48 Hour Cheat Sheet: Orlando, FL
F&W’s roundup of the best restaurants in Orlando, from star chef Norman Van Aken's namesake spot to an excellent barbecue joint. For more great restaurants, check out our guide to the best places to eat in the country.
© Rob Howard
Acclaimed chef Melissa Kelly has transported her seasonal-is-best ethos from the original Primo in Rockland, Maine, to this Orlando outpost. The contemporary Italian menu, with dishes like sweet-pea ravioli in lobster broth and grilled duck with turnips and mustard greens, features produce from local farms and an on-site garden.
Orlando scored when Norman Van Aken, the chef who put Florida on the culinary map, opened this outpost of his namesake Coral Gables restaurant (now closed) in 2004. The Orlando restaurant continues to serve Van Aken’s bold cuisine, which blends big flavors from Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia.
Perhaps Orlando’s priciest and most formal restaurant, Victoria & Albert’s isn’t the place to bring the kids—unless they like to eat Monterey Bay abalone with Meyer lemon and capers or guinea hen with morels and truffle foam. The often-changing prix-fixe menu ($175 per person) is an exceptional alternative to Disney’s many fast-food stands.
Courtesy California Grill
This trailblazing restaurant at Disney’s Contemporary Resort brought Orlando its first taste of seasonal cooking in 1995. The eclectic menu still changes weekly, so the grilled fish on your plate might be served with ramps or chanterelles in spring and something else in summer. After dinner, step onto one of the rooftop overlooks to watch the fireworks exploding over Cinderella Castle.
Courtesy Bubbalou’s Bodacious Bar-B-Que
The smell of wood smoke lures tourists and locals alike to this Orlando mini-chain institution, which has built a loyal following for its pulled pork (cooked slowly over oak) and crispy fried catfish.
Ming’s is one of the few places in Central Florida offering Chinese delicacies like chicken feet and turnip cakes on its dim-sum laden carts. Don’t be scared off by the word bistro in its name: Ming’s is the real deal, with authentic food in a no-frills, fluorescent-lit dining room.
For years, the stalwart Little Saigon was the place where Orlando’s growing Vietnamese population went for its pho fix. But Lac Viet Bistro, which opened in 2004 near Little Saigon in the city’s Colonialtown neighborhood, may be even better, serving dishes like ground pork tucked into rice-flour crêpes and a lotus-stem salad with fresh herbs.
Launched in 2006, this combination specialty-food market/restaurant is a great reason to visit the up-and-coming College Park neighborhood. Simple Mediterranean-inspired food reigns here, from flat breads topped with fig, blue cheese and bacon to roast pork sandwiches with Manchego cheese and tomato relish.
Bars & Lounges
Brent Hernandez, the owner of this tiny, low-key bar in Winter Park, has built a beer list that could compete with almost any other in the country. There are plenty of Belgian beers, solid American craft brews like Ommegang and Allagash and even the pricey Swiss rarity Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien, which is aged in barrels once used for wine and grappa.
A wall of rooibos and oolong in glass jars greets you when you step into Infusion Tea, the charming teahouse owned by Christina Cowherd and her husband, Brad. In April, they moved from a tiny shop down the block to this expansive space, which also houses a local designers’ co-op. For advice on which of the more than 75 teas to order, consult one of the friendly “tea experts.” And don’t leave without a scone slathered with cream and jam.
The city’s most luxurious hotel, the Ritz-Carlton Orlando has a luxe spa with citrus-based treatments (like sweet-orange body wraps and zesty-lime showers) and a Greg Norman-designed golf course; plus it’s only 15 minutes from the Disney parks.
© Rob Howard
This hotel, built to resemble an African lodge, offers an arcade and a playground for kids and a fitness center, sauna and massage services for adults. And who wouldn’t enjoy watching zebras graze on the nearby savanna?
Updated July 2009