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No theme park restaurants and no chain restaurants was the mandate from my wife. But take her to SeaWorld and Universal Orlando.
We had an expiring Holiday Inn Package from last year’s IHG promotion that because of off-season they extended from 3 nights to 5 at the Holiday Inn Across from Universal.
Our theme park visit strategy is morning visit, midday lunch and rest, with optional late afternoon return. The crowds choose the hottest part of the day that we avoid.
Our prior visits to Orlando we thought it a food wasteland. We found vegetables at dumpy Chinese buffets and brought Golden Corral into our lives. This time would be different.
I brought out my father’s style from his Brooklyn upbringing in talking to everyone starting with the local flight attendant, to the rental car rep, to hotel check-in, and then diners as we ate through Orlando. There were some great finds. This is geared to non-Disney, because those parks are more isolated and not on our agenda this trip.
Lunchtime around SeaWorld/Universal/International Drive:
Pio Pio is awesome Peruvian. The fruit drinks, with or without milk are awesome, try blackberry, passion fruit or my favorite, soursop. Excellent roast chicken, tostones, and on and on. The white sauce is a local favorite. If you can handle serious pork belly, get the chicharrón necklace. It is a 5 minute drive from the Universal gate. We had 5 meals here.
Hidden in a small strip mall on International drive is New Punjab, recommended by a diner at Pio Pio that makes the drive for both. It claims to be Orlando’s oldest Indian restaurant. They eschew the typical buffet, instead having excellent value lunch and dinner sets.
Both work for a quick lunch from the parks and are rock-bottom priced.
Doctor Phillips ‘Restaurant Row’:
This area is a 15-20 minute drive southwest of Universal. Most of the restaurants are upscale chain restaurants.
Bosphorous Turkish Cuisine has two locations, this the closest to the parks. Evening outdoor seating. The meats were well-seasoned though a tad dry. The desserts are the standouts. We were ecstatic at the baklava cheesecake.
Stefano’s Grill, an Italian steakhouse was the dining disappointment of the trip. The restaurant was unprepared for a large Monday evening crowd. We waited over 90 minutes for our food, the restaurant eventually sending a free appetizer. The steaks are renowned and much larger than listed portions, though come at steep prices. We went with the simpler Italian dishes and there were no winners, most were bland. The table next to us had a swordfish steak that the diner sent back. We might consider returning for steaks, but not the rest of the menu.
A tony suburb northeast of downtown Orlando, with the distance and traffic it is best to go after 7 pm to limit the drive to around half an hour. Beautiful area to stroll. The other Bosphorous is up here.
Luma on Park is modern American and the creative dishes all worked.
Readers, what are your foodie recommendations for Orlando?