There are so many reasons to visit Orlando that the food scene might not crack most people’s lists. But plenty of Orlando restaurants are trying to change that. From the thriving food truck culture to the upscale eats on downtown’s famous Church Street, there are plenty of places to grab a great meal (other than overpaying for a quick bite between rides at a theme park). Read on for an overview of the many different kinds of Orlando restaurants—and how to get the most out of your meal times while you’re in town.
Walt Disney World® Theme Parks: Make like Lady and the Tramp and share the same strand of spaghetti at Tony's Town Square Restaurant in Magic Kingdom® Park.
Universal Orlando Resort: Head to the 50s-style Mel’s Drive-In inside Universal Studios Florida for a milkshake date, or share a champagne toast over filet mignon at Emeril’s Restaurant Orlando in Universal CityWalk.
Greater Orlando: Considering its nearly 200 Zagat-rated restaurants, Orlando has fine dining in spades. Feed each other fresh-cut rolls at Naru Sushi Bar, or get lovey-dovey with fondue at The Melting Pot.
This dinner theater adventure doesn’t skimp on the production value: the set consists of a 46-foot-long replica of an 18th Century Spanish galleon with 40-foot masts, anchored inside a 300,000-gallon lagoon with night sky lighting. The show itself features a dozen actors engaged in a swashbuckling tale of the high seas complete with pyrotechnics, cannon fire, and, of course, a healthy dose of humor.
Adults can choose among roasted chicken, grilled Alaskan salmon, and vegetarian pasta, while kids get to munch on either penne pasta or chicken nuggets with mac and cheese. They’re going to need their strength, too, because they just might get called up to participate in the show. Even if they don’t, they’ll get to take a photo with one of the pirate mascots who represent the six ships in which the audience is organized.
This item is the perfect solution for people who can’t make up their minds between hard shell and soft shell tacos—because it’s basically both. First, you start with a crunchy shell filled with your choice of chicken, beef, or roasted pork. Then, you spread queso on a soft tortilla and wrap it around the taco. Voila! You’ve got the best of both worlds. Grab an order of three and you’ll be stuffed for less than 10 bucks, meaning you can afford to tack on a pitcher of homemade sangria or a tallboy Mexican beer, too.
Read more about affordable meals in the area in our guide to Orlando cheap eats (below).
Want to learn fish flavor profiles? Here’s a simple test you can use to figure out a fish’s flavor: just look at the color of its uncooked fillet. The whiter the flesh, the milder the taste. But unless you’re seated in the kitchen, that tip doesn’t help much when you’re ordering at a restaurant. So here’s a breakdown of fish flavor profiles that you can actually use when it’s time to place your order:
Examples: Branzino, tilapia, halibut, cod, sole, perch, walleye, catfish
Profile: These are often types of whitefish—the go-to order for people who say they don’t love the taste of fish. The biggest risk with these fish is that they’ll be too bland, which is why they’re often dressed up with marinades and toppings or used as the base for dishes like fish tacos.
Examples: Yellowtail or kampachi, snapper, swordfish, grouper, trout
Profile: Fish in this category have a more detectable fish flavor than some, but that just means you can get away with less work to make them taste their best. Look for them in simple dishes without much adornment so you can get a basic sense of their natural flavor.
Examples: Salmon, tuna, bluefish, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, herring
Profile: These fish typically feature dark flesh and an oilier texture than others, and they often need to be prepared delicately, which makes them a smart choice to order out (although they tend to be a bit pricier than other fish, for the same reason.)
Read more about fish flavor profiles in our guide to 21 Different Types of Fish (and How They Taste).
Chef Norman Van Aken was once honored by the International Summit of Gastronomy as one of the founders of New American Cuisine, but that’s not what he prefers to call his culinary style. His term—”New World Cuisine”—better evokes what he’s really up to. As in the cultural exchange that took place following European explorers’ discovery of the so-called New World, Van Aken’s food mixes influences from the Caribbean, Latin America, and even Africa and Asia to create something uniquely American.
He does all this from inside the famous Norman’s Restaurant, located within the Ritz-Carlton at Grande Lakes, but despite the secluded resort setting, word is out. Over his career Van Aken and his restaurant have racked up honors including James Beard nominations and induction into the Orlando Sentinel’s “Florida Hall of Fame.” A celebrity chef even before the term was popularized, Van Aken has written six cookbooks and a successful memoir, hosted “A Word on Food” segments on NPR, and appeared on TV shows hosted by Anthony Bourdain and Jimmy Kimmel.
While his reputation is already secure, Van Aken is still pushing boundaries at his restaurant. Stop in for a meal and you’ll find such inventive fusion dishes as fried green tomatoes with queso fresco and escabeche spiced mayo, masa-crusted tuna with salsa verde and salmon roe, and guajillo-spiced filet mignon with marbled potatoes and leeks. But for the complete experience, skip ordering a la carte and go with the chef’s tasting menu, which promises three courses of such delicacies as smoked cashew-crusted scallops, peach barbecued duck breast with mole negro, and a chocolate “pinata” dessert made with foie gras mousse, apricot coulis, and marshmallow.