See another side of Florida’s most overlooked city for eating very well.
Miami and other South Florida area codes get the bulk of the food world’s adoration when it comes to where to eat well in Florida. But in recent years, Orlando has burst onto the Sunshine State’s culinary stage with a creative and ever-evolving food scene that goes far beyond the lauded fine-dining spots in the theme park.
While some of the city’s Michelin-guide winners are indeed out at the theme parks and adjacent luxury chain hotels, you’ll find Orlando’s most coveted addresses for dining tucked away in its leafy barrios in spots like the buzzing Mills 50 District, the lake-lined suburb of Winter Park, and sprinkled around downtown Orlando.
You’ll want to get the lay of the land in Orlando first—the theme park corridor, southwest of the city itself, is a good 15 miles from downtown. Rent a car during your visit to make the most of efficient restaurant-hopping between neighborhoods and hit some of Orlando’s most beautiful natural attractions while you’re here, too.
Read on for some of the most satisfying ways to experience Orlando.
Where to stay
From lavish luxury chain hotels at the doorsteps of some of the world’s major theme parks to boutique properties in delightful neighborhoods lined with oak trees and great restaurants within walking distance, where you stay in Orlando will shape your overall experience.
Lake Nona Wave Hotel is close to the airport in a modern neighborhood setting and well-positioned for hopping between the theme parks and downtown. The property has an incredible art collection, and the Michelin-recommended, Latin-inspired BACÁN restaurant is right off its lobby. (Pro tip: Try the fresh Florida fish of the day a la plancha.)
In the lake-pocked neighborhood of Winter Park, five miles north of downtown Orlando, fab restaurants like wood-oven Italian favorite Prato line pedestrian-friendly Park Avenue. The Winter Park Farmers’ Market also sets up outside a historic train station every Saturday morning. Book a room at The Alfond Inn, which has a heated rooftop pool and a full-service onsite spa, to put yourself near this food scene. The property is an art-filled oasis that’s constantly updated from the collection of the nearby Cornell Museum of Fine Art at Rollins College. The best part? You can learn even more about this “living collection” on a tour with a hotel guide.
Want to be closer to the theme parks and with all the requisite luxury bells and whistles (sprawling pools, world-class spas, and concierges that know Disney and Universal better than any princess or wizard)? The Ritz-Carlton, Orlando, Grande Lakes has an onsite apiary and botanic garden. The neighboring JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes is home to a much-loved lazy river and will keep you well-fed in a relaxing lakefront setting at Chef John Tesar’s Michelin-starred Knife & Spoon and Chef Melissa Kelly’s excellent Primo. After breakfast or lunch, you can also kayak and head out on eco-tours on Grande Lakes.
Nearby, the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Orlando Resort ups the luxury ante for families with a five-acre waterpark and complimentary kids club for ages 4 to 12, as well as the Michelin-starred rooftop steakhouse, Capa, crowning the property’s 17th floor.
Opened in February 2024, the Conrad Orlando can be found inside the 1,100-acre Evermore Resort Orlando. Here, you can also opt to stay in lavish vacation homes with private pools that front an eight-acre man-made lagoon that glows turquoise.
Where to eat
Orlando is gifted with some of the best Vietnamese and Southeast Asian restaurants in not only Florida but the entire southeast, thanks to a large Vietnamese community. For the heaviest concentration of them, head to the Mills 50 district, just north of downtown. Excellent pho and street food eats (perhaps a bowl of apple snails in a lemongrass hot pot) await at Z Asian, and finish on a sweet note with a scoop of homemade jackfruit chili nut ice cream at Filipino ice creamery, Sampaguita.
Omakase is a big Orlando trend that’s won Michelin notice of late at spots like Soseki and Kadence, where multi-course menus and truly transcendent nigiri and sashimi draw the crowds. Alcohol-free spirits are having a major moment everywhere, and Orlando hits the trend on the nose at spirit-free speakeasy The Bandbox in the indie hood of Ivanhoe Village near downtown (there’s even a spirit-free bottle shop onsite).
For a casual lunch, East End Market in the Audubon Park Garden District is a great little food hall with sit-down spots like Domu for homemade noodles and ramen and vendors selling gourmet picnic fixings (artisan cheese and charcuterie and Japanese waffles, for starters) that you can enjoy nearby within the lush botanical oasis of Harry P. Leu Gardens.
Home to beautiful Rollins College and a chain of lakes lined with extravagant homes, the wealthy suburb of Winter Park’s mainstay is gastropub Ravenous Pig, serving cult-favorite steak frites with truffle fries and beers brewed onsite that you can enjoy in the outdoor, family-friendly beer garden. Also in Winter Park: Hunger Street Tacos makes street food-style tamales and tacos al pastor that could hold their own on the streets of CDMX.
Closer to the theme parks, Disney Springs goes all-in on buzzy dining and bar-hopping at small plate hotpots like José Andrés’s Jaleo and Wine Bar George and the fun, steampunk-inspired bar, The Edison.
Things to do
Beyond Orlando’s theme park attractions, set your sights on some of the city’s spectacular natural wonders, like the crystal-clear springhead for swimming and the canoe and kayak trail at Wekiwa Springs State Park. Alternatively, hit the tubing run on repeat along the three-quarter-mile-long river run, Kelly Park/Rock Springs Run in nearby Apopka.
For a more controlled aquatic environment with lifeguards on duty, let the kids burn off some energy at the inflatable water park, Nona Adventure Park in Lake Nona, where you can learn to wakeboard at the city’s best wake cable park.
Don’t sleep on winter in Orlando. It’s manatee season from November to mid-March. It’s worth driving about 45 minutes north of Orlando to Blue Spring State Park, where the gentle marine mammals arrive—sometimes by the hundreds—to warm up in freshwater springs that remain relatively mild (in the lower 70s) year-round.
Cyclists will enjoy renting a bike or eBike to pedal 22 miles of paved trails along the West Orange Trail, past Lake Apopka, where you can scout for alligators and through tunnels of majestic oak trees.
To wrap up the trip on a relaxing note, Florida’s first Beer Spa beckons off the busy and gaudy tourist corridor of International Drive. Here, you can soak in tubs full of antioxidant-rich hops while sipping local brews on tap.
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