Whining About My Hard Life Blogging About Disney World (You May Or May Not Want To Punch Me)
Dining reviews might be the hardest part of running an amateur blog about Disney World. No, not because eating is hard. In fact, it’s so easy that I’m beginning to develop what can only be described as the “Disney appetite.” My body is expecting a Dole Whip at 2pm, a sweet cream cheese pretzel at 4pm, a half pound hamburger at 6pm, popcorn at 8pm, ribs at 10pm. And when it doesn’t get it, it pouts a bit. I’m half expecting my tummy to revolt, exit my body, and meander down to Epcot to wait for the new Kaki Gori stand to open. No, dining reviews are difficult because it’s virtually impossible to accurately review any of them. There are simply too many Disney World restaurants – over 80 sit-down restaurants scattered around the 40 square mile Walt Disney World resort. To truly review a restaurant, you would need to eat there six or seven times over a number of weeks or months. From a logistical and financial standpoint, that’s just impossible. This makes reviewing food and service difficult because one meal is in no way indicative of the overall experience. One example of poor service doesn’t necessarily mean there are institutional shortcomings. More likely, the server was simply assigned to too many tables at that particular moment. One flavorless entree doesn’t necessarily indicate everything on the menu is improperly seasoned. One rushed meal doesn’t mean the staff wouldn’t give you the opportunity to slow down and enjoy your meal if asked. Finally, food is so subjective. Pass around just about anything to a dozen people and you’ll get a spattering or responses from “excellent” to “terrible.”
With that introduction, I will give you my opinion of my last meal at San Angel Inn.
A History of Unfortunate Meals
San Angel Inn is located in the Mexico Pavilion in the World Showcase. There are actually two Mexican restaurants located in the Mexico Pavilion now – San Angel Inn inside the Temple next to the Gran Fiesta ride and La Hacienda de San Angel looking over World Showcase Lagoon outside on the Promenade. Over the last dozen or so years, San Angel Inn has probably racked up the most negative reviews of any Disney World restaurant. Many of those reviews were deserved, as San Angel Inn has been several different shades of terrible over the years. Throughout those years, the parent company was vocal about trying to improve the restaurant, the food, and the service. Keep in mind that this is the same parent company that owns the other restaurants in the Mexico Pavilion – La Cantina de San Angel, La Hacienda de San Angel, and La Cava del Tequila. They also operate the Pepper Market, Maya Grill, Cafe Rix, Siestas, Laguna Bar, Las Ventanas, and room service at the Coronado Springs Resort. Now that I think back, I have probably eaten more meals at San Angel Inn than any other Epcot restaurant. The question has always been, “Is it good yet?” “Is it good yet?” “Is it good yet?” “Is it good yet?”
I think the answer is finally, “Yes.”
San Angel Inn now features an all-new menu and an all-new seating configuration. If you go to the San Angel Inn page at DisneyWorld.com (http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/san-angel-inn/), you would see the following image:
However, if you go to San Angel’s own site, you would see this, more updated, image:
While the beautiful background remains intact, the tables are now covered in white tablecloths and the chairs have a much more subdued, less kitsch-y look to them. The main point of contention here is that the tables are about six inches apart in straight rows. This means that you are basically dining with whomever is at the next door table, regardless of whether or not they’re on the same reservation. For the ease of the staff, diners are seated at tables next to each other. During my meal (at 2:20pm on the 24th), the restaurant was only half full, but almost all tables in the back half of the restaurant were taken, while the front of the restaurant away from the volcano and water were left empty. This may also have something to do with the fact that people prefer to be closer to the water and volcano. If you would like to be seated in a more remote part of the restaurant, be sure to request it when you arrive at the restaurant. Just keep in mind that this isn’t the place for private conversation, especially during peak meal times and high crowd levels when the restaurant will be full. I had four nice young ladies seated next to me and I got to enjoy their conversation about how one of them was going to break the news to her parents about a new tattoo. So, if you just returned from a Disney World vacation and your daughter has a new tattoo, feel free to email me and I will sell you the rest of the details for $1,000,000 dollars.
Also, San Angel Inn is incredibly dark – darker than I remember it being. It’s virtually impossible to see the menu and as we’ll see once the food comes out, virtually impossible to see what it is you may or may not be eating. Amusingly, I was using the lamp on the table to aid in reading the menu. I had the menu directly underneath the lamp, with the menu tilted up a bit to help funnel the light to the drinks section. A member of the staff came over and without asking moved the lamp away from the menu, commenting, “Now you’ll have more elbow room.” More elbow room maybe, but nothing to order. Luckily, I had more or less already decided what I wanted. If you’re thinking about San Angel Inn, I would recommend taking a look at the menu while you wait, as the waiting area has a little more light than the main dining room. You’ll also find an updated menu at San Angel Inn’s website: http://www.sanangelinnusa.com/menus.html.
I decided on the Traditional Mexican Lunch. It’s three courses for $25 and includes a soft drink or iced tea. If you were to order the same items a la carte, it would run about $34. In other words, it’s sort of like getting the soup and soft drink “free.” I’ve added the a la carte prices below. On the previous menu, the entree was a skirt steak item and the dessert was flan, which is similar to the Crema Bavaria.
Sopa Azteca – $7
Traditional tortilla soup, served with fried tortilla strips, avocado, cheese, and pasilla pepper
Enchiladas Verdes de Pollo – $17
Corn tortillas filled with pulled chicken, covered with green tomatillo sauce, topped with sour cream, queso fresco and onions, served with black refried beans
Crema Bavaria – $7
Creamy bavarian mousse served with mixed berries, cinnamon and orange liqueur
Includes soft drink or iced tea. No substite on the Mexican lunch. – $2.39
Of course with any Mexican restaurant, one key comparable aspect is the “free” chips and salsa. At San Angel Inn, the chips are presented very nicely in a sort of goblet with salsa hanging off both sides in small containers. Because the restaurant was so dark and I didn’t want to disturb my new friends sitting at an arm’s length distance (read: I didn’t want to get slapped), I didn’t take many pictures of the food. Here’s a shot of the chip holder: http://www.disneyfoodblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/chips.jpg. The chips are a nice small size, which means getting them in your mouth is easier than with those huge chips you might be more familiar with. The salsa was spicy and thick, which is also an upgrade from the usual watery mess you’ll find at other Mexican restaurants.
San Angel Inn now shares many of the signature drinks available next door at La Cava del Tequila. This is a nice upgrade from the more rudimentary choices offered in the past.
San Angel Inn
A tradition in Mexico City since 1963. El Mayor premium silver Tequila, orange liqueur, agave nectar and fresh lime juice, served chilled with a cactus-lemongrass Himalayan salt rim
Familia Camarena premium silver Tequila, orange liqueur, a sweet-tart mix of blood orange juice and hibiscus syrup, topped with fruit foam served on the rocks with a hibiscus Himalayan salt rim
El Mayor premium silver Tequila, jalapeño, fresh lime juice, cucumber and agave nectar, served on the rocks with a hibiscus Himalayan salt rim
Familia Camarena premium rested Tequila, blue Curacao, fresh lime juice and agave nectar, served on the rocks with a hibiscus Himalayan salt rim and a souvenir LED blue ice cube
Wild Passion Fruit
Familia Camarena premium silver Tequila, ginger liqueur, passion fruit, mango nectar and fresh lime juice, topped with fruit foam, served on the rocks with a hibiscus Himalayan salt rim
Familia Camarena premium rested Tequila, ginger liqueur, caramelized pineapple nectar, fresh lime juice and agave nectar, served on the rocks with a cactus-lemongrass salt rim
El Mayor premium silver Tequila, orange liqueur, agave nectar and fresh lime juice, served on the rocks with a cactus-lemongrass salt rim
El Mayor premium silver Tequila, melon liqueur, fresh avocado, agave nectar and fresh lime juice, served frozen with a hibiscus Himalayan salt rim
You’ll also find a huge variety of tequilas available by the shot, as well as an assortment of wines and beers.
The Margarita Flight
As far as I know, the Margarita Flight is not actually available on the menu at either La Cava or San Angel Inn. However, they may bring it to you if you ask nicely and whimper a little bit. It may also have to do with how busy they are and whether or not you look like you’re an amateur Disney World blogger. Not to brag, but I sort of have that aura about me. You might also consider making the reservation under a prime blogger’s name. Perhaps you are a party of four under the name AJ Wolfe, Bob Sehlinger, Lou Mongello, or just “Josh.” You might as well tip the scales in your favor. Here is a very dark picture of the Flight along with dessert. It’s the only picture I took.
That’s the 60%-gone Flight in the background. It comes with five samples that are about one ounce each. Mine came with Magic Blue, Wild Passion Fruit, Blood Orange, Pineapple, and Classic. At $18 it wasn’t cheap, but the margaritas normally run $12.50 – $14.00, so it wasn’t a bad deal in the grand scheme of things and it’s a nice way to introduce several margarita flavors at once. The only thing I would complain about with the Flight is that the salt lining the glass overpowers the flavor of the margarita itself. Several of the margaritas are rimmed with a hibiscus Himalayan salt, which has a strong, unique flavor. When you order a full size drink, the salt flavor tends to linger a bit, but you’ll be able to taste the margarita more distinctly after the first sip or two because most of the salt will be gone. Because there’s so little margarita in these samples, you don’t have much of an opportunity to taste the unique flavors of each drink without also enjoying a mouthful of salt.
Granted, I don’t get out much, but this soup was prepared and served in a way I had never seen before. The contents of the soup are brought out dry – avocado, tortilla strips, cheese, and pepper. At least that’s what the menu says and what I think I tasted. It was so dark that you can’t really see what’s in the bowl. The broth is brought out in a separate pitcher and poured over the soup tableside. This guarantees it isn’t served mushy and was a classy way of presenting the dish. This was excellent – by far one of the best soups I’ve ever tried.
Enchiladas Verdes de Pollo
These were great too. Served with a creamy tomatillo sauce, the dish is served with three tortillas stuffed with chicken and cheese and topped with sour cream, a nice salsa, and fresh onions. A small helping of beans and rice accompany the main dish. I cleaned the plate in a minute or two.
This is the dessert pictured above and is about what you would expect. A generous dusting of cinnamon is the kicker here. The berry accompaniment was also a nice play on one of the more traditional Mexican desserts. I’m not sure I would go out of my way to order it specifically, but it was a nice end to the meal.
I felt like $25 was a fair price for a three course lunch in Disney World. After all, an entree, drink, and dessert at many quick service locations would run you about $16 and dinner entrees are in the $25+ range at most restaurants.
I can’t fault the service overall. The only hiccup I really ran into was the fact that I was charged for my Diet Coke when the menu clearly states it’s included with the lunch. I questioned this when the bill came and the server disagreed with me, but agreed to remove it from the bill. The implication being that I was confused and he will continue charging people for soft drinks with the Traditional Mexican Lunch. In traditional Disney style, the pace was also rushed. I would have liked to have had more time with the chips and my margaritas in between courses. All in all, I was in and out in 55 minutes. That includes three courses and the bill. There certainly wasn’t anyone forcing my hand to get out, but there was only two minutes in between courses, indicating that the entrees were ready to go before anyone specific ordered them.
The closeness of the tables is sure to be a turn off for some. On the other hand, the restaurant is so dark that there is some amount of privacy depending on who’s sitting next to you. Don’t expect to have an intimate conversation here though. It’s not quite the same fun atmosphere as Biergarten, where you’re encouraged to converse with the strangers sitting next to you. Instead, it’s just a matter of whether you want to say hello to the people sitting six inches to your left and right.
Other than that, San Angel Inn is known for its pleasant atmosphere with the Mayan ruins and erupting volcano in the background. However, the new table arrangement means that no one in your party will be looking directly at it, since you’re both looking at each other parallel to the scene in the back of the restaurant. For me to look at the setting in the distance, I basically had to look over the heads of the girls sitting next to me.
Overall, I’m not a big fan of the new layout. It’s a little awkward being so close to another party. I could hear every word of the conversation next door, from what they were planning to do later in the day to the locations of their new tattoos. And that’s not necessarily because I’m super creepy. There’s just no way around it unless you want to yell at the person across from you to cover up the other conversation.
Recommending restaurants is really about trying to put you in the best possible position to have an enjoyable meal. For a long time, San Angel did not have consistently good food and service. Thus, it was not recommended. I had pointed out from time to time that it has been improving and I think with the new menu, it finally is a recommendable restaurant. The only big deterrent is the seating arrangement and it may not be a big deal in the grand scheme of things. I’ll be returning for dinner in the next couple of days. If that meal turns out to be as good as this one and complaints continue to decline, I think we’ll have a new recommended restaurant.