Locals' 6 Favorite Orlando Dining Spots
Skip the chain restaurants and tourist troughs, and check out these locally recommended dining options.
There’s usually a long line outside of 4 Rivers Smokehouse, which has mastered carnivorous treats with its juicy brisket, pulled pork, tri-tip and a variety of poultry.(Courtesy of 4 Rivers Smokehouse)
Orlando, Florida, has long been a proving ground for restaurant chains testing out a new food concept. The theme parks and tourist areas are packed with places to eat, from celebrity eateries to gaudy fast-food joints to low-grade buffets, usually with matching tourist prices. Visitors willing to step off the park-tripper’s path can find superb local dining options that are high quality and worth the menu price. Local Orlando experts recommend that you visit these locations.
Spanning approximately 1 mile on Sand Lake Road, Restaurant Row is dense with dining options, from cheap eats to fancy dining. Weighing heavily in the latter category, and with good reason, is Urbain 40. This trendy brasserie and lounge specializes in signature cocktails, seafood and steaks. The interior – with wood panels, white table linens and lots of brass – looks like it was yanked out of postwar Paris.
“They’re unique for their '40s atmosphere, their excellent food and ... live entertainment," says Lourdes Gee, concierge at the Villas of Grand Cypress, Orlando. If you’re planning a date night to impress, Urbain 40 will win you points.
Urbain 40 is open for lunch daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It serves dinner Sunday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m. Reservations are recommended.
If you prefer your food cheap, weird and stripped of pretension, then Tako Cheena is your Xanadu. “It’s Asian-fusion-Mexican amazement,” says Richard Tribou, travel editor for the Orlando Sentinel.
Located on Mills Avenue, this spot blends flavors from south of the border and the Far East. Locals line up for dishes with multiple personalities, such as Asian Hot Dawgz, which combine Chinese sweet sausage with toppings like avocado wasabi, kimchi or pickled daikon. Burritos may be stuffed with Korean bulgogi, Thai panang chicken or Indian butter chicken. “The panko-crusted cod taco is my favorite,” Tribou says. “Plus, it’s like $4.”
The restaurant opens daily at 11 a.m. and closes at 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday. For hungry folk stumbling out of the bars on Friday and Saturday, it closes at 4 a.m.
Yellow Dog Eats
Tucked in the hamlet of Gotha 15 minutes west of downtown Orlando, Yellow Dog Eats passes beyond dog-friendly to dog worship. Sandwiches, sauces, salads and desserts have pooch-influenced names, such as Retrievers Roast and Fido’s Feast. The walls are covered in canine kitsch. And patrons regularly bring their pups to dine with them on the patio, which has the vibe of the world’s coolest treehouse.
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“I love to sit outside," says Sandra Ferrarese, chief concierge at Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort. "It’s a great atmosphere. They have an old VW van where kids love to go.”
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The food at Yellow Dog Eats wins best in show, especially anything out of the smoker. The ribs are heavenly, and the eclectic array of pulled pork sandwiches will have you drooling like Pavlov’s dogs. Options also abound for vegans and people with a sweet tooth.
The restaurant also regularly hosts trivia and bingo on the patio, as well as live music Thursday through Saturday. Yellow Dog Eats is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., staying open an hour later Friday and Saturday.
Maxine’s on Shine
Maxine’s on Shine is often packed with locals from the surrounding neighborhood, who spill out onto the sidewalk tables. Working the crowd are owners Kirt Earhart and wife Maxine, the restaurant’s namesake and style informer.
“Maxine has these funky bohemian glasses,” says Phillip Haddock II, lead concierge and ambassador of the Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando, Autograph Collection. “They remind me of The Flintstones.” And her specs appear on the logo.
Maxine’s wine list is superb, and the food is delicious. “Their lamb [available seasonally] is my No. 1 dish there,” says Haddock. Maxine’s also serves a variety of seafood, steaks and pasta. If you’re looking for a restaurant that feels like you belong, Maxine’s is a welcoming spot. It's open Tuesday through Friday from 5 to 10 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Vines Grille and Wine Bar
Wine, wine and more wine defines Vines Grille and Wine Bar on Restaurant Row. With more than 650 bottles to choose from, you can rest assured that you’ll find the right liquid accompaniment for your steak or seafood selection.
And don’t forget the sinful sides. “Their lobster mac 'n' cheese is phenomenal,” raves Anna Duncan, former concierge supervisor at the JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes. Even better is the restaurant’s liberal use of bacon. “Instead of putting out bar nuts or popcorn, they actually have bacon,” Duncan says. All-you-can-eat bacon at the bar (complimentary) or at your table ($5) equals a dining winner.
Vines Grille can be pricey. If you’re not ready to throw down a couple Benjamins for a “chef-composed” meal, hit up the daily 4 to 7 p.m. happy hour, where dishes such as baked saganaki cheese or lamb meatballs run between $5 and $9, and wine and cocktails start at $5. The best accompaniment for whatever meal you order is the live jazz music that starts at 7 p.m.
The restaurant opens at 4 p.m. daily, and it closes at 12:30 a.m. Monday through Wednesday; 1 a.m. on Thursday; 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 p.m. on Sunday. Reservations are suggested.
4 Rivers Smokehouse
4 Rivers Smokehouse(Courtesy of 4 Rivers Smokehouse)
“Probably the best barbecue in Orlando and all central Florida and certainly up there for the entire state is 4 Rivers,” says Tribou about the barbecue phenomenon that owner John Rivers started in a garage. Now with more than a dozen brick-and-mortar locations across the state (and Atlanta), 4 Rivers Smokehouse is still wholeheartedly Orlando. And there’s usually a long line outside waiting to buy that meat candy.
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The restaurant has mastered carnivorous treats with its juicy brisket, pulled pork, tri-tip and a variety of poultry. Try the burnt-ends: shredded brisket and pork, all sauced up and re-smoked. Its signature stackers are as big as your head. A favorite is the Texas Destroyer: thick brisket, onion rings, jalapenos and provolone between two buns. Fried Oreos are on the sweet treats menu, though the smoked jalapenos would suffice for dessert.
Individual restaurant hours vary, so check the website. Here’s a tip to avoid the line: Order by phone, pick it up at the walk-up window, sit at the benches outside and chow down.
To experience more of what Orlando has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.
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