Early this year I saw a blog post in a very popular Brazilian blog with suggestions of restaurants to eat in Orlando. The list was the following:
2. The Cheesecake Factory
I’ll give you a moment to let this sink in. No wonder everyone thinks Americans eat so terribly if this is the list of “recommended restaurants” influential travelers are suggesting to their readers. It is true that I thought the same way before I moved here, and therefore have an advantage over this blogger, because I know that those restaurants are truly some of the worst possible choices you can make in food, being a tourist or a local. I took upon myself to ask other Orlando locals for their suggestions of best places to eat in Orlando, and even though I have not first-hand eaten in any of those, I trust the sources. And as a friend of mine (and food blogger) suggested, google some local food bloggers in the area you are visiting for suggestions.
Restaurants in Orlando
Agave Azul, Mexican (near Universal Orlando) – This one I actually went to on my last visit to meet up with a friend who lives in Orlando. I love Mexican food, and thought the food was good and the prices fair.
Bongos, Cuban (Downtown Disney) – Even though it’s on Disney property, this Cuban restaurant was recommended by locals as best Cuban food in Orlando. You’d think they recommend a hole in the wall type of place, but hey, Downtown Disney is easier to find! Prices are all over the place, with sandwiches and appetizers around $10 and meat and fish dishes for $25-40.
Cape May Cafe, American (Disney Beach Club Resort) – It’s buffet style restaurant, a more casual ambiance, even with the Disney prices. The caveat is: you get to dine with Disney characters, so if that’s not your cup of tea, you can avoid it. A lot of Disney restaurants offer that character experience, and it is fun even for adults. And if you really want a pancake, I’d rather you eat it at one of Disney’s breakfasts than at ihop. Prices are on the expensive side, from $30-60 for breakfast and dinner.
Fulton’s Crab House, Seafood (Downtown Disney) – This place is cool for ambiance alone. You get to eat in a super-awesome-cool boat. Price range $30-60. But have I mentioned the boat yet? Not for seafood lovers, though, obviously.
Jiko, African Cuisine (Animal Kingdom Lodge) – I haven’t tried this restaurant, but the AK Lodge is one of Disney’s nicest hotels, and it was a suggestion for a friend that lived in Orlando and worked for Disney. Prices are on the more expensive side ($30-60).
Nagoya Sushi, Japanese – This also came highly recommended by friends and Zagat. I’m not a fan of sushi, but I thought I’d include this on this list because many people are. I am no expert on sushi prices, but the menu seems to range between $15-20.
Victoria & Albert’s, American (Gran Floridian Hotel) – It’s #2 of best Orlando restaurants according to Zagat. I visited this restaurant ten years ago, for breakfast with Alice in Wonderland, Pooh, and Mary Poppins. Character dining aside (pooh and his gang are worth meeting), breakfast food was just alright, so I’m surprised to see it doing so well on Zagat. Maybe dinner is better. Either way, the Mickey waffles are worth the investment, because you know that anything Mickey shaped tastes better. It’s an expensive treat, though, with prices over $60 per person.
Yup, this is me pointing out how many times I ate at Earl of Sandwich. I really like it, OKAY?
If you INSIST on eating on a chain restaurant, the following are okay.
Earl of Sandwich, Sandwiches (Downtown Disney) – this is a personal favorite. They make their own bread, and the hot sandwiches are all very tasty and cheap. I love tasty, cheap, and good nutrients, the opposite of McDonalds that is cheap, but not tasty nor nutritional.
Keke’s, Breakfast – This one is for you pancake lovers. Skip ihop (and please skip Denny’s as well) and visit Keke’s as recommended by a friend of mine who lived in Orlando. Not as expensive as the Disney character breakfasts, but I feel like you’ll be okay about that. Most expensive item I found on the menu was $10.
Seasons 52, American – I have never heard of this chain, but the restaurant was also highly recommended by a couple of friends. The menu seems to be a simple one, with grilled meats and salads. Prices between $11-30.
Smokey Bones, Barbecue & Burgers – Another place to go instead of McDonalds if you want a tasty burger. It’s still a chain, but you get to eat better quality food and on a real plate. Prices between $11-30.
Olive Garden, Italian – It’s over hyped (sorry OG fans), but even I will admit it has its merits. The food tastes good, but be warned that it’s not actually fresh, but frozen. And yes, the salad is delicious, but the dressing has a ton of calories (therefore: delicious).
And avoid the Cheesecake Factory. It’s over-hyped, the food is not so great, and it’s a caloric bomb. Even the salads are over 1,000 calories. I know you’re burning a lot of calories walking all day in the theme parks, but trust me when I tell you you don’t need that kind of fat. If you want to eat calories, opt for the best calories you can find: quality over calories.
Honorable Mention: Food & Wine Festival at Epcot – Once a year, Disney hosts a food and wine festival in Epcot. Epcot already boasts of great restaurants of around the world cuisine, but during this festival (usually in the Fall, with dates between September and November) they add another huge quantity of booths serving food from even more countries. It is hit and miss, some taste delicious and some a little plastic, but it was a fun experience. Prices are cheap, but the portions are very small. Expect to spend about $30 per person, and my suggestion is to share with someone so you get to try more things.
For more Disney (inside the theme park) dining options, I suggest you check out this Pinterest user. I’m no expert when it comes to dining inside the parks, as I usually just opt for snacks to save money. I prefer to eat in Downtown Disney when I’m looking for a more substantial meal. You might also enjoy my post on 9 ways to save on a Disney World vacation.
And my uncle also left me a list of restaurant suggestions in Miami! If you’re heading there as well, here it is:
Restaurant Vostok (826 W Hallandale Beach Blvd Hallandale Beach, FL)
Puerto Sagua (700 Collins Ave Miami Beach, FL )
Maroosh (223 Valencia Ave Coral Gables, FL)
Two Georges at the Cove (1755 SE 3rd Ct Deerfield Beach, FL)
Talay Thai (7100 Fairway Dr Palm Beach Gardens,)
Orlando locals and travelers: if you have restaurants to add to this list or better opinions about the ones listed, please use the comments to let me know! I hope this post is an ever evolving thing, and I’ll be happy to update it with YOUR suggestions.