Foodie Awards: Where Locals Eat (Part 3)

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And here it is, the moment you’ve all been waiting for — the final installment where we review dining near Walt Disney World deemed great by the Orlando Sentinel Foodie Awards, by readers and the Sentinel’s food critic. If you missed part one or part two, you can read them here and here. Now, on with the list!

TooJays (Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice: Best Sandwich), 7600 Dr. Phillips Boulevard, Orlando.

matzoh ball soup
Matzoh ball soup, like that served at TooJays, is good for what ails you. (Photo by Julia Mascardo)

Truth told, if I was in that area, I’d go across the shopping center to Which Wich? for a sandwich, which is my choice for best sandwich. If I’m at TooJays, I’m ordering one of their meals, or matzoh ball soup, or desserts. Their sandwiches are good, though, if that’s what you’re in the mood for, and they have their own deli counter as well.

Big Fin Seafood Kitchen (Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice: Best Seafood), 8046 Via Dellagio Way, Orlando.

Big Fin Seafood Kitchen has an eclectic mix of seafood—from sushi to raw oysters to cooked specialty fish dishes. And yes, crab and lobsters, and fried alligator (which isn’t technically seafood, but it is yummy!).

Fishbones (Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice: Best Seafood), 6707 Sand Lake Road, Orlando.

You may have seen their advertisements on the top of taxis around Walt Disney World, but don’t make the assumption this is a hole in the wall shack. For the most part, the focus on seafood here is less about fish, although they do have the catch of the day, but more on shrimp and crab. Make sure to ask which are fresh, local items. Oh, and if you’re daring, you can try their flaming margarita, too.

The Oceanaire Seafood Room (Critic’s Choice: Best Seafood), 9101 International Drive South, Orlando. Located in Pointe Orlando.

One pet peeve of mine about many seafood restaurants is how few of them feature local fish prominently. Thankfully, there are some great local options on the menu here. Wahoo, triggerfish, and mahi mahi join other fish from around the world, prepared simply to highlight the natural flavors of the fish.

B.B. King’s Blues Club (Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice: Best Soul Food), 9101 International Drive, Suite 2230, Orlando. Located in Pointe Orlando.

B.B. King has a Blues Club in town? Who knew. Apparently the Orlando Sentinel readers did. And while the food (and no doubt the entertainment) is good, I’d describe some of the dishes as “soul inspired” rather than actual soul food.

Stefano’s Grill (Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice: Best Steakhouse), 7152 Dr. Phillips Blvd., Orlando.

I love the idea of a steakhouse that says their selection of prime cuts varies from day to day. It shows a certain level of care about the ingredients coming into the kitchen, and that means good things can come out of the kitchen. If steaks aren’t your thing, Stefano’s Grill also has a wide assortment of pasta dishes, as well as an extensive gluten-free menu.

Bull and Bear Prime Steakhouse (Critic’s Choice: Best Steakhouse), 14200 Bonnet Creek Resort Lane, Orlando. Located in the Waldorf Astoria hotel.

You already can guess that there’s exceptional steaks here, but what I particularly love about the menu is the number of options of steaks for two. Also make sure to look at the variety of sauces they have to come with the steaks. A good sauce won’t mask the flavor of the steak, but can take it to the next level.

Chuy’s (Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice: Best Tex-Mex), Multiple locations.

The stacked enchiladas at Chuy's come with blue corn tortilla and a fresh tomatillo sauce. (Photo by Julia Mascardo)
The stacked enchiladas at Chuy’s come with blue corn tortilla and a fresh tomatillo sauce. (Photo by Julia Mascardo)

My last trip to the southwest was when I was young, but my husband assures me that some of the dishes at Chuy’s are at least on par with some of the meals he had in New Mexico. And aside from having delicious food, you have to love the décor of the place. Eclectic. Whimsical. Tacky tourist. I don’t know what you call it, but somehow it just seems to fit. (And according to their web site, they have an Elvis shrine at every location. Maybe my life goal will be to go and visit them all.)

Outback Steakhouse (Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice; Best Takeout), Multiple locations.

Color me confused. I have no idea how this won for best takeout. I don’t really think of steak as a “to go” item. Am I missing something? Is the demand for Bloomin’ Onions to go that high in Central Florida? Is that what they mean by “No rules”?

Be Our Guest (Readers’ Choice: Best Theme Park Restaurant), Magic Kingdom.

be our guest cupcakes
The Grey Stuff may be delicious, but so are the other cupcakes at Be Our Guest. (Photo by Julia Mascardo)

Good food. Reasonable (for a theme park) prices. Amazing décor. No surprise that this one took the Readers’ Choice nods. Now that reservations have opened up to the general public for lunch and dinner (and eventually breakfast), hopefully more people will get a chance to dine in Beast’s castle.

The Hollywood Brown Derby (Runner-Up: Readers’ Choice: Best Theme Park Restaurant), Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

I am surprised that Brown Derby made this list. Not because it isn’t good (because it is good, in my view), but because it isn’t a restaurant that most people think of when they mention theme park dining. On the other hand, with all the recent closures at the Studios, it may also be a contender for best attraction soon…

Les Chefs de France (Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice; Best Theme Park Restaurant)

I won’t include the depressing details of my experiences at Les Chefs de France in this blurb. I will just remind you that the people who answered the Sentinel’s survey also think Olive Garden is at the same level for quality of Italian food, and say that this wouldn’t be my choice for Best Theme Park Restaurant.

Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria (Critic’s Choice: Best Theme Park Restaurant), Epcot.

Many people rave about the pizza at Via Napoli, but I suggest saving room for dessert. (Photo by Julia Mascardo)
Many people rave about the pizza at Via Napoli, but I suggest saving room for dessert. (Photo by Julia Mascardo)

I can think of a half dozen other restaurants that would tie in my view for Best Theme Park Restaurant, but the Critic had to choose one, and this is what he went with. It isn’t a bad choice, and certainly I don’t mind going there. If I had to choose, I might go with Tokyo Dining instead, although Via Napoli appeals more to the general public.

Vines Grille & Wine Bar (Critic’s Choice: Best Wine Bar), 7533 West Sand Lake Road, Orlando.

Although I’m not a wine drinker, I think a wine bar needs to have gentle, live music playing in the background to set the right vibe. Not only does Vines have great wines, but it was voted Top Jazz Venue by DownBeat Magazine. Even better, if you try a wine there that you like, they have their own online wine shop that ships. You can check out their wine list before you visit, too—all 36 pages worth.

Vito’s Chophouse (Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice: Best Wine List), 8633 International Drive, Orlando.

Currently, their online list boasts 474 different wines. Let that sink in—you could try a different bottle every day for a year and still not run out of ones to try. Then again, with the most expensive bottle topping out over $1500, you might go broke before you have sampled them all. (Don’t worry, they do have more reasonably priced bottles, too.)

Capital Grille (Critic’s Choice: Best Wine List), 9101 International Drive, Orlando.

If you can’t find a wine you like in the more than 350 wines on the list, then you probably just don’t like wine. If you don’t like wine, there’s plenty of food on the menu for you to enjoy. For a less formal meal, try stopping by at lunch.

Buffalo Wild Wings (Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice: Best Wings), Multiple locations.

I’m a bit of a neat freak, so the idea of food with sauce that you have to use your fingers with doesn’t do it for me. That said, I’ve never met a person who likes chicken wings who doesn’t think that Buffalo Wild Wings isn’t good. Does it have the best wings, though? I wouldn’t know. Maybe I’ll try it…with a jumbo pack of wet wipes and hand sanitizer.

And there you have it! Are there any locations in or near Walt Disney World that you think were snubbed? Any that you’ve eaten at that you agree with the list–or disagree with the list? One thing is certain: it just goes to show that when it comes to Walt Disney World dining, there are a lot of options once you step outside the bubble. Happy dining!

Julia Mascardo

Freelance writer and editor, living the dream in Central Florida with my husband, cats, and spirited nine-year-old daughter.

6 thoughts on “Foodie Awards: Where Locals Eat (Part 3)

  • March 9, 2015 at 12:51 pm
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    “That said, I’ve never met a person who likes chicken wings who doesn’t think that Buffalo Wild Wings isn’t good.”

    Well, now you’ve met two. We consider ourselves (especially Robin) to be wing connoisseurs. Buffalo Wild “wings” are hands down the worst we have ever had. Their hottest “hot sauce” is a joke for those of us who like really hot sauce (Zaxby’s has a hotter sauce… and better wings, now that I think of it).

    Top that off with the following additional problems with the location at Formosa Gardens Road:

    1) Kids running amok uncontrolled by any parent.
    2) Loud, and I mean LOUD background noise. Conversation is almost impossible.
    3) Some nutjob walking around making “ballon hats” for the aforesaid amok kids, apparently doing his best to make the balloons make high pitched squeaks while tying them.
    4) The positively NASTY floors, tables, and bathrooms.

    If the wings had really been good, we could have forgiven some of the above complaints. But they weren’t. They were horrible. So we won’t be back. Ever.

    • March 9, 2015 at 5:22 pm
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      Make that four. We’re not so much for super-hot wings, but even their non-standard sauces seem to have a tendency to confuse “acid” with “flavorful”. In addition, the couple of times we’ve eaten in one (not in Orlando), we’ve found the underlying chicken to be overfried and dry — the skin is supposed to be fried under the sauce, but not so carbonized that it is unable to absorb any of the sauce at all.

      • March 9, 2015 at 6:06 pm
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        Good to know that I don’t have to get over my “wings are icky” thing to try Buffalo Wild Wings! Thanks Lee & Robin and Jennie!

  • March 9, 2015 at 4:53 pm
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    As a lifelong Texan, I’m proud to say that I’ve eaten at multiple Chuy’s locations and they do, in fact, all contain a shrine to Elvis. Some are larger than others, but you’ll find one in each location.

    Better than that, though, is the food. I can’t think of a single thing I’ve eaten there that was subpar. Also, if you go to Chuy’s and don’t get the creamy jalapeno salsa to go along with your chips and “regular” salsa, you’re doing it wrong. That stuff will change your life.

    • March 9, 2015 at 9:12 pm
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      I keep ordering the same thing (the stacked enchiladas) because they are amazing, but my husband lets me try the different things he eats to mix it up a bit. I agree–everything there has been top notch!

    • March 16, 2015 at 10:52 am
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      We now live in Texas now and have eaten at both Chuy’s and some wonderful local Mexican restaurants. Chuy’s can go toe-to-toe with some of the best Mexican I’ve ever had. Great stuff!

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