Looking for excellent eats during your Florida vacation? This list of great restaurants covers our favorite dining options–from value picks to fine dining–near Walt Disney World in Orlando, Winter Garden, Windermere, Celebration, Dr. Phillips, and other locations that are a short drive from the theme parks and resorts.
Before getting going, we want to refer you to a couple additional resources if you’re planning to dine off-site during an upcoming visit to Walt Disney World. First, is Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining, which offers three-course, prix-fixe dinners for $40 per person at many of the best restaurants in Central Florida.
Second is the 2022 Michelin Guide Florida Restaurants. Four Orlando restaurants received one Michelin star, including Capa at the Four Seasons Orlando, which is on-site at Walt Disney World. Seven Central Florida restaurants received Bib Gourmand recognition, which is our favorite type of Michelin designation, as it represents the intersection of delicious dining and value for money.
In the past, we’ve been hesitant to cover off-site dining around Walt Disney World. Part of this is that most readers want to remain immersed in the Disney bubble. Another part is the practical reality that venturing off-site eats up a lot of time–Central Florida is sprawling and even the close options take time to reach. Vacation time is valuable, and how much of it are you willing to “spend” on a meal?
On that note, very few of the best restaurants in Orlando are anywhere near Walt Disney World. The City Beautiful’s most highly-regarded restaurants are almost all a long drive from the tourist corridor, north of Orlando International Airport. We live on the opposite side of Walt Disney World, making almost all of these an hour or more away from us. However, we’ve been dining off-site more and more, and suspect many of you might want to do so on your upcoming Florida vacations–especially as Walt Disney World continues to raise restaurant prices.
Accordingly, we’ve decided to quickly put together this list of our favorite restaurants that are actually convenient to Walt Disney World. Note that this list is not comprehensive or exhaustive. It’s simply great restaurants we enjoy (for a whole meal–tons of worthwhile dessert shops also exist). Additionally, since I didn’t previously plan on compiling such a list, please excuse the poor photo quality. All of these were shot with the iPhone for my “private archive” or to casually share with friends.
With that preface out of the way, on with the list…
Christini’s Ristorante Italiano – If there’s one restaurant on this list that diehard Walt Disney World fans should give a try, this is it. Founded in 1984 by Chris Christini, who was coming off a meteoric rise in the restaurant industry that had culminated with his opening of L’Originale Alfredo di Roma Ristorante in EPCOT Center’s Italy Pavilion just two years earlier.
At the time, Orlando wasn’t what it is now, and Sand Lake Road was not “Restaurant Row.” Leaving Walt Disney World to strike out on his own was thus a big gamble. One that was vindicated after Bob Hope happened to dine at Christini’s Ristorante Italiano, later boasting to Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show about having the best veal chop in his life at the restaurant!
If that backstory and history doesn’t sell you on Christini’s Ristorante Italiano, the food should. That veal chop is still exceptional (there are many veal dishes on the menu; my preference is the “Costata di Vitello” with its pitch-perfect apple reduction) while the Filetto alla Barolo is also great. The appetizer sampler is a great way to start any meal, and the Tiramisu is a great way to finish.
Additionally, the atmosphere of Christini’s Ristorante Italiano is superb. Don’t let the strip mall exterior fool you–or steer you away. Inside is a sophisticated and elegant dining room that evokes a bygone era, reminiscent of both old Hollywood and Italy–like the Brown Derby meets Tutto Italia (or Alfredo’s).
Pizza Bruno – Outside of Walt Disney World, this is the best pizza in Orlando. These are classic Neapolitan pies, with the margherita being a master class in “perfection in simplicity.” (Go for Margherita Monday when it’s only $9!)
Personally, my favorite is the Kbar, but the Crimson Ghost, New Haven Clam Pie, and Nonnie Knows Best are all on my list of things to try. Oh, and do not skip the Garlic Knots. These are arguably the highlight of the entire menu, and while the menu claims they contain “too much garlic,” that’s a bald-faced lie. There’s no such thing as too much garlic.
4 Rivers Smokehouse – This one is probably familiar to many Walt Disney World fans thanks to the exceptional 4 Rivers Cantina Barbacoa Food Truck at Disney Springs. We’ve also lavished praise on 4 Rivers repeatedly on the blog, so we’ll keep it short and sweet here: this is the best spot for BBQ in Orlando.
There are a lot of great menu options at 4 Rivers Smokehouse, but we prefer to keep it simple and order the Signature Angus Brisket by the half-pound. Throw in some Burnt Ends for good measure (and texture). There aren’t enough superlatives to do 4 Rivers justice.
Sear + Sea Woodfire Grill – This is the new JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort‘s signature steakhouse. Not much has been written about this flagship restaurant—even on the hotel’s official site—which is really unfortunate, as it is absolutely fantastic. Given its on-site location, Sear + Sea Woodfire Grill is just as easy–if not easier–to access as Disney Springs for anyone staying on-site with a car.
As its full name suggests, Sear + Sea features a centerpiece wood-fired oven that produces some sublimely smokey dishes. We loved literally everything we ordered here; the 49 oz Porterhouse for 2 was one of the best steaks we’ve ever had, and I cannot imagine ordering any other entrees going forward. (But we will, since it was super expensive!) Beyond any of the steaks, specific recommendations include the grilled octopus, artisanal bread, and mac & cheese (top photo).
DOMU – We’ve dined at over 100 ramen shops, including a three month “bender” that involved eating ramen almost every day and culminated in the surprise twist of my doctor informing me I had high cholesterol as a result. But I digress.
DOMU is the best ramen in Florida, and among the top options on the East Coast of the United States. The vibe is a bit trendy and hip, so perhaps not what you’d expect of a ramen shop, but it also offers small plates, cocktails, and happy hour. My go-to is the Richie Rich, which is as the name suggests–rich and heavy, with a deep umami flavor. The duck fat-infused Tokyo Ramen is also a good pick.
Bosphorus Turkish Cuisine – Serving a range of Anatolian cuisine, Bosphorous Turkish Restaurant has four locations in Central Florida–Winter Park, Winter Garden, Dr. Phillips, and Lake Nona. Bosphorous serves a variety of fresh salads, hand carved Halal meats, made to order breads, and more–with all dishes featuring authentic Mediterranean ingredients and fresh vegetables.
The atmosphere inside is modern and inviting, although we prefer the outdoor seating area. Bosphorous’ must-eat dish is the signature, baked to-order Lavas hollow bread. We’d highly recommend pairing that with the hummus and babaganoush. (The Lavas is large enough to share, but you might want your own–it’s only $5 and is absolutely fantastic.) For a main course, you can’t go wrong with anything lamb.
The H Orlando – This is the third restaurant on the list in the Marketplace at Dr. Phillips shopping center. That’s not simply out of convenience since it’s right by our “home” Trader Joe’s. (Although it’s worth mentioning if you need to pick up groceries!)
We’d compare the H Orlando to STK, both in terms of vibe and to whom it’ll appeal. The atmosphere is chic, upscale, and loud, so it’s not ideal for families or large parties–unless you dine outside. What makes the H Orlando really appealing is that it’s an authentic Mediterranean steakhouse, a “Turkish twist” if you will, with something for everyone. You really can’t go wrong with anything from the open-fire kitchen and its charcoal-grilled dishes.
Flippers Pizzeria – This is the turning point in the list where we go from truly great restaurants to “good and fun” ones. Flippers is a local chain that offers great value for money, delicious pizzas with tremendous variety, and solid quality.
In the last year, we’ve dined at Flippers more than any other restaurant in Orlando. In large part, that’s because there’s a Flippers right behind Magic Kingdom, which is not exactly the culinary epicenter of Walt Disney World right now. It’s great for a laid-back post-parks meal with friends or family, and we recommend it on that basis. We recommend starting with the Asiago Pepperoni Rolls or Bread Sticks, and ordering personal MyPie size pizzas for the best bang for buck.
Poke Hana – This is a straightforward one. Poke Hana specializes in traditional Hawaiian foods–like its namesake poke, plus Kalua pork, rice tacos, acai bowls, and more. Many of the ingredients are sourced straight from the islands of Hawaii, and it shows.
I can’t speak to anything else on the menu, as we always go for the build your own poke bowls. For the quality and size, they offer exceptional value, and taste fantastic.
Celebration Town Tavern – This is a popular hangout for locals, probably more because of the jovial atmosphere, setting, and service than the food itself. As the name suggests, it’s the town’s tavern, and I’ve heard it described as being “straight out of Cheers” more than once.
That is pretty much the reason we recommend Celebration Town Tavern. Take a pre or post-meal walk around the lake and downtown Celebration, see Disney’s famous planned community, and notable design work by Walt Disney Imagineering, Michael Graves, and others.
Historic Downtown Winter Garden – We also really love the Downtown Winter Garden. It has small-town charm and personality, making it a pleasant place to shop, eat, or just go for a leisurely stroll. If you’re from somewhere like this, Downtown Winter Garden may not have the same appeal–but in a sea of stereotypical subdivisions, it’s a breath of fresh air.
No specific restaurant recommendations here; there are several with strong reviews, but we’ve yet to have a great meal at any of them. (We also haven’t dined at the vast majority of them.) While it’s not a restaurant, the Farmer’s Market on Saturday is excellent, and the area’s biggest draw.
What are your favorite third party restaurants near Walt Disney World? Thoughts on any options we’ve listed here? Anything a bit farther away in Orlando that’s “destination dining” worthy? What about restaurants in Winter Garden, Windermere, Celebration, Dr. Phillips, etc? Anything recommended here that you would not do? Anything you’d add to our list? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!