Gone are the days when Orlando dining only 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, you do not need to be a guest to dine at any of the fine hotel restaurants or theme park resort restaurants. However, when you make a reservation, make sure to take your confirmation number, if given, when driving up to the hotel. The likes of Disney and Universal have gated security, and usually require a reservation number. And as you would do at home, call for a reservation in advance whenever possible.
At Universal Orlando’s Royal Pacific Resort is one of the prettiest restaurants in Orlando, with a simple elegance that blends beautifully with the stylish presentation of its food.
Image Source: Ralph Daily Flickr
- Type of food: Pronounced Chop Chop, this is Asian-Polynesian fusion at its finest, with the décor to match. But it’s not without its light side, as evidenced by menu selections such as the Ugly Tomatoes starter, Duck Duck Goose, and “KFC” Korean Fried Chicken (note: KFC refers to the popular chain restaurant, Kentucky Fried Chicken). Try the Kona Coffee Spiced Pork Tenderloin or the Thai Spiced Lamb Satay. Sushi, Nigiri, and Sashimi round out the offerings.
- Who goes there? Locals who know its reputation and couples enjoying a splash-out evening.
- Best time to go: Dinner is the most popular, but we recommend going for lunch, before the hotel’s guests get back from the theme parks.
- Signature Dish: Hawaiian Style Local Snapper.
- Open: 11.30am-2.30pm and 5-10pm.
Big Fin Seafood
All the quality of a great seafood place without the high prices makes Big Fin our go-to spot when we can’t make it through another day without a lobster tail or a big platter of steamed mussels.
Image Source: tm, wikimedia
- Type of Food: Seafood, steaks, pasta and a fresh, appealing raw bar.
- Who goes? Mainly locals, but Big Fin is increasingly popular with visitors and, unlike many upscale seafood places, well-behaved children fit right in here.
- Best time to go: Dinner, because that’s when it’s open.
- Signature Dish: Whole Maine Lobster Dinner. Oh, heavenly bliss!
- Open: Sun-Thu, 5-10pm; 11pm Fri & Sat.
A Land Remembered
This tucked-away steak house serves the highest quality, most butter-tender steaks in town, bar none. Named for a popular book on the history of Florida’s ‘cowboy culture’, this is one of our go-to places for a splash-out date-night.
- Where: In the golf clubhouse at Rosen Shingle Creek Resort, making it a true ‘hidden gem’.
- Type of food: Steaks. True, there are other things on the menu such as seafood, lamb, chicken and lighter fare, but the steaks are the real stand-out choice, and, try as we might, we never order anything else.
- Who goes? Locals love it, couples love it, and while well-behaved children are always welcome here, it’s a surprisingly romantic choice, ideal for an adults-only evening.
- Best time to go: Dinner is the only option, and rightly so.
- Signature dish: Land Remembered Surf and Turf (lobster and steak), but just close your eyes and point to anything on the steak menu and you’ll go home happy.
- Open: 5.30-10pm.
Oceanaire Seafood Room
Taking a page directly out of the 1960s Rat Pack days, Oceanaire boasts an atmosphere that feels more like the luxury ocean liners of old than a restaurant in the heart of Tourist Central. You half expect Frank Sinatra and his friends to walk through the front door.
Image Source: Archangel12 Flickr
- Where: Pointe Orlando on International Drive, but don’t let that fool you. This is seriously elegant, slightly snooty, entirely appealing territory.
- Type of food: Seafood is the highlight here, and why fight it when there’s an extensive raw bar?
- Who goes? Couples looking for a swish evening out. Families are always welcome, but children will probably feel entirely out of place.
- Best time to go: Dinner, or just for an after-dinner martini at the bar.
- Signature dish: Chilled Shellfish Platter.
- Open: 5-10pm.
Pronounced Bee-chay, at Universal Orlando’s Portofino Bay Resort
- Type of food: Finest Italian fare from top Italian chef and Maitre D.
- Who goes there? Locals, couples.
- Best time to go: Dinner.
- Signature Dish: Beef Short Rib Stuffed Ravioli.
- Open: 5.30-9.30pm
Victoria & Albert’s:
This spectacular restaurant is located in Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa and is a delight of upscale gourmet dining, with white-glove service. Surprisingly elegant, this is Walt Disney World’s flagship dining venue.
- Type of food: The menu changes daily, but examples include Braised Oxtail and Cherry Ravioli with Roasted Red Peppers, Mangalitsa Pork with Roasted Beets and Toasted Caraway Vinaigrette, and Poulet Rouge with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and Gnocchi.
- Who goes there? Couples only. Children under 10 are not allowed, and those over 10 will feel fidgety during the 2-plus hours this very special evening will require.
- Best time to go: Dinner, ideally the later seating when it is almost guaranteed the dining room will be adults only.
- Signature Dish: 7-course Prix Fixe tasting menu only (selections change daily).
- Open: Seatings at 5-6pm or 8.30-9.15pm only (winter); 5pm seating and 8pm seating only in summer.
Jiko—The Cooking Place
Jiko is our hands-down favourite for a date-night get-way. Yes, it’s in the heart of tourist country and it’s full of families early in the evening, but later bookings benefit from a more grown-up crowd and a sophisticated ambiance.
- Where: This is the premier fine-dining spot in Disney’s spectacular Animal Kingdom Lodge.
- Type of food: African-Asian fusion, perfectly accompanied by an enticing South African wine list. We like to start with a flatbread, move on to the West African Jerk Scallops and Maize-crusted Monkfish, then cap the meal off with something in chocolate. But you’ll find your own combination, and trust us, you’ll be back for more.
- Who goes? Families, locals and couples, but the real winners here are couples.
- Best time to go: Dinner is the only option, but it’s so striking once the sun goes down we probably wouldn’t go at lunchtime anyway.
- Signature dish: Spicy Botswana-style “Seswaa” Braised Short Ribs.
- Open: 5.30-10pm.
There is a hint about the food in the name of this long-time Sand Lake Road restaurant: every dish is based on seasonal foods, and the menu changes each of the 52 weeks of the year.
- Type of food: Seasonal, health-conscious dishes with attention to calories, nutrition, and a pleasing presentation. Flatbreads, salads, fish, meats, seafood and poultry are all fresh-sourced, carefully prepared, and calorie-balanced so you can enjoy a 3 course meal without an ounce of guilt. But you’ll never know it. The food is absolutely delicious.
- Who goes there? Locals and couples focused on healthier dining or seeking a splash-out meal they can feel good about.
- Best time to go: Dinner is busier than lunch, but go then anyway. Very romantic.
- Signature Dish: Menu changes according to season, but you can bet whatever the chef is most proud of in any given week is going to be stellar.
- Open: 11.30am-10pm (11pm Fri and Sat)
Roy’s doesn’t even try to pretend it’s not a foodies’ delight, with a slightly pretentious air that’s well-deserved. Elegant, creative, with each dish packing loads of flavour, it’s a great choice for its refined atmosphere and exceptional service.
Image Source: Stacy Spensley Flickr
- Type of food: Asian-Pacific fusion.
- Who goes? Locals’ devotion has elevated Roy’s to the standard of a classic, and there is no telling how many couples have said, “I will” here. Families are, of course, welcome, but this is really the place for a more refined experience sans youngsters.
- Best time to go: Dinner is your only option, but if it ever opens at lunchtime, we’ll go.
- Signature Dish: Roy’s Signature Maine Lobster Pot Pie, but you won’t go wrong with anything here.
- Open: 5.30-10pm.
Christini’s Ristorante Italiano
A veteran along Sand Lake Rd (in the Dr. Phillips Plaza) Christini’s has a firmly-established reputation for elegance in fine dining.
Image Source: Glen MacLarty Flickr
- Type of food: Upscale Italian. Dishes like SpigolaAllaChristini (Pan seared Chilean sea bass with shrimp risotto and lobster tarragon sauce) and Veal scaloppini with Morel mushrooms and lobster medallions tells you all you need to know about Christini’s level of craftsmanship.
- Who goes there? Locals and couples seeking an exceptional Italian meal with luxurious, romantic surroundings.
- Best time to go: Dinner. And plan to linger.
- Signature Dish: Christini’s Signature Veal Chop.
- Open: 6-10.30pm.
Located in the Gaylord Palms resort in Kissimmee, it’s themed as an ‘old Florida’ shack in the Everglades, but the rustic feel ends there. Inside, it’s a picture in fine dining.
Image Source: jeffreyw Flickr
- Type of food: All Natural Black Angus steaks and fresh-caught seafood. But go for the steak—any steak—for the premier Old Hickory experience. They’re all exceptional.
- Who goes there? Locals and couples seeking a romantic evening out, plus guests of the Gaylord Palms who appreciate upscale dining.
- Best time to go: Go for dinner, then take a digestive stroll around the atrium’s 3 themed districts (Everglades, Key West, and St. Augustine).
- Signature Dish: Cowboy Bone-In Rib Steak. It sounds simple, but as with all of the steaks here, it’s sublime.
- Open: 5-10pm
Todd English’s bluezoo
Find bluezoo at Walt Disney World’s Dolphin resort, in an elegantly lit, under-the-sea atmosphere that comes into its own after dark.
Image source: Geoff Peters Flickr
- Type of food: Seafood is the main option.
- Who goes there? Locals and couples looking for that ‘special evening out’, plus those who enjoy imbibing from a great wine list.
- Best time to go: Go for dinner, when the spectacular lighting effects are most evident. Then stroll to the nearby Boardwalk Resort to catch some of Epcot’s IllumiNations fireworks. If nothing else, just visit the bar for a signature cocktail.
- Signature Dish: ‘Dancing Fish’ open-fire grilled whole fish.
- Open: 5-11pm
At Champion’s Gate resort, this tucked-away gem is off the tourist radar (unless you’re staying at the resort), but worth seeking out for a magnificent meal in superb surroundings.
Image Source: jeffreyw Flickr
- Type of food: Pan-Asian offerings that sound familiar (such as Szechwan Beef and Crispy Duck), but the similarity to other Asian menus ends there, as the chef takes mundane offerings and makes them sublime. Try the Seafood Birds Nest with Shrimp, Scallops and Lobster or the Basil Chicken with Pepper and Onion.
- Who goes there? Locals, couples, and guests at the resort who enjoy a long, luxurious meal in a warm, secluded atmosphere.
- Best time to go: Dinner is the only option, but that’s when you’ll want to go anyway.
- Signature Dish: The multi-course Zen Experience, created by Chef Xiong Tang (with 26 tasting-choices, and yes, you can try them all). Come hungry, dine slowly, and pair it with an excellent wine.
- Open: 6-10pm
Inside Rosen Shingle Creek resort, this is one of our long-time favourites. Every meal we’ve had here has been exceptional, enhanced by the elegant Italianate style of the resort and the award-winning pastry chef’s jaw-dropping creations.
Image Source: Chris Chen Flickr
- Type of food: Mediterranean all the way, and heavy on the seafood. Fish, pasta, lamb and some fabulous vegetarian dishes complete Cala Bella’s exceptional menu. We never pass up a chance to dine here.
- Who goes there? Locals, couples, and guests of the resort. Families are always welcome, as they are at nearly every restaurant in Orlando, but it’s really more grown-up territory.
- Best time to go: The focus is on dinner, with hours that reflect its exclusivity.
- Signature Dish: Seafood Pescatore (lobster tail, mussels, scallops, shrimp and calamari) is a signature dish, but we also highly recommend the signature Cala Bella Lamb chops. And don’t skip dessert!
- Open: 5.30-10pm
Flying Fish Café
Walt Disney World’s Boardwalk resort is home to Flying Fish, styled in keeping with the turn-of-the-century feel of the Boardwalk area, but with a modern, open kitchen and attentive service.
- Type of food: As you would expect, fish and shellfish are the featured items, but steak and chicken are also on the menu. Offerings are familiar, with an upscale twist.
- Who goes there? Families and couples visiting the Disney parks or staying at the nearby resorts, and this is one of the few Walt Disney World restaurants where the kids menu is nearly as sophisticated as the regular menu.
- Best time to go: Dinner is the only option, and we suggest a later meal when most children are tucked up in bed.
- Signature Dish: Idaho Potato-wrapped Red Snapper with a rich leek fondue. It may not be the ‘signature dish’ in the strictest sense, but it’s the one visitors tend to talk about (and come back for) the most.
- Open: 5.30-10pm
You can’t miss this massive paddle-wheeler docked along the lake at Disney Springs. It is an icon of the area, a nautical themed environment in its own right that harmonises well with its waterside setting.
Image Source: Nicole Tarazona Flickr
- Type of food: The restaurant is known for its fish, crab, and lobster, but there are a limited number of steaks, chops, pasta, and chicken entrees as well. Try the Calamari Steak; buttery, heavenly goodness!
- Who goes there? Families visiting Walt Disney World and couples seeking a romantic, yesteryear atmosphere (couples should ask for a table in the Constellation room, upstairs; it’s cozier).
- Best time to go: It is easier to get reservations for lunch, but we prefer dinner here, especially if it’s timed to enjoy the setting sun.
- Signature Dish: Louis Fulton’s Ultimate Crab Experience (Alaska King Crab, Alaska Snow Crab, and Pacific Northwest Dungeness Crab).
- Open: 11.30am-3.30pm and 4pm-11pm
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 long-time 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, a surprisingly upscale dining venue, with classic Italian cuisine, at the Caribe Royale Resort on World Center Drive
- Texas de Brasil and Fogo de Chao, unusual but delicious Brazilian-style steakhouses, both on International Drive.
- 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.