Celebrity Chef Jose Andrés’ Jaleo might be the newest kid on the blog at Disney Springs’ West Side, but will it pass the test of time? It has been more than 8 months now since its much-anticipated opening, and after several visits, Liliane Opsomer, coauthor of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids and contributor to The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, has become a die-hard fan.
Jaleo, a restaurant by award-winning chef and Nobel Peace Prize nominee José Andrés, opened on the grounds of the former Wolfgang Puck Grand Café. The restaurant features an extensive menu of tapas, reflecting the rich regional diversity of traditional and contemporary Spanish cuisine. It is a welcome addition to Disney Springs, which in the past few years has seen the opening of lots of new restaurants, with an overwhelming number of places featuring Italian cuisine.
Jaleo is casual, yet it exudes a stylish and festive decor. It is a comfortable setting for guests to explore the traditional cuisine of Spain without feeling overwhelmed. Tapas is a great way to discover new food. If you are not sure about what you want to eat, or hesitant if you will like it, small portions are the way to go.
A vision of architect and interior designer Juli Capella of Capella Garcia Arquitectura, the outside of the building is inspired by a vegetable, the artichoke. The interior pays tribute to Andrés’ native Spain. The colors of the Spanish flag, red and yellow, dominate the decor of the 22,000-square-foot restaurant, the largest of five Jaleo restaurants in the United States.
Large-scale photos of iconic Spanish scenes adorn the walls of the multi-level space, and Spain’s famed aged Ibérico ham, which is carved tableside, is proudly displayed. The overall design is warm and inviting, low-key, yet sophisticated with amazing modern light fixtures. The atmosphere conveys the conviviality of Spain.
Chef Rodolfo Guzmán, a native of Bolivia and trusted collaborator of Andrés for 25 years, heads the kitchen at Jaleo. He and his team bring alive Spanish cuisine right in front of your eyes at the paella pit and the open kitchen.
While tapas is best enjoyed with friends, my last visit to Jaleo was solo, and I asked to be seated at the open kitchen counter. It was a great choice. I loved having a front-seat view of the chefs at work. My waiter and sommelier couldn’t have been nicer, and I enjoyed discussing the food and Chef Andrés with them.
I started my meal with pan de cristal con tomate. This thin and crispy toasted bread brushed with fresh tomato is a staple of Catalan cuisine.
Next up was endivias con queso de cabra y naranjas, delicious endives filled with goat cheese and dotted with sliced oranges and almonds. Traditional chicken fritters, Croquetas de pollo, also did not disappoint.
My third tapas was gambas al ajillo, shrimp sautéed in garlic. I also highly recommend Patatas Bravas, fried potatoes with spicy tomato sauce and aioli. For both dishes, make sure to ask for extra bread to soak up the amazing sauce.
Paella is, of course, a must when eating at Jaleo. This most traditional and well-known Spanish dish is available by the plate or pan. There are no different choices of paella offered, rather a daily different one is featured. Regional paella variations include ingredients such as chicken, seafood, vegetables, chorizo, and even rabbit.
Ask your server about the paella of the day. Entire pans of paella are prepared to order for 8 or more guests and are presented tableside. My chicken and mushroom paella was delicious and prepared with savory and delicious bomba rice from Valencia.
But what would a meal be without dessert? I went for the flan that is made according to a recipe of José Andrés’ mom. The custard was served with a foam of Catalan cream and oranges. If you want to try your hand at this delicious dessert, José Andrés shares the recipe here.
Jaleo has an extensive drink menu. The wines by the bottle come with detailed explanations, and a knowledgeable sommelier is at hand to help you pair your dishes to perfection. I went for the classic Sangría roja, and it was delicious.
Jaleo offers the finest Spanish cuisine in a unique setting. It is the perfect place for a parents’ night out. Tapas is the way to go and I am sure you will enjoy the whimsical plates, one bite at the time. ¡Buen provecho!
Good to Know
Jaleo is open daily 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m. The Orange garage on the West Side is the closest to the restaurant. Jaleo participates in the annual fall dining month, offering a $35 prix-fixe, multi-course menu, which is a bargain and a great way to get acquainted with the restaurant. Jaleo offers Disney Annual Passholders and Disney Vacation Club members a 10% discount and a 20% discount on food and beverages for Tables in Wonderland members. This discount is valid for a party of up to 10 guests, including the member. Disney Cast Members enjoy a 20% discount before 4 p.m. and after 10 p.m.