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 Victoria & Albert's at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, or Morimoto Asia at Disney Springs, 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 ($8-$13), 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.
Orlando is a major hotel and entertainment center, with upscale chain names vying for vacation dollars and expense account charges. The half-mile stretch of Sand Lake Road west of Interstate 4 is known, somewhat jokingly, as “Restaurant Row,” and it’s true that some popular date-night chain restaurants (Rocco’s Tacos for party-atmosphere Mexican, Eddie V’s and Bonefish Grill for seafood) are scattered along a couple of blocks. If you don’t feel like hunting around, head to the bottom of the Wheel at ICON Park (free parking), where you’ll find a selection of decent (but not gourmet) self-explanatory mainstream choices including Shake Shack, an Outback Steakhouse, wine-focused Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant, upscale beer hall Yard House, Uncle Julio’s Mexican Restaurant, and the all-American Tin Roof, which has live music after 8pm. Closer to the Convention Center, the small outdoor mall called Pointe Orlando (9101 International Dr.) has a few more higher-end, but mass-appeal options favored by visitors with expense accounts and a need for stiff drinks. Some of the places to eat are known quantities in other cities that you don’t need to have described here, including Maggiano’s Little Italy, The Capital Grill for steaks, the pubby Marlow’s Tavern, The Oceanaire Seafood Room, and Cuba Libre Rum Bar & Restaurant.
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.
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.