Review: T-Rex Cafe Downtown Disney

My son's favorite restaurant is the T-Rex Cafe at Downtown Disney in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. We've made a pilgrimage there every year for his birthday since it opened in 2008 next to the Lego store. Disney sets the gold standard for accommodating guests with dietary restrictions, so for a dinosaur obsessed child with life threatening food allergies, T-Rex seems like a dream come true.

T-Rex divides its seating into five areas. The Coral Reef section includes a bar and two incredible saltwater aquariums. Geothermic Dining's volcanic themed room opens to a fiery view of the grill. The Ice Cave glows around fossils imprinted into the walls of a simulated glacier. Both the Sequoia and Fern Forest seating areas have a Rainforest Cafe vibe, which is unsurprising, since both establishments belong to the Landry's chain. The entire restaurant is filled with animatronic dinosaurs and prehistoric animals who roar and trumpet during the "meteor shower" that takes place every fifteen minutes.

The gift shop, where I have purchased many birthday presents for my son, has a nice selection of dinosaur bedecked clothing plus some science oriented books and toys. It includes a Build-A-Dino workshop and has an outdoor "fossil dig" area for children.

The menu features American cuisine with cutesy prehistoric names such as Woolly Mammoth Chicken and Tyrannosaurus T-Bone with entrees priced from $15 to $35. The Kid's Menu has more than the usual mac and cheese and corn dogs with additional choices like Dizzy (rotisserie) Chicken and Mini-Mes-O-Bones (pork ribs).

Vegetarians and vegans will have trouble finding any options, and it's worth noting that the "Paleo Shrimp" is crusted in Parmesan and served with linguine tossed in cream sauce.

The featured dessert is the Chocolate Extinction for four, a decadent tower of fudge cake, ice cream, caramel, more fudge, whipped cream and crumbled Butterfinger candy. For birthday guests, singing staff members march it to the table on a tray with sparklers and dry ice.

As in all Disney affiliated restaurants, a chef comes out to the table to take the order of any individual with food allergies and personally prepares the meal to prevent any opportunities for miscommunication or cross-contamination. My son has dined safely every time we've visited, and I am probably more relaxed when I allow him to eat there than in any other locale.

I am not the only mom who trusts T-Rex. One year our chef told us that he had already taken eight or ten food allergy orders that day, and that all the other chefs had served just as many meals to food allergic guests.

Although the restaurant does not serve any desserts that my son can eat, they have permitted me to bring one of my own cupcakes for his birthday and brought it to the table with all the accouterments of the Chocolate Extinction so that he could have the full birthday experience.

My son isn't the only one in our family who enjoys eating at T-Rex. My husband dives into the meaty Colosso Nachos, a well executed version of the bar staple he subsisted on in his twenties. Other appetizers are just as substantial. On our latest visit, one of our party chose the Footprints Flatbread, which resembles a thin crusted pizza topped with chicken, multiple cheeses, caramelized onions, balsamic vinegar and fresh basil, as a somewhat overwhelming meal by itself.

My son typically eats the Fire Roasted Rotisserie Chicken with a simple side such as potato chips or fruit. He adores the Discovery Blast, a multicolored slushie served in a novelty bone shaped tube that may be taken home. While he definitely likes the food, the kiddo gets more excited by the prehistoric atmosphere and the simple thrill of being able to eat out together.

When our family goes to a restaurant, my husband and I predictably choose the meals we miss eating the most because of the adaptions I've made to our menu at home due to my son's food allergies. My husband's red meat cravings have been thoroughly satisfied by both the burgers and steak on the menu.

My personal favorite is the luxurious Mammoth Mushroom Ravioli, which is served in a lobster cream sauce with tomatoes and spinach along with a crusty chunk of bread to mop it up. When I originally tried the ravioli it included generous morsels of lobster in the sauce. Unfortunately the shellfish has since become more of a passing acquaintance with the dish, rather than a regular inhabitant.

When I am feeling less hedonistic I have also enjoyed the bright flavors of the Tribal Tacos filled with blackened fish with cilantro, red cabbage, pico and an avocado cream sauce which are complimented by savory black beans and rice on the side.

If you want to avoid the overload of the Chocolate Extinction when ending your meal, T-Rex also serves a respectable Florida key lime pie.

Should you take your allergic kid to the T-Rex Cafe?

While T-Rex does an outstanding job of keeping food allergic customers safe and will happily accommodate by cooking off the menu, the restaurant has made no attempt to create any additional gluten free or allergy friendly menu items, or even an allergen specific list to accompany the menu. T-Rex does not boast a dedicated fryer for making allergen free french fries or keep any allergy friendly or gluten free cupcakes, cookies or brownies tucked away for the hordes of hopeful children who beat down the door daily.

T-Rex needs to return some of the love from the food allergy community and step up to the plate to create more choices for its loyal customers with restricted diets.

Downtown Disney Marketplace
1676 East Buena Vista Drive
Buena Vista, FL 32830
(407) 828-8739

Sunday to Thursday 11 AM - 11PM
Friday to Saturday 11 AM - 12 AM

Reservations recommended.

Disclosure: I was not compensated in any way for this review and all opinions are my own.

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