When you’re strolling through Downtown Disney, you really can’t miss Bongos Cuban Café.
And, of course, part of the building is actually structured as an ENORMOUS PINEAPPLE. So that helps raise the profile a bit, too.
What’s harder to find – and indeed, most guests walk right by – is Bongos Cuban Café Express (sometimes referred to as the Bongos Walk-up Window). And it just so happens to be a great place to sit for a spell and grab a quick meal or snack.
The window is tucked into the left side (if you’re facing Bongos). So now that you know it’s there, let’s take a quick glance around!
“Express” is part of the name for a reason — the setting is simple, consisting of the order window itself and a few tables, so the focus is in grabbing a quick bite to continue your day taking in the shops and entertainment in Downtown Disney.
The outdoor seating area is casual and comfortable, and the umbrellas offer a tropical feel. (Although, here’s a word to the wise: much like Yorkshire County Fish Shop over in Epcot, the birds know this place exists, too! Be prepared for the potential for uninvited guests 😉 ).
What impresses me about this space is the landscaping that surrounds it. Even though I suspect that it’s part of what keeps the window so hidden, it’s lush and beautiful, and also helps the seating area feel a more like a little retreat.
Behind the greenery, though, there is Cuban fare in store, so let’s check it out.
A glance at the menu (click the image to enlarge) reveals options from soups and salads to sandwiches, along with a full coffee menu. You’ll notice the menu reads “Estefan Kitchen Express, ” as a nod to Gloria and Emilio Estefan, creators and owners of the restaurant chain.
I like that the Kids Menu features some more unique options, such as the Mini Cuban Sandwich and the Mini Midnight Sandwich (though Chicken Bites are also available for pickier eaters).
We started with a Chicken Empanada, which you’ll find under the Appetizers section of the menu (along with a beef version). The outer pastry shell was the perfect color — the fried dough is nicely crisp, flaky, and tasty enough on its own. (For those who loved the Empandas featured at the Argentina Booth during the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, the ones at Bongos are a bit larger portion-wise.)
The chicken inside was moist, but not soggy. It was also well seasoned. I’ve grabbed an empanada or two here in the past and had found the chicken version to be a bit bland on occasion, so I’m glad that wasn’t the case this go ’round.
We decided on beef for lunch and went with a Cuban classic – Ropa Vieja (this translates into “old clothes” in Spanish due to the shredded style of beef). It came with a generous amount of shredded beef with peppers, white rice and sweet plantains.
I must say that the rice on this plate was excellent — nicely seasoned and not at all overcooked. The meat itself was decent (though not quite as tender as I’d have liked) and the flavors — while tasty — were mild.
What ended up becoming my favorite part of the meal was the Pastelito de queso (cheese pastry) — a buttery roll-style pastry with a delicious cheese filling.
It’s more roll than filling, so it was a bit different than expected. This dessert is quite rich, so a little goes a long way.
Before leaving, I couldn’t resist grabbing something cold, so I went with a Mango Smoothie to go. (Well, it ended up being to-go, in any case, thanks to a good ol’ Central FL sudden downpour!) Other flavor options include Banana, Mamey (the national fruit of Cuba, described as having a flavor close to that of a sweet potato), Passion Fruit, and Strawberry.
As for the Mango Smoothie, it was lightly sweet and refreshing, but I found it to be just a bit too artificial for my taste (though that’s also in light of having recently sampled the Mango Gelato at the new Vivoli Gelateria, which has an entirely pure flavor). Altogether, Bongos Express offers a pretty extensive collection of smoothies that includes some unusual options, and is worth checking out if you’re on the hunt for a cool beverage on your trip through Downtown Disney. In fact, I’d say this spot boasts a more than decent-sized menu for being such an off-the-beaten path destination.
Bongos is a love it or hate it kind of place. Personally, I’ve always loved it. Though the service can be slow inside, I’ve never had a bad meal there. That said, I really hadn’t taken much advantage of the Bongos Express window other than to grab an empanada as a quick snack/mini meal on the go. Stopping for a full meal was a better experience than I anticipated, and the fact that the service was friendly and cheerful added to my experience.
The Express presents a good opportunity for satisfying a craving for Cuban food (or perhaps giving it a try for the first time), and — in addition to spots such as Cookes of Dublin, The Smokehouse, and Wolfgang Puck Express — really helps to round out the variety of cuisines that can be found and enjoyed when it comes to Counter Service in Downtown Disney.
Have you tried either of the Bongos Cuban Café dining venues? If so, what did you think? Please let us know with a comment!