raglan Road and more – in order to focus on snacks you can grab on the go. Like Frontera Cocina, Morimoto Asia is one of those, but has a takeout window where you can taste an abbreviated version of the main menu. In the case of Morimoto Street Kitchen, there are actually a few street-snack-friendly items found only on the smaller menu. You can try Morimoto's uber-popular sticky ribs out here, sure, or you can enjoy the takoyaki (fried octopus fritters) available only to the outdoorsy.
If you're on the move and trying to keep it that way, you can of course make a withdrawal from the vaunted cupcake ATM. But we prefer a trip inside for a Cap'n Crunch ice cream sandwich squished between two salted oatmeal cornflake cookies. Right?
The food's OK, but it's the sake slushes that win our heart. Yesake's citrus tea slush combines sake and bourbon with black tea, honey, lemonade and orange juice. So, gets the holiday spirit moving and cures a cold? We'll take two!