Avoid Orlando's Fast-Food Avalanche And Find The Best Restaurants

If you are headed to Walt Disney World or another attraction in the Orlando area, it can be a daunting task to find top-notch real food instead of the grub offered at seemingly zillions of fast-food restaurants.

The sprawling area, though, has come a long way in the culinary arts in the past few decades, and there are plenty of eateries serving delicious fare.

“In the 20-plus years I’ve been writing about the Orlando food scene,” says local food critic Joseph Hayes, “I’ve seen a great expansion of locally owned, independent restaurants making use of our uniquely long growing season for produce, the availability of some of the best seafood in the world from two coasts and a dining populace that recognizes the value of local sourcing.”

Many innovative chefs live or have established restaurants in the Orlando area.

“We have eight local James Beard Award nominees without including national names like Norman Van Aken, Morimoto, Rick Bayless and more who have restaurants in the Orlando area,” says Hayes, the dining critic at Orlando Magazine. “In a way, the caliber of our local chefs was the impetus for Disney having to totally revamp their Disney Springs area to include such world-class chefs, simply to compete.”

Hayes raves about a relatively recent meal prepared by local chefs at a southern Indian restaurant, Southern Spice, which opened last year in Orlando’s Dr. Philips neighborhood. Among the many dishes Hayes enjoyed were multi-spiced mahi with a tamarind-based spicy curry and slow-cooked masala okra.

The menu at the restaurant — owned by Sunny Corda, who has three other Indian restaurants in the area — is “enticing, exotic” and “seductive,” Hayes wrote in Orlando Magazine. “Southern Spice offers complex food worthy of its ancient ancestry, precisely prepared by vastly talented chefs.”

Here are Hayes’s recommendations if you are looking to find the best restaurants in the Orlando area. He includes many recommendations at the theme parks, several outside the parks in Orlando and some in nearby Winter Park and Winter Garden.

High end: Flying Fish (Disney’s Boardwalk Resort).

Simple but great: Hunger Street Tacos (Winter Park).

Vegetarian: The Sanctum Cafe (Orlando).

Intimate: Chef’s Table (Winter Garden).

Hot hangout: Pizza Bruno (Orlando).

Brilliant newcomer: Southern Spice (Orlando).

Breakfast: Se7en Bites (Orlando).

Hidden treasure: Strong Water Tavern (Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando Resort).

Groundbreaking gastropub: The Ravenous Pig (Winter Park).

Best hotel restaurant: Jiko (Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge).

Downtown Orlando: Dovecote Brasserie (Orlando).

Theme park champion: Tiffins (Disney’s Animal Kingdom).

Epcot: Le Cellier (Canada Pavillion), Monsieur Paul (France Pavillion).

Disney Springs: Terralina Crafted Italian, Morimoto Asia, Frontera Cochina Mexicana, Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill, Homecomin’, Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC, Polite Pig, Raglan Road, The Edison.

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