When it comes to restaurants on the World Showcase, I don’t think you can find one that’s more polarizing than San Angel Inn. People either love it or they hate it. They think it’s the best hidden gem in the World Showcase, or they think it’s restaurant with great ambiance and lackluster food.
So who’s right? Well, depends on who you ask and when they went… Allow me to explain.
In the 90’s, eating at San Angel Inn was one of the few dining experiences I remember. The gorgeous ambiance, the proximity to an underrated and deeply relaxing ride (El Rio del Tiempo, which had pretty much the catchiest soundtrack of all time), and the drool-worthy food. It was so good we ate there twice in one trip on consecutive days and deeply regretted discovering it at the end of our trip so we couldn’t eat there a third time.
When it came to planning my first trip of the new decade (in Thanksgiving week of 2008 to be exact), the very first reservation I had to make was San Angel. For months I talked up the sheer awesomeness of this place, even debated using two ADRs for two different meals. I was so hype, I couldn’t wait to eat here again. And when we finally ate there, the food was… Um… Not so good. At all.
In fact, I won’t pull any punches here… It was pretty awful. The food was bland, cold, the menu pretty boring, the service was a step above having to walk to the kitchen and get the food ourselves… It stood out as the dining failure of the trip. I was so, so, so disappointed.
I had nothing but great memories of my precious San Angel Inn, but it didn’t come close to delivering quality food or service. And, unfortunately, my experience wasn’t really unique. Pretty much everybody who ate there had a really, really negative experience.
My expectations walking in were less than what I had for your average trip to McDonalds. I was hoping it’d be a nice view and a cool room. That was it. I claimed my ADR, which was pointless as more than half the dining room was empty but our table was right next to the water, which was pretty cool. It was darker than I remember and the tables were very, very close together, maybe even a tiny bit loud. But overall, it was super nice. Very cozy, intimate, and relaxing.
The chip basket came out and, I have to say, I consider myself quite the connoisseur of chips and salsa and it takes a lot to impress me. The salsa, however, really impressed me. Fresh, clean, definitely a zip, but a nice sweetness to it, and it tasted so incredibly fresh. So at this point, I figure with awesome chips and salsa, at least I won’t starve.
I still remember what I ordered… The pollo a las rajas… Grilled chicken breast served over rice dopped onions, peppers, chorizo in this beautiful cream sauce and topped with melted cheese. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. The chicken was incredibly moist, I didn’t even need a knife to cut it.
The onions and peppers were cooked to perfection, not limp and sopping like I was worried they would be, and the rice was so delicately spiced that it balanced out the sweetness of the peppers and onions and really cut the heaviness of the sauce and cheese. They used to serve it with a lemon wedge, which they don’t anymore, and I find it to be a shame. With fresh squeezed lemon over top, it’s pretty much the best food ever made.
If it hadn’t been tacky (and distinctly off my dining plan) to ask for seconds, I would have. Sampling the other dishes on the table, the sirloin con Chile Relleno, the tostadas de tinga, even the mahi-mahi fish tacos… It was all to-die-for. Perfectly cooked, exceptionally seasoned, and slammed with flavor.
Don’t even get me started on desserts… At the time, they had this amazing dish, isla flotante… A lime meringue served over a vanilla sauce with fresh berries… Honestly, it seems cruel to describe how good it was seeing as it’s not on the menu anymore. Let’s just say it was my favorite dessert on Disney property. Yeah, it was that good.
Since that trip in September of 2011, I’ve been 3 more times, every Disney trip but one (I wasn’t in control of the ADRs on that trip and I felt my soul die a little not going there for a meal, but by goodness did I try to make it work…) January 2012, September 2012, and May of 2013. It continues to be the place with the best meal of the trip, the first ADR we make, and the meal that is the most looked forward to.
Once a hidden jewel where you had to convince people to try it, one of the places you knew you could get a table without a reservation, it’s now impossible to walk in and increasingly difficult to get a reservation. In April of 2013, Gordon Ramsay’s wife Tweeted pictures of the food and Chef Ramsay declared it one of the best places for Mexican food in the country… Making reservations just that much harder to get.
I’m proud to say that I’ve sampled most of the things on the menu and while I haven’t had a bad experience… Well, I take that back. I did have a bad experience after eating the Mole Poblano… Little Miss Peanut Allergy forgot that mole is made with peanuts… But that was my stupidity, not theirs, and I will say that it tasted amazing and I don’t regret eating it…Though I do regret wandering back to the hotel in misery at 7pm and wasting a meal at my favorite restaurant…
Even then, however, the staff was so sweet and when they saw I was ill, they packed me my dessert, an extra dessert, and another entree to enjoy in my room when I felt better… Which is just plain awesome. Anyway, while I’ve always had a great experience with them (despite my best efforts) and the new menu, there are certainly dishes that stand out. The pollo a las rajas, the tostadas, the soupa azteca are all standouts (I love how they serve the soupa! Brilliant!).
However, on this last trip, I found the dish that is quite possibly the best I’ve ever had there, Camarones a la Diabla. Roasted spicy shrimp served with poblano rice and yuca puree, topped with a chile sauce. So spicy, so sweet, and amazingly flavorful. I still dream about this dish.
When I talk about that dinner, I talk about it with the hushed tone that people reserve for truly awe-inspiring moments in their lives. It was incredible. I’m already dreaming about having it as my last meal before running the Wine and Dine Half Marathon.
As far as the desserts go, one can’t go wrong, but I personally think the Crema Bavaria, a creamy mousse topped with berries, cinnamon, and orange liqueur, is phenomenal. Again, one of the best desserts on property.
Despite a rocky period in the mid-2000’s, San Angel has become my hands-down favorite place to eat on property. The ambiance, food, and overall experience can’t be beaten. People may be turned off by the dark dining room, the closely packed tables, and the louder-than-average ambient noise, and those looking for classic Tex-Mex or Americanized Mexican as well as people who are a tad on the picky side may have trouble with the menu…
But trust me, for those who like a little spice and seasoning or a meal with unique flavors, a degree of authenticity that’s hard to find even along the World Showcase (Neither fruit and Jell-O salad or vanilla pudding with chocolate chips is a German dessert, regardless of the vaguely German name you give it… Biergarten, I’m looking at you…), and a completely unique dining experience will love San Angel Inn.
Personally, no Disney trip is complete without me stuffing myself silly and then wandering over to Donald’s boat ride to digest… No line, and they’ll let you ride that more than once without having to get up. Trust me.