Thank you all so much for the feedback on part 1. One comment was about how there were a lot of mediocre and not-too-original places on the list. For this part, you’ll see quite a few more interesting spots—and one exception that sticks out like a sore thumb.
If you haven’t read part 1, the brief recap is that the Orlando area has a lot of amazing dining options, many of which are near Walt Disney World. Readers of the Orlando Sentinel newspaper vote on them. The food critic weighs in. And the results are shared. You can read part 1 here. And now, here’s the second round of the award-winning restaurants.
Jeremiah’s Italian Ice (Readers’ Choice: Best Frozen Treats), 4750 The Grove Dr., Windermere.
While the gelati they have is good, there’s a reason why it is called Jeremiah’s Italian Ice. If you’re going there, try a sample of some of their unique flavors in the gelati and Italian ice rotation, including cotton candy, horchata, salted sea caramel, and Key West tropical.
Menchie’s (Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice: Best Frozen Treats), Multiple Locations
I am old enough to remember when frozen yogurt started to become “a thing”. This ain’t the TCBY from my teen years! Come in, grab a cup, and fill it up with as much or as little of a variety of self-serve flavors and dozens of toppings, then pay by the pound. (Or, if I had the option to eat there every day, I would pay by [putting on] the pounds! But it’s yogurt, so it’s healthy, right?)
Biergarten (Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice: Best German), Epcot
Biergarten consistently gets mentioned as a good value for dining in Epcot. As for authenticity of food, it isn’t bad either. For me, the big draw of the restaurant is the entertainment more than the food, however. Well, maybe the entertainment and the apple strudel. And if you’re a beer drinker, you don’t need me to tell you anything about this place because you’ve likely already been here.
The Fresh Market (Readers’ Choice: Best Gourmet Store), 5000 Dr. Phillips Boulevard, Orlando.
Coming from the northeast, I miss Wegmans. Walking in to Fresh Market, it is almost like a Wegman’s express. There’s a good selection of produce, meats, bulk goods, cheeses, pastries, and other grocery store products. You can even get jars of the pasta sauce from Il Mulino there.
Greek Flame Taverna (Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice: Best Greek; Critic’s Choice: Best Greek; and Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice: Best Overall), 7600 Dr. Phillips Boulevard, Suite 4, Orlando.
Now that Kouzzina is closed, if you’re looking for a bit of Opa! in your day, head on over to Greek Flame Taverna. If you don’t know what you want to eat, try one of their platters that have a little bit of everything. (I recommend the Greek Flame platter with gyro, grilled chicken, veggie dolmades, meat dolmades, spinach pie, hummus, tzatziki, and pita, served with a Greek salad.). Hint: With is popularity with the locals, you might want to head to the web site and make a reservation.
The Venetian Room (Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice: Best Hotel Restaurant; Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice: Best Wine List; Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice: Best Overall Restaurant), 8101 World Center Drive, Orlando. Located in the Caribe Royale hotel.
Confession: This is one of the restaurants that I haven’t tried yet. But with that many nods, and a list of awards from other sources, I wonder why I haven’t tried it. (Hint: Cost of entrée and need for childcare would be the reasons, but for a special occasion, this is now on my list to try.)
Hemingway’s (Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice: Best Hotel Restaurant), One Grand Cypress Boulevard, Orlando. Located in the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress.
Although the menu does have entrees other than seafood, if you are going to visit Hemingway’s, I highly recommend sticking to the seafood entrees. For example, try the red snapper (crispy-skin local snapper, coconut yucca cake, grilled asparagus, finished with a tomato fennel jam and yellow pepper espuma). I can almost imagine that it is something that Papa Hemingway might have prepared with fish he just caught down in the Keys. (Well, if he ever went to culinary school and became a skilled chef, that is.)
Victoria & Albert’s (Critic’s Choice: Best Hotel Restaurant), Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.
As Central Florida’s only AAA Five Diamond restaurant, it isn’t a surprise how highly (and consistently) this restaurant scores. With excellent service and an impressive menu, Victoria & Albert’s is what defines fine dining at Walt Disney World.
Saffron (Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice: Best Indian), 7724 West Sand Lake Road, Orlando.
My experience with Indian food is that it is either a slop of flavorless curry with a layer of grease on top or a finely crafted dish with a blending of spices that provide a dance of flavors on your tongue—nothing in between. Thankfully, Saffron qualifies as the latter. There are some higher-end dishes like Lobster Masala, but I usually judge an Indian restaurant by their Chicken Tikka Masala, and theirs does not disappoint in flavor. Tip: Stop by for lunch for a great bargain meal.
Vincenzo Cucina Italia (Readers’ Choice: Best Italian), 8255 International Drive, Suite 112, Orlando.
I feel so bad for this restaurant to have tied the next entry for the readers’ choice for Best Italian. In my mind, it isn’t in the same category whatsoever. In addition to your Italian standards, you’ve also got things like braised wild boar and porcini mushrooms served with imported cherry tomato sauce. But save room for desserts. Whether it is the Nutella cheesecake, Grand Marnier crème brulee, or Chef Vincenzo’s own recipe for tiramisu, you will be glad you saved room.
Olive Garden (Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice: Best Italian), Multiple locations.
In years past, Olive Garden has won this category with readers. While I’m a fan of “hospitaliano” as much as the next person, I have to ask…. Are there really not a lot of other good options in Orlando for Italian? (I can think of a couple I’d put on the list from Walt Disney World alone. Il Mulino, anyone?) But in the end, unless you’re craving their salad and breadsticks, skip this one and head over to Vincenzo.
Kobe Japanese Steakhouse (Readers’ Choice: Best Japanese), Multiple locations.
For me, Japanese is all about sushi, and so Kobe wouldn’t be my choice for best Japanese restaurant as you go there primarily for the teppan experience. On the other hand, with options like lobster and waygu beef on the teppan menu, it is a step or three above your local Benihana’s.
Rice & Beans (Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice: Best Latin), 3268 North John Young Parkway, Kissimmee.
As I’m allergic to legumes, a restaurant with “beans” in the name is one I’m likely to pass. That said, there’s enough food on this menu for just about anyone, including me. I could easily make a meal sampling their empanadas—that is, if I wasn’t too busy drooling over their mofongos.
Tijuana Flats (Runner-Up, Reader’s Choice: Best Mexican), 7569 W. Sand Lake Road, Orlando.
If your experience in fast-casual “Mexican” is Taco Bell or Chipotle, allow me to introduce you to your new best friend. My only complaint is that I don’t think this should win for Best Mexican, when the food is very clearly Tex-Mex. It is good, however, and a viable choice for a meal on the go. If you love trying out new types of hot sauces, there’s more than a dozen for you to sample.
Bosphorous Turkish Cuisine (Readers’ Choice: Best Middle Eastern and Critic’s Choice: Best Middle Eastern), 7600 Dr. Phillips Blvd, Suite 108, Orlando.
I had no idea what to expect from a Turkish restaurant. The answer is very familiar items if you’ve been to a falafel or kebab (or as they write it, sis kebap) place, plus a few Greek-like dishes (moussaka, dolma). The items on the menu may not be what you eat on an daily basis, but there are few items that would require stepping far out of your comfort zone in terms of ingredients and flavors. Can’t decide? Try a bit of everything with the Mixed Grill (doner kebap, chicken and lamb adana kebap, chicken and lamb sis kebap, chicken and lamb kofte, served over rice).
Eddie V’s (Runner-Up, Reader’s Choice: Best Newcomer; Runner-Up, Reader’s Choice: Best Romantic Restaurant; Readers’ Choice: Best Wine List), 7488 West Sand Lake Road, Orlando.
Yeah, I’ll admit that I was hoping to see some of the Four Seasons restaurants in this category. Still, Eddie V’s has generated a lot of buzz and dedicated clientele. If you want a date night and can’t nail those Victoria & Albert’s reservations, Eddie V’s isn’t a far taxi drive from property. (And you’ll want to take a taxi if you want to really explore that wine list! Just be warned, there’s no three buck chuck on that wine list.) Local tip: If you’re a fan of exotic cars, visit on a Saturday night and just watch what gets dropped off at the valet.
Johnnie’s Hideaway (Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice: Best Outdoor Dining), 12551 State Road 535, Orlando, Located in Crossroads.
Truth told, I’m thinking that we might see The BOATHOUSE end up sneaking in on this category in the next few years. And while the menu at Johnnie’s Hideaway is noteworthy on its own, and worth a trip, I’m not sure I agree with it being the best in outdoor dining. But grab a table inside and enjoy the steaks and seafood that have made this place well known.
Chatham’s Place (Critic’s Choice: Best Romantic Restaurant), 7575 Dr. Phillips Blvd., Orlando.
In the foodie community, locally sourced ingredients are a big trend. At Chatham’s Place, many of the vegetables, fruits, and herbs come from the chef’s personal organic farm. That does mean that the menu changes with the seasons, but certainly that’s not a bad thing. If you want a real taste of local food, you don’t get more local than this.
And that brings us to the end of part 2. Join us for part 3, when we finally reveal the locals’ picks for best Theme Park restaurant—one of which makes my list for worst theme park restaurant!