OUTSIDE THE PARKS—Universal Orlando augments its theme park food choices with a large dining and entertainment venue, CityWalk, which is between and in front of its two parks, Universal Studios Florida and 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.

If you want to compare Universal's CityWalk with Disney Springs, as many people do, it must be said Disney Springs is way ahead in terms of high-quality dining. CityWalk's selection is generally good, but casual. Disney Springs draws people who come just for a meal, while most of the restaurants at CityWalk tend to attract people who are going to the Universal resort for other reasons anyway.

Universal’s hotels also have upscale restaurants (Bice Ristorante at Portofino Bay, The Palm steakhouse at the Hard Rock), while the CityWalk outdoor entertainment mall, located between the resort’s parking garages and the entrances to the parks, attracts locals who have no intention of proceeding to any rides.

Most of Universal’s CityWalk and hotel restaurants remain closed until dinner since guests tend to eat lunch in the parks. Exceptions include spots closest to the park entrances, Red Oven Pizza BakeryBurger King Whopper BarPanda ExpressMoe’s Southwest GrillBread Box Handcrafted Sandwiches, and the Asian fusion quick-service Bend the Bao. The Hard Rock Cafe is open across the pond, too. Universal coaxed Oregon institution Voodoo Doughnut to bring its extravagant creations here, but those don’t really qualify for meals unless you’ve fallen off the carb wagon.

After dark (parking is free after 6pm), CityWalk has kiosks serving stuff like Fat Tuesday boozy slushies. Arrive before 9pm, because some of these places charge covers after then. In non-pandemic times, everything closes by 2am, but most stuff will shut down earlier than that. If you intend to linger at CityWalk for the nightlife, there are occasionally package deals that combine a set meal, including a beverage, with a movie at the Universal Cinemark at CityWalk cinema.

Restaurants at CityWalk accept reservations via the Universal Orlando app. Entrees cost more than they would in the real world; they’re mostly priced in the teens, with burgers sliding in around $17. Not everything is worth chewing: Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. (yawn!), the counter-service Hot Dog Hall of Fame (shrug!), and woe, NBC Sports Grill & Brew (huge beer selection, but has the pricing and feel of an airport bar). You may (but don’t have to) make reservations online for the more compelling restaurants, named here. For each place, call 407/224-3663 for more information unless there’s a different number listed.

INSIDE THE PARKS—In addition to the random snack carts, there are counter-service and table-service restaurants. None require reservations the way Disney’s do. Tip: Meals do not have to come with side dishes. Subtract those chips or fries from your meal deals and you’ll save about $2. Every menu usually has at least one vegan option. Remember: Restaurants at CityWalk are only a 5-minute walk from the park, so they’re also options.

In both its parks, Universal often (but not always; it was suspended in mid-2021) offers a simple meal plan. Dubbed the Universal Dining Plan—Quick Service, it entitles you to one main plate, one nonalcoholic beverage, and one snack, which can be used for ice cream, frozen beverages, and more. Adults pay $26 and kids $18 for a day; it only pays off if you go for the most expensive choices and were going to get that dessert anyway. If you buy one at a kiosk in the park, you must activate it at Guest Services or at any restaurant (most won’t open until 11am or so). Resort guests may avail themselves of a Full-Service Dining Plan, good for one table-service meal, one quick-service meal, and a snack for $52 adults, $18 kids each day (buy at your resort). The value is borderline, especially if you don’t want table-service meals, and can only be redeemed inside the parks or at a few CityWalk restaurants. Everyone can buy special cups good for free refills ($15).

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.