A Growing Melting Pot
Though Orlando may be known for its world-renowned theme parks, it is also emerging as a nationally recognized dining destination. As the tourism capital of the U.S., the diverse cuisine has a sophisticated array of restaurants — from southern comfort food, traditional American, Chinese and Lebanese, to Brazilian, Italian and Vietnamese. The quality and diversity of Orlando’s culinary scene is what makes it so unique.
Orlando has an abundance of chefs that have made the city their home, and a plethora of dining options with more than 5,000 restaurants to choose from. Some of the most famous celebrity chefs have opened restaurants, including Norman Van Aken, Emeril Lagasse and Todd English. Orlando serves visitors from over 150 countries; therefore, the cuisine has evolved to meet the needs of the constant influx of visitors and the diverse tastes of local residents.
In addition, many of Orlando’s homegrown chefs and restaurateurs are shaping the destination’s culinary movement, and they change the popular perception that Orlando only offers well-known restaurant chains, surprising visitors and locals alike. The four Orlando chefs named semifinalists in the 2014 James Beard Awards – the most out of any other city in Florida – were James and Julie Petrakis (The Ravenous Pig and Cask & Larder), Hari Pulapaka (Cress Restaurant) and Henry Salgado (Txokos Basque Kitchen and Spanish River Grill).
Growth in the Future
Downtown Orlando continues to evolve with big venues like the Amway Center and new entertainment venues opening up, including the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts unveiling this fall and the new Orlando City Soccer stadium later on down the line. Major venues will spur growth for more restaurants as more people are drawn to those areas.
In the main tourism corridor, the I-Drive 360 entertainment complex — expected to debut in March 2015 — will open several restaurants, including Yard House, along with the Orlando Eye observation wheel and other attractions.
Universal City Walk is opening eight new dining establishments, and with Downtown Disney making a large expansion and being renovated into Disney Springs, more restaurants will open in the coming years.
Magical Dining Month
The vision of Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month began in 2006, when this month-long culinary celebration was created as a way to engage the locals to dine at the area’s finest restaurants during the typically slow season for tourism in Orlando. It is guaranteed to please palates and wallets, as Orlando’s top restaurants serve up cuisine at a fraction of the regular price during the month of September. In 2013, 74,467 meals were sold from the event, and more than $3.4 million was generated in restaurant sales.
The program showcases a wide variety of restaurants from wellknown establishments to local, independently-owned eateries. Select Central Florida restaurants will offer three-course, prix fixe dinners for $33.
This year, a Magical Dining preview week has been added from August 25 to 31. For both the preview week and the month-long celebration, one dollar from each meal will be donated to the Foundation for Foster Children.
A few of this year’s participating restaurants include Emeril’s Tchoup Chop, K Restaurant, Roy’s Restaurant, The Oceanaire, The Capital Grille, Cala Bella and Fogo de Chao. Whatever you may be in the mood for, Orlando’s dining scene is bound to suit your tastes.
A full list of participating restaurants can be found at OrlandoMagicalDining.com.
Culinary Scene Offers Another Reason to Visit Orlando
From the cobblestone streets of Winter Park to the Victorian elegance of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Orlando’s dining scene largely flourished in secret the last two decades. As years passed, word of an increasingly sophisticated food scene began to spread. Soon, celebrity chefs were establishing restaurants in Orlando and homegrown chefs were returning from bigger cities to fuel a flourishing independent restaurant landscape.
In the last two years, influential food guide Zagat published the first-ever survey of Orlando restaurants and Orlando led all Florida destinations in number of chefs nominated in the annual James Beard Awards. Earlier this year, Orlando was selected to host the organization’s 2014 semifinalists awards. During a live news conference, James Beard Foundation President Susan Ungaro said, “I’m so impressed with the growth of Orlando’s dining scene. I expect Orlando, which has been a prime tourist destination for so many years, can now add culinary destination to its long list of reasons to visit.”
This month, our organization presents the ninth annual Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining program. It’s a time when more than 70 of our top restaurants offer $33 three-course dinners. Plus, the month-long event benefits a local charity. In 2014, $1 from every meal will be donated to Foundation For Foster Children.
On behalf of the team at Visit Orlando and our local community of chefs, I encourage you to experience firsthand yet another reason that makes Orlando’s $54 billion tourism industry so great. You can find a full list of restaurants on the mobile-friendly website OrlandoMagicalDining.com.
– George Aguel, President & CEO of Visit Orlando