Minutes from the parks and resort hotels, a global buffet of good food is hiding in plain sight.
So, you've eaten your way around Epcot's World Showcase. You've done the dinner thing at Be Our Guest (look at you, snagging a table), you've breakfasted with all of the characters, waited in line for lunch—now, you're ready to break free from the Small World, to spend just a little bit of time back in the real one. Smart move, after all; there's so much to eat out there.
Partly responding to the desires of Disney World's global clientele, partly an outcome of Orlando's evolving demographics, hungry visitors will find a surprising array of great food on offer, just minutes from the parks—that is, if you know where to look. Most of these restaurants won't be found in prominent corner locations; you'll have to look beyond the national chains and the sprawling resorts, into the strip malls, down the side roads. But they're there, so many of them very good, even terrific, typically no more than 15 minutes' drive from the parks, sometimes a lot less.
We went looking for (and found) a handful of terrific restaurants, most of them family owned and operated, serving good food from all around the world. Here are just a few of our top picks, to get you started; think of this as a rogue sort of Epcot crawl, at entirely reasonable prices.
Stuck between a car wash and a budget motel out along an unlovely stretch of highway, you wouldn't roll past this restaurant and market and feel in any way enticed to stop, but you should. What may look like a let's-avoid liquor store from the outside is actually one of the area's more popular Mexican restaurants, a nicely decorated (on the inside) haven for straightforward, authentic cooking. Great for a quick combo lunch, or a big family dinner—snag some pan dulce from the market next door, and that's breakfast squared away, too.
4565 W. Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy., Kissimmee, 407-397-1981
This basic, family-operated spot, just ten minutes from the glitter of Disney Springs, specializes in typically very generous combination plates, Venezuelan-style grilled arepas, as well as classic starters like cachapas (sweet corn pancakes filled with delicious aged cheese). The house hot sauce goes with everything. Every single thing.
8117 Vineland Ave., Orlando, 407-238-0014
Caribbean Jerk & Grille
A true find for the value conscious, this counter within the Main Gate Flea Market—as much of a crash landing back in reality as you can do, in just a couple of minutes' drive from the World—does a rather brisk trade in jerk chicken, oxtail and curry goat, all served up with plenty of peas and rice. They've got patties and proper ginger beer, too, along with a modest patio seating setup; this place isn't going to win any design awards, but most people walk away pretty pleased with the cooking, and that's what matters. Look for them in the market's Building D, in something loosely referred to as the flea market's food court.
5407 W. Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy., Kissimmee, 407-465-1353
Falafel, shawarma, pillowy clouds of hummus, fried kibbeh—all the usual suspects from this side of the world are done very well at this buried-in-a-strip-mall spot that's close enough to Disney World that you can easily order in, via Uber Eats. (Yes, they have that stuff now. Yes, it's allowed—Disney World even has a proper partnership with rideshare service Lyft, operating a fleet of, wait for it, Minnie Vans.) Besides being a great lunch option, Jerusalem does proper dinners—bring the whole family.
2920 Vineland Road, Kissimmee, 407-397-2230
Buried in the thicket of tourist traps that define the relentlessly average Lake Buena Vista dining and hotel district, Sofrito's let's-do-it-all menu does not, at first glance, appear to be a recipe for success. There's lomo saltado from Peru, a media noche from Cuba, Argentinian empanadas, an entire arepa menu. You know what though? Sofrito is fun. It's good, too. You might go so far as to call this place a genuine find, considering the location, walking distance from more than a couple Good Neighbor hotels. P.S.—there's breakfast, as well.
8607 Palm Pkwy, Orlando, 407-778-4205
And the award for greatest effort on the theming front in a Kissimmee-adjacent strip mall most likely goes to this place, with its wall designed to look like the brightly colored homes of Old San Juan, the beach shack-style bar area, along with other ambitious bells and whistles. But hey, how's the food? Not cheap, at least by out-here standards, but it's good. Orlando is a hub of Puerto Rican culture, even more so since this last hurricane season, making competition is a bit stiff, so you'll find the menu here even more ambitious than the theming, with prices that can quickly add up. Still, you can't really fail with the stuffed mofongo—there are so many things you can stuff it with, too. For those feeling a little timid around the genre, easily translatable, hearty dishes like arroz con pollo will please.
13605 S. Apopka-Vineland Rd., Orlando, 407-778-4600