The Top 5 Table Service Restaurants at Hollywood Studios
I previously evaluated the best Quick Service options at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While doing so, I promised that I would add my thoughts on Table Service meals this week. So, here we are. This is a list of the best sit-down options in the park, and it won’t take long. There are only five of them, after all.
Before I begin, I’d like to add one caveat, though. Every meal at Walt Disney World is an exercise in chaos theory. You may have the greatest meal of your life one time and a nightmare experience on another. As an example, many people swear by Tusker House at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We had a meal there that was so bad that it turned us off of buffets entirely for multiple years. Every restaurant evaluation is a matter of circumstance. Please don’t take offense if your favorite gets dinged here. Keeping that in mind, here’s how I rank the Table Service restaurants at Hollywood Studios.
5) Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano
I’m one of those weird people who doesn’t really care for Italian food. Sure, I like pizza, and I even enjoy spaghetti as long as there’s no onion in the sauce. I have a food allergy that negates basically any possible enjoyment of Italian cuisine. As a people, Italians embrace the onion.
Still, my ranking of Mama Melrose’s as the worst Table Service restaurant isn’t about my feelings on Italian food. To the country, I loooove Via Napoli at the World Showcase and have even enjoyed a meal at Trattoria al Forno. What bothers me about Mama Melrose’s is how generic the food is.
My family has eaten here multiple times, likely for the same reason that you have. This restaurant offers a Fantasmic! package, and any true Disney fan loves the Fantasmic! exhibition. To have a good view, park visitors need a FastPass. The Fantasmic! package lets people enjoy a good meal before heading to the show.
The idea is lovely in theory and even in execution. I’ll mention a great example later in this piece. At Mama Melrose’s, however, I wind up suffering through a pedestrian Charred Strip Steak or a bland Oven-baked Chicken alla Parmigiana. Even the flatbreads are uninspiring. Disney has plenty of great Italian restaurants. This simply isn’t one of them. At Hollywood Studios, you can do much better.
4) The Hollywood Brown Derby
Okay, please put down the torches and pitchforks. I readily acknowledge that the consensus opinion is that The Hollywood Brown Derby has amazing food. It also has an inimitable Dine with an Imagineer option that supersedes the quality of any meal. You get to pick the brain of someone who designs and works on Disney attractions for a living. That’s amazing.
In my experience, however, The Hollywood Brown Derby is overrated. I should acknowledge that I come at this from the perspective of someone who usually utilizes the Disney Dining Plan. I treasure my meal credits, and this restaurant is a Signature Dining service. That means it costs two Table Service credits. While I enjoy the Sweet Brentwood Corn Soup and Our Famous Cobb Salad, the entrees have never done much for me. The Mini Dessert Trios are a wonderful idea, and I love sampling the various bites. So, the meal starts and ends quite well.
Overall, I just don’t find The Hollywood Brown Derby worth the (roughly) $120 or four Table Service credits for a party of two. The food is quite good, and the restaurant is lovely. It’s just not great value.
3) 50’s Prime Time Café
The top three restaurants at Hollywood Studios are all terrific. For many people, these offerings are almost interchangeable. You’re going to get a fantastic meal at any of them. You’ll also get to enjoy a theme.
In the case of 50’s Prime Time Café, the theme is a Leave It to Beaver type of family dinner. Here, your “mom” aka your chef will work to fill your empty stomach with protein-heavy meals that were so popular in the era of The Donna Reed Show. While mom’s in the kitchen, one of your “aunts” or “uncles” will act as your server in this establishment. Fair warning: they’ll tease you relentlessly about your food choices and table manners, because that’s what family members do. For the love of all that is holy, MAKE SURE that you eat all your vegetables. Otherwise, you’ll incur the wrath of all involved.
You’ll dine at a retro TV table that will make you feel like Walt Disney himself could come on your television set at any point. And the television set is also entertaining. It’s an old-fashioned black and white unit, the kind that your grandparents, maybe even your great-grandparents once used. You’ll watch clips from classic television programs of the 1950s, but you will get scolded if you watch too much TV.
As for the food, think pot roast or fried chicken. These are real meals with the corresponding calories. Dishes have cutesy names like Grandma’s Chicken Pot Pie, Cousin Harold’s Vegetable Lasagna, and Mom’s Old-fashioned Pot Roast. Disney’s great about dietary options, but this is not the place if you want to eat healthy.
The reputation of the 50’s Prime Time Café is glowing. Eater named it THE best dining experience at Walt Disney World. While I agree with them that Hollywood Studios is the home to such an establishment, I just don’t agree that it’s here.
2) Hollywood & Vine
Many meals at Disney theme parks aren’t properly judged by the food. That’s just the reality of the situation. Disney sells something beyond a meal, and they throw in a tolerable buffet as a part of the transaction. Don’t get me wrong. As far as All You Care to Eat establishments go, Hollywood & Vine offers a decent meal, and the desserts there are universally outstanding. My only lament is that the fabled Jedi Mickey’s Star Wars Dine desserts aren’t available at the parks right now. Everyone else is excited about Star Wars Land: Galaxy’s Edge for the attractions. Me, I want the desserts back!
Anyway, the point is that you shouldn’t select Hollywood & Vine for the food…or even the theming. It’s a fairly generic restaurant by Disney standards. The selling point is the character meet and greet, the only one of its kind at Walt Disney World. What’s novel is that these characters celebrate the various seasons of the year, and their outfits change accordingly.
Sure, you can meet Minnie Mouse at several places throughout the parks, but Hollywood & Vine is the only location where she’ll get dressed up in a Halloween costume! Last September, we got to take pictures of Donald Duck in an astronaut suit. In April, Daisy Duck greeted us. She had a spring garden backdrop for photo ops, and she was wearing an adorable spring blossom.
While I readily acknowledge that 50’s Prime Time Café offers better food, I prefer the series of character meetings with Disney icons. And I love the fact that the opportunities are different depending on the season when you visit. Disney needs more of that sort of variation. That’s why I prefer Hollywood & Vine more than the first three eateries listed here. It’s also why this restaurant is always my go-to choice for Fantasmic! dining packages. We get to hang out with some of the characters prior to the show! And they’re all dressed to kill!
1) Sci-Fi Dine-In
Everyone has a favorite restaurant at Walt Disney World. This one is mine. Oh wait, I guess I should start with some pertinent information. My name is David, and I’ve run movie websites going all the way back to the 1990s. One of the other webmasters at those sites and I have a running joke. Whenever one of us eats at Sci-Fi Dine-In, we always message the other one with a simple statement: “Greetings from the best restaurant on the planet!” We’ve even gotten to eat there together before, but it’s a fun way for both of us to feel connected to Disney while one of us is vacationing there.
Why do we do this? Well, we obviously love movies. That’s why we run movie websites. And Sci-Fi Dine-In is a celebration of the one of our favorite kinds of movie genres: the horrible sci-fi classic. We’re talking about the sort of movies that people expect to watch on Mystery Science Theater 3000. The “classics” that play on a loop here are along the lines of The Horror of Party Beach, Devil Girl from Mars, and Cat Women of the Moon (Never trust an alien female, people! It’s basic science fiction movie law!)
How do you watch these classics? That’s the genius concept. The theming is of a classic drive-in movie theater. Even though the restaurant is indoors, you still eat in a car, because Disney has styled many of the booths in the form of 1950s classic automobiles. You sit in the car seats as you dine, looking up at a movie screen that plays absolutely awful movie clips on a loop. This sequence even includes some classic animated segments involving sci-fi (and an amazingly efficient secretary) and a few Walt Disney segments wherein he talks to a robot named Garco.
The dining experience is the gold standard. The complaint about Sci-Fi Dine-In used to be about the food, which was oftentimes disappointing. In recent years, Disney has expanded and improved the menu here. Thanks to their dedication, the restaurant now offers a strong menu that includes a world-class cheeseburger, a great steak, and a flavorful Caprese Sandwich.
Dessert is the meal of choice at Sci-Fi Dine-In, though. You can’t go wrong with any of the selections, and that comes from someone who has tried them all. The optimal choices are the House-made Sci-Fi Candy Bar, the Out-of-This-World Turtle Cheesecake, the Sci-Fi Specialty Shake (you have GOT to order a milkshake here), the Warm Glazed Doughnut (my second favorite), and the Hot Fudge Sundae (my favorite). The Sundae in particular would have felt right at home at a drive-in movie.
Disney’s built the menu around the theme, and you can construct a full meal that would have felt perfect back in 1955, the year Disneyland opened. What they’ve accomplished is so successful that the restaurant has gained rare notoriety. It was the Wikipedia entry of the day back in 2015, and an entrepreneur in Thailand actually duplicated the premise in Bangkok. Universal Orlando Resort even has a hotel with a variation of the premise. That’s how beloved this theme is.
While the Quick Service meals at Hollywood Studios are just okay, the Table Service options all range from good to exquisite. You will see any of the top four listed as the preferred choice of many Disney analysts. That’s the hallmark of a deep roster of quality eateries. As for me, I love all the top three, but there’s just no matching Sci-Fi Dine-In when it comes to dining experiences. It’s not just the best at Hollywood Studios. I consider it the finest at Walt Disney
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