Orlando is a lot more than just Mickey Mouse. Over the past several years, Orlando has become a mecca of great food. With James Beard winning chefs, Michelin Starred restaurants, and a constantly growing food scene, Orlando is quickly becoming one of the nation’s top food destinations.
Capa’s open kitchen and wood-burning grill allows guests to get close to the action. Photo courtesy Four Seasons
“Local chefs here have had to work hard to change the perspective on food in Orlando over the past decade,” says Chef Shelby Farrell, chef de cuisine for Four Flamingos: A Richard Blais Florida Kitchen. “Those efforts have resulted in what I think is one of the tastiest and most diverse, but often most overlooked, local food scenes in the country.”
So, let’s take a look at what makes Orlando one of the tastiest places on earth.
We’re Off to Orlando
Get a taste of the Orlando food scene this spring when Catersource + The Special Event heads to the Orange County Convention Center March 27–30 where you can taste your way through the conference, and head to any of Orlando’s top restaurants in the evening. And don’t miss your opportunity to tour one of Orlando’s top caterers when Puff 'n Stuff Events & Catering opens up its facility to attendees of Art of Catering Food.
Learn more by visiting https://informaconnect.com/catersource-thespecialevent/
A true foodie city
In years past, Orlando was rich in national food chains, everything from fast food eateries to sit-down chains. However, those chains are now facing steep competition from Orlando’s exploding food scene. In fact, WalletHub named Orlando as its Number 2 Foodie City in its 2022’s Best Foodie Cities in America report.
“We have changed from the land of blasé national chains to a city full of incredible local restaurants and unique dining experiences,” Farrell says. “The change has challenged all restaurants in the city to step up their game and in turn is making Orlando a true foodie destination.”
Four Flamingos’ Ice Cold Oysters & Pearls with pineapple & ahi Amarillo. Photo courtesy Four Flamingos
For its report, WalletHub compared more than 180 of the largest U.S. cities across 29 key metrics. The data set ranges from affordability and accessibility of high-quality restaurants to food festivals per capita to craft breweries and wineries per capita.
According to the report, some of the factors that make Orlando a top food city include:
- Orlando has the most gourmet specialty-food stores (per square foot of population), 0.4497, which is 19.1 times more than in Pearl City, Hawaii, the city with the fewest at 0.0235.
- Orlando has the most restaurants (per square foot of population), 7.2815, which is 18 times more than in Pearl City, Hawaii, the city with the fewest at 0.4047.
- Cape Coral, Florida, has the highest ratio of full-service restaurants to fast-food establishments, 1.62, which is 2.9 times higher than in Jackson, Mississippi, the city with the lowest at 0.55.
- Orlando, Florida, has the most ice cream and frozen yogurt shops (per square foot of population) at 0.3504, which is 48.7 times more than in South Burlington, Vermont, the city with the fewest at 0.0072.
“It is an exciting time for food,” says Chef James Katurakes (or Chef K), executive chef for Sodexo Live! at the Orange County Convention Center (where Catersource + The Special Event will be held). “The food industry itself has shifted and grown over the years and Orlando’s food scene has immersed itself with its growing community. As the community grows and diversifies, so does the food. You can find almost any type of food here, which makes it one of the best places to visit, live, and especially, eat!”
Four Flamingos’ Florida Shrimp with guava and horseradish cocktail sauce. Photo courtesy Four Flamingos
Shula Steak House (Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resorts) specializes in steak, and serves premium, aged to perfection, Linz Heritage Angus Beef. Shown: filet mignon. Photo courtesy Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort
“Orlando’s food scene has grown up,” says Vanessa Kells, director of event planning for Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort.
Diversity in dining
Orlando’s food scene features everything from food halls to food trucks to farm-to-table restaurants to gastropubs to craft breweries.
“Orlando is a hospitality driven community where everyone is taking a part in making Orlando the best place to live and visit,” Katurakes says. “Orlando’s food scene has grown so much that it leaves people with a desire to come back and continue to explore the flavors from the place that has it all.”
A sushi boat from Kimonos at Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. Photo courtesy Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort
One of Orlando’s biggest trends currently is the food hall, an air-conditioned respite that offers up a mini smorgasbord of local food vendors.
“We love a good food hall here, which has been a great way to continue to showcase local chefs and concepts,” says Farrell.
Todd English’s Bluezoo (at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort) serves a shrimp cocktail featuring poached jumbo shrimp, avocado puree, and Bloody Mary cocktail sauce. Photo courtesy Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort
Pappardelle pasta with tomato and basil from Il Mulino (Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort). Photo courtesy Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort
Katurakes agrees. “Food Halls are the new ‘it’ dining experience,” he says. “They are popping up everywhere. They allow for people to share a meal while having the flexibility of choices on what they eat.”
A few examples include:
- East End Market in Audubon Park
- Plant Street Market in Winter Garden
- Boxi Park in Lake Nona
- Henry’s Depot in Sanford
- Marketplace at Avalon Park
- The Hall on the Yard in Ivanhoe Park
- À La Cart
There is also plenty of international influence throughout Orlando’s city limits.
“Orlando has a huge variety of different types of cuisines, and that authenticity and passion from the local chefs and independent restaurants keeps people coming back,” says Kells.
Of course, you’ll find staples such as Mexican, Chinese, Indian, and Italian, but you’ll also find less common international options such as Turkish, African (i.e. Ethiopian, Egyptian, Nigerian, etc.), Polish, German, Spanish, Greek, and Laotion, to name just a few.
“Orlando in itself is a melting pot of cultures and tastes and there’s a little bit of each represented... Ethiopian, Turkish, Korean, German, Filipino... it’s all here,” says Kristine Palkowetz with Orlando Food Lab, a group of ‘foodpreneurs’ that are dedicated to fostering the growth of the local Orlando-based food community in all food related areas. “You can order your food or beverage by the type of cuisine you’re craving and it seems no country’s food is off the table!”
Additionally, Orlando is home to several hotel restaurants that are challenging some of the misconceptions that hotel restaurants are only mediocre at best (thanks in no small part to neighboring Walt Disney World® Resort).
“We have an incredible volume of hotels here, and in turn, we have so many hotel restaurants serving high-quality cuisine from both local and celebrity chefs that those hotel restaurants have now become destinations in their own right for both visitors and locals,” says Kells.
Notable restaurants and chefs
With so many options of places to sit down for a meal, it may seem overwhelming to decide.
Award-winning Kimonos sushi restaurant (Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort) features such specialties as gyoza, octopus, shrimp, tempura platters, and Kobe beef satay. The décor at Kimonos features dark teakwood, colorful kimonos, and an intimate atmosphere. Photo courtesy Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort
“The seemingly endless number of incredible restaurants to choose from is a huge draw for Orlando,” says Farrell. “It may be a little overwhelming at first, but you’ll never get bored!”
One of Orlando’s latest and greatest options is actually Farrel’s homebase, the Four Flamingos. At the Four Flamingos, acclaimed chef and beloved television personality, Richard Blais, combines the memory of vintage eras with the bounty of Florida to create a treasure-packed menu of the fresh-caught surf and fire-grilled turf variety.
“Four Flamingos is the evolution of the Floribbean concept,” says Farrell. “We blend vintage and modern aesthetics throughout the restaurant from the dining room itself with its spruced-up Hemingway House vibes to the menu which blends classic Florida flavors with modern takes and Richard Blais’s signature flair for molecular fun sprinkled throughout. We focus on quality Florida ingredients prepared with love and expertise and aim to provide food that is not just beautiful but truly delicious.”
Michelin has also recognized a total of 33 Orlando restaurants in the categories of Michelin Starred, Michelin Bib, and Michelin Recommend.
Capa, a Michelin-starred 17th-floor rooftop steakhouse and bar, boasts Spanish-influenced cuisine, ranging from fresh Florida seafood to small plates and expertly grilled cuts. Photo courtesy Four Seasons
Capa’s signature Gintonic (at the Four Seasons Resort at Walt Disney World) is made with Coarunn Gin, Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic, gala apple, juniper, key lime, and garnished with citrus and botanicals to enhance the gin notes. Poured over an ice sphere, the drink is as beautiful as it is delicious. Photo courtesy Four Seasons
The four Michelin Starred restaurants are:
- Capa: This rooftop steakhouse and bar boasts Spanish-influenced cuisine.
- Kadence: This Japanese restaurant from Chefs Mark Berdin and Jennifer Bañagale features an intimate dining experience focused on multi-course tasting menus and an extensive, yet carefully-curated, selection of sake. The omakase opens with hot dishes and cool sashimi.
- Knife and Spoon: A signature steak and seafood restaurant conceived and led by award-winning Chef John Tesar.
- Soseki: An intimate 10 seat multi-course dining experience featuring a modern take on omakase. It’s a “chef’s choice” dinner exploring local Florida terra through partnerships with farmers, fishermen, cheese, and ceramic artisans.
Capa’s rooftop lounge is known to have some of the best views in town, complete with sleek banquettes and its own outdoor terrace, as well as an amazing selection of signature cocktails, Spanish wines and tapas. Photo courtesy Four Seasons
One of the signature dishes at Capa (a steakhouse at the Four Seasons Resort at Walt Disney World) is its 32 ounce porterhouse steak, served with Capa Steak Sauce, salsa verde, and pickled shishitos. Photo courtesy Four Seasons
A few other Michelin recognized restaurants include:
- The Ravenous Pig: A modern gastropub (from restauranteurs James and Julie Petrakis) that features classic pub fare with creative Southern spins.
- Prato: Flavorful Italian-American fare with a focus on wood-fired pizzas (from Park Lights Hospitality and Chef Brandon McGlamery) that blends Italian classics with modern techniques and seasonal ingredients.
“Our food scene has grown exponentially and now the secret is out,” says Palkowetz.
Additionally, four chefs found themselves among the 2022 James Beard Foundation Awards semifinalists:
- Jason and Sue Chin from the Good Salt Restaurant Group (Outstanding Restaurateur award)
- Rabii Saber from Four Seasons Resort at Walt Disney World (Outstanding Pastry Chef)
- Evette Rahman from Sister Honey’s (Outstanding Baker)
- Henry Moso from Kabooki Sushi (Best Chef: South)
Moso was once again recognized by the James Beard Foundation, he was named a semifinalist in the 2023 awards last month. Jimmy and Johnny Tung Bento Asian Kitchen + Sushi, Doshi, and Camille were also named semifinalists in the category of Outstanding Restaurateur.
Todd English’s Bluezoo (at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort) features coastal cuisine with both international and New American culinary influences. From the signature simply fish to the two-pound Maine “Cantonese” lobster, Bluezoo’s menu serves blissful bites for every palate. The restaurant’s award-winning design by Jeffrey Beers captures an ethereal, underwater theme with sophistication. Photo courtesy Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort
“Orlando has changed for the better, and as many new restaurants and chefs move into our city, they’re bringing their expertise and knowledge and this is helping to elevate Orlando’s visibility in the food and beverage scene all across the US and beyond,” says Fabrizio Schenardi, executive chef for Capa at the Four Seasons Resort at Walt Disney World. “Many chefs, including myself, are working together in building culinary excitement and getting more recognition as a group.”
So, what’s in store for Orlando as its food scene continues its upward trend?
“We’ve seen many omakase spots opening lately, and similarly, small 8–10 seat restaurants with chef’s menus and beverage pairings,” says Kells. “People are looking for intimate, personalized experiences, like education on the menu as to the exact farm or purveyor the ingredients in their dish are coming from.
“I think we’ll also see an even stronger shift in fast casual dining offering high-quality, upscale ingredients beyond a standard everyday menu, to meet those expectations and demand.”
So, as you pack your bags for Catersource + The Special Event (March 27-30 at the Orange County Convention Center) don’t miss the opportunity to experience Orlando’s growing food scene.
Sodexo Live! At the Orange County Convention Center offers a Living Mushroom Display where a mushroom log is put on display for guests to see while mushrooms are freshly cut from it and incorporated within their menu items. Photo courtesy Sodexo Live!
Lobster Mac & Cheese (featuring lobster tails, cheddar cheese, gruyere cheese, and parmesan) from Sodexo Live! Photo courtesy Sodexo Live!
“Whether you are coming to Orlando for business or leisure, Orlando is a place for fun,” says Katurakes. “The food scene is in full-force, and we are truly becoming the destination where you come for the entertainment but stay for the food. Not only do you get to enjoy all the amazing things Orlando has to offer, but you can also eat your way through a unique dining experience.”
“Orlando at face value is a mecca for national brands, but you just have to scratch the surface to find the incredible restaurants that truly define us,” says Farrell.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and sources. The writer and sources are not affiliated with the Walt Disney Company, and this article is not authorized or endorsed by the Walt Disney company or any of its affiliates. All Disney-related trademarks are property of Disney Enterprises, Inc.