In the Walt Disney World Resorts
Most restaurants in this category (specific listings can be found in our Walt Disney World guide) continue the Disney trend of being above market price. On the flip side, many offer food and atmosphere that far exceed what you'll find in the theme parks. The quality level means that even those not staying at Disney resorts like to dine at these restaurants, so Advance Reservations are a must. Note: Valet parking at any of the Disney resorts runs $12 (plus tip), unless otherwise noted.
The Best Tables in the World -- There are two special dining options at Victoria & Albert's. Reserve the Chef's Table (far, far in advance) and dine in a charming alcove hung with copper pots and dried flower wreaths at an elegantly appointed candlelit table -- in the heart of the kitchen! You'll begin by sipping bubbly with the chef while discussing your food preferences for a menu (up to 13 courses) created especially for you. There's a cooking-seminar element to this experience: Diners get to tour the kitchen and observe the artistry of the chefs at work. The Chef's Table can accommodate up to 10 people a night. It's a leisurely affair, lasting 3 or 4 hours. The price is $200 per person without wine, $295 with five wines. This is so popular that Disney takes Advance Reservations (180 days out for both the main dining room and the Chef's Table), so reserve early by calling tel. 407/939-3463.
Disney's newest and most exclusive dining experience to date is Queen Victoria's Room. Here, at just four tables behind closed doors (right off the main dining room), discerning diners will experience a sumptuous 10-course meal with authentic French gueridon service and unsurpassed personalized attention. The price tag is $200 per person; add an additional $95 per person for wine pairings. To reserve a table (a single seating is offered nightly), call the restaurant's private line (tel. 407/939-3862) up to 180 days in advance.
For additional details and sample menus, check out www.victoria-alberts.com.
Cooking for Kids -- Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa offers a special cooking program for children. The Wonderland Tea Party gives kids ages 4 to 10 a 1-hour primer in cupcake decorating -- with their fingers! They also feast on sandwiches (turkey or berry) or chicken nuggets and sip apple-juice "tea" while they play with Alice and the Mad Hatter ($40 per child). Call tel. 407/824-3000 or 407/939-3463 for details.
In Lake Buena Vista
Downtown Disney is located 2 1/2 miles from Epcot off Buena Vista Drive. It encompasses the Downtown Disney Marketplace, a complex chock-full of cedar-shingled shops and themed restaurants overlooking a scenic lagoon; the adjoining Pleasure Island (soon to be Hyperion Wharf), a lively entertainment venue full of shops and restaurants of its own; and Downtown Disney West Side, a slightly more upscale collection of shops, restaurants, the Cirque du Soleil, and a multiplex. The restaurants have kids' menus, usually in the $5-to-$10 range, though sometimes higher.
Coming Attractions -- Disney recently opened its newest full-service restaurant at Downtown Disney: Paradiso 37. The first new dining option to open for business at the newly re-imagined Pleasure Island (a project slated to open in stages over a 2-year period -- the end result of which will soon become Disney's Hyperion Wharf), Paradiso 37 features a menu that is representative of the 37 countries throughout the Americas -- North, Central, and South -- in keeping with its name. In addition, an international bar features 50 or so tequilas and a varied selection of signature frozen margaritas. Menu items might include North American Sliders (blackened mahimahi, grilled barbecued chicken, or barbecued pulled pork); Colombian-style whole crispy hen marinated with onions, garlic, lemon, and cilantro; Chilean salmon, skewered and served with a tomato vinaigrette; or an Argentinean skirt steak topped with caramelized onions and chimichurri sauce. The waterfront location offers an unparalleled view of the entire Downtown Disney skyline. Open daily from 11am until late at night.
Downtown Disney also welcomed Pollo Campero in late 2010, a quick-service eatery with a flavorful menu of Latin dishes such as Campero Latin chicken, yucca fries, sweet plantains, and others ($5-$8). Pollo Campero replaces McDonald's, which closed in April 2010. Look for additional eateries to debut in upcoming months as the re-imagined Hyperion Wharf begins to take shape.
In Universal Orlando
Universal Orlando stormed onto the restaurant scene with the 1999 opening of its dining and entertainment venue, CityWalk, which is between and in front of its two parks, Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. But Universal's sudden entry onto the food front doesn't mean quality was lost in the rush. In fact, some of the best dining options around can be found here -- even inside the theme parks (and most especially at Islands of Adventure). Several of Universal's restaurants offer cuisine ranging from respectable light bites to dependable dinners (a few even border on fine dining), with most offering unique and casual atmospheres. Do note, of course, that the better-than-average food and surroundings come with higher-than-average prices.
Universal takes "Priority Seating" arrangements for its park and CityWalk restaurants, which can be made up to 30 days in advance by calling tel. 407/224-3613 for USF restaurants, 407/224-4012 for IOA restaurants, and 407/224-3663 for CityWalk dining spots (except Margaritaville and NBA City). Actual reservations are available only for Mythos (tel. 407/224-4534) and Emeril's (tel. 407/503-2467). For more information on dining at Universal, call tel. 407/224-9255.
In the International Drive Area
International Drive has one of the area's larger collections of fast-food joints, but mixed in around its midsection and southern end are some of the region's better restaurants. South I-Drive is 10 minutes by auto from the Walt Disney World parks. Restaurant Row, located in a small area just above I-Drive along Dr. Phillips Boulevard and Sand Lake Road, is currently the hottest dining area in Orlando.
Bargain Buffets -- I won't list them all, but if you spend time on International Drive or U.S. 192/Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway between Kissimmee and Disney, you'll see billboards peddling all-you-can-eat breakfast buffets for $5 to $8. This is a good way to fill your tank early and skip (or at least go easy on) lunch, especially if your day is in the theme parks, where lunches are overpriced. Note that you won't find award-winning cuisine here, except perhaps for the highest concentration of grease! Those with kids, however, will appreciate the inexpensive and kid-friendly fare -- especially over some of the high-priced restaurants at the resorts.
Breakfast buffets are served by Golden Corral, 8033 International Dr. (tel. 407/352-6606); Ponderosa Steak House, 6362 International Dr. (tel. 407/352-9343), and 7598 U.S. 192 W. (tel. 407/396-7721); and Sizzler Restaurant, 9142 International Dr. (tel. 407/351-5369), and 7602 U.S. 192 W. (tel. 407/397-0997). The latter two are the better bets.
Dining on Restaurant Row -- In the past few years, just east of I-4 along a stretch of Sand Lake Road, in the swanky suburb of Dr. Phillips, several very chic, very trendy, and very hip eateries have popped up. This high concentration of upscale (and, at times, ethnic) eateries, now known as Restaurant Row, is home to some of Orlando's best eating opportunities. In addition to Roy's, Ocean Prime, and the Samba Room), there are lots of others worth noting.
- Seasons 52, 7700 W. Sand Lake Rd. (tel. 407/354-5212; www.seasons52.com). Enter this combination grill and wine bar and you'll feel as if you've stepped onto the set of a Rock Hudson movie thanks to the '50s-style Art Deco architecture and an interior accented with stacked stone walls. The menu, which changes weekly, is both sophisticated and designed to be healthy, so it's relatively easy on the waistline and the palate.
- City Fire American Oven & Bar, 7958 Via Dellagio Way, off Sand Lake Road (tel. 407/722-8888; www.cityfirerestaurants.com). Heating up the Orlando dining scene is City Fire, the latest addition to Restaurant Row's lineup. Although upscale, a homey and comfortable atmosphere is what sets this place apart. The restaurant is lined with photos and antiques dating back to the early 1900s; the lighting (an eclectic mix of mismatched fixtures) gives off a warm glow; and the tremendous stone wood oven stands before a shining copper wall. The menu offers a selection of signature flatbreads, seafood, and steaks. A patio overlooking Sand Lake Road allows for outdoor dining in good weather.
- Cedars of Orlando, 7732 W. Sand Lake Rd. (tel. 407/351-6000). A simple yet elegant atmosphere featuring Ottoman arches and columns, white table linens, and a roof-topped terrace for outdoor dining combine with a selection of more than 50 Lebanese specialties (and a bit of belly dancing) to make this Middle Eastern restaurant a very attractive package.
- Amura, 7786 Sand Lake Rd. (tel. 407/370-0007). One of the city's best Asian restaurants features a contemporary decor that runs throughout its three unique dining areas, which include a sushi counter, performance grills, and a more intimate dining room. The main menu tilts toward a fusion of Japanese and European cuisines.
- Timpano Italian Chophouse, 7488 W. Sand Lake Rd. (tel. 407/248-0249; www.timpanochophouse.net). Classic, sophisticated styling (think old New York supper club) is the signature of this Italian steakhouse, which features fabulous aged steaks and impeccable service. Large booths, chandeliers, an indoor fireplace, and a baby grand piano add to the ambience, while the sounds of Sinatra, swing, and jazz play in the background.
To get to Restaurant Row: From I-4 E., take exit 74A, and turn left onto Sand Lake Road. From I-Drive, turn left onto Sand Lake Road. Restaurants run along both sides of the road in the Fountains, Rialto, and Venezia plazas, as well as the Marketplace.
Get the Pointe? -- Pointe Orlando, 9101 International Dr. (tel. 407/248-2838; www.pointeorlando.com), has evolved, thanks to a multimillion-dollar redevelopment a few years ago, into an upscale collection of outdoor shops and trendy eateries. In addition to the restaurants already listed in this guide, there are others here worth noting, including:
- Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar (tel. 407/226-2481; www.cubalibrerestaurant.com). This exotic addition to the lineup of upscale eateries located at Pointe Orlando features contemporary Cuban cuisine, lively Latin music, professional salsa floorshows, and an open-air tropical ambience with outdoor dining -- and did I mention the extensive rum selection?
- Capital Grille (tel. 407/370-4392; www.capitalgrille.com). The menu at this reputable establishment is filled with tempting appetizers, dry-aged steaks, hand-carved chops, fresh seafood, and decadent desserts. An extensive wine list (400-plus selections) and impeccable service are two other hallmarks. Discerning diners will appreciate not only a mouthwatering meal (with options that include a dry-aged sirloin rubbed with black peppercorns and served in a rich cognac cream-and-peppercorn sauce), but also the relaxed yet sophisticated atmosphere.
- Maggiano's Little Italy (tel. 407/241-8650; www.maggianos.com). You'll find a taste of New York's Little Italy, Chicago's Taylor Street, Boston's North End, and South Philly on Maggiano's menu. It's filled with authentic home-cooked Italian fare, including such specialties as lobster ravioli, braised beef cannelloni (with Asiago and Parmesan cheeses), and chicken cacciatore. The warm and inviting atmosphere is casual and relaxed, making you feel as if you've stepped into the neighborhood Italian kitchen.
- Copper Canyon Grill (tel. 407/363-3933; www.ccgrill.com). The Southwest-inspired decor spills over to the menu, with specialties that range from fire-grilled chicken to smoked Atlantic salmon. Comfort foods (with a creative culinary twist), hearty salads, and a selection of steak and seafood are the norm at this casual yet upscale eatery. Portions are large and filling, so come hungry.
- Tommy Bahama's Tropical Café & Emporium (tel. 321/281-5888; www.tommybahama.com). The eclectic yet elegant decor here invokes thoughts of the Pacific Rim, with accents of bamboo, palm leaves, beads, and island-inspired artwork lining the walls. Those looking for fresh seafood won't be disappointed by signature dishes such as macadamia-encrusted pink snapper or sautéed jumbo shrimp and scallops in a curry-coconut sauce. If you prefer to dine outdoors, the patio is the place to be -- and thanks to a partition, you'll be able to enjoy a bit of privacy along with your meal.
- Taverna Opa (tel. 407/351-8660; www.opaorlando.com). Diners will appreciate the authentic Greek fare, casual atmosphere, and down-to-earth prices here. For a more celebratory experience, head to Taverna later in the evening, when a far more festive atmosphere prevails as plate breaking and napkin throwing are common occurrences.
- B.B. King's Blues Club (tel. 407/370-4550; www.bbkingclubs.com). Southern cuisine, ranging from barbecued ribs to Carolina glazed salmon, is served amid live music and four full-service bars. An inviting open-air patio allows for outdoor dining.
Note: Additional restaurants, other than the ones listed above, have opened at Pointe Orlando in recent months -- including the Funky Monkey Wine Company (tel. 407/418-9463; www.funkymonkeywine.com), with its eclectic menu of Asian-American dishes served up alongside a vast selection of wines, and Fat Fish Blue (407/480-2000; www.orlandofatfishblue.com), featuring live entertainment and casual American fare with a New Orleans twist. Be sure to check out www.pointeorlando.com before your visit for up-to-the-minute developments.
Orlando's revitalized downtown area is now home to some chic clubs and trendy upscale restaurants well worth a second look -- and the 20-minute drive. Hue, 629 E. Central Blvd. (tel. 407/849-1800; www.huerestaurant.com), recognized in 2003 by Condé Nast Traveler as "one of the best new restaurants in the world," lives up to its reputation, thanks to creative American cuisine and a sophisticated urban loft atmosphere. Kres Chophouse, 17 W. Church St. (tel. 407/447-7950; www.kresrestaurant.com), a not-so-distant relative of Hue, offers an ever-changing menu of traditional yet exceptional steakhouse fare, as well as an extensive wine list. Citrus Restaurant, 821 N. Orange Ave. (tel. 407/373-0622; www.citrusorlando.com), features fresh American cuisine with a definitive Latin influence in a contemporary atmosphere. Blue-crab cakes, marinated skirt steak, bacon-wrapped Maine scallops, and yellowfin tuna are just a sampling of what you'll find on the menu. Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant, 125 W. Church St. (tel. 321/281-8140; www.ceviche.com), serves up over 100 different tapas, each created from recipes and ingredients imported directly from northern Spain and Catalan to ensure an authentic flavor.
A Reason to Celebrate
An eclectic array of upscale eateries lines the streets along Market Square in the Disney-built town of Celebration (www.celebrationfl.com). From the Market Street Café (tel. 407/566-1144), an updated '50s-style diner, to Shannon's of Celebration, an authentic Irish pub (tel. 407/566-8733; www.shannonsofcelebration.com), to the shabby-chic surroundings of Imperium Food & Wine (tel. 407/566-9044; www.imperiumfoodandwine.com), those in search of stylish surroundings and creative cuisine won't be disappointed. An ornate old-world Spanish decor and Cuban-influenced cuisine are the signature of the Columbia Restaurant (tel. 407/566-1505; www.columbiarestaurant.com), while Café D'Antonio Ristorante (tel. 407/566-2233; www.antoniosonline.com) serves up tasty Italian cuisine in a warm and welcoming atmosphere. You'll feel as if you've traveled halfway across the world at Thai Thani (tel. 407/566-9444; www.thaithaniorlando.net), where an endless menu of authentic dishes, an ornate decor, and friendly service await. The Seito Sushi Japanese Restaurant (tel. 407/566-1899; www.seitosushi.com) is known for its fresh sushi, fusion-style cuisine, and stylish atmosphere. And finally, the Celebration Town Tavern (tel. 407/566-2526; www.thecelebrationtowntavern.com) is a more casual alternative that sports a nautical theme and fresh seafood.
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.