Every major area has their town’s “best of” competition, and Orlando is no exception. Each year, the Orlando Sentinel runs an extensive foodie competition where readers and critics weigh in on the best of various cuisines throughout the Orlando metro area. A surprising (or not so surprising, depending on your view) number of these restaurants are located near the Walt Disney World resort, and make great options for times when you want to drive off property for a little something different than “normal” Walt Disney World dining.
I’ve gone through the restaurants and compiled all of the restaurants that are less than 10 miles from Walt Disney World here. And yes, I’ve eaten at many of them. (It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.) So if you’re looking for a change of pace, here’s some places to try.
Boma (Readers’ Choice: Best African). Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Jiko (Runner-Up: Readers’ Choice: Best African). Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Both Boma and Jiko are perennial favorites in The Unofficial Guide, so it is no surprise they rate highly in this award as well. The African-inspired cuisine is not only delicious, but very approachable, even for cautious eaters.
Publix Super Market (Runner-Up: Readers’ Choice: Best Bakery). Various locations near Walt Disney World.
It may come as a surprise for people outside of Florida that Publix was a winner for best bakery, but the Publix bakery has a pretty devoted following within the Sunshine State. Insider tip: Kids get a free cookie just by stopping by.
Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville (Readers’ Choice: Best Bar Menu; Runner-Up: Readers’ Choice: Best Burger). 6000 Universal Boulevard at Universal CityWalk.
Parrotheads, rejoice! Although I personally find Margaritaville to have all the “charm” of Rainforest Café or T-Rex (just for adults), you can’t argue with the appetizers—and the drinks to wash them down. My personal favorite is the white cheddar cheese curds with the Landshark Lager BBQ and a Lime Daiquiri.
Ruth’s Chris (Runner-Up: Readers’ Choice: Best Bar Menu; Runner-Up: Readers’ Choice: Best Steakhouse). 7501 West Sand Lake Road, Orlando.
Grab a blueberry mojito and a crab BLT to start unwinding from the day–just make sure to save room for dinner and dessert!
Marlow’s Tavern (Runner-Up: Readers’ Choice: Best Bar Menu; Runner-Up: Readers’ Choice: Best Chain). 9101 International Drive, Orlando.
There are quite a few restaurants hidden back in Pointe Orlando on I-Drive. This is one that I found by happy accident. Quiet, with attentive service and wonderful burgers, I highly recommend Royale with Cheese burger with a side of truffled parmesan fries and some asparagus fries (because you can never have too many fries!).
The Pharmacy (Critic’s Choice: Best Bar Menu). 8060 Via Dellagio Way, Orlando.
This is very much an in-the-know place with a Club 33 vibe. There is no storefront signage. You can’t find the menu online easily. Just go to the area of the address, take the unmarked elevator up, and be prepared for a unique bar experience. And whatever you do, don’t tell anyone about this place.
Keke’s Breakfast Café (Readers’ Choice: Best Breakfast). 7512 Dr. Phillips Boulevard, Orlando.
Keke’s can have quite a crowd during the breakfast hours on the weekend, and with good reason—fresh ingredients and a huge variety of offerings makes this place one of my go-to breakfast spots. The Turtle Stuffed French Toast (pecans, caramel, chocolate, and cream cheese) is a nice splurge, or you can go healthy with a design-your-own fresh veggie omelet.
Peach Valley Café (Runner-Up: Readers’ Choice: Best Breakfast). 5072 Dr. Phillips Boulevard, Orlando.
Three words: Fresh Apple Fritters (shaken in cinnamon and sugar tableside). If that isn’t enough to get you through the door, try their Onion and Peach Pepper Sauce on any of their savory dishes.
First Watch (Readers’ Choice: Best Brunch). 7500 W. Sand Lake Road, Orlando.
This was the first “new to us” place we found in Florida. Like Keke’s and Peach Valley, First Watch is open only for breakfast and lunch, and offers fresh squeezed juice, a huge variety of pancakes, and even some unique specialty items like quinoa bowls. My favorite: the Key West Crepeggs (a crepe with eggs, turkey, avocado, bacon, tomatoes, and Monterey Jack cheese topped with sour cream).
Golden Corral (Readers’ Choice: Best Buffet). Various Locations.
Truth told, I don’t get it. I think this one made the list simply because of quantity of restaurants, not quality of food in my opinion. But, it must have its fans out there…somewhere.
Sweet Tomatoes (Runner-Up: Readers’ Choice: Best Buffet). Various locations.
Dinner at the Kissimmee location of Sweet Tomatoes is a weekly tradition for my family. With salad, soup, breads, and pastas, this meal can be a healthy option for a quick meal. (And a special shout out to Jonathan over at the Kissimmee location—the hardest-working server I’ve ever seen at any restaurant!)
Texas De Brazil (Runner-Up: Readers’ Choice: Best Buffet). 5259 International Drive, Orlando.
Now THIS is what I think of when I think buffet. A huge buffet area with appetizers, vegetables, salad, and soup, and then the carving station foods are brought to you. No question, this is ALL you can eat.
Villa de Flora (Critics’ Choice: Best Buffet). Gaylord Palms Resort, 6000 West Osceola Parkway, Kissimmee.
The Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center doesn’t get as much love as it should. It is a beautiful hotel with excellent service, wonderful entertainment, and fantastic restaurants. Villa de Flora is one of these wonderful restaurants. Located off the main atrium, so it looks like you’re eating outside (but without the whims of the Florida climate), this buffet has seasonal offerings with Mediterranean flair.
Burger Fi (Readers’ Choice: Best Burger). 4750 The Grove Drive, Windermere.
Yes, I’ve never met a burger I don’t like. But there’s more to this place than the burgers to love. How about a Red Velvet Frozen Custard Shake. If you’re walking 10 miles a day at Disney, there’s no problem burning off the calories you can consume here, yes? Just don’t try to eat their big bucket of fries by yourself.
Bahama Breeze (Readers’ Choice: Best Caribbean). Various locations.
Yes, I know, another chain restaurant. But when the food quality is as exceptional as it is at Bahama Breeze, it is easy to see why it makes the list. Their ropa vieja is a thing of beauty, and don’t knock the coconut-crusted onion rings until you try them! If you’re not getting an umbrella-type drink, though, you’re truly missing out.
Seasons 52 (Reader’s Choice: Best Chain; Runner-Up: Readers’ Choice: Best Power Lunch). 7700 Sand Lake Road, Orlando.
This is not what you may be thinking of when you think of chain restaurant. Fresh in-season ingredients and an extensive wine menu really take this a notch above typical chain food. That is probably why it also gets nods for Best Power Lunch.
Miller’s Ale House (Runner-Up: Readers’ Choice: Best Chain). Various locations.
Miller’s Ale House has a devoted local following, and once you try Zinger Mountain Melt, you will likely be a convert as well. Garlic boneless chicken tenders served over cheese fries: What’s not to love? But they do have good steaks and seafood as well, if you want to pretend that you care about eating healthy.
Well, both are cheap. And both have eats. So…. yeah.
Starbucks (Readers’ Choice: Best Coffee Shop). Various locations, including new locations in Walt Disney World theme parks.
People who love Starbucks love it. People who hate it will flock to the Internet to say how Starbucks single-handedly destroyed Main Street USA and are bringing ruin to all of Walt Disney World. I’ll just say they serve coffee and leave it at that.
Padrino’s Cuban Bistro (Critic’s Choice: Best Cuban), 13586 Village Park Drive, Orlando.
So many Cuban restaurants I’ve been to tend to be hole-in-the-wall and cheap looking, and Padrino’s thankfully bucks that trend. Quality food in a good setting. There is nothing on the menu that you can go wrong with.
YumYum Cupcake Truck (Runner-Up: Readers’ Choice: Best Food Truck).
A food truck that serves cupcakes—how can you go wrong with that? The YumYum Cupcake Truck shows up all over the Orlando area, but sometimes even on Disney property. Most recently, I saw it at Wide World of Sports offering some pre-race carb loading for Marathon Weekend. (At least that’s what I was telling myself as I looked over the amazing variety of confectionary delights.)
BREAKING NEWS: Just announced, the YumYum Cupcake Truck is shutting down, effective immediately.
And with that, I must go into a mandatory mourning period. Stay tuned for the next part of this series, with more local spots to try, including what the locals feel are the best Theme Park restaurants. Got any guesses?