Orlando, Florida, is a much bigger city than most tourists realize because many of them don’t make it much further than the convention center or theme park grounds. That’s OK because, as you’ll see below, one of our picks for best places to eat in Orlando is just steps away from the Magic Kingdom’s front gate. But there are some other outstanding dining options in the city that should be considered as well.
We’ve put together a very concise and opinionated list of what we believe are Orlando’s best restaurants. Even though the list is short, no matter what you are celebrating or how big your bank account is, we’ve got some options that are sure to fit the bill.
Occasion: Celebrating a special event
When you have money to burn or are going to celebrate something special, even if that something special is just your vacation to Walt Disney World, we recommend California Grill. While there are even more prestigious and exclusive restaurants at Walt Disney World, we feel like California Grill achieves that really difficult balance of being upscale and special without being uncomfortable or fussy. The dining room is chic and modern, the food is fresh and artful, and the panoramic views of Walt Disney World are breathtaking.
Viewfinder Tip: Reservations for California Grill are notoriously hard to get. However, California Grill Lounge is first come, first served and you can order off of the same menu available to diners with reservations.
We suggest trying some of the beautifully prepared sushi. Our favorite is the Dragon Roll loaded with spicy and tataki tuna, shrimp tempura, avocado, dragon sauce, and hijiki-shirataki salad. If fish isn’t your thing, try the innovative Pork Belly Nigiri with house-cured pork, bacon and yuzu rice, and spicy teriyaki sauce. Make sure to leave enough room for one of the outstanding entrées (you really can’t go wrong) and the decadent Chocolate Pudding Cake. Just don’t try to share that pudding cake or you’ll spend the last part of a perfect meal fighting about who gets the last bite. Trust us.
Budget: Middle of the road
Occasion: Celebrating a Wednesday
Sometimes a place is so popular and so well-loved that it actually doesn’t get the props it deserves. This couldn’t be more the case than Hillstone Restaurant in Winter Park. Yes, you can eat at a Hillstone Restaurant (although it may be called something different in other cities around the country), but the Hillstone Restaurant in Orlando couldn’t be more ideally located—Winter Park is one of the city’s most beloved neighborhoods and the restaurant sits on the banks of Lake Killarney. Location aside, Hillstone is popular because they consistently put out excellent food and a level of service that is unmatched by other restaurants in this category of dining.
And that food! It may sound crazy to highlight a dish that is a staple on menus across the country, but Hillstone’s spinach and artichoke dip stands alone. We suspect that the Parmigiano-Reggiano is what elevates it, but you’ll just have to go find out for yourself. Speaking of artichokes, on our visit the restaurant was serving freshly grilled artichokes with a luscious dipping sauce—although we have learned that this is only available when in season. For entrées, we suggest not even reading past the salad portion of the menu because the Thai Steak & Noodle Salad is so outstanding. A mixture of marinated-until-it-couldn’t-be-more-tender steak, avocado, mango, and cilantro dressing on a bed of Asian noodles makes for one of the best salads we’ve ever eaten.
Occasion: Just feeling celebratory (and thrifty!)
On the bottom end of the budget spectrum, but by no means on the bottom, is Tako Cheena. This Mexican/Asian fusion restaurant in the up-and-coming Mills 50 neighborhood serves up crave-worthy, super-inventive tacos that expertly balance both Mexican and Asian flavors.
When you go (and you will because tacos), you’ll have some tough choices to make. And we’re not going to be much help because everything we ate deserves a recommendation. Having said that, we were especially fond of the Thai Peanut Chicken Tako, the Asian Braised Beef Tako, and the Thai Penang Chicken Burrito. The good news is that you can order a whole bunch of different things without breaking the bank, so don’t hesitate to really explore what Tako Cheena is offering.
What do you consider to be the best places to eat in Orlando?