Vegetarian Dining in Disney World: Part I

Our family loves Disney World.  I'd be lying if I said our recent move to Florida had absolutely nothing to do with being closer to this magical place that has been the source of so many joy-filled memories.  We've been going to Disney World for more than a decade.  Our kids have grown up there.  My husband and I have taken date weekends there.   We've met up with friends and cousins and other important people -- heck, we've even bumped into Tim Tracker and David Bromstead. We've celebrated our anniversaries and birthdays and every other conceivable holiday and special event known to mankind.

 Cinderella Castle seen in just three of its many, many, many beautiful moments.

Cinderella Castle seen in just three of its many, many, many beautiful moments.

So between Disney's four theme parks, 30+ resorts, and Downtown Disney .... erm, I mean Disney Springs, it's only natural to admit that I've eaten more than my fair share of Disney nosh.  Being a vegetarian, this has at times proven a challenge -- but Disney has really stepped up their game in recent years, providing us veggie lovers a plethora of assorted delights, from the sweet to the savory, chock full of color and deliciousness -- and whether you too are veggie or not, my hope is that this visual sampling of culinary goodies (presented in two parts -- because there is just so.  much.  food. to be enjoyed!) helps and inspires you in planning your next trip to the happiest place on earth.

Let's start in the Animal Kingdom theme park (not to be confused with Animal Kingdom Lodge).  If you've ever been, you know this is a park with a delicious flair for world cuisine.  Sure, you can find the usual Mickey Ice Cream bar at a kiosk -- but more importantly, unique eats are to be found in every nook and cranny.  I LOVE trying new things, and with Animal Kingdom's Asia and Africa areas, not to mention the new Pandora: World of Avatar, I can always bank on finding something perfect for my adventurous palette.

Below we have my absolute favorite Quick Service meal options, from Satu'li Canteen in the World of Pandora.  Top:  Curried Steamed Pods (basically Bao Buns) with a sweet slaw and house made root chips.  Bottom: Crispy Fried Tofu seasoned with Chili-Spice topped with Crunchy Vegetable Slaw and served with a base of black beans and rice.  Both of these meals can be had for around $11 (plus the cost of a drink, if you opt for something other than complimentary ice water) and count as a Quick Service credit on your Disney Dining Plan.

 Above: Quick Service dishes from Satu'li Canteen in Animal Kingdom's Pandora: World of Avatar

Above: Quick Service dishes from Satu'li Canteen in Animal Kingdom's Pandora: World of Avatar

Feeling more like the basic comfort food route?  No problem.  Head over to Pizzafari in the Discovery Island area of Animal Kingdom, and snag yourself a personal-sized pizza.  This isn't exactly "fine dining", but a simple cheese pizza, or one loaded with veggies (mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, and olives) can be had for around $10;  a side Caesar is included.  You can also spring for a cup of surprisingly delicious, creamy tomato-basil soup for $4 more.  The pizza and salad counts as a Quick Service on your Disney Dining Plan, and the cup of soup makes a great snack if you're looking for something light in-between meals.

 Pizzafari nosh: Tomato Basil soup (top left), loaded Vegetable Pizza (bottom left), side Caesar and Cheese Pizza (right)

Pizzafari nosh: Tomato Basil soup (top left), loaded Vegetable Pizza (bottom left), side Caesar and Cheese Pizza (right)

Currently there are five sit-down restaurants in Animal Kingdom, and my family's favorite has to be Yak & Yeti over in the Asia area.  This  eatery incorporates flavors popular in Indian, Chinese, and Thai cuisine.  Some dishes can be quite spicy, while others are much milder.  Pictured below is their Vegetable Tikka Masala, an off-menu VEGAN item that you'll have to ask for specifically.  (Yak & Yeti actually does a fantastic job altering their dishes specifically for those with any allergies and for vegans and vegetarians too!)  It's a much soupier version than its Chicken Masala counterpart, but this $19 dish is chock-full of zucchini, tomatoes, onions, and chickpeas, absolutely divine with basmati rice and Naan bread.  I also recommend the Wok-Fried Green Beans with Thai chili-dipping sauce, a 10 appetizer -- and of course the sublime Mango Pie, a rich, tangy-sweet confection with a thick, buttery graham crust, just $9.

Tip:  you can also find a personal sized serving of the Mango Pie as a Snack Credit at the Yak & Yeti Cafe, just down the pathway from the sit-down Restaurant.

 Vegetable Tikka Masala with basmati rice and naan bread

Vegetable Tikka Masala with basmati rice and naan bread

 Left:  what's left of the Wok Fried green beans (before my family all but devoured them);  Right: Mango Pie with strawberry-mango chutney

Left:  what's left of the Wok Fried green beans (before my family all but devoured them);  Right: Mango Pie with strawberry-mango chutney

Not in the mood to thoroughly stuff yourself?  I suggest using any of your Disney Dining Snack Credits to nab a lighter bite.  If you're not using the dining plan, most snacks are easily $6 or less.

 Top Row (left to right): Mickey Ice Cream Sandwich (thick cookies 'n cream ice cream sandwiches between substantial chocolate cookies);  soft serve waffle cone from Anandapur Ice Cream Truck, Asia (not dining plan eligible);  selfie with Mickey at Tusker House Restaurant, Asia  Bottom (above):  Falafel bites with tzatziki from Mr. Kamal's kiosk in Asia;  currently closed and not listed on Disney's website, this may no longer be available, but I'm holding out hope they'll bring it back -- and soon!

Top Row (left to right): Mickey Ice Cream Sandwich (thick cookies 'n cream ice cream sandwiches between substantial chocolate cookies);  soft serve waffle cone from Anandapur Ice Cream Truck, Asia (not dining plan eligible);  selfie with Mickey at Tusker House Restaurant, Asia

Bottom (above):  Falafel bites with tzatziki from Mr. Kamal's kiosk in Asia;  currently closed and not listed on Disney's website, this may no longer be available, but I'm holding out hope they'll bring it back -- and soon!

Let's head over now to Animal Kingdom Lodge -- which is a resort, and NOT the same thing as Animal Kingdom theme park (we found that out the hard way on one of our early Disney vacations).  There are a couple of really delicious dining spots at the Lodge, one of which is Sanaa.  My family absolutely adores Indian food, and while Sanaa touts itself as African, the flavors are absolutely inspired by those found in India.  You'll spend a pretty penny here if you're not on the Disney Dining Plan, but the food is absolutely worth it;  their Indian Style Bread Service is uh-maaaaazing and can be had for $13

 Above: the Potjie Inspired with my favorite selections of Paneer Tikka Masala, Wild Rice, and curried vegetables, $26

Above: the Potjie Inspired with my favorite selections of Paneer Tikka Masala, Wild Rice, and curried vegetables, $26

Disney has several resorts, each with their own "flavor".  One of our favorites is the Polynesian Village.  As the name suggests, it's got a very relaxed vibe, distinctly island in tone.  There's not a lot of vegetarian nosh at their more popular O'hana (which is an beach-style barbecue -- lots of grilled meats and hardly a veggie in sight), but over at Kona Cafe, you'll find plenty to choose from!  Pictured Below are three tofu dishes featured right on their menu, and the Kilauea Torte dessert, a velvety chocolate cake with a silky chocolate "lava", served with house made vanilla bean ice cream.

 Top Row (left to right):  Asian Stir-Fry with tofu, Tofu Noodle Bowl, and Ginger-Soy tofu with rice and pasta salad, all around $16 per person.

Top Row (left to right):  Asian Stir-Fry with tofu, Tofu Noodle Bowl, and Ginger-Soy tofu with rice and pasta salad, all around $16 per person.

If you're in the mood for something a little more "down home", I highly recommend the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, over at the Campsites at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort.  You'll pay a per person fee for the meal, around $60 per adult, which is served all-you-can-eat family style with drinks and tip included. You'll also get to enjoy a live show that is super fun and thoroughly enjoyable.

Now I'll be honest about this one, the menu (see below) doesn't offer a whole lot in the way of vegetarian selections, but you can always fill up on the vegetable of the day, stuff yourself with delicious cornbread and butter, and eat your weight in salad  You should also ask the chef to see what he can whip up for you -- Disney table service locations are always good about feeding you what you crave.  Our chef created a yummy wagon wheel pasta dish and a plate full of freshly grilled veggies:  portobellos, summer squash, zucchini, onion, and tomato (seen below).  And if all else, fails there's always dessert: strawberry shortcake with freshly whipped cream.

Lastly, if you're taking a day off from the parks (and I highly recommend building into your Disney vacation a "rest day" in which to enjoy your resort pool, sleep late, and generally relax), you'll eventually find your way to Disney Springs.  There is so much good food in Disney Springs, from burgers and fries to fine dining by candlelight, from pub hubbing to bowling and more!  (I well realize I sound like a walking Disney Springs ad, but it's true.)

Among my favorite eateries in Disney Springs are two of their newest establishments: Chef Art Smith's Homecomin' and The Edison.  

I admit there's not a whole lot of vegetarian options on the "entrees" portion of Homecomin's menu, but you can get super creative and eat like a vegetarian queen.  They do offer a veggie plate for $24, which you can pile high with all manner of green things, killer mashed potatoes (avoid the gravy), and fried green tomatoes.  You can even order their Church Lady Deviled Eggs, sans bacon, and have a choice protein offering, for around $12.  Bonus:  Homecomin' serves an extensive array of Moonshine cocktails.

Over at The Edison, you'll find The Impossible Burger (which is actually vegan unless you request cheese)!  And listen, it really is impossible.  One bite of this entirely plant-based bad boy, and you'll think you've died and gone to burger heaven.  At $18, it'll cure any craving for a hearty, "meaty" burger -- even my carnivorous husband loved it!

 Above: fried green tomatoes (hold the bacon) at Chef Art Smith's Homecomin' (left);  The Impossible Burger with fries at The Edison (right)

Above: fried green tomatoes (hold the bacon) at Chef Art Smith's Homecomin' (left);  The Impossible Burger with fries at The Edison (right)

That's all for today, but we covered some serious Disney ground!  Tune in later for Part II of Vegetarian Dining in Disney World, where I'll take us to Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and my personal faaaaaavorite:  Magic Kingdom.  "I'll see you real soon!"