The Best Orlando Restaurants for Families
These 32 restaurants in Orlando, Disney World and Universal Orlando serve up food you'll love as well as offering something extra for kids from toddlers to tweens.
Photo By: Roberto Gonzalez
Photo By: Dan Kaleel
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Photo By: Roberto Gonzalez
Photo By: Roberto Gonzalez
Photo By: Roberto Gonzalez
Photo By: Kevin Kolczynski
Photo By: Roberto Gonzalez
Photo By: Roberto Gonzalez
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Best Meal to Flip Over: The Old Spanish Sugar Mill, DeLeon Springs
If you have even one extra day in Orlando, rent a car and head to The Old Spanish Sugar Mill. Your kids may talk about this place more than celebrity mice and British wizards. The restaurant is a rustic daytime eatery in a rebuilt 1830s sugar mill. People wait in line — for a couple of hours on some weekends — for the thrill of cooking their own white and multigrain pancakes on a table griddle. These flapjacks are universally beloved. The other food is good too — oh, that bacon! — but don't skip the specialty. The Sugar Mill is located within a state park with springs for swimming, plus kayaks, a narrated boat ride and more outdoor activities.
Best for Casual Modern American Fare: Artisan's Table, Downtown
If you're downtown and looking for solid chef-prepared food minus fuss, Artisan's Table, billed as a "creative kitchen and bar," is a good bet. The word "American" encompasses the world here, so you might feast on a Japanese breakfast bowl, a short-rib-and-brisket burger or a special such as, say, pan-seared salmon with chorizo patatas bravas, smoky tomato sauce, lemon aioli and olive tapenade. The kids needn't balk, as their menu ranges from PB&J (OK, it's on brioche; you can always opt for chicken fingers) to grilled ham and cheese, with sides like sliced bananas in addition to french fries. They can color while you sip a craft beer or creative cocktail.
Best for Interactive Cooking: The Melting Pot, Dr. Phillips
When it comes to dining, the mantra "Happy mommy, happy baby" should be flipped. If their tots are content during a meal, parents are more apt to have fun too. That's why families flock to The Melting Pot, a locally based fondue chain. The whole clan can dip bread cubes and veggies into melted cheese to start (choose from seven flavors), and cake and fruit chunks into melted chocolate for dessert (eight types!). In between, you can dip raw meat into hot broth to cook your entree that way, or try the new do-it-yourself dinner method: grilling on a portable tabletop gizmo.
Best for Being Bowled Over: Splitsville, Disney Springs
Food is often insulting, if not nonexistent, at old-fashioned bowling alleys. At Splitsville, it's the opposite. The menu is so decent that you'll often find Disney executives lunching there, despite the vast competition at Disney Springs. So before, during, after or instead of spending time with the 10 pins at 50 lanes plus multiple billiards tables, help yourself to filet sliders with horseradish cream, a Ninja Crunch sushi roll or even grilled salmon with mango chutney. The kids will be pleased with their own options, especially if you treat them to a soft drink served in a transparent plastic bowling pin. What'll you care? You'll be busy with a raspberry-lavender cocktail. Live music plays every night.
Best for Pizza: La Luce, Lake Buena Vista
The fire-kissed pizza is excellent at La Luce, within the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek resort, yet you might get carried away instead with the duck ragu pasta and spicy roasted half-chicken. This Italian dinner house with a California wine country twist is also known for a revolving show of local artwork. Still, whatever dishes you choose for yourself, that pizza will let you have a relaxed meal: While you sip and dine, your little ones will be invited to step up to the open kitchen with a chef. There, they'll learn how to shape pizza dough and why fresh ingredients are key to a good pie. They'll make their own, watch it cook, then return to the table to indulge in their edible creations.
Best for Italian: Mama Della's Ristorante, Universal Orlando
Whether you miss your old-fashioned Italian nonna or wish you'd had one, Mama Della's will make you smile. The restaurant within the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel serves traditional Italian food, cheffed-up Italian food and a fun dose of so-called eatertainment. An actress dressed as Mama Della, along with strolling musicians, including a singer and an accordionist, will stop by your table for a spell. Enjoy the show between bites of housemade gnocchi, salmon with jumbo shrimp and rosemary sauce, and pan-seared branzino with olive caponata. Mama's Homemade Specialties will sate the kids, with options ranging from PB&J to fettuccine Alfredo.
Best for a Hula of a Good Time: 'Ohana, Disney's Polynesian Resort
As if a family all-you-can-eat meat fest with a Hawaiian theme weren't enough for a fun night out with the kids, 'Ohana adds more to the experience. The staff begins dinner service by blowing a conch shell, then ups the fun factor with coconut races across the dining room using brooms. Staffers also tell stories and get the school-agers dancing to hula music. Meanwhile, you can sit with a fruity cocktail while gorging on pineapple-coconut bread, dumplings, sweet-and-sour chicken skewers and Szechuan sirloin steak. In case you need yet more interaction, choose breakfast, when Lilo & Stitch host a character meal.
Best for Tapas: Cafe Tu Tu Tango, International Drive
Back when most of the world still thought of tapas as uniquely Spanish, Café Tu Tu Tango had already started using the word for its eclectic collection of globally mixed-and-matched small plates. Dishes like chicken-Cajun egg rolls, "Dynamite" shrimp lettuce wraps and Moroccan cauliflower continue to intrigue parents while allowing just about any boy or girl to find something to like — and the children's menu has the tried-and-true alternatives like hot dogs. Better yet, artists will be creating new pieces in the dining room throughout your meal. They invite guests — yes, even your little darlings — to stop by for a chat. Sometimes a puppeteer, magician or interpretive dancer may show up too.
Best for Ice Cream: Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour, Universal Studios Florida
Ice cream is a wholesome part of family vacations, and at Florean Fortescue's this simple treat takes on a whole new dimension. Within The Wizarding World of Harry Potter's Diagon Alley, this dipping shop scoops up flavors Harry and Hermione would love. Have a cup or cone of hard-packed clotted cream, Earl Grey & lavender, sticky toffee pudding or chocolate chili, perhaps. If you prefer soft serve, the orange marmalade, Granny Smith or toffee apple flavors might quench that midday craving. Among the toppings are shortbread crumbs and meringue pieces — oh, and tiny, sweet hundreds-and-thousands balls, of course. They're known as nonpareils elsewhere in the United States.
Best for Chinese: Taste of Chengdu, Orlando
You can dig your chopsticks into authentic versions of crispy whole fish, slow-cooked pork belly with corn cakes, and Szechuan pork dumplings at Taste of Chengdu, a well-appointed new Chinese restaurant run by a chef who previously helmed the kitchen at a local upscale resort. The kids can go super plain, upon request, with their own menu of steamed-not-fried foods that come with easy-to-use chopsticks. Chef-Owner Tiger Tang is from Chengdu, home of a panda collection, so he makes sure each young visitor receives a panda sticker or toy.
Best for a Meal and a Movie: Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant, Disney's Hollywood Studios
Honestly, popcorn and a cola would suffice at Sci-Fine Dine-In Theater, a restaurant where guests sit in 1950s-style faux automobiles and clips of old-time scary movies play on a big screen. But why not make the most of your time seated in air-conditioned comfort? Ask the "carhop" to bring you a smoked prime rib sandwich, Buffalo chicken salad or burger with jalapeno and onion straws, plus a craft beer or Godiva chocolate martini. Between the flicks and the milkshakes, chicken tenders and cheeseburgers, your junior dining companions will be as entertained as you are.
Best for Spanish Flair: Tapa Toro, International Drive
Whether you sit at a regular table or at the Paella Pit, where you can watch the chefs make the classic Spanish rice dish, the niños will be entertained at Tapa Toro. Flamenco dancers put on shows throughout the evening, and the dancers are magnets for young eyes. Yes, the mini señors and señoritas are invited to join the fray. Order a family-style platter and share, or choose Iberian specialties (such as ham croquettes, mussels with chorizo, slow-cooked chicken lavash flatbread with golden raisins and onion jam, braised lamb and paella) and let the munchkins get foods they know.
Best Place to Light Up the Night: La Hacienda de San Angel, Epcot
Avocado margaritas, housemade corn tortillas and a broad range of Mexican foods — including several "Healthy Choices" options — are reason enough to choose La Hacienda de San Angel for your Epcot dinner. The shrimp tacos come with chipotle-lime aioli, and the pan-seared snapper has a tequila-butter cascabel pepper reduction with roasted tomatillos. Here's the second reason: Time it right and you can see the nightly Illuminations of the fireworks and laser show through the restaurant's windows and from its patio seating area. What's more, the music is piped in so you'll get the full Reflections of Earth experience. Your wee Disney darlings can go the south-of-the-border route with a cheese quesadilla or eat all-American mac 'n' cheese. But choosing the chocolate brownie over the dulce de leche ice cream? ¡Ay yi yi! Just say no.
Best for a German Experience: Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe, Sanford
If hearty plates of German food, "boots" of German draft beer to share and, on weekend evenings, raucous oompah music make your heart sing, take the brood to Hollerbach's Willow Tree Café, an upbeat restaurant north of Orlando. With a selection that includes wurst platters, pretzels, eisbein pork shanks, spaetzle and a sweet red-cabbage salad you'll yearn to have again, this oasis in a burgeoning historic small city is worth the drive. The kinder will be keen on the place too: In addition to Kinder Schnitzel — giant chicken or pork tenders, essentially, both served with gummies, Goldfish crackers and fresh fruit — the Kinderkarte menu has American staples and the restaurant's own Wurstman comics for coloring.
Best for Seafood: Todd English's Bluezoo, Lake Buena Vista
From day one, Bluezoo has aimed to wow on all fronts. The dining room is a magical underwater-themed extravaganza. The menu melds the daring with the familiar in dishes like the pecan-crusted Florida grouper, hibachi-style Asian king salmon or the forever favorite Cantonese-style Maine lobster in a sticky soy glaze, which is worth the splurge. Add to that wowzer lineup a children's menu with class. The 3-to-12 crowd can have impressive-quality fish 'n' chips, chargrilled chicken breast and such. Indulge your offspring by letting them have a Swedish fish soda, made with candy syrup, or a "dessert-ed island": a chocolate cake with chocolate palm trees, a chocolate sailboat filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with chocolate sails, and a blue gelatin sea. All the chocolate is made in the hotel's "chocolate room."
Best for Food Hall Fun: Plant Street Market, Winter Garden
Put it this way: At the food hall Plant Street Market, you can sit at an outdoor table sipping a housemade Crooked Can brew. Your rug rats can run around the grassy areas flanking the seats. And if or when anyone's hungry, about a dozen vendors inside are ready to sell you their specialty foods. No wonder this place is filled with happy families every weekend. Key lime shrimp mac 'n' cheese, passion fruit ice pops, Swiss-style raclette, pepperoni coal-baked pizza and curried quinoa wraps are among the comestibles vended indoors, a few steps from your spot in the fresh air. You may plant yourselves there for hours.
Best for a Funky, Laid-Back Experience: Yellow Dog Eats, Gotha/Windermere
While tourists romp around the theme parks, locals hunker down for leisurely meals at Chef Fish Morgan's Yellow Dog Eats, a counter-service creative-sandwich and barbecue favorite in a woodsy 1910 two-level house. You'll have to rein the kids in, as they'll want to chase after the free-roaming chickens in the parking lot. Once you order your pulled pork nachos, salmon BLT or vegan Downward Dog, settle the munchkins into the refurbished 1970s VW bus with rock 'n' roll art — it's permanently parked in the covered outdoor seating area — and relax over a glass of wine until your food is ready. The "For the Pups" kiddie menu has five items, including grilled cheese and pulled pork sliders.
Best for Teppanyaki Dining: Amura, Dr. Phillips and Lake Mary
For the price of a meal here, you get dinner and a show. Japanese steakhouses (also known as hibachi or teppanyaki restaurants) are notoriously great for entertainment but so-so for actual food. Amura is one of Orlando's better sushi houses, and its hibachi tables are a notch above the chains'. Your kids will giggle, and so will you, if your cook rolls an egg across the grill and then talks about serving an "egg roll." The standard menu includes soup or salad plus sides, but you might want to add on a sushi roll or tuna tataki starter to get a taste of the restaurant's other half. Then go for the steak or shrimp entree, or upgrade to the Celebration Dinner Cruise with lobster tail and filet mignon.
Best for Peruvian Specialties: El Inka Grill, Dr. Phillips
Cool Peruvian ceviches are refreshing on a hot Orlando day, and hearty churrasco steak with garlicky pesto pasta is satisfying in any weather. You can get your fill of these Latin American classics at El Inka Grill, dining indoors or out. The youngsters in your group will be fine with mini versions of Peruvian chicken, fish or steak, or American-style chicken tenders, all served with rice, fries or salad, plus crayons and paper for coloring. Stave off the whining by promising them a dessert of either specialty doughnuts called picarones, or a stroll down the strip center to Gelaterie La Carraia for the best gelato in town.
Best for Greek Immersion: Taverna Opa, International Drive
Here's how an evening at Taverna Opa will play out: Upon entering, you'll say, "OMG, it's too loud; I can't do this." Once you sit, you'll be shocked by how much you like the food. Over time, with the help of ouzo or without, you'll be leading the family through belly dancing, Zorba dancing around the restaurant with other guests, tossing napkins in the air while gleefully shouting "Opa!" and, just possibly, dancing on the table. But back to that food: Meals begin with hummus you make yourself with a wooden mortar and pestle, then proceed to flavorful grilled meats plus Greek classics including stuffed grape leaves, the flaming cheese called saganaki, tender octopus and lemony potatoes. The kids can go the mac 'n' cheese route if they prefer.
Best for a Hearty Muggle Meal: Three Broomsticks, Universal's Islands of Adventure
If you're at Universal Orlando to immerse yourselves in Hogsmeade, then you must lunch as the wizards do. In this part of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Three Broomsticks is your meal ticket. Enter a (faux-)snow-topped tavern, which inside has a warm yet eerie feel with a decidedly rustic British decor. The wizard wannabes will care more about sampling Pumpkin Juice, Gillywater and Butterbeer than their chicken legs and fish 'n' chips. That leaves you free to fill up on chicken and ribs with corn on the cob and roasted potatoes, or beef pasties, a smoked turkey leg or a rotisserie smoked chicken platter. Finish with a chocolate trifle. G'day.
Best for Cotton Candy: Honk Honkers, Universal's Islands of Adventure
The Birthday Honk Honker announces natal days in Dr. Seuss' book Happy Birthday to You! yet every day feels like a celebration at the Honk Honkers candy shop in Seuss Landing. The wacky, whimsical boutique specializes in cotton candy, and not just any cotton candy. Here, your spun sugar might be wrapped around a paper cone or a festively hued lollipop (it's called a Unicorn Pop). It might be blue raspberry, or it could have a birthday cake or Jolly Berry flavor. Then, there are mix-ins; rainbow sprinkles, rock candy and marshmallows are among the options. We smile just thinking about it.
Best for Brazilian-Style Steaks: BoiBrazil, International Drive
In Orlando, local Brazilians bypass the national churrasco chains to get their fire-kissed skewered meats at locally owned independent Latin-style steakhouses instead. Of these, BoiBrazil is the most-upscale and still reasonably priced. Feast on cold and hot items from the unlimited-food bar section. Then, use a marker to indicate when you want to receive helpings of picanha, Portuguese sausage, tri-tip, garlic steak and more. Want chimichurri? Just ask for a side of it. May we recommend a Cerpa beer or cachaça cocktail to complement your carnivorous culinary adventure? Even the pickiest eaters will find plenty to enjoy. You may even let the little ones indulge in a Guaraná Antarctica Brazilian soda; it tastes like bubblegum.
Best for Vietnamese Food: Anh Hong, Mills 50
Delve into the world of Vietnam as you dine at Anh Hong. The kids can play with their food, so they'll be as pleased as you are. Be sure to order a "Self Prepare and Roll by Your Self" dish for the table. You'll receive firm circles of rice paper, warm water in which to make it pliant, and a platter filled with loads of herbs and vegetables. Pluck basil, cilantro, culantro and mint off the stems, place the greens in the wilted rice paper along with noodles and the protein of your choice, roll and eat. Such fun! Other good bets: raw beef with lemon sauce, hearty noodle soups and caramel chicken stir-fried with ginger. The kids will be fine with any grilled-meat-and-rice platter.
Best for a Jig and a Pint: Raglan Road, Disney Springs
Raglan Road has something for everyone. The food-obsessed will find chef-driven Irish cuisine that is elevated to a level that delights, from an elegant take on shepherd's pie to a burger made with wild boar meat and Cashel blue cheese and served with aioli and port-and-pear chutney. Suds lovers can choose from Irish pours and bottles or American and European craft beers. The kids will give the thumbs-up to their food too, with choices including mini portions of grownup-quality fish 'n' chips — but not as much as they'll enjoy the dancing. Every evening, costumed performers kick and stomp with Irish jigs and reels, to live music. The dancers invite kids from tots to teens to join them onstage for a lesson.
Best for Cracker Cuisine: Boggy Bottom BBQ, Kissimmee
Long before Orlando got trendy with global cuisines and celebrity chefs, its ranchers, or Crackers, ate off the (swampy) land. Get a taste of their culinary lifestyle at Boggy Bottom BBQ, a lakeside, table-service indoor-outdoor restaurant located near Boggy Creek airboat rides. Start with Gator Bites — marinated in a "secret recipe" for 24 hours, battered and fried to order, and served sizzling hot with a zesty mango sauce. Then move on to the pulled pork sandwich or smoked brisket salad, and help yourself to six sauces. How can you not add on a Swamp Ape IPA? The kids will find familiar foods, which will fuel them up for the sites like the gator pond and Native American Village, not to mention the fee-based airboat tours, bike rentals and gem-mining opportunities.
Best for a Simulated Trip to Africa: Sanaa, Disney's Animal Kingdom
It's hard to say which is the bigger draw at Sanaa: the food, which is influenced by African and Indian destinations along the Spice Route, or the view, which is of exotic animals like zebras and wildebeest on the savannah. You can see them through oversized arched windows. Much of the menu is mix-and-match. Adults can choose the dips to go with their Indian-style naan flatbread, as well as the protein (Goan seafood curry, spicy Durban shrimp) and the side (lentil dal, cilantro-coconut vegetables) for some entrees. Similarly, children can select their main dish and two accompaniments. They can go Sanaa-style with butter chicken or shrimp saute, or get entrees they know. They might opt for one potato or vegetable, but expect them to insist on Pumbaa's Dessert Grub with gummy worms also. Sip your mojito made with South African tangerine liqueur and you won't mind a bit.
Best for Italian Classics with a Disney Twist: Tony's Town Square, Magic Kingdom
It's no secret that restaurants with prime locations don't need good food to fill up day in and day out. Tony's Town Square is right on Main Street, close to where Mickey Mouse himself signs autographs, so even the spaghetti-and-meatballs dish that plays into the eatery's Lady and the Tramp theme should fill seats. That doesn't stop the culinary team from going all in, foodwise, and the caring chefs don't let the canine theme get in the way of their cooking. The pasta is made in-house. That includes gnocchi as well as bucatini, pappardelle and ravioli; try the latter with sun-dried tomato-pesto cream. The pups can get regular spaghetti and meatballs or a whole-wheat version with turkey balls, plus plenty of other items, such as buttered noodles and a gelato sundae.
Best for Sushi AND Burgers: The Cowfish, Universal's CityWalk
Mom wants a spicy tuna roll. Dad craves a bacon cheeseburger. Things 1 and 2 do best with a miniature buffet. You can all get what you want at The Cowfish, a "sushi burger bar" that was designed for differing palates. The glitzy two-story establishment has interactive electronic elements that will keep the kids entertained before their meals arrive; their bento boxes can be filled with anything from tempura shrimp to PB&J, along with edamame, fries, carrots or apples. Meanwhile, you can go the beef route or the fish route or combine the two. Our favorite: the adult bento boxes with burgers and sushi, or for more fun, the All-American Bacon Double Cheeseburgooshi or The Prime Time Filet & Lobster rolls, which combine both halves of the menu.
Best for a Taste of Africa: Harambe Market, Disney's Animal Kingdom
After a meal at Harambe Market, you'll wonder why your local mall can't make a better food court. With its weathered mismatched buildings — all purposeful, of course — this collection of four counter-serveries was designed to look like buildings near a railroad station during colonial times. That's theme parks for ya. You'll welcome the food. Cool off with a watermelon shave ice while lunching on a grilled chicken skewer with African spices and green papaya slaw, spice-rubbed ribs with barbecue glaze, or maybe a beef-lamb gyro in naan flatbread. If the pint-size people rebel, let 'em eat the corn dog.
Best for Personalized Service: Urbain 40, Dr. Phillips
Chef Tim Keating wants visitors and locals to fill up the dining room and patio of Urbain 40, a Modern American restaurant with a French accent. While grownups dine on lemon myrtle-scented salmon or a slow-braised pork shank with a thyme-honey reduction, children eat ... whatever they ask for. Keating or another chef visits every table populated by a family and has a warm little "What do you like?" chat. Based on the answers, the chefs put together a custom bento-like box, which might have veggies, an umami slider and caviar, but more likely will be filled with grilled chicken and mac 'n' cheese. Every bit is presented in bite-size pieces to spare parents the burden of having to help their little ones eat.
Best for Dinner and Dinosaurs: T-Rex Cafe, Disney Springs
If ever a restaurant could be called themed, it's T-Rex Cafe. Assorted dining areas look like an icy landscape, a verdant fern forest or an undersea wonderland. Towering animatronic dinosaurs roar, and meteor showers thunder overhead. When they're not eating, kids can dig for fossils, pan for gems or build their own dinosaur stuffed animal. So you'd question the quality of the fare from the Kitchen of Fire, right? Surprise! You'll like it. Lemon salmon with pasta, a barbecued Boneyard Buffet and mushroom ravioli are typical selections. Your demi dino lovers can go caveman with Prehistoric Pop'n Shrimp, Lava Lasagna or Jurassic Chicken Tidbits. Gummy dinosaurs and crushed Oreos top the kid-geared Chocolate Tarpit pudding dessert.