Most visitors to Orlando know about the restaurants along the big tourist strips of International Drive and Highway 192, but some of the best can be found on Sand Lake Road in the area locals know as Restaurant Row. From ultra-casual to serious splash out, let’s take a look at ten of the best.
Noodles and Company: Sometimes you just want a quick meal that’s full of flavour and won’t break the budget, and this is the place along Restaurant Row to get it. It’s a chain, but don’t let that put you off. This isn’t fast food. Instead, you get to choose from 6 Classic Noodle dishes, 5 Zoodle bowls (veggie or gluten-free noodles), 4 Asian inspired bowls, 3 Salads, 3 Soups, and 3 Sharables (such as pot stickers, Korean meatballs or garlic bread). Choose how spicy you want it, and you’re good to go! Have kids with you? There are five macaroni and cheese dishes and four kid-friendly selections to choose from, including plain buttered noodles if your youngster is in that phase of his or her life. It’s a terrific quick-serve for those looking for vegetarian, gluten-free, allergy-friendly or low-calorie options at a reasonable price.
The Whiskey: We’ve all been there. You’re craving a great burger and you can’t bear the idea of McDonalds or Burger King. What’s a tourist to do? Head over to The Whiskey and choose from 10 signature burgers, with toppings from the expected (lettuce, tomato and onion) to the seriously unexpected (such as fried green tomato, sunny-side up egg, bourbon poached pear…). Into the exotic? Try a camel burger (yes, it’s really that), a bison burger, an elk burger, or bourbon brown sugar marinated salmon ‘burger’. Scared just at the thought of unusual meat? Go for chicken breast, smoked brisket, pulled pork or Wagyu beef on a bun. And don’t forget the parmesan truffle fries. The setting is casual, the bar is always open, and there are 66 bourbons on offer, just to get you started.
Rocco’s Tacos: We shouldn’t have to say much more than “fresh guacamole, prepared tableside,” but we will. Start with the guac, of course, but move on to some of the most enjoyable, approachable Mexican fare in the area, and plenty of it. Go full-on South of the Border with a sizzling Carne or Seafood Molcajete or a Chile Rellenos. Less daring? Try a taco trio, roasted chicken or a burger. Somewhere in the middle? They’ve got you covered, and most main courses are big enough to split, if you’re watching your waistline or a less-ambitious eater. Daily Specials add to the value, and Margaritas add to the joy. Want to know what’s going on around town, or find the best after-hours hang-out? Sit at the bar and gab with the bartender. They know all the best spots.
The H Cuisine: Restaurant Row’s newcomer, this Greek, Mediterranean and Turkish offering definitely fills the “something different” bill amid Orlando’s overload of same-old-same-old. But it isn’t scary-different; most of the ingredients are familiar (salmon, pasta, beef, fish, lamb), served up in highly appealing style. Now, don’t freak out, because we’re going to urge you to try the smoked yoghurt. Creamy, slightly tart, filled with smoky goodness, it elevates already enjoyable dishes to something extraordinary. Pair it with the Josper Vegetable Stew and you’ve got culinary heaven. The cocktails are exciting, too!
Melting Pot: We know you’re on holiday and you don’t want to cook your own meals, but we promise this will be more like fun and not at all like work. With a heated pot of flavored broth (Caribbean, European, Coq au Vin or Court Bouillon) and lots of bite-sized meats or vegetables to choose from, it’s an experience worth trying. Not into the idea of cooking in broth? Go for the smokin’ hot Cast Iron Grill. Prefer something gooey? Aim straight for the Cheese Fondue with bread, veggies and fruit. Be sure to save room for dessert, because it’ll be one of nine decadent chocolate fondues, from plain-and-simple to pile-it-on!
Slate: Handcrafted cocktails? Check! Foodie orientated menu? Check! Smart ambiance? Check! Trader Joe’s right next door for all those interesting snack items you want to take back to your accommodation? It’s got that, too. But most of all, Slate has a refined atmosphere that feels both comfortable enough for after a day in the parks and swanky enough for a special celebration.
Seasons 52: This is definitely our go-to place for its fab Happy Hour ($4 beer, $6 craft cocktails, $5 appetizer-sized plates, and the superb wine and flatbread deal at $12), and we’ll happily plunk down in the lounge for an hour of de-stress enjoyment, from 3pm-6.30pm, Monday-Friday. But it’s also a good choice for dinner in the main dining room, with its seasonally rotating menu. We love the ability to tell at a glance what the nutritional and caloric content is for each dish, so we can dine guilt-free or indulge as needed. Their mini desserts are the perfect finale, packed with scrumptious delight but sized so you don’t walk away feeling like a whale.
Roy’s: Okay, so Hawaiian Fusion may be a little bit quirky, but who’s going to say “No” to prime rib with lobster mac-and-cheese, Hibachi grilled salmon or bacon wrapped bone-in pork chop? Start with sushi, spring rolls or a wedge salad; move on to melt-in-your mouth butter-seared scallops, short ribs, an Asian-inspired half chicken or jumbo tiger shrimp; add a few side dishes, and Bob’s your uncle. There are four desserts to choose from, but it really has to be the Melting Hot Chocolate Soufflé, doesn’t it? Want all the happy but none of the hearty? Drop by for Aloha Hour (2:59pm-7pm daily, and late-night from 9pm-close) and nibble your way through a lighter, limited, but no less enticing menu, with a Hawaiian Martini or Island Mai Tai. You can thank us later.
Fleming’s: We’ve been moving quickly toward elegance and refinement, and we’ve definitely reached it with Fleming’s. Here’s it’s all about dinner (the restaurant opens at 4pm) and it’s mainly about steak. Great steak. No, superb steak. Choose from two sizes of Filet Mignon, three types of ribeye (Angus, Dry Aged or Bone In), New York Strip, or the jaw-dropping Prime Tomahawk. If beef isn’t your thing, choose from salmon, sea bass, pork, lobster or crab legs. Side dishes and steak enhancements (including the outrageous truffle poached lobster) cost extra, and while it’s going to hurt, possibly a lot, your meal will be memorable.
Urbain 40 American Brasserie and Lounge: If Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack had a baby, it would be Urbain 40. Swish, luxurious, but without taking itself too seriously, this is one of our favourite special-occasion spots, and an absolute must during Magical Dining (late August through September). But go any time. Just being there makes the evening special. Their Northeast Atlantic Coastal Mussels in lemon and white wine are a signature starter, while Moroccan spiced organic chicken, Day Boat scallops, short ribs and steaks make for satisfying mains. Go during Happy Hour, enjoy their swingy live music, and if you sit at the bar while the bartender shakes up a martini or a cocktail, you’ll struggle to find a more glamourously sociable setting.
Even with that wealth of culinary creativity, there are plenty of runners-up, including Eddie V’s, Ocean Prime seafood, Morton’s steakhouse, The Pharmacy hide-away, Ruth’s Chris steaks, Dragonfly Japanese grill, and Christini’s Italian. So step outside the tourist area and enjoy dining like a local!
What is your favourite Restaurant Row dining spot? Come and ask your questions – or tell us your experiences – on the ATD forums!
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