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Where's your favorite place to eat in Orlando - that's not in the theme parks?

By Robert Niles
Published: December 2, 2010 at 9:35 AM
While many of us focus on the theme parks of Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld when we visit Orlando, it's not physically possible to spend all of your time there. Even if you stay on-property, it's possible that you'll spend some of your Orlando vacation time away from the parks and their hotels.

When you do, where do you like to eat? I a few favorites that I find myself visiting again and again on my Orlando trips, and I'd like to hear yours. Let me start by saying that I'm looking for places near the theme parks, on the Orlando metropolitan area's southwest side. (So no favorites from Winter Park or Altamonte Springs, please.) Also, low price isn't essential to me, but high value is. Finally, I'm not saying that these places are the best off-property restaurants in the southwest Orlando area, just the ones I've found and liked. Please feel welcomed to add to this list with your favorites, in the comments.

I'll start with Jean Pierre's Bistro in the Water Tower shopping area off U.S. 192 at Celebration.

Mocha mousse at Jean Pierre's Bistro
Laurie and Natalie pose with an especially tasty mousse in a chocolate cup, this summer at Jean Pierre's Bistro

As the name suggests, Jean Pierre's features French comfort food, with a thoughtful selection of salad, sandwiches and bistro fare, including Beef Bourguignon. It's my go-to place for lunch in Celebration, and the temptation of dessert (one pictured above) always encourages me to finish my meal. Not that it's a chore.

17 Blake Blvd, Celebration, FL 34747

Drive deeper into Celebration to dine at Thai Thani, the table-service Thai restaurant that occupies the space on the corner of Celebration Avenue and Water Street, originally occupied by the world's smallest Goodings grocery.

I inevitably end up ordering one of the daily specials when eating in this very nicely decorated restaurant, so I can't offer a specific recommendation. But I've always walked away satisfied, though I should say that with Thai food, I always stick to tofu and fish, so I can't comment on the meat and chicken dishes. It's not a cheap hole-in-the-wall Thai joint, either, but the meal's always been worth the price. (And there's a coupon on the website, too!)

600 Market Street, Celebration, FL 34747

Someday, I'll have the discipline to save enough money to eat at Norman's at the Ritz. That, or my children will become fabulously wealthy and treat me. Obviously, I've not yet dined here, but Norman's long-list of awards and favorably reviews has the restaurant at the top of my off-property Orlando dinner wish list.

4012 Central Florida Parkway, Orlando, FL 32837 (The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes)

Back on International Drive, Bahama Breeze is the only Darden restaurant I can stand. I find it hard believe that the wonderful Caribbean-inspired food from this restaurant comes from the same folks who dish out the dreck at Red Lobster and Olive Garden. I stay away from the pastas and choose instead something from the Fresh Fish menu, usually with either the jerk seasoning or the creamy mango butter sauce, depending upon how much heat I'm in the mood to handle. Key Lime pie's a must for dessert, too.

8849 International Dr., Orlando, FL 32819

My favorite chain restaurant in the Orlando theme park area is Roy's Restaurant. Chef Roy Yamaguchi's chain of Hawaii fine-dining restaurants offers a delightful selection of sushi and seafood. Pork is typically outstanding, too, as one might expect from a Hawaiian restaurant. If you've not been before, don't expect tiki-room kitsch, this is table-cloth dining, with prices to match. But the service and value exceeds even the often-steep prices. For the best deal, look one of the prix fixe options, which offer an appetizer, entree and dessert for $36.

7760 West Sand Lake Road, Orlando, FL 32819

Now, let's hear your picks.

Readers' Opinions

From Mike Gallagher on December 2, 2010 at 9:38 AM
Robert said, "the dreck at Red Lobster and Olive Garden."

HEY!!!

I resemble that remark!

From Thomas Caselli on December 2, 2010 at 9:55 AM
The one place I always enjoyed going to years ago was Duff's Smorgasbord. There was one on 192 but they disappeared years ago, oh well.
From 216.53.205.163 on December 2, 2010 at 11:31 AM
There is a great Peruvian restaurant called Pio Pio on the corner of i-Drive and Kirkman. Generally a locals joint, with FANTASTIC food with super friendly service and a classy atmosphere all for around $10-$13 per plate. My favorites are the rotisserie chicken and grilled steak...but after eating there regularly for 3 years I have yet to go wrong. Definitely worth a look next time you are looking for a break from the ordinary on i-Drive!

Google Map

From Amianne Moore on December 2, 2010 at 9:59 AM
Charlie's Steak house on OBT...expensive, but DEFINITELY worth it!!! Also, the Cheesecake Factory at Mall of Millenia...yum, yum!!!
From 216.81.80.134 on December 2, 2010 at 10:01 AM
Kobe's Japanese steak house on 192 is great food and value
From 75.112.157.242 on December 2, 2010 at 10:08 AM
Cafe Tu-Tu Tangoes
From Steve Conibear on December 2, 2010 at 10:16 AM
Both my wife and I love BB Kings at Pointe Orlando - great food, cool music and you we could just listen to the band after we had finished our meal and relax. A great way to unwind after a hectic day at a park!
From Jeremy Samples on December 2, 2010 at 10:58 AM
My favorite rstaurant to eat at while visiting Universal Orlando Resort is the Kirkman Ale House at 5573 Kirkman Road, Orlando, FL, 32819. It's right outside the front gate to the Universal property. They have so many different menu selections, and an amazing environment. My favorites are their Baby Back Ribs and Chicken Parmesan. It's a great value for a family meal, and while being a Sports Restaurant, I would definitely feel safe bringing the family here. It's the perfect way to relax after spending the day at Universal.
From 72.189.159.66 on December 2, 2010 at 11:27 AM
I agree on 'Pio Pio'... really good and inexpensive as well.

As for Dardens, I would tell you to try out 'Seasons 52' definitely Dardens took a giant leap into great food with this new brand.

From Robert Niles on December 2, 2010 at 11:32 AM
Hadn't heard of Seasons 52. Is it Orlando? (Or SoCal?)
From Carlo Guardascione on December 2, 2010 at 11:36 AM
Ming Court on International Drive. I love their Dim Sum carts. The dishes on their menu are awesome too.
From duncan henny on December 2, 2010 at 11:47 AM
i too love the orlando ale house good atmosphere and great food
From Pyra-Danny V on December 2, 2010 at 12:00 PM
If you're Asian (or wanna-be Asian haha) around college-age, THE PLACE to eat in Orlando is Bento's Cafe on Sand Lake. Very close to the parks.

First the food-- a large variety of bento boxes, sushi, soups, and appetizers. It's very pan-Asian cuisine at VERY affordable prices.

The decor is very hip, you'd think you were eating at a club with all the red lighting and tables atop zen sand gardens.

The best part? It's not server snooty. Imagine eating at Panera. You walk up to the counter, order your food, and they bring it to you. Cheap, hip, and tasty.

From Anthony Murphy on December 2, 2010 at 2:28 PM
I love the Alehouse when I go down to Disney World right outside of the "Crossroads of the World" shopping area. Always great food, good drink prices, and open much later than any Disney eatery.

I also like Cafe Tutu Tango, but that tends to be a bit touristy too due to its close location to other attractions. Very good Tapas!

From Daniel Etcheberry on December 2, 2010 at 4:59 PM
Wolfgang Puck at downtown Disney. Just the squash soup is worth the visit.
From 71.191.73.215 on December 3, 2010 at 5:15 PM
My family's favorite restaurant from the one time we visited Universal Orlando was the Dairy Queen on the strip.

They played nice Christian music, and had quick service. And it's Dairy Queen!!!!

As you can guess, we aren't high-brow eaters.

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