Menu Monday: Best Counter Service Restaurants in Animal Kingdom

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This is the second installment in a series on the top counter service restaurants at Walt Disney World. The first article addressed the best and worst counter services of Magic Kingdom, and now we’ll take a walk on the wild side as we review the best counter service restaurants in Animal Kingdom. Keep in mind that to dine at any of these locations, you will need a valid park ticket for admission. Additionally, with some of the construction and updates occurring around Animal Kingdom, not all of these locations may be open or accessible during your planned trip, so be sure to check the Disney Dining website for a full list of open dining options.

To refresh your memory, here is the grading scale I’ve used to determining how each counter service location has earned it’s ranking:

  • Value (portion/cost ratio) = 10 points
  • Flavor = 10 points
  • Originality = 5 points
  • Atmosphere = 5 points
  • Grand total = 30 possible points

So, let’s dive in!

Flame Tree Barbecue – Discovery IslandFTB Sign

Flame Tree Barbecue has long been a popular recommendation among Disney vacationers, and for good reason! It’s got a menu that pleases practically everyone in your group, prices that aren’t so difficult to swallow, and after years of visiting this location, I’ve never been disappointed. The quality has remained consistent and delicious. So, swing by Discovery Island for some finger-licking deliciousness.

Value = 10/10

Flame Tree gets full marks in the value category. The portions are hearty and filling. The Ribs and Chicken Combination plate offer enough food to feed two adults. This value is further expanded if guests are on the dining plan. Guests can easily feed two adults by only using 1 counter service credit. Even paying out of pocket, feeding two guests a substantial meal for under $20 is a bargain, even outside of Disney parks! Add to the fact that it’s one of the few counter service locations to participate in the Tables in Wonderland program, and it’s got value in spades!

Flavor = 10/10

In case my introduction to this location didn’t portent to this, Flame Tree is scrumptious! It specializes in smoked, barbecue entrees, as the name implies. You can smell the delicious aromas as soon as you exit the Oasis and start walking toward Discovery Island and the Tree of Life. It’s addictive, intoxicating, and makes you crave a slab of ribs even before you’ve digested your breakfast. Once you order your barbecue entrée of choice, you can visit one of many condiment stations around to select either a sweet or spicy barbecue sauce for your meal. Or, if you’re like me, you mix the two to make your saucy perfection.

Photo courtesy of Disney (c)
Photo courtesy of Disney (c)

Originality = 4/5

At a place that has “barbecue” in its name, you pretty much know what you’re in for. But Flame Tree does offer a smoked turkey sandwich that has turned my head and a smoked chicken salad. In all fairness, when I see the chicken salad, it looks absolutely amazing, and I’m down right tempted, but have never actually tried it. As soon as I get a whiff of that wonderful, smoky aromatherapy, I just have to order the ribs.

Atmosphere = 4/5

Even though this counter service location only provides outdoor seating, that doesn’t mean that it skimps on the ambiance. There are a total of seven seating pavilions that offer you shelter from the sun and the rain, and each provide a unique view into the wilds of the Animal Kingdom. Several pavilions even overlook Lake Discovery and provide great view of Expedition Everest. One of the not-so-secret facts about Flame Tree is that it’s themed after the food-chain/prey-predator dynamic. Next time you’re gnawing on one of your own Flame Tree ribs, be sure to notice the decorations around you.  You’ll see crocodiles hunting down fish, snakes catching mice, and a whole menagerie of predator/prey vignettes all around you.

Photo courtesy of Disney (c)
Photo courtesy of Disney (c)

Total = 28/30

Flame Tree gets full marks on value and flavor. It lost a point on originality and variety, but really when you think about counter service menu options, it really does have something for almost everyone (Ed. – except people who don’t eat meat). The only point it lost for atmosphere was because of the lack of air conditioning, and anyone who’s visited Animal Kingdom in August can attest that air conditioning is an absolute necessity. Otherwise, Flame Tree is pretty much the best counter service restaurant you can hope to find.

Photo courtesy of Disney (c)
Photo courtesy of Disney (c)

Pizzafari – Discovery Island

Pizzafari is also located on Discovery Island, and with the popular Flame Tree so close, it often sees shorter lines during the lunch rush. Another attribute to this often overlooked dining location is that it serves breakfast. So, if you’ve hit rope drop in order to get in a couple of rides on the run away tea train through Everest, or maybe a sunrise safari, then you can plan to stop by Pizzafari for some breakfast sustenance.

Value = 8/10

The pizzas available here are large and filling. They’re not of the “shareable” quality like the options at Flame Tree, but you won’t leave hungry.

Photo courtesy of Disney (c)
Photo courtesy of Disney (c)

Flavor = 7/10

The pizzas are of the seemingly frozen quality similar to Pizza Planet in Hollywood Studios. Not the best quality, but probably easily pleasing to the palate of a six-year old. Adults, however, will likely be disappointed in it. If you have kiddos who are craving some pizza, but you’re not sure about consuming this doughy greaseball yourself, then definitely try the Hot Italian-style Sandwich. The muffaletta bread gives it great texture and the dressing of pesto and Caesar dressing give it some good spice and flavor.

Originality = 4/5

It’s a pizza place, you know it’s a pizza place, so it’s gonna serve pizza. But it does have a few other worthy items on the menu, like the aforementioned Italian-style Sandwich, and the Chicken, Vegetable Pasta salad. It also gets some kudos for offering breakfast, most counter service locations don’t have this option.

Photo courtesy of Disney (c)
Photo courtesy of Disney (c)

Atmosphere = 5/5

Yep, this place takes the cake in terms of ambiance. Pizzafari has several themed rooms and some outdoor eating areas adjacent to a few of the rooms. These themed rooms include: the Home Room, Nocturnal Room, Upside Down Room, Camouflage Room, Four Seasons Room, Bug Room. All of the rooms are decorated with exquisite murals uniquely painted to the theme of each room. It’s so impressive, that even if you don’t plan to eat here, you should at least stop by for an air conditioned reprieve and to appreciate the murals.

Total = 24/30

Pizzafari does have some great contributing attributes. It has wonderful theming and beautiful murals, it has some tasty menu options, and some not-so-tasty options. Because of the popularity of Flame Tree, it often will see shorter lines during the lunch rush and it offers sheltered, air conditioned seating. Still, for my money, I’ll grab some barbecue and skip the pizza.

Restaurantosaurus Sign

Restaurantosaurus – DinoLand USA

This quippy, kitschy restaurant is located in DinoLand USA. The menu is a mix of pretty standard Disney counter service fare. This restaurant will not “wow” you in any way, but may amuse you. It’s been battling a bad reputation for years, but has seen some food-quality improvements in the last few years, but still isn’t anywhere near a top dining choice.

Value = 7/10

As mentioned above, the menu items are pretty standard, and what you’d expect to find at other Disney counter service locations around Walt Disney World. The portion sizes are filling, but the inconsistency in food quality gives this restaurant a hit in terms of value. If you happen to get a dried-out burger that all the condiments from the topping bar can’t fix, resulting in you throwing away a half-eaten burger and searching for sustenance elsewhere – then that’s definitely not a great value. However, it does offer refills on the drinks, and it does have a topping bar, so that does offer something of a value.

Flavor = 5/10

I’m battling even giving this place a median score. Some of the items here have been completely inedible, other times, the quality level has proven to be on par with other options. If you find yourself dining here, you’re pretty safe with the chicken nuggets, and though I haven’t tried it, I have heard some good things about the macaroni and cheese hot dog. Well, rather, I’ve heard good things about the macaroni and cheese  – the hot dog part was still mediocre. The main trick is to get here before the lunch rush. If you find yourself at Restaurantosaurus around in between 11:45-1:30, you can expect rubbery, over-cooked, and heat-lamp beaten food. Try to get here earlier for bit more quality control and fresher meal.

Originality = 2/5

I think Restaurantosaurus strategically has a generic menu. Since most other Animal Kingdom restaurants venture into more “exotic” offerings, this location can be a reprieve for the less adventurous palates.  That said, it’s menu is pretty minimal: burgers, sandwiches and chicken nuggets.

Photo courtesy of Disney (c)
Photo courtesy of Disney (c)

Atmosphere = 3/5

I give it the benefit of the doubt here. If you buy into the eccentric theming of DinoLand in general, then Restaurantosaurus plays into that theme fairly well. There are several seating rooms with tons of different details to take in while you eat. Some funny puns and sayings throughout the restaurant which is reminiscent of Muppet-humor, but not as good.

Total = 17/30

I can’t think of a reason to eat at Restaurantosaurus when Flame Tree and Pizzafari are so close. Perhaps if you have a dino-crazed fan in your family, but even still, just walk through and enjoy the funny puns, but eat elsewhere. If you’re absolute stuck and you’re family’s going into full-on hunger meltdown, then play it safe and get the chicken nuggets to hold you over until you can get some real food somewhere else.

Photo courtesy of Disney (c)
Photo courtesy of Disney (c)

Tamu Tamu Refreshments – Africa

Many guests pass by Tamu Tamu without even noticing it. It blends into the naturally themed African architecture of the village of Harambe, and often people are drawn to the location by the drummers and musicians who play in this area. Its menu is unique and full of flavor, but not very expansive.

Value = 7/10

Tamu Tamu does not skimp on the portion sizes. Their limited but hearty menu options are well executed, delicious and filling. Their menu options tend to change seasonally, offering refreshing sandwich options in the spring and summer months, and switching over to the warm comfort of curry or other options in the fall and winter months.

Flavor = 7/10

Tamu Tamu is currently serving hearty portions of Chicken and Vegetarian Curry as well as the roasted chicken salad carried over from the summer months. Both curry dishes are served over steamed rice. Don’t let the description of “curry” or “spice” scare you off. These dishes don’t pack a lot of heat. The “spice” term is used just to say that these dishes are very flavorful. If you’re tentative about trying these dishes, order one to share.

Originality 3/5

It gets kudos for offering items outside of the counter service box, and maintains the continued theming of Animal Kingdom that guests are on an adventure. The depth of the menu doesn’t offer many options, so if you have a picky eater, this location may not be the best option for your family.  But as the menu changes fairly regularly, it’s worth it to stop by and even chat with a cast member to see what they recommend or if they can provide a small tasting sample for your picky eater. (Ed. – Tamu Tamu also serves a light breakfast during busier times.)

Tamu courtyard

Atmosphere = 3/5

Most people might be shocked to see such a “high” ranking for atmosphere, when Tamu Tamu is really just an ordering window, but go with me on this. It is located right next to the Harambe court where guest can enjoy all sort of musical entertainment and really feel like they’re getting an authentic African experience. For those looking for a quieter option, they may want to venture into the primarily hidden outdoor seating in the courtyard behind the ordering window. It’s tucked away from the crowds and offers a quieter reprieve and a unique way to appreciate the details of Harambe.

Total = 20/30

Tamu Tamu is a fun dining option that won’t break your budget and gives you some menu options you won’t find anywhere else, but rest assured they are a tamed-down Disney version of exotic and shouldn’t be intimidating. If I could, I’d even give them a bonus point for offering Dole Whips and even rum infused DoleWhips!

Photo courtesy of Disney (c)
Photo courtesy of Disney (c)

Yak & Yeti Local Food Cafes – Asia

When most guests refer to Yak & Yeti, they’re speaking about the table service restaurant in the Asia section of Animal Kingdom which is full of eclectic Asian details and tasty selection of Asian inspired foods. However, right next to this restaurant is a counter service ordering window called Yak & Yeti Local Food Café. Here you can order from a smaller menu (with a bit smaller prices).

Value = 7/10

Like with Tamu Tamu, the portion sizes are decent and hearty. Probably not shareable for a meal, if you want to split an order of Honey Chicken with someone, then it definitely makes for a substantial snack. Likewise, you can easily order several menu options to share among family so everyone can have a taste of everything. The Honey Chicken, Sweet & Sour Chicken and Beef Lo Mein are all packed pretty tightly in cute to-go boxes which makes the dining process a little more fun and I think you get a bit more with the way they pack it in the boxes.  But if you want to mix up the flavors, you’ll have a challenging task of stirring the contents without spilling some.

Flavor = 7/10

Nothing here is outstanding. It’s about the same quality level as your typical Chinese fast food option at your local mall food court. It’s not bad by any means, but you won’t find any authentic Asian experiences here. The convenient condiment bar allows you mix in your choice of soy sauce, spicy mustard and other options to help flavor the dish to your liking.

YY

Originality = 3/5

The theme here is Asian, and that’s what they offer, Asian (or perhaps pan-Asian) food. If you have members of your travel party that don’t care for Asian food, then this isn’t the location for you. But for those of you who might be tired of the typical fast food fare, this could give you a nice little break. And who doesn’t like an eggroll once and a while?

Atmosphere = 2/5

There are some seating options available scattered around. Some of it is covered by an awning or some trees, some of the tables are up against a building or wall without much protection from the heat, rain or crowds. On the plus side, if you snag one of the tables nearby, you get to enjoy the parade of soaked people coming off Kali River Rapids; there’s some entertainment gold, there! Since most of the food is pretty portable in the to-go boxes, I say this is a great place to grab your meal while heading to Expedition Everest to eat in line (just make sure your meal is done before boarding the train).

Total = 19/20

Pretty standard fast food with an Asian twist. Nothing outstanding, but all pretty consistent. If you like Panda Express, then Yak & Yeti Local Foods Café will probably suit you just fine.

Final Rankings

With everything considered and judged, here are the final rankings for Animal Kingdom counter service restaurants:

  1. Flame Tree Barbecue – 28/30
  2. Pizzafari – 24/30
  3. Tamu Tamu Refreshments – 20/30
  4. Yak & Yeti Local Foods Café 19/30
  5. Restaurantosaurus – 17/30

Rumors abound about the developments in store for Animal Kingdom. With the eventual introduction of Pandora and the discussions of expansion of an Africa Marketplace in Harambe, there are sure to be more counter service options created. What’s your opinion? How did your Animal Kingdom favorite do? Be sure to give a shout out to your favorite counter service in the comments below!

 

Lisa Gilmore

My passion for Disney runs deep; I've got pixie dust in my veins. Everyone loves the famous Mickey Mouse, but Disney vacations host a wealth of sophisticated experiences, too. On my bucket list is to seek out and enjoy every last one of them!

5 thoughts on “Menu Monday: Best Counter Service Restaurants in Animal Kingdom

  • December 1, 2014 at 2:41 pm
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    We tried Tamu Tamu for the first time in September. Standing in a crowd in the pouring rain and it was still very tasty. Between Flame Tree and Tamu, AK is becoming a favorite for QS meals.

    Reply
  • December 1, 2014 at 3:13 pm
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    I know that Flame Tree gets a lot of love, but I can honestly say that it was our worst counter service experience at WDW. The ribs and chicken were both greasy/gristly, the salad was swimming in dressing, and the seating was awkward for our family. Overall, it just didn’t work for us and we have never been back.

    Reply
  • December 2, 2014 at 12:37 am
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    I also dislike Flametree, and was very disappointed after reading so many rave reviews. I enjoyed yak & yeti. I had the ribs at Flametree and they were tough, greasy and had some sort of inedible film coating one end. Never again!

    Reply
  • December 2, 2014 at 8:57 am
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    Thanks for this article!
    – I think you are overrating the theme at Pizzafari and underrating it at Restaurantosaurus, but I would typically not eat in either location.
    – The Yak & Yeti QS option may not be any better than typical Chinese food, but it is far superior to Lotus Blossom over at Epcot, so if you’re in the mood for decent fast food Chinese while at WDW, this is the spot to hit and NOT that place in World Showcase.

    Reply
  • December 2, 2014 at 1:26 pm
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    I totally agree with the high marks given to Flametree. It is my favourite counter service restaurant at AK by far. We always sit in the pavilion down by the water with the great view of Everest. But I must admit that my family is only lukewarm on Flametree. However, my kids *love* the honey chicken at Yak & Yeti and I so I would have rated that restaurant higher, at least on par with Tamu Tamu.

    Reply

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