EPCOT’s annual International Festival of the Arts, which runs through Feb. 21, 2022, is a celebration of all manner of creativity. You’ll find performers and art vendors throughout the park, with daily shows from the Disney on Broadway Concert Series. Unique photo opportunities will let you step into some of the most important paintings of all time, including Mona Lisa and The Scream. You’ll also be able to try your own hand at creating something beautiful at a handful of interactive art experiences, including a paint-by-numbers mural of EPCOT’s mascot Figment.
This is an EPCOT festival, though, which means one thing, above all else: food. You’ll find a diverse spread of enticing delicacies throughout EPCOT during the Festival of the Arts, from the standard menus at EPCOT’s many great restaurants, to limited engagement offerings at kiosks throughout World Showcase. No disrespect to the visual and performance arts, but at EPCOT, the culinary arts reign supreme.
I recently trekked down to Orlando to try out this sumptuous feast for myself. (I’m not going to lie: I love my job.) The special festival food is served in small-ish portions—think tapas—and will generally set you back between $5 and $10 a plate. Expect to pay a little bit more than you would for most theme park treats, for a little bit less food, although that food is of a higher quality and with a more artful presentation than you’d typically get from a walk-up counter at a Disney park. And because this is traditionally the slowest time of the year for Disney’s theme parks, you probably won’t have to wait as long in line as you might at other EPCOT festivals. If you’re into the general concept of EPCOT’s food-centric special events, this is the one to go to.
Here’s what I discovered during my savory journey through the culinary world. These are the best foods at EPCOT’s Festival of the Arts.
Found at: El Artista Hambriento at the Mexico pavilion
This is one of the heftier dishes you’ll find at the Festival. It’s a seared beef tenderloin served with refried beans, a square of grilled queso fresco, and salsa, and if you’re looking for something to serve as an ersatz main course for your ‘round-the-world feast, this is one of your best bets. My tenderloin was cooked just right, with no chewiness or gristle, and the mild salsa was just spicy enough to give it a little kick. This is the dish’s first year at Festival of the Arts, and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t make a return in 2023.
Found at: The Painted Panda at the China pavilion
I’m a firm believer that it’s hard to do bao wrong. When done right—which is, again, almost all of the time—these steamed buns are light and sweet, sticky and chewy, and an ideal snack even without anything in them. So when you put a solid serving of barbecued char siu pork in there, along with a sweet sauce that has just a hint of heat to it, the result will almost always be worth devouring. That’s true with the char siu pork bun at the Painted Panda, which might be my favorite food at the entire festival. It’s also served with a striking presentation, with a streak of sauce across the white plate that looks like a brush stroke. The Painted Panda lines can get long, but this bao is worth the wait.
Found at: Goshiki at the Japan pavilion
The chicken kushiage at Goshiki is essentially comfort food. It’s a piece of deep-fried chicken served with yum yum sauce (an American creation, of course) and a side of vegetables, and it’s exactly as warm and delicious as that might sound. If somebody in your group isn’t particularly adventurous, or if you’re looking for something familiar but slightly different than what you might expect, the chicken kushiage could be a good dish for you. It’s not typical theme park fare, but at the end of the day it’s still fried chicken, which means it’s theme park fare in a spiritual sense.
Found at: L’Art de la Cuisine Francaise at the France pavilion
I have a deep, abiding love for croissants that knows almost no bounds, and so I might be a little biased about this one. The black winter truffle croissant is even better than I hoped it would be, though. It’s served warm, with a creamy, truffle-filled center with a savory and robust flavor that can be a bit surprising if you’re used to croissants filled with chocolate or fruit. The warmth and the potential messiness of the center means it isn’t a great snack to eat on the go, like you might expect from a croissant, but it’s still a delectable treat for anybody who likes croissants or truffles.
Found at: The Deconstructed Dish, near Port of Entry
The Deconstructed Dish specializes in high concept versions of familiar staples like French onion soup and key lime pie. Its take on pie is pretty fantastic, but the highlight is its Deconstructed BLT, which separates the simple sandwich into an artfully arranged line of its component ingredients. Instead of bacon, it opts for crispy pork belly, which gives the dish a bit more substance than it maybe would have otherwise had, and then complements that with a soft-poached egg, a small rectangle of brioche, tomato jam, and watercress espuma. The whole deconstruction concept might seem a little off-putting or unnecessarily ambitious—it absolutely looks like a sitcom or commercial making fun of snooty restaurants—but it fits the artistic theme of the festival, and it results in a few tasty dishes that you won’t soon forget. Chief among them is the BLT.
Found at: Pop Eats, near Port of Entry
Here’s the ultimate comfort food, which served me very well on the unusually cold and rainy day I visited EPCOT last week. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a rich, warm tomato soup with a gooey grilled cheese sandwich perfect for dipping. There are two varieties on offer, with the better one using bacon, apple and brie for the sandwich; the crispiness of the bacon, the tang of the apple, and the creaminess of the brie is a beautiful combination that tastes even better when dipped in the tomato soup. It sounds cheesy, but this is the kind of dish your mom would say is good for the soul, and I’m inclined to agree.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.