It should come as no surprise that Orlando has something for everybody when it comes to pleasing the palate, ranging from fast food to five-star restaurants and everything in between. The Mouse's arrival launched an invasion of fast-food joints, a response to the number of families flocking to see Mickey, while theme restaurants, focusing on everything from race cars and rainforests to superheroes and sporting goods, weren't far behind. Today, the city overflows with more than 5,000 dining options, and while renowned for its numerous theme and chain restaurants (some admittedly more upscale than others), a small number of noteworthy eateries has managed to enter Orlando's dining scene in recent years.
The local dining scene doesn't compare to that found in such metropolitan foodie hot spots as New York, San Francisco, or Las Vegas, but there are certainly more than a few places here that could easily hold their own against the competition (disbelievers can grab a chair at Emeril's at CityWalk, Victoria & Albert's at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, or Norman's at the Grande Lakes, among others). That said, keep in mind that Orlando is the undisputed king of U.S. family destinations, and restaurants generally do their darnedest to cater to their target audience.
Note to parents: Keep in mind that most moderate to inexpensive restaurants have kids' menus ($5-$9), and many offer distractions, such as coloring books and crayons, in the hopes it will keep your little ones otherwise occupied until their dinner arrives. If you go to a place catering to children, expect the noise level to be high. They don't take a vacation from squeals of joy or fits of temper, so you shouldn't expect to, either. On the plus side, if it's your kids who tend to turn up the volume, it's far more likely that their antics will go unnoticed when there are others around doing the very same things.
If dining with kids isn't your cup of tea, steer clear of any restaurant where Mickey and Minnie stop by to say hello during the meal. Character meals, no matter what restaurant they are in, are guaranteed to be filled with families, making them, at times, excruciatingly loud and almost unnerving to those not used to dining in a room full of children. As a general rule, the more expensive your meal, the less likely you'll be dining with a lot of little ones around. So if you prefer to dine in peace -- and can afford it -- consider a meal at some of the more expensive restaurants in the resorts, on International Drive, or around Orlando proper. Tip: Parents in need of a night off from the kids can arrange for in-room babysitting or supervised child care so they, too, can indulge in one of the area's finer dining options.
For additional information about area restaurants, visit www.visitorlando.com, www.go2orlando.com.
Self-Service Suppers -- If you're on a tight budget and your room has a kitchen or a spot to sit and enjoy a bite, consider dining in a night or two and saving a few bucks. Area grocers, many with delis that turn out ready-to-eat treats, include Publix, near Universal (Venezia Shopping Plaza, 7640 Sand Lake Rd.; tel. 407/226-3315; and 4606 S. Kirkman Rd.; tel. 407/293-7673; www.publix.com), along I-Drive near SeaWorld (Regency Shopping Village, 8145 Vineland Ave.; tel. 407/238-9924), and in Kissimmee near Disney (Xentury City Shopping Center, 2925 International Dr. S.; tel. 407/397-1711); and Gooding's, in Lake Buena Vista (Crossroads Shopping Plaza, 12521 Hwy. 535/Apopka-Vineland Ave.; tel. 407/827-1200; www.goodings.com) and along I-Drive (8255 International Dr.; tel. 407/352-4215). You can find more options in the Orlando Yellow Pages under "Grocers."
For those of you who would rather take a break from eating out, there are several Orlando restaurants that are more than willing to come to you. A local delivery service, Room Service Orlando (formerly Take Out Express), will deliver takeout from a number of area restaurants (even more than one at a time, for an extra charge) right to your hotel room. The delivery cost is $6 per restaurant ($5 if ordering online), plus a 15% gratuity automatically added for the driver. Check out www.roomserviceorlando.com, or call tel. 407/352-1170 for details.
Special Delivery -- Gooding's Supermarkets (tel. 407/827-1200; www.goodings.com or www.goodingsdelivers.com) offers grocery delivery service to theme-park area hotels in Lake Buena Vista, Disney, Celebration, I-Drive, and Kissimmee. There is a $50 minimum, and a $25 service charge is added to all orders. You can order groceries (but no alcohol) online up to 48 hours before your requested delivery date. Delivery hours are 4 to 7pm. For details, see the website or call ahead. This is a great service if you are staying in a hotel room with kitchen facilities or if you want to stock up on snacks and supplies.
For Smaller Stomachs
If your kids aren't satisfied with the offerings on the kids' menu (though many feature pint-size portions of more adult options along with plenty of familiar favorites), try the appetizer menu. They'll have more to choose from, and the price is right. Also, ask if half-portions are available; they are generally not advertised, though some restaurants offer them upon request. The same applies when requesting items a la carte. Disney's menus (even at quick-service restaurants) won't always reflect a la carte items, though they are often available if you ask.
If your kids are adventurous in the dining department but can't handle adult-size portions, several Disney restaurants allow children to sample dishes geared to adult tastes but served in portion sizes suited to smaller stomachs (and at smaller prices, too). Options include (but are not limited to):
- Artist Point (Wilderness Lodge): Baked salmon with mashed potatoes and veggies ($11)
- California Grill (Contemporary): Oak-fired steak or roasted salmon with mashed potatoes and veggies ($12-$13)
- Citricos (Grand Floridian): Chicken noodle soup ($3), oak-grilled filet of beef ($13)
- Coral Reef (Epcot): Seared mahimahi ($9)
- Flying Fish Café (BoardWalk): Lettuce salad ($4), Florida coast fish sticks with roasted potatoes and veggies ($11)
- Rose & Crown (Epcot): Bangers and mash or shepherd's pie ($9)
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.