While Orlando is filled with an enormous array of recognizable chain restaurants, do yourself a favor and stretch a bit outside of your comfort zone and find something local for a few meals at least. Even the Disney options are better than eating at Olive Garden and Hard Rock Cafe. Hey, we love those spots, too, but that’s not the point. The family-run establishments in Orlando would love to have a few of your food-budget dollars, and the restaurants on our lists have great menus and stellar chefs, so you won’t regret the minor excursion to get to their fantastic food.
Our lists of top restaurants take you through the Disney Parks and around Orlando to find you the best food for your dollar, and we also offer a few tips for saving money on food while traveling through Disney during the day.
Orlando’s Best INEXPENSIVE Restaurants
Bruno’s Italian Restaurant – Orlando
The best restaurants in Orlando are very expensive, and those include Columbia Restaurant, which has Cuban fare; and K Restaurant, which is downtown and serves up contemporary American cuisine. After these restaurants, you have Le Coq Au Vin for French food; and the Ravenous Pig for southern comfort dishes.
Honestly, considering all of the money you will spend on attractions and lodging in Orlando, you will feel much better if you eat at the many inexpensive table-service offerings. You will save a few bucks and get comparable food to the expensive choices we just named.
Here are our top choices for inexpensive or moderately-priced food in Orlando that offer GOOD chow and complete independence from parks and chains:
- Bruno’s Italian Restaurant (moderate): Most hungry folks drive right past this treasure of Italian delight. Resting beside a gift shop that bears a mural of killer whales, Bruno’s is easy to miss. While there is a lot of stale and unimaginative Italian food inside Orlando’s tourist zone, Bruno’s cooks with pride, and it might be because the owner, Bruno himself, is actually Italian. Plates are generous and delicious from the buttery rolls to the puttanesca, as well as braciola and “eggplant Pavarotti,” that is an alluring mountain of eggplant, spinach, ricotta, shrimp, and crabmeat covered in vodka sauce.
- El Tenampa (inexpensive): El Temampa is another spot that is easy to miss because it looks like a small grocer from the outside. This restaurant offers true Mexican cuisine and is frequented by a mostly-Hispanic crowd, proving its authenticity. While the menu is part English, Spanish comes first. The restaurant is family-friendly and the food is delicious all the way through as you start with free delicate, hot corn chips and house-made salsa, and order one of their huge burritos for $6.49, chicken mole plus rice and beans for $8, half-a-pound of shrimp for $8.29, and grilled porgy fish plus a side for $10.
- Nile Ethiopian Cuisine (moderate): Nile Ethiopian Cuisine is an I-Drive staple known for its good food, and their total African experience is the real deal. There are even a few booths built like small huts, and families can sit on the ground to eat just as it is done in traditional East Africa. Well-spiced and seasoned stews, meats, and vegetarian options are scooped from large, community table platters with pieces of injera bread.
- Dandelion Communitea Café (inexpensive): Dandelion is a community hangout and café. Once a private home that still has the original hardwood floors and cabinets, Dandelion serves a big selection of tea and everything on the menu is vegetarian or vegan. The establishment’s signature dish is the Giddyup, which is only $9, and a steal at $6 on Mondays. This hearty Tempah chilli is served as a salad or a wrap and includes blue corn chips, scallions, tomatoes, and house-made, plant-based queso. They also have a $4 bowl of flavorful veggie chilli.
The Best Restaurants on Disney Resort Property
Loren Javier – Flickr Bomo – Flavors of Africa
The following restaurants are not inside ticketed parks but are restaurants on resort property or at Disney hotels that are publicly accessible. Reservations are required for all Disney table-service restaurants to ensure a spot, but walk-ins are invited if there is room. Reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance of your visit, and Disney takes their reserved tables seriously; so serious, in fact, that they charge a very unfriendly fee of $10 PER PERSON for customers who do not show up or cancel at least 24 hours in advance of their scheduled time.
The best restaurants on Disney property serve from 5-10 p.m., so grab some grub in the park at lunchtime to hold you over and then head to one of the spots below around suppertime. Disney has many restaurants to choose from, and quite a few are horrid, so stick with our recommendations or you might find yourself paying a lot for unsatisfactory food. Consider the following:
- Boma—Flavors of Africa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge: Inside Boma’s dining room with its thatched and bamboo vaulted ceilings, guests feast on a 60-item buffet that includes roast chicken and beef, curried coconut Indian matter paneer, bobotie, and watermelon rind salad.
- Victoria & Albert’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa: This French restaurant is Disney’s signature spot for the romantics at heart and provides a great place for an anniversary, a honeymoon meal, or a proposal. Chef Scott Hunnel is no amateur; in fact, he is the winner of numerous awards and has been nominated several times for the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award for excellence in cuisine. Furthermore, Victoria and Albert’s is the only AAA five-diamond restaurant in all of Central Florida and serves an indulgent seven-course meal, as well as an exclusive and private 10-course meal for $210.
- California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort: Do you want an elaborate wine list? Look no further, as California Grill offers 250 bottles of wine and 10 sake options, along with a California-fusion menu that includes swordfish, braised short rib, sushi, and flatbreads. The restaurant has a view to boot, sitting on the 15th floor of the most iconic hotel on the Disney resort.
The Best Restaurants at Disney Springs
Boat House at Disney Springs
At Disney Springs, each restaurant’s imaginative décor is more appealing than the food itself. And what savvy consumers find is that the price of the food goes up by a third from lunch to supper. In the evening, you will pay a jaw-dropping $16 for a burger alone. The prices are outrageous for what you receive in return, which is mediocre to “pretty good.” Expect to pay $24 for a plate at noon and $30 at night for the same dish. The following are our top picks for restaurants in Disney Springs:
- The Boathouse: With its nautical theme, The Boathouse is one of the top places to eat at Disney Springs, and it gets a bit bloated and boozy after dark where you will find craft beers and cocktails, steak and chops, seafood like baked Alaska, and a raw bar.
- Ragland Road: This Irish restaurant fashioned after a pub wins real acclaim from food critics. Irish chef Kevin Dunon mixes imagination and Irish staples to produce a contemporary menu that includes fish and chips, beef stew infused with Guinness beer, and glazed loin of bacon with cabbage. On many nights, there is live music accompanied by step dancers.
- Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar: A Simple inexpensive American bar right on the waterfront. Its Aviation theme serves Modern American bar Snacks such as Inca Tacos and Pork Belly Sliders. It has a great drinks menu too with a large beer selection and excellent craft cocktails. Perfect for a lighter meal at a low price.
The Best Restaurants at Disney’s BoardWalk
At the lakefront promenade that is themed to look like an old-time pier, you will find midway games, bike rentals, the ESPN Club, Grille & Brewing Works, and one decent restaurant, Flying Fish Café. This surf and turf spot located at Disney’s BoardWalk might be the most underrated restaurant on the Disney grounds. The seafood is impeccably prepared along with other meats and vegetables. Try the potato-wrapped red snapper.
The Best Restaurants at Universal Orlando
There are only two table-service restaurants within the Universal theme parks that are worth your time. Our first choice is Mythos, which offers an international variety of food like pad Thai, pan-seared mahi-mahi, and risotto as you sit in an orange-hued cave and look out at a lagoon and the Incredible Hulk Coaster. Second, Lombard’s Seafood Grille, which sports $13 fish tacos, and fish plates, fried shrimp, and seafood pot pie.
CityWalk, which lies between the resort’s parking garages and park entrances is an outdoor party mall that has two fine restaurants, Lombard’s Emeril’s Tchoup Chop, which is pronounced “chop chop” and serves Hawaiian food (Closed), and Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food, which has Tex-Mex and Mexican street food like BBQ tacos with mango salsa and chicken chimichangas as well as more-refined offerings such as ribeye that is dry-aged and coffee-crusted, and slow-roasted pork loin.
The Character Meals Inside Disney Parks and Disney Area Hotels
Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom
The character meals are hard to rate, BUT let’s be clear, these meals are a right of passage for all ages, so find at least one that makes sense, have an open mind, and go for it. The cost of the meal depends on the demand for the characters and is $25-$75 for adults and $15-$45 for children. Never mind the food, it comes second to the experience of you or your children dining with a favorite Disney character, so here is a rundown of the options inside Disney parks:
- Cinderella’s Royal Table: Cinderella, and appearances by her Fairy Godmother and other princesses.
- Be Our Guest: Technically not Character Dining, although Beast does make an appearance for Dinner, It is one of the most popular dining experiences available. Dining inside the Beast Castle with all the trappings of the Beauty and the Beast tale, it is a must do!
- Crystal Palace: Winnie the Pooh and friends.
- Donald’s Dining Safari: Donald Duck with appearances by Mickey, Goofy, and Chip ‘n’ Dale.
- Garden Grill: Mickey, Chip ‘n’ Dale, and Pluto.
- Disney Junior Play ‘N Dine: Handy Manny, Jake, Doc McStuffins, and Sofia the First.
Princess Storybook Dining: Belle, Aurora, Jasmine, Snow White, Mulan, and a lost Mary Poppins.
The following are character meals at Disney-area hotels and can be experienced without paying to enter a park or staying at the hotel:
- Cape May Café at Disney’s Beach Club Resort: Goofy, Minnie, and Donald Duck.
- Chef Mickey’s at Disney’s Contemporary Resort: Mickey, Goofy, Donald Duck, and Pluto.
- Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa: Cinderella, Prince Charming, and Fairy Godmother.
- Garden Grove at Walt Disney World Swan: Goofy, Pluto, and others.
- Good Morning Breakfast with Goofy & Pals at Four Seasons Resort Orland at Walt Disney World: Goofy, Mickey, and Minnie.
- ‘Ohana Character Breakfast at Disney’s Polynesian Resort: Mickey, Pluto, Lilo and Stitch.
- Supercalifragilistic Breakfast at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa: Mary Poppins and other characters.
The Best “Dinner-tainment” in Orlando
Wantilan Luau is quite a dazzling show that provides an authentic two-hour luau with hula girls and fire dancers. But the real star is the Polynesian chow, including pit-roasted suckling pig with rum-infused pineapple puree, along with the catch of the day and Mai Tai cocktails that are included. We are regular visitors to Hawaii and adore all things Polynesian and Hawaiian so it’s great to get a little piece of Hawaii when in Florida!
Saving Money on Food at Disney World
Orlando’s take on a Delicacy!
If you plan to buy all of your food at the overwhelming amount of counter-service food options at Disney, plan to spend $10-$12 every meal for a sandwich, side, and soda. That means that a family of four will spend $60 each meal. Ouch! Here are some tips for saving $10-$15 a day per person a day.
- Guests are allowed to bring snacks and food items that do not require heat to eat. If you can snack your way through the day with cheap, store-bought eats, you might not feel too awful about spending $30 for supper. Especially if you start the day off with a big breakfast.
- Character meals are a good value because they serve unlimited food, and breakfast meals are the least expensive and a big lunch might get you through the day and back to your hotel mini-fridge where you hoard the cheap food.
- Don’t eat at Disney’s table-service restaurants. You have paid an arm and leg to VISIT THE PARK, so don’t waste 90 minutes on a sit-down meal that will cost you more than it is worth.
- The sodas are expensive and the water is free, just ask. Starbucks is a great place to get a large cup of iced water, but any location will provide it for free. We can’t stress enough how good that tastes after 90mins in 95-degree line in the burning sun!
In regular life, it would seem outrageous to spend $12 on a turkey leg. At Disney, however, it is one of the best deals available. As long as you don’t think too hard about the amount of hormones it takes to grow a 45-pound bird, you will enjoy its 1.5-pound leg, which is injected with brine and cooked for six hours. But hey, you’re also hanging out with an adult-size mouse, so what’s the difference?
- Find the fruit carts, stands, or markets, and you will find $1.99 whole apples, bananas, and oranges.
- Counter-service menus make it look like combination meals are the only option. Not true. While it is unpublicized, you can remove unwanted items to reduce the cost of the meal. Eliminating side dishes reduces the cost of your purchase a few dollars.
If you are a light eater, then a kid’s meal might do the trick, and you save money in the process. No one asks who the meal is for a child, and no one cares.
Anyone trekking to Disney World understands they are going to unload a bunch of cash and budgets are burned for the rest of the year. But don’t pay for lackluster food with no flavor when there are so many wonderful options in Orlando, and quite a few of the spots are easy on the wallet.
Have Your Say?
Have you got a favorite place to eat in Orlando? Have you done a Character meal at Disney? How about a Hidden gem that you know about? Let us know in the comments below if you have anything to say about Orlando Dining? Or drop a comment if you have any questions at all.