Michelin Guide Florida has debuted, bringing its starred rating system to the Miami, Orlando, and Tampa areas. This post covers the restaurants near Walt Disney World that received stars, Bib Gourmand distinctions, or recommendations from the tire company team.
For those who are unfamiliar with it, yes, the Michelin Guide is by that Michelin–the tire company. The French founders produced a small red guide filled with information for travelers, including recommendations for things to do. The goal was to help France’s nascent automobile industry, and in turn boost car and tire sales.
Over 100 years later, the Michelin Guide has taken on a life of its own, with over 30 million of the books sold worldwide. The tire company’s anonymous inspectors now rate over 40,000 establishments in over 24 territories across 4 continents. The latest region to receive a Michelin Guide is Florida, joining California, New York, Washington D.C., and Chicago as the other other locations in the United States to have Michelin coverage.
As silly as it might sound, the tire company’s iconic red guides have developed deep-seated reverence among chefs, restaurateurs, and food lovers around the globe. Many travelers seek out Michelin-recognized restaurants, going out of their way to dine at far-flung locations, enduring lengthy lines or virtual queues, and tirelessly attempting to score reservations.
We know this because we are Michelin devotees, and have done literally all of those things for Michelin meals. (And you thought virtual queues were only for Walt Disney World. Nope, they’re for Tokyo noodle shops, too!)
We aren’t alone. Tourists are frequent fixtures of Michelin-recognized establishments, and restaurants proudly display their accolades to lure wandering patrons inside. (The idea of aimlessly wandering past a restaurant might seem like a foreign concept, but most Michelin restaurants are in walkable cities.)
This is probably why Florida’s tourists boards paid the tire company a reported $1.5 million to produce a Michelin Guide to Florida. Michelin recognition is good for local tourism, especially among the coveted higher-spending international visitors.
The reason we love the Michelin Guide is simple: it’s credible and reliable. Although that $1.5 million might seem like a conflict of interest or veiled advertorial, it’s for the state as a whole (or at least the cities of Miami, Tampa, and Orlando) rather than specific restaurants. Michelin’s inspectors are anonymous, pay their own way, and have no real conflicts of interest with any specific restaurants they review.
You may not think this matters and is irrelevant in the internet age. Surely, crowd-sourced reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google, aggregators like Eater, and social media recommendations surpass whatever Michelin can cobble together. Perhaps I’m overly cynical, but I strongly disagree.
Crowd-sourced sites have many downsides. For one thing, they can easily be gamed–one fake restaurant infamously rose to the top of TripAdvisor. For another thing, you don’t know anything about the random people leaving those reviews. Anyone can post anything online, including spectacularly bad opinions. There’s a lot of self selection bias at play, and even location bias. In touristy towns, places frequented by visitors are disproportionately reviewed, and more positively.
Other sites that “review” restaurants often feature embedded photos from Instagram or other social media platforms. Again, perhaps I’m overly cynical, but when a website doesn’t have its own content and descriptions are vague, that’s a red flag for me. Rather than calling themselves best of lists, those articles might be better described as “here’s what’s most popular in this city/region” compilations. There is a difference.
For us, this is not such an issue in the United States–and especially in the cities where the Michelin Guide Florida will be offering coverage. (Having a bit of knowledge about how the sausage is made, so to speak, there are numerous websites I do trust.) There’s actually no shortage of great resources for these domestic destinations.
However, that has not been the case when we’ve traveled elsewhere. While I’m sure there are excellent guides in the local languages, we haven’t had much luck with those.
Michelin has delivered for us time and time again, with some truly excellent experiences. Along the way, we’ve met incredible people and shared memorable moments–and of course, meals.
We honestly feel like we owe Michelin a debt of gratitude. Aside from vowing to always buy their tires, this post gushing about their guides seems like the best way to “repay” that.
If you’re apprehensive that the Michelin Guide is a list of highfalutin haute cuisine for pretentious people, we’re here to disabuse you of that notion. While it is true that the Michelin-starred restaurants are frequently (but not always) intimidating and unapproachable, that’s just one part of the guidebook.
And frankly, one that we seldom use. Most Michelin-starred restaurants make me uncomfortable. I wouldn’t even bother with the high end ones in cities like Miami, Los Angeles, Paris, or Tokyo. In other regions, I’d be open to them on a case by case basis.
The sweet spot for us is Michelin’s Bib Gourmand award. This honors ‘good quality, good value restaurants’ that is universally approachable. Bib Gourmand award winners are those that deliver stellar quality at prices in line with the local cost of living.
They can feature inventive and innovative dishes, but the focus is usually on simpler meals. In other words, you leave the restaurant satisfied and full. We’ve dined at dozens of Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurants, and have literally never had a bad experience.
The average cost of the ones we’ve done is usually around $15 to $40 per person, and the value has always been superb. These restaurants have run the gamut from California coastal to Japanese yakitori to French bistros to Italian ristorantes to the best pizza we’ve ever had anywhere…which was in Japan.
I could go on and on, gushing about the meals and conversations we’ve had at these Michelin-honored mom and pop establishments. The point is, if you’re ever traveling to places with Michelin Guide coverage, seek out the Bib Gourmands. They won’t break the bank, typically serve approachable and delicious cuisine, and the overall experience will be memorable. This is one of our top pieces of non-Disney travel advice–I’m glad I finally had an excuse for sneaking it in here.
With the real point of the post out of the way, let’s turn to the Michelin-recognized restaurants near Walt Disney World…
Four Orlando restaurants received one Michelin star: Capa, Soseki, Kadence, and Knife & Spoon at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes.
Capa is the only one of these at Walt Disney World, located on the 17th floor of the Four Seasons Orlando. Michelin offered this recommendation for Capa: “Kick things off with pan con tomate or pork belly with apple butter before indulging in a main dish, like flame-kissed ribeye with tamarind-ancho sauce. Patatas bravas, that Spanish ode to the potato, is a worthy side that demands attention, while artful plating, like the swipe of piquillo salsa accompanying the tender filet, is a calling card.”
Seven Central Florida restaurants received Bib Gourmand recognition: Bombay Street Kitchen, Domu, Papa Llama, the Ravenous Pig, the Strand, Swine & Sons, and Z Asian Vietnamese Kitchen. Domu was highlighted in our List of Great Restaurants Near Walt Disney World, as were a handful of Michelin’s recommended locations below.
It should go without saying, but even the Bib Gourmand quality restaurants at Walt Disney World–and there are several–wouldn’t be eligible for that award since none of them offer good value for money. There are plenty that offer good value by Disney standards, but none that are both commensurate quality and value by real world standards.
In addition to the Michelin-starred and Bib Gourmand restaurants, there’s another list of recommended Florida restaurants. To my knowledge, there’s no defined criteria for these establishments. (I’m not sure if this category is present in other guides–I’ve never seen it before.)
My guess is that this is essentially the same as Bib Gourmand, but without the requirement that these restaurants offer good value for money. That would explain how several Signature Dining options at Walt Disney World made the cut.
When it comes to Walt Disney World owned locations, the winners here were Citricos at the Grand Floridian and California Grill at Contemporary Resort. The former obviously merits inclusion, whereas I might question the latter with the new prix fixe menu, even though we enjoyed that.
Elsewhere on site at Walt Disney World, the Polite Pig and Morimoto Asia made the list at Disney Springs. Then there’s Sear + Sea at JW Marriott Bonnet Creek and Four Flamingos, A Richard Blais Florida Kitchen at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t also bring your attention to several restaurants off-site that made the cut. One particular highlight is Pizza Bruno, which is the best pizza in Orlando. (I’m honestly surprised this didn’t earn the Bib Gourmand distinction.)
Other favorites of ours include Kabooki Sushi and Se7en Bites. In the area resorts, Ravello at the Four Seasons Orlando (we’ve reviewed Goofy’s Good Morning Breakfast at Ravello, but presumably that’s not what got high marks with Michelin) and Primo at JW Marriott Grande Lakes Orlando also made the cut.
As discussed in Victoria & Albert’s Reopening Date & Details, that will likely earn a Michelin star or two in next year’s guide. Walt Disney World’s flagship restaurant has long been considered “Michelin-caliber” among foodies, and if there are upgrades to the menu and ingredients to match the “upgrade” in price, it could achieve more than one star.
The only two other candidates for Michelin stars are Monsieur Paul and Takumi-Tei, both of which remain closed and were thus also ineligible this year. Our experiences at both have been on par with Michelin restaurants; I’m not sure whether being inside theme parks would disqualify them from consideration.
As for the recommended restaurants, I could see Jiko and Flying Fish joining that list now that they’ve reopened.
Then there are close calls like Topolino’s Terrace, Toledo Steakhouse, and a number of restaurants at Disney Springs. If California Grill’s prix fixe menu can make the cut, surely several more restaurants could, as well. (Perhaps the tire team reviewed California Grill before last October?)
Ultimately, we’re really pleased that Michelin Guide has expanded to Florida, and wish it could expand to other regions while maintaining its high standards and credibility. This should be a great resource for foodies visiting the state or even locals looking for new locations to try. (There are several spots on the Bib Gourmand list that we now “need” to do!)
It’ll also be interesting to see whether this has any impact on Walt Disney World dining. The company loves recognition (there’s even an “Awards & Accolades” page on the Disney Parks Blog), and even touts meaningless ones like those from 10Best and random readers’ choice awards. Michelin is the opposite of meaningless, so perhaps Disney will give its culinary teams the resources and encouragement necessary for restaurants other than just Victoria & Albert’s to be recognized.
Are you excited to dine at some of the restaurants recognized by Michelin Guide Florida or is this not your scene? Hopeful that more Walt Disney World restaurants make the lists in future years? Think any Central Florida spots were snubbed by the tire team in their inaugural edition? Do you agree or disagree with our assessments? 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!