Our Favorite Central FL Restaurants Off Disney/Universal Property

We know that lots of theme park fans don’t like to go off theme park property when they vacation in Central Florida. We used to be like that, too. Eating at a theme park is usually faster than traveling off property to dine, it keeps you immersed in the theme park experience, etc. And we get it – there are indeed some really nice places “on property” that give you awesome food and/or theming, and you get to maximize your time in the parks. But if you limit yourself to just eating on property, you are denying yourself some incredibly good eats that usually cost a fraction of Disney’s and Universal’s prices and often taste even better than anything you can get in the parks or on property.

These are some of our most favorite “off property” restaurants. We’ve listed them in alphabetical order, since it would be almost impossible to put them in order of which is
best, second best, etc., and they run the gamut in terms of price point, food type, dress requirements and distance from the parks. Many offer meals throughout the day (i.e. breakfast, lunch, brunch, high tea), although we’re specifying our experiences with them for dinner. Most are places you can’t find anywhere else (or at least have only limited locations), they’re all “not to be missed” and some, we admit, are really just for adults (we’ve included level of “kid friendliness,” based on our observations, in each of the narratives).

ARTISAN’S TABLE
22 E. Pine St.
Orlando, FL 32801
(407) 730-7499
Approx. distance from WDW: 17 miles (via I-4 East)
Approx. distance from Universal: 10 miles (via I-4 East)
Read what other people say about it on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zagat

Restaurant-ArtisansTable
Photo courtesy of Artisan’s Table

Located in Downtown Orlando, this modern, trendy restaurant opened in 2014 and has been growing their following ever since. The food is fresh and delicious, with a menu that changes frequently. They have a fully stocked bar and a wide variety of cocktails. We strongly recommend the ox tail dinner and the apricot sidecar (a fruity house-invented drink which is usually no longer on the menu but most of the bartenders can still make it). We have seen children at Artisan’s Table (albeit not regularly), and those that we have seen were very well-behaved.

BERN’S STEAK HOUSE
1208 S. Howard Ave.
Tampa, FL 33606
(813) 251-2421
Approx. distance from WDW: 71 miles (via I-4 West)
Approx. distance from Universal: 79 miles (via I-4 West)
Read what other people say about it on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zagat, Wikipedia

BernsRed
Photo courtesy of bernssteakhouse.com

Yes, it’s far from the parks. It’s also, by far, the most fancy and expensive restaurant on our list. However Bern’s Steak House, 61 years old and going strong, is an experience you will never, ever forget as a special night out for the adults in your party. The decor of its various dining rooms screams 1960s and 1970s, but the service and food are old school and impeccable. The menu is huge (and the wine list even moreso! Bern’s has the largest wine list of any restaurant in the world!) and can be a bit overwhelming for first-timers but your waiter can walk you through it with ease. Anything you get at Bern’s will be incredible and cooked exactly as you request. Don’t forget to take the tour of the wine cellar and kitchen after your meal, and save room for dessert in the Henry Waugh Dessert Room, upstairs – because how often do you get to eat dessert in a wine barrel?

CHEF’S TABLE AT THE EDGEWATER
AND/OR!
TASTING ROOM AT THE CHEF’S TABLE
99 W. Plant St.
Winter Garden, FL 34787
(407) 230-4837
Approx. distance from WDW: 20 miles (via FL-429N)
Approx. distance from Universal: 15 miles (via Florida’s Tnpk N.)
YES! Two different (VERY different) awesome restaurants, with the same owners, at the same establishment! Chef’s Table became so popular that the owners opened The Tasting Room a few years later.
Read what other people say about Chef’s Table at the Edgewater on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zagat

Restaurant - Chefs Table at the Edgewater
Photo courtesy of Chef’s Table at the Edgewater

Housed in the historical Edgewater Hotel (which now is run as a B&B), Chef’s Table opened in 2008 and has been winning award after award ever since (as per owners and married couple Kevin and Laurie Tarter: “We just won the Orlando Sentinel Foodie Award for ‘Central Florida Gem’ from their food critic, the Dec 2016 Open Table dining award put us in the top 100 restaurants in the USA based on our diner feedback, Florida Trend gave us the golden spoon which only goes to the best restaurants in Florida, Orlando Magazine honored Kevin in 2015 with a Culinary Hall of Fame award, Orlando Magazine also awarded us in 2016 with Best Service, Best Chef’s Table, Most Romantic and Our Tasting Room won best appetizers and best cocktails.”) A small establishment with just a handful of tables, they offer a nightly three-course prix fixe menu, with options of a cheese course and wine pairing, that rotates regularly. Laurie is a skilled sommelier, Kevin has worked in the kitchen of WDW’s Victoria & Albert’s and New Orlean’s Arnaud’s, and both have worked front of house of WDW’s California Grille. If you visit Chef’s Table, expect a full evening of deliciousness for the adults in your party.

Read what other people say about Tasting Room at the Chef’s Table on Yelp, TripAdvisor

Restaurant - Tasting Room at the Chef's Table
Tasting Room at the Chef’s Table

Meanwhile, in 2011, Laurie and Kevin opened Tasting Room at the Chef’s Table just adjacent to Chef’s Table at the Edgewater. This is a much more casual restaurant, with a focus on tapas (small but shareable plates), much of which has a Creole influence, thanks to Kevin’s past work of living and working in New Orleans. Our personal favorites are the asian beef, lobster mac & cheese and the duck fat fries (oh, the duck fat fries!) – let us know what you and your kids like best!

COLUMBIA
649 Front St.
Celebration, FL 34747
Approx. distance from WDW: 8 miles (via World Dr.)
Approx. distance from Universal: 14 miles (via I-4 West)
Read what other people say about it on Yelp, TripAdvisor

Restaurant - Columbia (PC- The Columbia)
Photo courtesy of The Columbia

The original Columbia restaurant opened in Tampa’s Ybor City in 1905, making it the oldest restaurant in Florida. It’s also been owned by the same family for all that time. Now expanded to 5 restaurants through the state (Tampa, Sarasota, St. Augustine, Clearwater and Celebration), the Celebration location opened in 1997 and is the closest to the theme park corridor and only about a 10-minute drive from the southern parts of WDW property. The menu features Spanish fare and I can never decide if I like their chicken, pork or shrimp dishes best, but I can tell you that their white sangria is to die for! Definitely a kid-friendly establishment!

4 RIVERS SMOKEHOUSE
874 W. Osceola Pkwy.
Kissimmee, FL 34741
Approx. distance from WDW: 8 miles (via W. Osceola Pkwy.)
Approx. distance from Universal: 13 miles (via I-4 West, FL-528 R & John Young Pkwy.)
Read what other people say about it on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zagat (Zagat review is for Winter park location – no reviews seen for Kissimmee location, sorry)
We know, we know – there are lots of places that offer good BBQ. And we realize that you may want to stand by your Texas, Louisville, North Carolina or Kansas City BBQ and that’s absolutely fine. But 4 Rivers is still darn good ‘Q. Established in a single location in Winter Park (about 20-25 miles from WDW) in 2009, hour-long lines were almost immediately out the door. Since then, 4 Rivers have expanded to 7 locations within Central Florida, 6 locations in further-out locations in Florida and, as of this writing, are expanding to Atlanta any day now. What can we say? It’s BBQ, it’s delicious, and we love it. So will you and your kids. Give it a try! Heads up that all 4 Rivers locations are closed on Sundays.

HANAMIZUKI
8255 International Dr., Suite 136
Orlando, FL 32819
Approx. distance from WDW: 8 miles (via I-4 East)
Approx. distance from Universal: 3 miles (via International Dr.)
Read what other people say about it on Yelp, Trip Advisor, Zagat
We’ve been to Japan 4 times and love when we can find a stateside Japanese restaurant that is what we would call “absolutely authentic and traditional.” Hanamazuki is most definitely the epitome of that. Tucked into a strip mall shadowed by the Orlando Eye (it’s the same strip mall as Sleuth’s dinner show, which is also a good landmark in terms of the 8 million strip malls in the area), you will be greeted with “Irasshaimase!” as you enter, and a menu that is written in Japanese with English subtitles. We love the shabu shabu and ishiyaki, although you can’t lose with the udon or soba noodle meals, either. Children are welcome and heads up that Hanamizuki is seasonally closed on Mondays, so check the website first.

HEMINGWAY’S
On the ground of Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress
1 Grand Cypress Blvd.
Orlando, FL 32836
Approx. distance from WDW: 2 miles (via Hotel Plaza Blvd.)
Approx. distance from Universal: 8 miles (via I-4 West)
Read what other people say about it on Yelp, TripAdvisor

Restaurant - Hemingway's
Photo courtesy of Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress

The 1,500 acre Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress resort opened in 1984 and unlike several Grand Cypress restaurants that have come and gone (including our beloved but dearly departed LaCoquina – it had the best Sunday brunch EVER!) Hemingway’s has stayed around since Day One. This steak and seafood restaurant is island-inspired and the decor is decidedly Key West. It offered great food and service for the entire family.

SEASONS 52
Plaza Venezia
7700 W. Sand Lake Rd.
Orlando, FL 32819
Approx. distance from WDW: 6 miles (via S. Apopka Vineland Rd.)
Approx. distance from Universal 3 miles (via Turkey Lake Rd.)
Read what other people say about it on Yelp, Trip Advisor, Zagat

Restaurant - Seasons 52
Photo courtesy of Seasons 52

Seasons 52 is the only restaurant on our list that has more than, at most, just a few locations (over 40 of them in nearly 20 states). However the Orlando/Sand Lake Rd./”Restaurant Row” location is, not only the closest to the theme parks, but also the original location, which opened in 2002. Oh, and those mini desserts there you see everywhere? Seasons 52 invented those – they call them “Mini Indulgences.” Focusing on American and generally “healthier” fare, the restaurant’s menu changes seasonally, although some items seem to remain year-round. It is, by far, our #1 “go to” restaurant and our personal favorites include the meyer lemonade (if any of you remember the Adventurers Club, it tastes like a Babylonia’s Brew, but with booze!), filet mignon, pork tenderloin and chocolate s’more or chocolate peanut butter torte desserts. Children are welcome but as the restaurant is frequently host to convention parties as well as couples on “date night,” we’d say that well-behaved children are appreciated.

These are just a few of our favorites and obviously, there are LOTS of other “off site” restaurants in the Orlando area – which are YOUR favorites?

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3 thoughts on “Our Favorite Central FL Restaurants Off Disney/Universal Property”

    1. You’re very welcome, Jeff – and we calls ’em as we sees (and tastes) ’em (BTW we used to live in Tampa and have eaten at the original location several times as well. Yum!). Happy 20th anniversary to y’all!

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