Gone are the days when Orlando dining meant buffets and chain restaurants catering to tired tourists in shorts and t-shirts. Orlando’s fine dining scene is firmly established, ever-expanding and, for the truly gourmet experience, you can select from any of dozens of four and five star locations, all of which are packed with the ‘something different’ factor. Fine dining has become an attraction in its own right, with tables booking up well in advance, especially during peak season. As ever with Orlando hotels, you do not need to be a guest to dine at any of the fine hotel restaurants mentioned here. However, when you make a reservation, make sure you take your confirmation number if given when you drive up to the hotel. The likes of Disney and Universal have gated security, and you will usually need to give your reservation number.You should call for a reservation in advance whenever possible, so take note of the numbers if they appeal to you.
We rate the Asian-fusion cuisine of Tchoup-Chop (pronounced Chop-Chop) at Universal Orlando’s Royal Pacific Resort as some of Orlando’s finest dining. Not only is the décor absolutely stunning and the service as smooth and eye-catching as the surroundings, but the menu is a masterpiece of all things Asian, as crafted by New Orleans celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse. To book, call 407 503 2467.
Oceanaire Seafood Room
Over at Pointe Orlando on International Drive are succulent offerings from the sea at Oceanaire Seafood Room. While the ambiance is reminiscent of the 1930s and 40s ocean liners, there is an overriding sense of elegant excitement, as if Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack may show up at any moment. The menu features fresh-daily seafood choices alongside offerings for the landlubber, and if you can’t decide what to order from the myriad of choice, the impeccable wait staff has an encyclopedic knowledge of their bill of fare. To book, call 407 363 4801
Big Fin Seafood Kitchen
Newcomer to Orlando’s seafood scene is Big Fin Seafood Kitchen at Dellagio plaza on Sand Lake Rd. Ideal for those looking for gourmet taste at a modest price, Big Fin wins our thumbs-up for its Monday Lobster Dinner special, featuring a whole Maine lobster priced at an astonishingly low $16.95. Happy Hour (actually, Happy Hours, from 5-7pm and again from 10pm-closing) adds to the value, but we think Big Fin is worth trying at any time of day. Call 407 615 8888 for reservations.
A Land Remembered
If you're looking for something a bit heartier, A Land Remembered at Rosen Shingle Creek boasts some of the best steaks available anywhere, served in upscale ‘cowboy chic’ surroundings. Their wide selection of all-natural Prime Black Angus beef is provided by the exclusive Harris Ranch, but there are plenty of seafood and poultry alternatives to choose from as well. Reservations requested at 407 996 3663
For fine dining at Universal Orlando, head to the magnificent Portofino Bay Resort and you will find Bice, their gourmet Italian restaurant. This internationally renowned name crops up in the likes of New York, Tokyo and Dubai but originated in Milan, and the menu features a heady mix of Northern Italian delights. The wine list is equally extensive (and suitably expensive) and dinner for two here is likely to be around $130-$140, without wine, but you will be hard pushed to find more succulent and appetizing Italian fare anywhere in town. Call 407 503 1415.
Victoria & Albert’s
Returning to the Walt Disney World resort, you can also try a huge variety of dining choices, starting with the true upscale and unique experience of Victoria & Albert’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, which opened in 1988. Not so much dinner as an event on a grand scale, the basic menu is a fixed price, six-course repast (changing periodically) that will take at least 2 hours to enjoy fully, with immaculate service in an intimate setting. You can add some premium items (like Iranian caviar and pan-roasted foie gras) to the set menu, for an additional fee. Menu is Prix Fixe at $125 per person, plus $60 per person for wine paring. For the ultimate in exclusive Disney dining, ask for the Chef’s Table at Victoria & Albert’s. This candlelit alcove occupies a corner of the kitchen and guarantees the most attentive service, with its own seven-course menu. You also get a tour of the kitchen and welcome champagne. The Chef’s Table can accommodate only 10 people a night and dinner here will take 3-4 hours. It also costs at least $165 a head ($70/person extra for wine paring), and you often need to book up to 180 days in advance as it is THE speciality Disney restaurant. Call 407 939 3463.
Another personal favourite of ours for its intimate style and delightful menu is Jiko at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Here, the ‘Cooking Place’ features some highly imaginative cuisine – a fusion of African Asian and other world-inspired dishes – as well as a superb South African wine list. It is worth arriving early to give yourself a quick tour of this beautiful resort, too, and perhaps stop for a drink at the Victoria Falls bar first. Call 407 939 3463.
Head outside the two big resorts and you will find some more distinct and highly attractive restaurants, of which the award-winning Seasons 52 is a prime example. Located in the Plaza Venezia on Sand Lake Road, just west of I-4, this was a largely experimental outing of the Darden restaurant group, who also own the Olive Garden and red Lobster chains. It specialises in ultra-fresh, low calorie food, with an emphasis on vegetables and other healthy options, but there is nothing ‘veggie’ or overtly calorie-conscious about it. The menu changes according to the week of the year (the ‘52 seasons’) and whatever is in season, but everything is presented in a truly appetising manner. ‘Exceptional taste with fewer calories’ is their mantra, and it is hard to argue. Call 407 354 5212.
The impressive Grand Lakes Resort is nicely off the main tourist track, yet barely 15 minutes from all the main attractions. It also features Norman’s, a restaurant creation of American celebrity chef Norman van Aken, with a fusion of Latin and Caribbean recipes in a unique ‘new world cuisine.’ The view from the Ritz-Carlton location over the Grand Lakes golf course is also delightful. Call 407 393 4333.
Staying with the well-known chef theme, Roy’s in the Plaza Venezia is another wonderfully enticing option. Both stylish and friendly, this small chain created by Hawaiian chef Roy Yamaguchi made its Orlando debut in 2001 and features a heavily seafood-based menu, with hints of Asian and South Seas cuisines. If you're stumped for choice by Roy’s eclectic style try three of Roy’s classics: the Hawaiian Kai Style Braised Short Ribs or Roy’s Original Hawaiian Blackened Island Ahi, and his Melting Hot Chocolate Soufflé for dessert.
Call 407 352 4844.
If you crave only the finest Italian food, make Christini’s an essential part of your holiday plan. This elegant classic-style restaurant (upstairs at the Fountains Plaza on West Sand Lake Road) has been part of the Orlando scene for more than 40 years. The regional Italian menu features some real masterpieces as Chris Christini and his team mix daily specials with a well tried-and-trusted formula. Call 407 345 8770.
The massive Gaylord Palms Resort is not just a fantastic-looking building, it also houses an excellent steakhouse in the form of Old Hickory, a superbly rustic-themed Everglades-style venue. Their thick, juicy steaks are all quality Certified Black Angus aged cuts, prepared using their distinctive open-flame grills. They also serve some tempting seafood dishes, and you can conclude with one of their signature handcrafted cheese selections. Call 407 586 1600.
Downtown Orlando also has its fair share of good-quality dining, and arguably the best of them is located inside the splendid Grand Bohemian, the only luxury hotel in the city centre. The Boheme is another romantic, intimate setting, featuring classic dishes with a modern twist like Cognac Lobster Bisque, Crab Ravioli, and Blackberry Crème Brulee. Friendly, efficient service is another highlight and you can also enjoy a drink in the stylish Bosendorfer Lounge beforehand. Visit The Boheme on a Friday evening and you can enjoy the free live jazz, while Thursday feature Blues Night. They also serve some of the best martinis in town! The hotel also features some superb artwork from renowned Floridian artists, which all help to mark it out as a real original in the hotel world. Call 407 313 9000.
On International Drive, in the heart of tourist territory, the fine dining flag is carried proudly by Dux in The Peabody hotel (near the Convention Center). Specialising in veal, lamb and beef with a world cuisine twist, this is an artistic exercise in matching eye appeal with taste, and the chef de cuisine changes this seasonally, with some outstanding salads and even vegetarian dishes (still not omni-present in Orlando). Call 407 345 4550.
American celebrity chef Todd English’s Bluezoo at the Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel continues to live up to its reputation as a premier fine dining venue. With a beautifully soothing ‘marine’ décor and a very chic bar area to enjoy a drink either pre or post-dinner, the restaurant opts for an equally dramatic seafood-orientated menu, with a huge range of appetisers, including oysters, flatbreads, shrimp and salads. There are daily fresh fish specials, plus the house signature ‘Dancing Fish,’ a unique rotisserie to cook whole fish upright around their open-fire grill. Call 407 934 1111.
Back at the Hyatt Grand Cypress near to Walt Disney World (which actually has possibly the best restaurant line-up of all the big hotels), La Coquina Chef’s Table is their ultra-speciality dining experience. Available Thursday to Saturday (seasonally September-June), this gourmet opportunity features tables inside the main kitchen, with chefs preparing everything in full view from a superb set, five-course menu. Call 407 239 3853.
Further to the south, at the new Omni Orlando Resort at Champions Gate, the wonderful Asian style of Zen is another of our local favourites. With a beautiful oriental setting, the mix of Japanese and Chinese cuisines has a huge array of tempting dishes. Or you can just choose the Zen Experience for a wonderful set menu featuring some of their best tastes. There is also a quaint sake bar and a full-service sushi bar. 6pm-10pm daily. Call 407 390 6664.
La Coquina at the Hyatt Grand Cypress sets out a stunning brunch in French marketplace style, overlooking Lake Windsong. Made-to-order omelets, fresh chicken and seafood, pasta, salads, waffles, pancakes, fruits and cheeses—the choice is quite magnificent, topped off by a mouth-watering selection of succulent desserts. Reservations are strongly recommended, on 407 239 3853. Seasonally September-June.
Chef Dan Nester has created a truly memorable Italian dining experience at Rosen Shingle Creek’s relatively new offering, Cala Bella. This is one of our favourite romantic restaurants, serving up wonderfully creative Mediterranean inspired dishes from an open kitchen - the entrees are beautiful but the desserts are even more spectacular. Call 407 996 3663.
Flying Fish Café
The Boardwalk, close to the Epcot park, and here you will find another superb seafood offering in the Flying Fish Café. The whimsical décor belies the sheer quality of the dishes, which feature such delights as Potato-Wrapped Red Snapper and Orrechiette Pasta with shrimp, scallops, clams, and mussels. And, if you make it through to dessert, the Sinful Flourless Chocolate Creation is heavenly! Call 407 939 3463.
Fulton’s Crabhouse is an excellent choice for seafood, with the added benefit of an after-dinner stroll around Downtown Disney to walk it all off. Here, they fly in daily fresh catches from around the world, while also featuring magnificent crab and lobster, and everything is beautifully cooked and presented. The Pacific Dungeness Crab Cake is their signature starter, but you can choose from the array of regular menu items and daily specials safe in the knowledge it is hard to go wrong here (although the Snow Crab is the best we’ve ever tried). Call 407 939 2628.
Tried and Tested Favourites
With an ever-increasing call for fine dining, there are a host of exceptional choices throughout Orlando and new locations opening up all the time. However, here are some tried and tested favourites worth adding to your holiday must-try list: Everglades, the smart steak and seafood-orientated dining room inside the Omni Rosen Center hotel on International Drive; Sunset Sam’s, the Gaylord Palms’ Key West-style restaurant inside their magnificent resort; the Venetian Room, the surprising upscale dining venue at the Caribe Royale Resort on World Center Drive; Le Jardin du Castillons, a small but eye-catching French restaurant just off Park Avenue in Winter Park; Texas de Brasil, an unusual but delicious Brazilian-style steakhouse; and Citrico’s, arguably the most chic of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort restaurants, with California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort being another excellent choice.
Want to hear what other ATD members have to say about Orlando’s exclusive dining experiences? Check out our forums!