Frontera Cocina Review at Disney Springs

Frontera Cocina opened in the Town Center section of Disney Springs back in June 2016.

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This may or may not help. Basically, if you’re walking down from the Lime Garage, you continue walking straight and will see the restaurant on the left. From the Orange Garage or the bus stop, continue walking and hope you find it.

Frontera is otherwise nestled on the water near Sprinkles and across the bridge from where Morimoto Asia and Raglan Road sit.

Chef Rick Bayless operates about ten restaurants, largely in the Chicago area. While Bayless is the face of the Orlando Frontera, the day-to-day operations are run by the same people behind the restaurants in the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot and at Coronado Springs, including Maya Grill, San Angel Inn, La Hacienda de San Angel, and La Cava del Tequila. Bayless’s portfolio is otherwise diverse, from the once-Michelin-starred Topolobampo on the top end to Tortas Frontera at O’Hare airport on the low end.

Frontera Cocina serves modern Mexican food in what I suppose you could call a contemporary setting.

The atmosphere hearkens back to one of Bayless’s original concepts, but I’m not sure how into it I am.

The atmosphere is what makes a lot of Disney’s restaurants memorable experiences.

And nothing about a largely empty space lined with empty tequila bottles is particularly memorable. Actually, this many empty tequila bottles is probably the definition of forgettable.

But the interior space is pleasant enough. We’re just not really transported anywhere other than what you might expect to see at an airport restaurant.

But if you’re lucky enough to visit Walt Disney World when the weather is favorable, the outdoor terrace seating on the water is beautiful during the day.

And stunning at night.

Frontera Cocina offers two menus with lunch offered during seatings between 11am and 3:45pm and dinner served from 4pm through 10pm on Sundays-Thursdays with the last seating at 10:45pm on Fridays and Saturdays. The bar, with limited late night food service, continues operating through 11pm on Sundays-Wednesdays and until 1am on Thursdays-Saturdays.

I was surprised how abridged the lunch menu “felt” during my visit last month compared to the many options available for dinner: five appetizers, two salads, and six entrees, three of which are tortas (sandwiches) and two are tacos.

At dinner, there are nine appetizers and the same tacos and tortas offerings.

Then the Carnitas and six more entree choices.

And three more seasonal specials.

So make sure that whatever sounds good is available for lunch if that’s when you’re planning on visiting. The restaurant only accepts Tables in Wonderland for lunch, but pricing is otherwise the same at both meals, so you aren’t benefiting monetarily by visiting earlier in the day in most situations.

While the food menu hasn’t changed at all since opening, the cocktail list has seen some changes as different margaritas have been switched out for other recipes.

Shots are also available with pricing that is about 35% of the bottle cost.

The late night menu.

To confuse things further, Frontera Cocina also offers a takeout window, which you’ll find on the water side of the restaurant on the opposite side of the main entrance. The drink prices are not unreasonable compared to other offerings and you’ll notice that the taco options are what’s available late night too.

There are three gucamole & chips options on the menu, each of which will set you back $10. Chips and Salsa are an extra $4 on their own, so you might consider the avocado upcharge “just” six dollars. They’ll bring the two salsas along by request. Above is the “Verde – Roasted poblanos, roasted tomatillo, toasted pepitas, cilantro, and onions.” This is the most straightforward of the bunch with the appropriate contrast between the creamy avocado and the tang from the onions, peppers, tomato, and lime juice. But the addition of the pumpkin seeds offers an interesting crunch and just a touch of earthiness. Very good.

The $10 “Bacon Guacamole – Nueske bacon, tomatillos, toasted pepitas, and cilantro” is similar, but the bacon adds a meaty saltiness to the profile that made the fresh avocado stand out on its own even more. Note that the Nueske has a “bacon bits” texture and there isn’t a ton of it sprinkled on top, but it does the job of offering a different overall flavor profile without changing things up considerably.

The $10 “Atomic – Diced cucumbers, habanero salsa, cilantro and onions” packs a legitimate punch – you can see the salsa over the top of the guacamole that’s cooled slightly by the crunchy cucumber. But while the guac was spicy, the smoothness of the avocado was still present throughout the bite. Very good.

While I think tableside guacamole goes a long way, I suppose that I’d rather pay less and have it arrive from the kitchen. I don’t have any qualms about recommending any of the flavors, particularly if you’re sharing margaritas at the bar. Very shareable, obviously.

The $9 “Tortilla Soup – Red chile chicken broth, chipotle chicken, avocado, Chihuahua cheese, tortilla strips, cilantro, red onion and lime.”

I really like this presentation where they pour the broth over the dry ingredients at the table. The flavor was incredibly robust with a lot of different flavors and textures at play. I liked the cheesiness of it with the crunch of the tortilla chips, heartiness of the chicken, creaminess of the avocado, spiciness of the peppers, and the sharpness of the red onion along with the citrus from the lime. Very good and a relatively large portion.

Two shrimp cocktails are available. This is the $14 “Verde with Poached Mazatlán blue shrimp and Baja bay scallops, tangy serrano-tomatillo salsa, lime, jícama, avocado, and warm tortilla chips.” The other version arrives with a “Mexican cocktail sauce with ketchup, Tamazula, and lime juice” for the same money.

This one thoroughly impressed on quality, flavor, and portion.

Packed with stuff, the sauce offered a bold, spicy flavor that was surprisingly nuanced against the various main ingredients. Those debating over ordering guacamole may also want to consider this as the salty chips pair nicely with the tang of the salsa and lime. Very good and surprisingly shareable.

The $12 “Queso Fundido – Queso Chihuahua melted with roasted poblanos and caramelized onions, served with warm corn tortillas.” It’s hard to go wrong with melted cheese and the peppers add some smokiness and the caramelized onions a bit of sweetness to the bite. They obliged my request to bring along a side of chips since I am not so much a corn tortilla person. This didn’t strike me as being particularly unique though – for two bucks more you can get the much cooler flavors of the coctel, but this is a very cheesy proposition.

The $13 “Chipotle Chicken Tostada – Crispy tostadas, chipotle chicken, crema, creamy black beans, queso fresco, avocado.”

The flavor on these is similarly robust as each is topped with the black beans, mildly spicy chicken, sprinkle of cheese, tangy creama, and thick slice of avocado. The flavors are similar to a lot of the entrees though, so consider that when choosing these. I wasn’t sure there was a tremendous amount of value as each one is only about three bites, but everyone can try one for about $4.33 each. Probably my least favorite of the appetizers, though.

The $15 “Frontera Margarita – Casa Noble blanco tequila, Royal Combier, fresh lime juice, agave nectar, salt rim.”

Despite the high price, this one is actually served from a tap next to the Coppertail beer handle. Thankfully, you might not notice as the drink is typically mixed well, though it wouldn’t surprise me at all if generic triple sec was substituted for the Combier. But the drink is straightforward and fits the bill for your basic margarita at a premium price.

The $15 “Play with Fire – Choice of Avión blanco tequila or Montelobos blanco mezcal with cucumber, jalapeño, fresh lime juice, agave nectar, hibiscus salt rim” has a really spicy element to it that’s tempered nicely with the cool cucumber. I like the mezcal here for a bit of smoke.

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We’re zoomed in a little too far on my favorite margarita in the $14 “Blood Orange Jalapeño – Casa Noble blanco tequila, orange liqueur, blood orange juice, habanero bitters, jalapeño, tajin chile rim.” With only the intense citrus flavor of the blood orange juice to ease the spiciness of the pepper and the burn of the alcohol, you get a really spicy sip here. Very good.

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On my most recent visit, I ordered the $16 “Latitude Adjustment – Avión blanco tequila, Royal Combier, fresh lime juice, agave and a splash of soda.”

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Despite the restaurant being relatively full, I thought it was sort of strange that nobody was working the bar area mixing drinks. And instead, the margaritas were brought out from the kitchen where you couldn’t watch them being made, which can be part of the fun of paying sixteen dollars for a drink. My Latitude Adjustment ended up being incredibly syrupy and off-puttingly thick.

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On the left is the $16 “Watermelon Pink Flamingo – Ambhar blanco tequila, watermelon juice, fresh lime, and Torres orange liqueur.” This was a lot lighter and easier to drink with the fresh watermelon and citrus doing a nice job of washing away the liquor.

Overall, the price point on the margaritas is so high that it seems hard to justify picking up two over the course of the meal, though you could argue that the difference between $12 and $16 is “only” four dollars. Although that is enough money to almost get two weeks worth of DisFlix, not that you can really put a price on quality content. But at about $20 with tax and tip, it would be nice to be able to watch the drink be made or at a minimum know that a bartender somewhere in the restaurant is freshly shaking cocktails. Certainly they could do that with this much space, unlike La Cava at Epcot, where they couldn’t keep up with demand if they were shaking every drink fresh.

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Frontera debuted with this drink, which was called the “People Watching – Montelobos blanco mezcal, pineapple juice, mint cordial, Luxardo cherry liqueur, and a hormigas negras salt rim.” I don’t speak a word of Spanish, but after the drink was delivered, it became apparent that “hormigas negras” translates to black ants. That’s right. An ant rim. As you might imagine, this caused some problems and the drink is no longer available. Do vegetarians eat ants? Is there such a thing as sustainable ant farming? It sounds like a good side hustle.

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Another one that didn’t make it in the Mexican Cola, which had the same ant rim. While I liked the flavor of the People Watching, the Cola was thick and sweet with the tamarind sticking to the teeth along with the body parts of ants. Very strange.

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A non-margarita drink that is still on the menu in the $15 “Frontera Old Fashioned – Zacapa 23 Solera rum, agave syrup, orange tiki bitters, lemon, orange peel. “While this is a departure from a typical old fashioned, the dark rum works well against the zesty orange flavor in the bitters. Those that don’t like tequila, but still want to order a cocktail, should be well taken care of.

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Moving on to entrees, we start with the $18 “Chicken Tacos – Grilled chicken tacos, poblano rajas, refried black beans with queso fresco, guacamole, chipotle salsa, served with corn tortillas” that are available for lunch or dinner.

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We are in do-it-yourself territory here, not unlike your typical fajitas dish, as three small corn tortillas are delivered warm alongside the entree.

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I wasn’t particularly impressed by the presentation or portion size. There’s six or seven small pieces of chicken on top of the haphazardly-plated onions and peppers then the guacamole and salsa are smushed into the beans and taco filling. But the flavors were on point – the guacamole was fresh and vibrant and the chicken had a nice, nuanced spiciness to it with a kick from the freshly grilled onions and peppers. The beans were rich and cheesy and added some heft to the tacos, which were on the thin side considering the amount of chicken. Overall, I thought the dish disappointed given high expectations, but $18 isn’t a tremendous amount of money to pay for an entree at Disney Springs, and perhaps I got what I paid for.

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On the other hand, the tortas might not look like much, but they are fantastic. This is the $15 “Cochinita Pibil Torta – Slow-cooked achiote pork shoulder, black beans, pickled red onions, salsa verde, taqueria salad.” And oh man, the pork is impossibly tender in between the soft, crispy bread and the spice blend has a really nice subtle complexity to it rather than just being blandly spicy. There’s some crunch from the red onion and a creaminess to the black beans that help add some weight to the dish. The greens were fresh and I appreciated the salty cheese on top. This recipe is offered at a number of Chef Bayless’s restaurants for good reason – it’s pretty much perfect.

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Also available all day, the $16 “Pepito Torta – Slow-cooked shortribs, Chihuahua cheese, black beans, pickled jalapeños, arugula, cilantro cream, chipotle salsa, taqueria salad” is another great option. Packed with tender beef and a bold spiciness that’s tempered nicely with the cilantro cream, this is a surprisingly filling sandwich that is probably my favorite on property.

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The $22 “Carnitas – Slow cooked pork shoulder with garlic and lime, refried black beans with Cotija cheese, guacamole, picked red onions, salsa verde, served with warm corn tortillas” is another all-day option. I prefer this to the chicken due to the tender pork having a really nice crispiness to it, which helps the meat stand out against the soft tortillas and beans. The citrus rub also contrasts nicely with the green salsa.

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This is the full $34 “Carne Asada – Red chile-marinated Creekstone Natural Black Angus steak, refried black beans with Cotija cheese, caramelized plantains topped with crema and queso fresco, tomatillo salsa, served with warm tortillas,” but a similar offering is available under the tacos designation for both lunch and dinner. The portion size on the steak tacos should be about half of this for $22.

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The meat seemed to resemble a skirt steak, which means it’s packed with flavor, but isn’t the most tender of cuts. The flavor was pretty straightforward here – steak with a rich pepper flavor. With so many dedicated steak restaurants at Disney Springs, including BOATHOUSE, Paddlefish, and STK, I don’t think I would specifically seek Frontera out on the steak front, but it’s a good option for the meat and potatoes crowd if the group otherwise decides to visit. It’s always nice to get away from Disney’s standard “New York Strip.”

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The $27 “Shrimp Mojo de Ajo Pan-roasted Mazatlán blue shrimp with slow cooked garlic, chicken broth, olive oil, lime and chipotle, plantain rice, cilantro, grilled calabacitas, warm corn tortillas.”

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About eight plump shrimp arrive on top of a bed of rice – the sauce has a pronounced garlic flavor that contrasts really nicely with the citrus in the lime. The chicken broth helps thicken the sauce with the pepper adding a little bit of heat. The couple bites of zucchini help add some heft and offer more of an earthy undertone versus the shrimp, which soak up the garlic flavor well. Overall, it’s another stellar dish, but I think it “feels” like it needs one more thing to pull it together.

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The $25 “Shrimp Enchiladas Suizas – Just made corn tortillas filled with Mazatlán blue shrimp and potatoes, creamy roasted tomatillo sauce, pea shoot, and frisée salad.”

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This is a much cheesier version of the shrimp, which are packed into the corn tortillas along with some soft potato. The salad and pea shoots do a nice job of adding some crunch to the soft enchilada filling. You might feel like you need a pair of scissors with the amount of cheese that’s going on. Very good.

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The $22 “Red Chile Chicken Enchiladas – Just made corn tortillas, chipotle chicken filing, guajillo chile sauce, artisanal Jack cheese, crispy onions, creamy black beans.” The sauce gives this a really interesting spicy garlic flavor underneath the thick layer of cheese and a couple bites of fried onion. Another winner on flavor.

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Five sides are available, a couple of which we’ve already seen attached to other entrees.

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I thought the $5 “Arroz con Plantains – White rice studded with plantains and cilantro” was the weakest of the bunch. The rice was bland and the plantains could have just as easily been left out. Nothing to see here.

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The $5 “Fried Plantains With crema and Cotija cheese” are a different story with the sweet, caramelized cooking bananas fried to a light crisp underneath the cool crema and sprinkle of crumbly cheese that’s similar to parmesan.

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The $5 “Queso Añejo Mashed Potatoes – Mashed Yukon potatoes, aged Cotija cheese.” I realize that it’s dumb to coin the mashed potatoes at a Mexican restaurant as a “must buy,” but trust me on this one. The potatoes are so rich and creamy and the cheese gives them a unique flavor that I haven’t seen replicated anywhere else. You want this.

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Three desserts are available, in addition to the “Sparrow Coffee.”

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The “how could you recommend this at a Mexican restaurant” theme continues with the $9 “Pecan Pie Bar with Mexican vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce.” But seriously, this gooey dessert is “to die for” with a chewy, fudge-y, chocolate-y base that’s spiced up with the crunchy pecans, molasses, and cinnamon. So decadent and so good. Possibly my favorite dessert at Disney Springs.

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The $9 “Coconut-Lime Quattro Leches – sponge cake soaked with four milks topped with whipped cream, toasted coconut, fresh blackberries, and lime zest” offered a robust coconut flavor in a much lighter package than the pecan bar with the fresh fruitiness of the blackberries and lime. I am not typically a “soggy cake guy,” but like just about every other food item at Frontera, the recipe and presentation are executed perfectly, and the cake holds up really nicely against the milk.

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You might forego the side of plantains with your entrees and instead opt for the $9 “Platano Sundae – warm fried plantains, Mexican vanilla ice cream, cajeta, toasted pecans.” This is another fantastic dessert with the cool, creamy ice cream offering a nice contrast to the crispy sweet plantains underneath. Very good.

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Overall, Chef Rick Bayless brings some of his best recipes to Frontera Cocina, a restaurant that serves nuanced food full of bold flavors. And while you’re paying for that quality, Frontera is easily the best Mexican restaurant on property. Unfortunately, it’s grouped together with a number of the best restaurants on property. The interior space may leave something to be desired, but it’s pleasant enough without getting in the way of enjoying the meal. If the weather cooperates, I’d suggest sitting out on the terrace, which offers some of the Springs’ best waterside views. I like Frontera a lot, and if you’re in the mood for something south of the border, then it’s a great choice compared to Bongo’s or Paradiso 37. The drinks are a few more dollars than I’d like to pay, but such is life.




Overall, this is a great opportunity to try some of Chef Bayless’s most flavorful dishes in a contemporary setting. I’m not sure that the overall experience is unique enough that it’s a “must visit,” but most people should be satisfied with what’s offered and the outdoor seating area is perhaps second to only Paddlefish. I never have any qualms about stopping in.

Comments

  1. Elizabeth says

    I didn’t even know this existed, and now it feels like a “must do!” I’m eager to try your favorite sandwich at DS, your favorite dessert at DS and those mashed potatoes! Thanks!

  2. dusty cheatham says

    high praise indeed mr. humpreys. . I am a rather pleasantly plump fellow so I love my cheese & potatoes .oh ! and meat too

  3. Steph says

    We went last October and I had the best margarita I’ve ever had. We went at 6:30 on a Friday I believe and there was a bartender mixing the drinks. Perhaps only at certain times? Seems strange to not have one all the time.

  4. Alcachofa says

    Agree with your assessment of the margarita: I don’t enjoy paying $15 for a margarita pulled from a tap. Also, although the menu claims top-notch ingredients, the margarita tasted like any other low-rent margarita. You can’t really “store” lime juice, and I think that may be what results in a middling margarita here. And they did have bartenders when I was there, but they still used the tap.

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