First Dinner at La Hacienda San Angel – originally written on September 23, 2010

The long anticipated and much watched “La Hacienda San Angel” (located in Epcot’s World Showcase Mexico Pavilion) opened on September 16, 2010.

We’d been reading reviews of the press event and of “La Cantina San Angel” (counter-service located immediately next door) on allears.net and on the Disney Food Blog…

  • Review of La Cantina San Angel (here)
  • Review of the press event (here)
  • Menu for La Cantina (here & here)
  • Menu for La Hacienda (here & here)

… and they whetted our appetite to give La Hacienda a try (we’re also somewhat convinced that a unique menu with true culinary authenticity will eventually be corrupted to suit the “general American taste” – whatever that is – and will no longer be a really great, cool place to eat)…

So, one week after the Grand Opening, we were there!

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La Hacienda de San Angel - entrance and check-in area

We decided to go to “lupper” instead of having a later meal. Our experiences dining at WDW have taught us that an earlier evening meal (between 4 and 5 p.m.) means

  1. quieter dining
  2. more attentive staff
  3. less rushed feeling
  4. better opportunities to take photos

The other reason for going to dinner early, La Hacienda San Angel is still in a soft-opening phase and thus you can’t make an ADR for this venue. All diners are accommodated as walk-ups on a first-come first-served basis. Given the publicity that La Hacienda has already received, we were concerned it would be difficult to get seated for a more traditional dinner time and/or a time closer to Epcot’s Fireworks.

We arrived at the reception desk at 4:00 and after a very brief wait (hardly enough time for Nick to take photos), we were ushered into the lobby and immediately seated. Right away, we were very pleased with the decor and our table was right next to the windows overlooking the World Showcase Lagoon — this is definitely a coveted table for watching the Epcot Fireworks.

Our server was Jonathan. He did very well: helping out with menu choices and telling us about the cast opening. It was clear that Jonathan was proud of La Hacienda. He started us off with a basket of chips (nothing special, just chips, we only nibbled on these and left nearly all of them in the basket) and two salsas – a deep red salsa that tasted to us as if it was made using chipotle peppers with adobo sauce and a bright green salsa that seemed to be made of tomatillos and garlic. They were both lovely – Nick preferred the red salsa (Jonathan brought us seconds of it for our queso fundido) and Nora preferred the green salsa (she often likes tart & tangy foods more than Nick).

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Chips and Salsa

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The Rosita Margarita

The Rosita – silver tequila, a rose infused syrup, slivered rose petals, garnished with a complete rose petal and rose colored salt on the rim – pale pink in color, at first sip it was rather floral and sweet, those flavor tones quickly wore off and this was a really delightful drink

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The Orange Mango Fire Margarita

The Orange Mango Fire – orange and mango juice, silver tequila, a spicy chili salt, and chili syrup – deep orange in color, at first sip very good & just spicy enough to know that there was a bit of heat in it, the spiciness became less noticeable as the meal went on, very good, we’d order it again

While waiting for our margaritas, we met Hilda, a tequila ambassador. She was walking around La Hacienda with samples of the Coffee Margarita – of course we sampled… Hilda has been a tequila ambassador in the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot for slightly over a year – if you participated in one of the tequila tastings during last year’s Food and Wine Festival, chances are you’ve met her. We chatted for a while and look forward to seeing her in October when we do the Tequila Tasting at Tequila de Cava. The Coffee Margarita was VERY GOOD – more of a dessert item than a “true” margarita. It contained Kahulua, cream, mezcal, and a lot of other things I can’t remember. Nick suggested to Hilda that they put a little tag next to it on the margarita menu “suggested as a dessert” and/or also list it under desserts for “guests over 21”; Nick later saw Hilda talking to two suits and pointing at the menu – he likes to think that Hilda was delivering his suggestion about the Coffee Margarita.

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The Coffee Margarita - nora took a sip before nick took the photo

We had seen photos of the Chiles toreados y chorizitos and we wanted them! This was our first appetizer, Jonathan was sure to tell us that these were a little spicy (and he was right, if you like spicy food these are about a 2-3 out of 10). DELIGHTFUL! We made ourselves stop snacking on these so that we’d have room for the rest of our meal, and the second appetizer that Jonathan highly recommended. They were unbelievable yummy. For the first time that I can remember, we took something home from a meal at Epcot – about a third of these were boxed up and they are just as wonderful this morning as they were last evening. We both remarked that these could easily be our entree with a few other sides.

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Chiles toreados y chorizitos - Roasted sweet peppers with lime and sea salt, served with mini "cantimpalito" chorizitos

This dish of slightly roasted green chiles, mild and sweet, with small chorizos (not fatty at all) topped with lime juice and coarse sea salt was unbelievably wonderful!

Jonathan so strongly recommended that we try the Queso Fundido, that we ordered a second appetizer. We’ve enjoyed the queso fundido at San Angel Inn inside the Mayan temple before – we’ve also ordered it there and been a bit disappointed. Jonathan recommended that we try it (he also recommended the Ensalata de la Hacienda – we’ll have to try that on a future visit), saying that the servers had really enjoyed it during their training.

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Chiles toreados y chorizitos - Roasted sweet peppers with lime and sea salt, served with mini "cantimpalito" chorizos

  • Queso Fundido – this is a fairly standard offering at most Mexican restaurants (perhaps not at tex-mex), the freshly made flour tortillas really made this stand out when topped with the red salsa (thank you Jonathan for that tip) – this is sure to highly appeal to most American palates
  • Regarding the iron skillet… It wasn’t well seasoned yet, most likely because La Hacienda is still in it’s soft-opening and the skillets haven’t been used a great deal (certainly hope it isn’t because the kitchen staff doesn’t know how to season an iron skillet or how to clean an iron skillet). Because it wasn’t seasoned yet, a LOT of the cheese stuck to the side and bottom, making it impossible to get the queso fundido out. Also, the skillet is VERY hot… we had to use our napkins to hold it steady for each other and there were still moments of concern that it was going to go skittering across the floor.

Time for an entree

We contemplated getting one of the mixed grill offerings, with the Del Mar (seafood) being most favorable; but since we’d just eaten two appetizers and we really try to avoid overeating, we instead looked at the main entrees called Plato Principales. We rarely eat steak, we can’t stand tilapia, and we generally avoid deep fried foods (I know, heresay!); that left either the chicken or the pork. The pork dish won out…On our first trip to WDW, Nora ate chicken with mole sauce at San Angel Inn (she was the most food-adventurous person in our group) and now she has a soft sentimental spot for mole sauce. Nick was interested because he loves pork. So we ordered the Puerco en Salsa de Mole Negro…

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Puerco en Salsa de Mole Negro - roasted pork tenderloin with mole negro sauce, served with esquires (roasted corn), sweet potato mash, beans, and vegetables

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Side items included rice, fresh corn tortillas...

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... and black beans with queso fresco

  • The meal was presented attractively – of course, the tables at WDW are often too small for comfortable service
    • Our table for two was completely full with one entree, our beverages, and the chips balanced on the edge of the table – we can’t begin to imagine where another entree could have been placed on this table
  • The pork was very tender and cooked perfectly – drawback, it was very salty
    • It was clear that it was the meat that was very salty. We separated the mole sauce – quite tasty but not salty. We separated the roasted corn – extremely good but not salty. We tasted the pork on its own, still very salty.
    • Sarah Holodick’s Review of La Cantina San Angel on the Disney Food Blog also mentioned very salty meat – in that case, it was the shredded beef – like her, we believe that meat needs salt (heck, most food benefits for a tiny sprinkle of salt, even cookies!) – but it was applied with a heavy hand
    • We were able to speak with a manager (there were suits all over the place last night, of course La Hacienda is still in a “soft opening” phase) – he went and spoke with the chef (who we also saw observing the dinner service) – we completely understand that some alterations will be made to the recipes… it seems that salt on the meat will need to be one of the adjustments*
  • The roasted corn underneath the pork – to die for! Nick is not a fan of corn (headaches), this was a huge hit with him. I think there may have been a sprinkling of queso fresco on top. The seasoning was spot on!
    • The corn tasted like it had just been cut off the cob immediately before roasting, it was sweet and crisp. The kernels were not uniform, clearly it was cut off by hand, not by machine. The juices from cutting the kernels off seemed to have been saved and used in the dish.
    • Nora grew up in the South and raised, picked, preserved/canned, and ate an awful lot of corn. Nora’s grandfather nicknamed her “little mule” because she loved corn so much and because she was such a stubborn child. Let’s just say again, in our opinion corn was really EXCELLENT. Nick says that it was the best corn he’s had in over 20 years.
  • The rice – not much to say here, it was only “eh”, we each had one bite and no more…
    • It tasted like it was cooked without adequate salt (grains cooked without salt, especially boiled grains like oatmeal, grits, and rice, are simply horrid)
  • The black beans – another hit with us!
    • Slow cooked, smooth and velvety. Topped with queso fresco and seasoned just right… yum yum.
  • The corn tortillas were okay if a bit dry and bland (lack of salt), especially compared to the flour tortillas which we preferred (they were fantastic)

The remains (sorry for the fuzzy photo, taken with Nora’s iPhone)…

  • Note how crowded the table is (again, this is a complaint we nearly always have about WDW Dining – unless we’re seated at a table for more than the number of diners)
  • Note there were six pieces of pork, two went uneaten; other than the rice, everything else has been eaten and enjoyed
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The end of the meal

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The last bit of Orange Mango Fire Margarita - not for long!

As we were finishing up, Hilda was walking through the dining rooms with the Coffee Margaritas again – we agreed that this would be the perfect ending – and they were.

Highlights

  • Chiles toreados y chorizitos
  • Red salsa
  • Rosita and Orange Mango Margaritas
  • Mole Sauce
  • Esquites (roasted corn)
  • Black Beans
  • talking to Hilda

Lowlights

  • Corn tortillas
  • over salted Pork

Plan to go again?

  • Yes, hoping to go with friends who will be here early for the Food & Wine Festival but before the official opening of La Hacienda and ADRs become required
  • Yes, with a larger group so that there are more opportunities to taste the menu and a chance to enjoy our new favorites

Fears / Concerns…

  • That it will become so wildly popular because of the view, relaxing and enjoying dining at La Hacienda will be impossible
  • That since most people aren’t adventurous eaters, the popular dishes will skew the whole menu away from the authenticity that it now enjoys –
  • Thus, the “powers that be” will remove the unique items and it will just be another bland tourist attraction because of the fireworks

P.S. A Note: The Cast Members asked us if we were using the Disney Dining Plan. We replied, “no, we’re using Tables in Wonderland” – and can confirm that La Hacienda takes TiW for dining discounts.

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