advertisement

It may not have the lineup or caliber of restaurants of, say, New York or San Francisco, but Orlando's diverse dining scene offers an array of memorable eateries that will please the palate of even finicky foodies. That said, keep in mind that for the most part Orlando is a family destination first and foremost—and therefore caters mostly to the masses. Here are my picks for the best eating in town.

  • Best for Kids: Kids adore the meals served up with Disney characters bounding about, and there are plenty to choose from throughout the Walt Disney World resorts and theme parks. They also love the eclectic atmosphere, sounds, and visuals of the jungle-themed Rainforest Cafe and the T-Rex Cafe, its prehistoric-themed sibling—both located at Disney Springs (a second Rainforest Cafe can be found at Disney's Animal Kingdom). If horsing around is more your style, try dining at the Whispering Canyon Café (407/939-3463), inside Disney's Wilderness Lodge, for some foot-stomping fun. (Fun hint: Even if you don't need any, ask your server for some ketchup.)

  • Best Character Meal: It doesn't get any better than Chef Mickey's breakfasts and dinners at the Contemporary Resort. These "events" have their respective namesake and other characters, but a word of warning: They also attract up to 1,600 guests each morning. A close second is a meal at the Crystal Palace Buffet, located in the Magic Kingdom. You will not see Mickey and Minnie, but your kids will be greeted at your table by Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, and some of their pals.

  • Best Spot for a Romantic Dinner: Victoria & Albert's will spoil you with superior service and lavish surroundings. Dinner in the main dining room is an intimate seven-course meal offering some of the finest food around, the experience topped only by the 10-course meal offered in the very intimate Queen Victoria's Room, with only four tables. Reserve that one six months ahead if you can.

  • Best Wine List: For something a bit out of the ordinary, try Jiko—The Cooking Place, at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge; it features one of the most extensive collections of South African wines in the country.

  • Best Barbecue: Follow your nose to Bubbalou's Bodacious BBQ after catching a whiff of the tangy hickory smoke. It tastes as good as it smells.

  • Best Seafood: Try Deep Blu Seafood Grille at the Wyndham Grand Orlando Bonnet Creek, at the southern rim of Disney property; Todd English's bluezoo, in the Walt Disney World Dolphin near Epcot, blends a unique atmosphere with creative seafood dishes to great success.

  • Best Tapas: Café Tu Tu Tango takes the tapas concept to another dimension, serving items ranging from Cajun egg rolls with blackened chicken to alligator bites in a fabulous artist-loft atmosphere with lots of music and booze.

  • Best Steakhouse: Seemingly every restaurant in town has steak on the menu, the usual high-end chains aboud to serve conventioneers: The Palm at Universal's Hard Rock Hotel and at the Point Orlando outdoor mall, Capital Grille. Dining at Texas de Brazil Churrascaria is an experience not to be missed, as melt-in-your-mouth cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and chicken are served up tableside.

  • Best Spot for Celebrating: Emeril's, at Universal's CityWalk, and Tchoup Chop, at Universal's Royal Pacific Resort, are great choices for a high-end special occasion. For the pure party factor, you can't beat Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville at CityWalk.

  • Best Themed Sunday Brunch: For a themed brunch, the House of Blues, at Disney's West Side, has a down-home gospel brunch featuring live foot-stomping music and an array of Southern/Creole vittles. The food is so-so—the same quality as at a dinner show, which this is, morning style—but the entertainment makes it a certifiable winner.

  • The Most Memorable Meals at the Resorts: Orlando is one of those places where even blasé restaurants are priced like splurges, but some special-occasion tables deliver on their promise, such as California Grill overlooking the Magic Kingdom fireworks; Morimoto Asia or STK Orlando at Disney Springs; Boma, an all-you-can-eat feast at Animal Kingdom Lodge where you can watch African animals roam; and the famous character meals, where your fuzzy hosts serve up family memories.

  • Finding Family-Run Places to Eat: Some fab restaurants, many family-run, have been unfairly elbowed into the background by same-old chains. These include Bruno’s Italian Restaurant, abbondanza! right in the franchise zone of Disney; Nile Ethiopian Cuisine, authentically African, down to the coffee ceremony, near Disney; Havana’s Cuban Cuisine, the real stuff, from steak to plantains, right by Disney; and the affordable Q’Kenan, whose overstuffed arepas are popular with local Venezuelan families.
  • Big Style, Local Flavors: Get in touch with the locals: The veggie chili at the friendly hangout Dandelion Communitea Cafe is to die for, and Maxine’s on Shine is seductive fun. Above all, the sensationally priced Vietnamese district of Mills Fifty is a revelation. Yes, as it turns out, there are still dining secrets in this town.

The Best Themed Restaurants

Orlando has elevated themed dining to an art form. The food at these restaurants may not be the best in town (though it won't be terrible either), but you can't beat the atmosphere.

  • World Showcase Restaurants: Epcot's World Showcase is home to Orlando's best collection of theme restaurants in one setting. Dine in Italy, chow down in China, or watch a belly dancer do her thing as you eat couscous in Morocco. You'll have an adventure no matter which spot you choose.

  • Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant: Your table is set inside a 1950s-era convertible, your carhop (umm . . . waitress) serves you popcorn as an appetizer, and you can zone out on sci-fi flicks on a giant movie screen—indoors, though it feels like you're outside—while you eat. It's an out-of-this-world experience.

  • 50's Prime Time Café: Ozzie and Harriet would feel right at home inside this replica of Mom's kitchen (ca. 1950), where classic TV shows play on black-and-white screens. Servers may threaten to withhold dessert (choices include s'mores!) if you don't finish your meatloaf, so clean that plate, and while you're there, Dad will let you raid his liquor cabinet.

  • T-Rex Cafe: Set some million or so years in the past, this paleontologist's playground is waiting to be explored—especially if you're dining with the kids. Bubbling geysers, a fossil dig site, life-sized animatronic dinosaurs, an hourly meteorite shower, eerily glowing rooms, and themes of fire and ice—it's all here. What would a trip to Orlando be if you couldn't eat french fries under an exploding volcano?

 

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.