As you’d expect, Orlando is much like the rest of the USA, and is not without an abundance of dining options. With over 5,000 restaurants to choose from however, it’s impossible to filter your way through to the best places to eat with a regular internet search. With families making up the vast majority of visitors to this amazing location in Central Florida, we set out to list the top 10 family restaurants in and around Orlando.
The criteria were simple – restaurants needed to be child-friendly with food and service levels of the highest possible standards.
The Flying Fish Cafe – Disney’s Boardwalk
The tranquil and atmospheric setting of Disney’s Boardwalk makes a perfect ‘New England’ setting for Disney’s upscale Flying Fish Cafe. As one of the very few Disney World Restaurants that leans slightly towards a ‘smart casual’ dress code, the Flying Fish Cafe’s allows Mom & Dad to treat themselves with the kids in tow! With a menu that naturally follows the oceanic theme, there’s nothing but choice for seafood lovers. The oak-grilled fish dishes include a Fragrantly-spiced Costa Rican Day Boat Mahi Mahi. Land food lovers and vegetarians won’t be disappointed either despite the limited options at hand. What’s on the menu is most definitely, very worthy of your choice.
With a reputation for an amazing cheese board, the Flying Fish Cafe can finish off a luscious entrée on a savoury note, with some remarkably well-selected wines. Our strict advice however, should be followed; take the Caramelised Banana Napoleon!
The Cheesecake Factory – Mall at Millenia
A national chain on the list? Our credibility is surely at risk here? Well, no, not at all, as any regular guest at the Mall at Millenia would vouch. If you turn up around lunch or dinner times, you can expect a 45 minute wait – surely a positive sign of good food? The restaurant name breaks the rules, it’s not just cheesecake here!
The menu also breaks the rules, there’s such a huge choice ranging from Italian to Asian within a few lines – usually the sure sign of a bad experience to come!
So, what exactly is it that got this eatery located in this upscale mall a place in our list? It’s simple, the food is expertly prepared, the ingredients are farm fresh and the recipes create perfect dishes every single time.
Whether you pick the Bang Bang Chicken & Shrimp or the Factory Burrito Grande, you probably won’t find a dish as good if you paid twice as much.
The cheesecake? Oh yes, we nearly forget that; the cheesecake is perfect, pricey and if shared by two, well worth it!
Manny’s Chop House – Haines City
If you are prepared to drive a few miles south of the main tourist destination, Manny’s Chop House will certainly exceed your expectations. This most perfect roadside steakhouse is one of the most charismatic restaurants you are likely to find in Central Florida. Being honest about the place almost does it an injustice, as this clean, yet gritty, traditional eatery has an element of ‘recent olde world charm’ like no other.
The bustling bar area literally bursts at the seams with a hectic charm that at times is almost ‘surreal’. Don’t expect any airs or graces at Manny’s – you can’t book, there’s always a wait, and the place looks like it jumped straight off the page of a 1950s history book. Thankfully, the white paper table cloths can be scribbled on with crayons while you wait between courses!
The earthy atmosphere and frantic buzz is the charm of Manny’s, but those incredible steaks are the reasons for that polite frenzy at the entrance. Our biggest surprise at Manny’s is the salad… yes, salad. Prepared at your table, this really hits the spot for even the most fervent salad dodgers!
Ravenous Pig – Winter Park
If you love modern cuisine, this ‘gastro pub’ come ‘place to be’ restaurant is likely to throw some very pleasant dishes your way. Just north of Orlando, it’s a bit off the beaten track for most tourists, but those that make the effort will enjoy the atmosphere and delicious dishes. Play it safe with a steak or ‘high end burger’ or really go with some of the more fancy versions of dishes that you may recognise throughout the menu.
The shrimp tacos, are simply amazing and are a great way to welcome your palette to a very comfortable style of dining. If you love chocolate, save some space for the dough ‘Pig Tails’.
Maggiano’s Little Italy – International Drive
International Drive is famed for fast food chains, cheap stores and budget hotels but, trust us, there are a few jewels in the crown of this package tour centre. Part of a small chain, Maggiano’s is the epitome of a good American style Italian restaurant.
The service is good, but the traditional dishes are amazingly good and are very freshly prepared to order. The appetizers are huge, so choose carefully amongst a group, or you won’t have room for the entrée. The stuffed mushrooms are delicious as appetisers but the chicken and pepper flatbreads are also great to share.
As you’d expect however, the pasta dishes are the stars of the show, but, to be honest, our extensive research in this restaurant has failed to reveal a bad choice yet. The speciality pastas come no greater than the ‘Rigatoni D’ in a marsala cream sauce.
Bravo! – Sand Lake Rd
If we had to find a better Italian restaurant than Maggiano’s we’d probably have reduced ourselves to tears if a business friend hadn’t introduced us to ‘Restaurant Row’. The unofficial title is universally used by locals for a stretch of road with a high density of fine restaurants just a mile away from International Drive. As you walk into Bravo! you immediately become aware that you are probably the only tourist there, but fear not, you will be made very welcome and smart casual dress is perfectly acceptable.
The open kitchen at Bravo! turns out the best pasta dishes that we’ve ever enjoyed in Central Florida – an amazing and honest statement that will no doubt annoy many hardened food snobs.
The truth is however very plain to see in this popular American / Italian that takes quality and freshness to a new level. Flatbreads and pasta dishes are without doubt the speciality at Bravo! but the Crispy Shrimp Napoli is unmissable.
Bravo! compliments traditional Italian recipes with some very good ‘upscale’ versions as their signature dishes. All are excellent – this place really is that good!
Seasons 52 – Sand Lake Rd
A high end restaurant with every gourmet dish under 475 calories? Yeah, right?! Well, be prepared to be astounded! Seasons 52 will bombard your taste buds with fine and fresh contemporary cuisine that will leave you feeling good about yourself and not ‘cheated’ by a wasted evening out.
The menu is amazing, fresh, lively and free from any unnecessary ingredients, yet bursting with flavour. Something we just weren’t expecting the first time we sat down at the location in ‘Restaurant Row’.
To be honest, 475 calories is hardly a stick of celery, so don’t be too put off, you won’t starve, but you will enjoy this dining concept immensely. The Lump Crab stuffed mushrooms are a great choice, but the flatbreads probably cut the best deal as appetisers – light, crispy and full of fresh flavours. Any of the meat and seafood grill options will also delight.
Brio Tuscan Grille – Mall at Millenia
Another small chain restaurant makes our top list, and we know that you have to put your faith in our knowledge and expertise yet again! Don’t jump off the page though, Brio is the sister ship to Bravo! and the winning formula carries over to this great eatery right opposite the Cheesecake Factory in the Mall at Millenia.
Flatbreads and pasta are big winners here and although a little less intimate than you might want, Brio is certainly worthy of your dollars if you are in the area.
The open kitchen turns out a consistently high standard of Mediterranean style dishes and you won’t regret taking a table for the family.
Emeril’s – Universal’s Citywalk
When a celebrity chef opens the door to a restaurant, expectations are high. When that restaurant lies right in the heart of Universal’s densely populated restaurant area of CityWalk, the food has got to speak for itself! Although the restaurant leans to ‘formal’, theme park clothing is totally acceptable in here and the great food on the menu is very much geared towards a casual theme, albeit upscale.
The atmosphere is a little ‘stiff’ for some, but, if you can see past that, you will be sure to enjoy some of the very best food within walking distance of any theme park parking lot that we’ve encountered.
The New Orleans BBQ Shrimp is a great option to start the journey onto the Roast Chicken Jambalaya, but, as you’d expect, a celeb chef ensures that everything on the menu is a dream!
Raglan Road – Downtown Disney
Life is full of surprises and as seasoned visitors to the ‘Downtown Disney’ shopping area, we always felt compelled to dismiss the Raglan Road ‘Irish Bar’ right in the very heart of the walkway.
For years, we looked at the menu posters and considered the fayre as a representation of dull UK and Irish food at its worst. How wrong we were when we finally squeaked the door open to be greeted by the cosy and lively atmosphere within.
That menu that we’d scorned, immediately appealed, as we watched dozens of amazingly well presented fresh dishes swished by, headed towards our neighbouring tables.
The food may be styled on UK and Irish favourites, but the quality reflected that of a very high end gastro pub. The menu items have zany names, and our appetizer recommendations include garlic ‘Kiss Before Prawns’ and ‘Dalky Duo’ battered sausages, served elegantly on upturned forks with a dipping sauce.
At first glance, some options appear a little dull, such as ‘Beef Murray’, a curry pie, but, you’d be a fool to miss out on some of these equally zany creations, that truly delight the palate!
Wash it down? Of course, there’s the unimaginably dark and legendary Guinness along with a number of lighter beers and wines to complete your visit to this authentic restaurant, painstakingly shipped brick by brick all the way from Dublin.
Kevin Maw is Editor of Total Orlando.