Edible Amusements: Where to Eat Near and Within Orlando's Theme Parks

Yes, you can get great meals where the tourists roam. Here are a few favorites around Orlando's largest attractions. 
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Photo By: Jimmy DeFlippo

Photo By: Roberto Gonzalez ©© 2016, Cooking Channel, LLC. All Rights Reserved

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Photo By: Roberto Gonzalez ©2016 Roberto Gonzalez

A Guide to Dining Like a King or Princess

Think spending a day at the theme park means sacrificing good food? Not so. Orlando is chock-full of chefs, and many of them prepare destination-worthy meals, or just plain good grub, in and around the worlds of fantasy. Of course, you can always find a mediocre all-American megameal if you look for it. But here are some of the best bites in and around Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando.

Photography courtesy of Jimmy DeFlippo Photography, Be Our Guest, Magic Kingdom

Beaches & Cream (Disney’s Beach Club Resort)

You’ll feel like a kid again at Beaches & Cream, an old-fashioned ice-cream parlor — maybe we should call it a malt shop — at Disney’s Beach Club Resort. Fans will wait as long as it takes to get a seat and eat, say, tomato bisque and a patty melt amid the ’50s-leaning pastel furnishings with giant ice cream cone sconces. When it comes to scoops, any sundae will do, but gather a quartet of sweets lovers to go for the monstrous Kitchen Sink. It has eight scoops of ice cream, plus every topping in the larder.

Photography courtesy Roberto Gonzalez

Go to: Beaches & Cream

Frontera Cocina (Disney Springs)

Chicago can claim Mexican cuisine expert Rick Bayless’ fiery fare, but Orlando is home to Frontera Cocina, with sensational south-of-the-border classics. Though many diners may be wearing mouse-ear hats, they’re eating food that’s just as good as at the star chef’s Windy City octet. Unwind with a blood orange-jalapeno margarita, rimmed in Tajín chile. Then dig into Shrimp Enchiladas Suizas, a robust, luscious, just-gooey-enough entree.

Photography courtesy of Frontera Cocina

Go to: Frontera Cocina

The Boathouse (Disney Springs)

The Boathouse stands out for its serious devotion to all things fresh and finny or shelly – well, that and rides in the vintage “amphicars” (amphibious cars) offered right outside. The raw bar has as many as 14 varieties of oysters at a time, ensuring the right amount of brine for any seafood fan. During stone crab season, the crew creates a dramatic-looking platter to order that turns heads of envious diners. For a finale, order the signature S’mores Baked Alaska for the table. This mammoth indulgence pairs rocky road ice cream with toasted marshmallows and chunks of milk chocolate.

Photography courtesy Roberto Gonzalez

Go to: The Boathouse

Morimoto Asia (Disney Springs)

There’s plenty on the menu at Morimoto Asia to captivate even the pickiest diners, but those in the know look past the tourist must-haves to Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s in-house specialties. Food-savvy locals vie for seats in the chic dining room to feast on a Peking duck dinner that vies with the best in Beijing. Often, they’ll opt to settle into a sofa at the Forbidden Lounge and pair the Kakune Pork Bao with a lychee-laced cocktail, or belly up to the second-floor sushi bar for a multicourse omakase meal. Sundays mean a popular dim sum brunch.

Photography courtesy of Morimoto Asia

Go to: Morimoto Asia

STK Orlando (Disney Springs)

Disney outposts tend to do things in a big way, and STK Orlando is a fine example. The 11th steakhouse in The One Group’s portfolio is the largest yet, with a dramatically backlit dining room plus seats indoors, on a rooftop terrace and in other assorted nooks and patios beyond the main bistro – one with a fire pit. A DJ sets a pulsing soundtrack while diners cut into tender steaks (ideally topped with truffle butter, foie gras butter, king crab or crushed peppercorns) and many non-red-meat selections like seared tuna and grilled lobster Rockefeller. In fact, 20 percent of the menu is unique to this location.

Photography courtesy Roberto Gonzalez

Go to: STK Orlando

Be Our Guest (Magic Kingdom)

You’ll feel like the Belle of the ball at Be Our Guest, a French restaurant (with wine and beer at dinner) with an elaborate Beauty and the Beast theme. Dinner is a hard-to-get ticket for its elegant entrees like roasted lamb chop with potato pave and demi-glace. Lunch is a commendable alternative, since it’s easier to get a table and the food — such as vegetable quiche, coq au vin-style pork and a croque monsieur sandwich — is simpler but equally satisfying.

Photography courtesy of Matt Stroshane Photography

Go to: Be Our Guest

Monsieur Paul (Epcot)

Monsieur Paul is a fine French restaurant that happens to be located within a theme park. Inspired by the repertoire of his renowned father, Chef Paul Bocuse, owner Jerome Bocuse designed the colorfully classic dinner house to be sophisticated yet casual, which makes it all the better for indulging in red snapper encased in golden potato scales, and roasted duck breast with vanilla-apricot puree.

Photography courtesy of Preston Mack Photography

Go to: Monsieur Paul

Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe (Epcot)

A fast-food Norwegian restaurant may not set pulses racing —Norway isn’t even known for its cuisine. Yet this sleeper is one of the best places for a simple lunch or snack in Epcot’s World Showcase. Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe’s open-faced smoked salmon sandwich is both healthy and tasty. Add School Bread to your order. It’s one of those snacks that Disney fanatics obsess about online: a slightly sweet bun flavored with cardamom, stuffed with vanilla custard and topped with flakes of glazed, toasted coconut.

Photography courtesy Roberto Gonzalez

Go to: Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe

Jiko (Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge)

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge has a private savannah with bongos, waterbucks and the like, so it should come as no surprise that the hotel’s restaurant meals are African-inspired too. Jiko puts a fine-dining spin on the theme serving pork shank simmered with Nigerian spices, and halibut prepared with a maize crust. The wine list is a remarkable collection of South African vintages. For a more casual but equally enjoyable African-ish experience, go across the hall to Boma, which offers fortifying coconut-chicken-curry soup, Tunisian couscous salad and bobotie in a buffet format.

Photography courtesy Roberto Gonzalez

Go to: Jiko

50's Prime Time Café (Disney's Hollywood Studios)

Travel back to the era of Formica. This being Disney, the 50’s Prime Time Café is logged internally as “eatertainment.” And there is indeed entertainment — rolling reels of black-and-white TV show trailers, and antics like a stern server making a real mom stand in a corner for unfinished veggies. (The kids will love it.) Yet the “eat” part is valid too. This hokey table-serve spot within The Studios puts a modern twist on Lucy-era favorites like pot roast, and adds in some millennial items like a daily sustainable fish with broccolini. Go all out and get a cocktail with a glow cube.

Photography courtesy of Scott Miller Photography

Go to: 50's Prime Time Café

Tiffins (Disney's Animal Kingdom)

After taking a safari through Animal Kingdom's African savannah and facing a yeti atop roller-coaster Mount Everest, round out the adventure with far-flung cuisines. Tiffins creates flavors of the faraway lands its Imagineers visited when creating the park 20 years ago. We’re faithful fans of the Ethiopian coffee butter-infused lamb loin with tamarind barbecue sauce, but the menu also tempts with head-on prawns with sea urchin-butter sauce, and curried roast vegetables with lime chutney. Original Imagineer sketches, Balinese totem poles and a fleet of blue butterflies are among the travel-inspired adornments.

Photography courtesy Roberto Gonzalez

Go to: Tiffins

Chef Art Smith's Homecoming Florida Kitchen and Southern Shine (Disney Springs)

With its rustic wood exterior and orange grove-themed mural – plus the must-have blend of sweet tea and moonshine that’s even available from a takeout window – Art Smith’s Homecoming Florida Kitchen is a refreshing relief from glitzier nearby options. The namesake chef, a sixth-generation Floridian, used state-grown ingredients and his mother’s recipes as inspiration for the restaurant’s simple, wholesome fare. Fried chicken is brined in buttermilk. Pimento cheese is made in-house (and best enjoyed as part of the Jasper Board, loaded with sausages and candied pecans). Travel back in time with a slice of pineapple-banana Hummingbird Cake.

Photography courtesy of Homecoming Florida Kitchen

Go to: Homecoming Kitchen

California Grill (Walt Disney World Resort)

Feast on top of the World at California Grill, Disney’s signature Orlando restaurant, a 15th-floor dinner house with contemporary American fare and a playfully hued mid-century-modern decor. The chef-heavy culinary team aims high with this menu, evidenced in dishes like the foam-topped seared scallops – most recently prepared with duck confit, romano beans and a verjus-piquillo emulsion. Book a dinner during the Magic Kingdom fireworks, as the view is panoramic and the music is piped in. Or relax over the Sunday brunch, where the daytime views of Cinderella’s Castle aren’t bad either. Plus, the Bloody Mary bar and lobster Benedict alone are worth a trip.

Photography courtesy of Rona Gindin

Go to: California Grill

Flying Fish (Walt Disney World Resort)

A great seafood spot in Orlando is as rare as a Nickelodeon character at Magic Kingdom, so the BoardWalk Inn’s Flying Fish is quite the find. The entire place was revamped from tip to fin in 2016, creating a whimsically elegant nod to the sea with enchanting bubble-like glass fish clusters dangling from the ceiling. Chef Tim Majoras made the menu a showstopper, with entrees like lobster on black pasta with micro lemongrass, and sustainable salmon accompanied by pancetta-infused ivory lentils and Meyer lemon with a garden vinaigrette.

Photography courtesy of Flying Fish

Go to: Flying Fish

Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen (Universal Orlando CityWalk)

You can be a kid again. Walk into Universal CityWalk’s elaborate, castle-like, 19th-century steampunk-esque Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen and be that kid in the candy store. Oversized sweets abound, including restaurant desserts, creative milkshakes and the contents of a colorful candy store. What’s more, the lunch and dinner foods are respectable takes on American favorites. Book a table and precede your dessert with flatbreads, burgers with homemade kettle chips, or even chicken Bourguignon. Our very favorite dish is the roasted Brussels sprouts appetizer with jalapeno mayo, Cotija cheese and ancho chile.

Photography courtesy of Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen 

Go to: Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen

Capa (Four Seasons Hotel Orlando)

A Spanish steakhouse, Capa at the Four Seasons proves that the French and the Americans don’t have a lock on great slabs of meat. The steaks are enticing, listed by producer; the Wagyu beef from Florida’s own Clear Creek Farm ranch is especially good. But the tapas are where the chefs show off. Topping the list are fried cauliflower with capers and an egg, and pork cheeks with Marcona almond. Start with cocktails at the rooftop lounge, which has an expansive view of Disney World.

Photography courtesy of Don Riddle

Go to: Capa

Bull & Bear (Waldorf Astoria Orlando)

Sometimes it’s hard for a steakhouse to stand apart from the rest, but Bull & Bear is far more creative than its Orlando peers. Its chefs within the Waldorf Astoria are an innovative bunch, carving the bone of a 38-ounce, 32-day dry-aged steak for two, for instance, to look like a tomahawk – and then serving it with a gravy boat full of seasoned beef fat that’s made into a candle and subtly re-liquefied at the table before the chop is served. Feast on a luxury item like foie gras with bourbon caramel, or have your gnocchi laced with basil-fed snails. Old-time gracious tableside service makes this restaurant an especially welcome respite from the parks.

Photography courtesy of Bull & Bear

Go to: Bull & Bear

Mythos (Islands of Adventure)

You’ll need sustenance between water rides, Dr. Seuss giggles and Spider-Man experiences. As insiders know, Mythos is the dining option. With its eerie grotto-like decor, the place looks too gimmicky to be good, yet it has creditable food — plus better burgers (including a lamb version) than its neighbors. A day at the amusement park becomes more civilized when you break for grilled swordfish with yellow pepper coulis, or cranberry-blue cheese-crusted pork between rides. The menu is as otherworldly as the ambiance.

Photography courtesy of Mythos

Go to: Mythos

Emeril’s Orlando (Universal Orlando CityWalk)

Amid bustling CityWalk’s bright lights, themed restaurants and hot clubs, Emeril’s Orlando stands as a civilized alternative for folks who prefer legit culinary specialties to hamburgers and fanny packs. Chef Emeril Lagasse’s original offshoot from his Creole/Cajun New Orleans empire, this multi-tiered restaurant serves up the star’s signature dishes, including blackened redfish and double-cut pork chops with tamarind glaze and green chile molé. Locals opt to sup at the small food bar, watching the chefs in action, or share appetizers in the bar — where seats are almost always available.

Photo courtesy of Emeril’s Orlando

Go to: Emeril's Orlando

Leaky Cauldron (Universal Studios Orlando)

Harry Potter die-hards would fly on Quidditch brooms, if necessary, to lunch even once in Diagon Alley. The fact that the grub is good is a bonus. Leaky Cauldron is located within Universal Orlando’s literary-based Wizarding World fantasyland, and takes on the character of a fast-casual British pub. Fish ‘n’ chips from fresh cod, a Ploughman’s Platter that includes Scotch eggs, and drinks with silly names like Tongue Tying Lemon Squash (made with a whole lemon) taste especially good in the gloomy, pubby, Hogsmeade-esque surroundings.

Photography courtesy of Leaky Cauldron

Go to: Leaky Cauldron

Thai Thani (Near SeaWorld Orlando)

Independent restaurants in the area near SeaWorld Orlando are as rare as pearls in the Stingray Lagoon, but somehow Thai Thani has managed to fill its ornate dining room with locals and tourists since 2002. You’ll get a nice meal of lime-laced tom yum soup, papaya salad, deep-fried whole fish with a panang curry and marinated, grilled Tiger Tear Beef with a fiery sauce. If the glitz is a little much for your taste, the same tiny strip center has a sushi house and a noodle shop.

Photography courtesy Roberto Gonzalez

Go to: Thai Thani

Q’Kenan (Near SeaWorld Orlando)

There’s no need to change out of theme-park clothes for a meal at Q’Kenan. The Venezuelan restaurant serves good cheap eats with minimal atmosphere. Join the Spanish-speaking crowd for cakey arepas loaded with flavorful fillings like pernil (baked pork) or black beans, and massive platters like the parilla tepui — grilled steak, griddle-cooked cheese, salad, green plantains and fried cassava — for about $12.

Photography courtesy Roberto Gonzalez

Go to: Q'Kenan

Spencer's for Steaks and Chops (Hilton Orlando)

Spencer’s for Steaks and Chops may be a hotel restaurant a short drive from SeaWorld Orlando, but it has a depth rare for the genre. That may be partly due to its 21- to 28-day dry-aging process, an anomaly in the age of shortcuts. Add in unusual options like bone-in elk chops and a foraged-mushrooms side dish with Provencal seasonings, and you’ll feel blissful even without the hand-crafted cocktails.

Photo courtesy of Spencer’s for Steaks and Chops

Go to: Spencer’s for Steaks and Chops

The Kitchen (Hard Rock Hotel)

If you choose The Kitchen more for the costumed characters (Bart! Or maybe Minions!), you won’t be the first. But photo ops and a playroom are secondary to the food at this Hard Rock Hotel favorite, where the chefs turn out notably fine renditions of American staples. Whether you opt for an old-fashioned chicken pot pie, pan-seared branzino with pomegranate glaze or an edgier flash-fried gator tail with horseradish aioli, you’ll likely be singing this rock ‘n’ roll-themed hotel a thank-you tune.

Photography courtesy of The Kitchen

Go to: The Kitchen, Hard Rock Hotel

Sharks Underwater Grill (SeaWorld Orlando)

SeaWorld is more about underwater life than haute eats, but the park makes an exception for its signature Sharks Underwater Grill. Catch a view of the shark tank from comfortable seats in an air-conditioned room, and see thrill-seekers plummet from the 200-foot-tall Mako “hypercoaster” on the way to the dining room. As for food, expect fancified versions of familiar favorites like tempura shrimp with a kalbi-sesame glaze, and grilled salmon with caper butter.

Photography courtesy of Sharks Underwater Grill

Go to: Sharks Underwater Grill

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