The Magical Dining Scene in Orlando & Central Florida
In and Outside the Theme Parks
During the past two years with the pandemic grounding travel plans, this one-time jet setter has enjoyed exploring my home state—Florida. As a way to escape the “real world,” I have become an Annual Passholder at both Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, reacquainting myself with one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations—Orlando! People often ask, Can adults who love good food actually enjoy the theme parks and eat well? The answer is YES! There is plenty of great food in the theme parks, as well as in Metro Orlando—you just need to know where to look. In fact, a testament to Florida’s increasing recognition as a bona fide food destination, the esteemed Michelin Guide will be making its Florida debut in 2022, awarding stars for the first time in Miami, Orlando, and Tampa!
Let’s start with Disney. Epcot is an international smorgasbord every day of the year with sit down restaurants and kiosks representing countries from around the world, plus several fun festivals geared to folks who love to eat, drink, and have fun: (Festival of the Arts in Winter, Flower & Garden in Spring, and Food & Wine in Fall). My favorite sit down options are: Chefs de France, Coral Reef, Le Cellier (Canada), Space 220, and Takumi Tei (Japan). In Magic Kingdom, I suggest Cinderella’s Royal Table in the castle, Be Our Guest (Beauty and the Beast), and Jungle Navigation Co. LTD Skipper Canteen. Liberty Tree Tavern serves a family-style Thanksgiving meal year-round! In Animal Kingdom’s, Tiffins and Yak & Yeti are my go-to spots to enjoy safari-worthy grub without the trek to Africa or Asia. In Hollywood Studios, The Brown Derby is the only outpost of the Hollywood legend still in operation, home of the original Cobb Salad and all the original memorabilia—it’s an unforgettable experience!
In the Disney World area, Topolino’s Terrace is THE place for a character breakfast and a gourmet French-Italian dinner atop the new Riviera Resort. (Topolino is the name for “Mickey Mouse” in Italian!) California Grill (Contemporary Resort) is a great place to view the fireworks with a birds-eye view of Magic Kingdom. Citricos in the opulent Grand Floridian serves excellent food, as does Narcoossee’s, though the grand dame of Orlando restaurants. Victoria and Albert’s, a world-class multi-course experience remains closed as of this article; it is rumored to be reopening later this year. The nearby Four Seasons features excellent Spanish cuisine on the rooftop at Capa, and authentic Italian at Ravello. Top Chef Richard Blais recently opened Four Flamingo’s in the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, serving Floribbean fare. In Disney Springs, try Art Smith’s Homecomin’ (Southern), Jaleo by Venü’s own “Fearless Chef” José Andrés, Morimoto Asia, and Amorette’s for “Disney” pastries and cakes. Gideon’s cookies are worth the effort (a long wait or virtual queue), and we love the seafood at The Boathouse (and the amphibious classic cars to cruise out on the lake).
In Universal, start with Bice (authentic Italian from Milano) at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel—a beautiful property which is modeled after its namesake town on the Italian Riviera! Cowfish in Citywalk is a fun fusion of burgers and sushi, and Mythos is a must for global cuisine in Islands of Adventure.
In Orlando, “Bee Line-It” to Bites and Bubbles, the place for Champagne and charcuterie. Other favorites include The Osprey Seafood & Spirits, Seito Sushi Baldwin Park, Reyes Mezcaleria, (all owned by Jason and Sue Chin), Christner’s or Kinfe & Spoon for steak, Kadence (elevated Asian), Maxine’s on Shine for an eclectic, fun experience, Nikki’s Place (Southern Soul Food), Nile Ethiopian Restaurant, Pizza Bruno (Neapolitan style), The Strand (Local Fare), Tori Tori (Japanese), Kabooki Sushi (2 locations), and Z Asian-Vietnamese Kitchen. Outside the city, check out Sushi Pop (Oviedo), Luke’s Kitchen and Bar (Seafood/Maitland), and in beautiful Winter Park, Hillstone on Lake Killarney, Hunger Street Tacos, Kai Asian Street Fare, Orlando Meats, Prato (Italian), and The Ravenous Pig (and adjacent Brewing Company). For a day trip, charming Mount Dora and a meal at 1921 Mount Dora is a nice diversion. ☐