June 18, 2024

Disney World Finally Gets First Michelin Star!


In its third year, the Michelin Guide Florida has awarded Stars to 9 new restaurants in the Orlando, Tampa and Miami areas. For the first time ever, one of the Michelin-Starred restaurants is at Walt

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In its third year, the Michelin Guide Florida has awarded Stars to 9 new restaurants in the Orlando, Tampa and Miami areas. For the first time ever, one of the Michelin-Starred restaurants is at Walt Disney World! This post covers the restaurants in around around WDW that received recognition, Bib Gourmand distinctions, or snubs from the tire taste-testing team.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, yes, the Michelin Guide is by that Michelin–the tire company. The French founders produced a small red guide filled with information for travelers, including recommendations. The goal was to help France’s nascent automobile industry, and in turn boost car and tire sales. Seriously, that is not a joke–it’s what really happened.

Over 100 years later, the Michelin Guide has taken on a life of its own. The tire company’s anonymous inspectors now rate over 40,000 establishments in over 24 territories across 4 continents. The latest region to receive a Michelin Guide is Florida, joining California, New York, Washington D.C., and Chicago as the other other locations in the United States to have Michelin coverage.

Before we further explain the purpose and value of the Michelin Guide, let’s cut to the chase here with the exciting news that Victoria & Albert’s has been awarded a highly-coveted Michelin Star in the 2024 edition of the Florida guide. This is the first time any Disney restaurant has received this distinction, although until the last few years, only ones in the international parks conceivably would’ve been eligible. (Southern California/Disneyland Resort didn’t have Michelin Guide coverage until 2019, and Orlando/Walt Disney World until 2022.)

Here’s the Michelin Guide description of Victoria & Albert’s in awarding it a Star: “Nestled within Disney’s crown jewel, the Grand Floridian Resort, this restaurant is by no means an easy reservation. The setting is intimate, and the pacing is that of a leisurely, three-hour waltz orchestrated by a gracious brigade of veteran servers.”

“Chef Matthew Sowers cooks with contemporary verve and draws on influences spanning from Asia to the Nordics. Think delicate tarts set with New Zealand langoustine, striking “sandwiches” made with venison carpaccio and red cabbage, and bold sauces like cherry-cola bordelaise. Other details like water lists, an ornate coffee and tea service, and a serious wine program further impress.”

Michelin Guide also awarded the 2024 Florida Service Award to Maître d’Hôtel Israel Pérez! Through consistency and preparation, the team at Victoria & Albert’s is able to create a warm and gracious environment that is attentive and personable, according to Michelin.

To many people, “really good service” might mean picking up a fork the second it falls or making sure silverware is spotless. For Perez, however, really good service means knowledge, warmth, and hospitality. It’s worth reading this interview Michelin conducted with Perez along with his honor.

In addition to now being the first and only restaurant owned and operated by a U.S. theme park destination to hold a Michelin Star, Victoria & Albert’s is the sole location in Florida to hold the honor of having both the AAA Five Diamond, consecutively since 2000, and the Forbes Travel Guide Five Star awards, consecutively since 2018.

Victoria & Albert’s is one of only 26 others in the United States with this same unique distinction. It has also been awarded Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence and Florida Trend Golden Spoon Hall of Fame – American Regional.

For over 20 years, Victoria & Albert’s has been dazzling guests with a multi-course experience, filled with extraordinary flavors and the highest quality of ingredients from across the world. Beyond the culinary creations in the kitchen, the team has curated a world-class wine collection featuring more than 500 different selections. Sommeliers are there to guide you through this precisely selected collection – or recommend options from a zero-proof beverage menu – to create perfect pairings.

The culinary team upholding this long beloved and revered legacy is led by Chef de Cuisine Matthew Sowers. After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, he went to work at The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, where his artistry and craftsmanship came together to define his style.

Chef Sowers was mentored by James Beard “Best Chef in the South” nominee Chef Scott Hunnel—who recruited him for the team at Victoria & Albert’s. By 2010, Sowers was involved in the menu development at Victoria & Albert’s. Beginning in 2012, Chef Sowers supported the opening of the Remy restaurants aboard Disney Cruise Line ships. Alongside him handling the sweeter side of the kitchen is Pastry Chef Ally Rogers, who leads the entire pastry team for the resort.

“It’s an incredible honor to be recognized by MICHELIN for the innovative dining experience our team brings to life here at Victoria & Albert’s,” said Chef Matthew. “Everybody on our team earned this Star, from our stewards to our culinarians to our pastry chefs, and we hope to inspire future generations of culinary professionals to follow their dreams.”

For over 20 years, Sommelier Israel Perez, now the recipient of the 2024 Florida Service Award, has been dedicated to creating memorable experiences at signature restaurants across Walt Disney World Resort. As the maître d’hotel, Israel and his team ensure that each person who walks through the doors of Victoria & Albert’s has a perfect evening through each step of service.

“Just like a dance, there are many tiny steps that come naturally after years of dedication. Everything is done with purpose, and it is beautiful when the tempo is perfect,” said Israel.

Overseeing culinary operations and teams of the 13 food and beverage locations at this resort is Executive Chef Kevin Chong. Last but certainly not least is Culinary Director Chef Scott Hunnel, who was at the helm of Victoria & Albert’s for many years and now provides his expertise and mentorship to culinary teams across multiple resort hotels at Walt Disney World.

In case it’s not clear from the above, this is a big deal. Victoria & Albert’s has been deserving of a Michelin Star for decades, and aiming for one since becoming eligible last year. It was originally believed that V&A’s might’ve been snubbed last year, but we’ve heard credibly that Michelin purposefully wanted to give the team more time to find its footing after reopening. So even though eligible, this is the first year that Victoria & Albert’s was considered for a Star.

Many travelers and food tourists now seek out Michelin-recognized restaurants, going out of their way to dine at far-flung locations, enduring lengthy lines or virtual queues, and tirelessly attempting to score reservations. We know this because we are Michelin devotees, and have done literally all of those things for Michelin meals.

We aren’t alone. Tourists are frequent fixtures of Michelin-recognized establishments, and restaurants proudly display their accolades to lure wandering patrons inside. For many restaurants, gaining recognition from Michelin is a game-changer and a huge boost for business.

This is precisely why Florida’s tourism boards paid Michelin $1.5 million to produce its Guide to Florida. Michelin recognition is good for local tourism, especially among the coveted higher-spending international visitors. (The Michelin Guide to Florida has been met with skepticism by some foodies because of this.)

Although that $1.5 million might seem like a conflict of interest or veiled advertorial, it’s for the state as a whole (or at least the cities of Miami, Tampa, and Orlando) rather than specific restaurants. Michelin’s inspectors are anonymous, pay their own way, and have no real conflicts of interest with any specific restaurants they review.

Honestly, I don’t know why this is such a popular talking point for people and the mainstream media. It’s not really a “gotcha.” There are great restaurants everywhere–not just in Paris or Tokyo or Los Angeles or wherever–and it costs money to review them. Especially the expensive restaurants! Where is that money supposed to come from? Book sales and tire synergies don’t cut it.

If you’re apprehensive that the Michelin Guide is a list of highfalutin haute cuisine for pretentious people, that’s only partially true. The most well-known aspect of the Michelin Guide is its star system, which honors the world’s best restaurants with one, two, or three stars.

Usually, these starred restaurants are expensive and unapproachable. But not always. We’ve had Michelin-starred ramen, pizza, dim sum, and greasy spoon cuisine. We’ve dined in the world’s least-expensive Michelin-starred restaurant (under $10 per person) and some fancier ones,

Honestly, most Michelin-Starred restaurants make me uncomfortable. I wouldn’t even bother with the high end ones in cities like Miami, Los Angeles, Paris, or Tokyo. In other regions, I’d be open to them on a case by case basis. The attentive and friendly service at Victoria & Albert’s made us feel comfortable even when we were newly-weds who looked like we were about 12 years old back on our honeymoon. We have zero hesitations about dining there–well, aside from the cost!

Given cost and comfort considerations, the sweet spot for us is Michelin’s Bib Gourmand award. This honors ‘good quality, good value restaurants’ and this list is universally approachable, including in the United States. Bib Gourmand award winners are those that deliver stellar quality at prices in line with the local cost of living.

They can feature inventive and innovative dishes, but the focus is usually on simpler meals. In other words, you leave the restaurant satisfied and full. We’ve dined at dozens of Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurants, and have literally never had a bad experience. To that point, if you’re traveling to California, New York, Chicago, or major international cities, we highly recommend downloading the Michelin app and using that to find Bib Gourmand restaurants near you.

With that explainer out of the way, let’s turn to the 2024 Michelin-recognized restaurants at Walt Disney World, along with what the guide had to say about each, followed by our commentary on the suggestions and snubs made by the Michelin Guide…

Toledo – Situated on the 16th floor of Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, Toledo is quite the looker with lofty ceilings in bold colors and geometric tiled floors. Nab a table by the glass wall and you’ll have a bird’s eye view of the Epcot fireworks. Meanwhile, on the tables Spanish cuisine takes center stage.

Tapas kick things off, and pan con tomate is a natural choice. Meat-forward mains include several steak options, as well as a ribeye for two, but the Rioja-braised chicken makes a compelling argument for choosing a different route. End on a sweet note with café con leche, a chocolate choux pastry filled with chocolate and coffee cream. Though certainly not inexpensive, Toledo packs less of a punch to the wallet than other Disney restaurants.

Citricos – Set on the second floor of the Grand Floridian Hotel, Citricos brings to life a gloriously contemporary vibe and décor elements that are a subtle nod to Mary Poppins. The menu is coastal American, as evidenced by the use of seafood, citrus and tropical fruit. The team has a refined cooking style, replete with balanced flavors and technical prowess.”

While the carte is seasonal, expect the likes of corn bisque whimsically arranged with pickled fennel and popcorn. Crispy smoked duck is finished with salt and gently set atop a tangle of tagliatelle with celeriac purée. Up next might be guava-braised short ribs with cheddar grits and poblano sauce, leaving you full to the brim. Save room for at least one exquisite dessert—like an orange blossom flan.

Morimoto Asia – Set in the bustling Disney Springs area, this bi-level beauty is a collab with Chef Masaharu Morimoto. A grandiose sense prevails throughout—from the well-stocked bar to the tables and booths neatly arranged under shimmering 20-feet-long chandeliers. There are balcony seats upstairs, which afford views of the hanging ducks in the glassed-in kitchen.

The cooking is pan-Asian and the menu spans everything from American-Chinese classics and Korean specialties, to ramen and sushi. Ingredients employed here are impressive; flavors are subtle yet balanced and technique is solid. Orange chicken is beloved, but be sure to check out such daily gems as the black truffle-sushi rice risotto. Desserts, like a melon soda float with vanilla gelato, are delightful.

Polite Pig – If the name of this Disney Springs destination doesn’t warrant your attention, its waterfront setting and soulful cooking will do the trick. The space is casual with an industrial vibe; guests may order at the counter or large, full-service bar to avoid a wait—et voilà —everything is magically delivered to your table.

Exposed ductwork, a glassed-in kitchen and “farmer’s market” sign put diners in the mood for rustic-meets-contemporary food, complete with condiments aplenty. Flavors are nuanced yet balanced in these dishes. Meat reigns supreme on the menu and there’s no going wrong with the brisket—sliced thin, black pepper-rubbed and served with sides like creamy potato salad. Beers and cocktails, like the Texas tea, are available on draft.

In terms of commentary, it’s fantastic to see Toledo earning recognition for yet another year. We’ve recommended this restaurant repeatedly since it opened as a location that punches above its weight, offering great value-for-money by Walt Disney World standards and being an easier-to-book Advance Dining Reservation.

Toledo’s out-of-the-way location in Gran Destino Tower (accessible only by bus or car) have prevented it from seeing California Grill or in-park levels of popularity, even after receiving Michelin recognition last year. Although slightly more popular with serious foodies, it has remained a hidden gem that’s only really busy when there’s a convention at Coronado Springs. In which case, all bets are off.

Speaking of towers, California Grill at the top of Contemporary Resort has been removed from recognition in the 2024 Michelin Guide to Florida. This makes sense. The prix fixe menu is fine, but feels like the restaurant is going through the motions and coasting on its legacy. There are at least a half-dozen better restaurants at Walt Disney World, perhaps more. At minimum, I’d want to see Flying Fish, Jiko, and Topolino’s Terrace recognized before California Grill. It’s arguably become Be Our Guest with a view.

For 2024, the potential snubs are both in World Showcase at EPCOT. Takumi-Tei in the Japan pavilion and Monsieur Paul in the France pavilion. Both of these restaurants now have over a year under their belts since reopening. Both now feature extremely expensive (versus pre-closure) prix fixe menus, which we assumed meant that they had elevated their quality even further in the hope of receiving recognition from the Michelin Guide to Florida.

Instead, they don’t even gain ‘recommended restaurant’ status. With both of these, it’s possible that Michelin did not even consider them since both require theme park admission. (In Europe and Japan, there are recognized restaurants inside temples and museums that do require admission–but that’s a few dollars as compared to over $100.)

Even as we’re disappointed by the astronomical price increases at these two locations, they’re still deserving of accolades. It’d be disappointing if they were actually snubbed. (Then again, maybe it’ll help bring their prices back to reality.) Accordingly, our bet is that they were not eligible or considered in the first place.

Elsewhere at or around Walt Disney World, Capa at the Four Seasons Orlando was awarded a Star. Also at the Four Seasons, Ravello earned recognition. As did the Sear + Sea at JW Marriott Bonnet Creek and Four Flamingos, A Richard Blais Florida Kitchen at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress.

Other Central Florida restaurants once again received 2024 Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand recognition: Bombay Street Kitchen, Pizza Bruno, Domu, Papa Llama, the Ravenous Pig, the Strand, Swine & Sons, and Z Asian Vietnamese Kitchen. Both Pizza Bruno and Domu are highlighted in our List of Great Restaurants Near Walt Disney World, as were a handful of Michelin’s recommended locations.

There are no Bib Gourmand restaurants at Walt Disney World; none would be eligible for that award since none of them offer good value for money. There are plenty that offer good value by Disney standards, but none that are both commensurate quality and value by real world standards.

Visit the official website to browse all 148 restaurants featured in the 2024 Florida Michelin Guide.

Ultimately, it’s nice to see the 2024 Michelin Guide to Florida awarding a Star to Victoria & Albert’s. Although we’ve yet to dine there since the restaurant reopened (and sadly, probably won’t until we have a “grandparents trip” with the baby), it has arguably been deserving of this distinction for decades–it just wasn’t eligible until the last couple of years.

It’ll be fascinating to see how this impacts the Walt Disney World culinary scene. The company loves recognition (there’s even an “Awards & Accolades” page on the Disney Parks Blog), and even touts meaningless ones like those from 10Best and random readers’ choice awards.

Michelin is the opposite of meaningless, so perhaps Disney will give its culinary teams the resources and encouragement necessary for even more restaurants to be recognized. That would seemingly be a savvy move, as there’s a huge market for foodies and a growing portion of Walt Disney World guests are millennials without children, but with ever-increasing amounts of disposable income. The only downside here is what this could mean for Victoria & Albert’s pricing…and demand. It’s safe to say that the difficult Advance Dining Reservation is about to become even harder to score!

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

Your Thoughts

Happy to see Victoria & Albert’s earn a Star? Are you excited to dine at some of the restaurants recognized by 2024 Michelin Guide Florida or is this not your scene? Hopeful that more Walt Disney World restaurants make the lists in future years? Do you agree or disagree with our assessments? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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