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Deliver me from Orlando Chain Restaurants

Please help me plan some decent meals.
I will be in Orlando with my family for a week in April. My parents have a timeshare and go to Orlando one week each year. I usually only join them for a night or two and can put up with their mediocre restaurant choices for at least that long. However, I am planning to join them for the whole week this year and I would really like to eat some decent food.

The restrictions:
My mother is a germaphobe and won't eat anywhere that looks the least bit sketchy (as a chowhound, I know that some of the best meals come from unassuming Mom and Pop type places, greasy spoons, diners and roadside restaurants. My mother does not agree and while she will on occasion eat at one of these places, she will make the experience unpleasant for everyone.)
My father is cheap, but always differs to my mother. If she likes a place, he feels it is worth while to pay extra for a meal that she enjoys. Choices from several price ranges would be helpful (He won't want to pay $30 - $40 per person for dinner every night). Places that offer senior discounts would be appreciated (There will be three people with AARP cards, and my father loves to see a discount even if it is only 5%).
My cousin will be with us. She is five. She is reasonably behaved at restaurants but is still five and prone to use her outdoor voice on occasion. Family-friendly would be great but not necessary.
As far as cuisine goes, almost anything is fine. Indian, German or Cuban suggestions would be especially appreciated. Fish restaurants are great, but must have some non-fish items and no fishy smell (Sometimes you get a place that throws their used oysters shells out back and the smell makes my Mom sick).
Total, we will have one child and 4-6 adults.
As far as locale, anything within about a 40 minute drive of Downtown Disney would be our preference.
Thank you in advance for your help. Despite the title of this post, I am more than willing to try a chain restaurant if you have a good recommendation. Mostly, I just want some decent meals that enhance the time I'll be spending with my family (or at least don't detract from it).

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  1. Although you said no Chains, I'd recommend sweet tomatoes, its over by the outlets on International Drive. It offers a low price and senior discount.

    1 Reply
    1. re: cherylp3

      Thank you for the suggestion of Sweet Tomatoes. I know my parents love it there. Although I generally don't do buffets myself, maybe I’ll give it try on this visit.

    2. Where will you be staying? It sounds like having transportation is not an issue. Have you -- or they -- had any experience with any of the Disney restaurants (not in the parks, but others)? How does the five-year-old do with ethnic?

      Personally, if I were a restauranteur and saw your group coming, I'd quickly put up the closed sign, turn the lights off and tell everyone to be quiet until you left. However your group is representative of a large part of the dining customers in Orlando this time of year. Disparate, difficult to please and likely to make at least one group member unhappy no matter what a restaurant can do.

      One you've answered, I'll try to give you some specific suggestions. But I also suggest some due diligence on your part by searching this board with various key words (Disney, Kissimmee, Davenport, Universal) because most restaurants are mentioned here at some point.


      2 Replies
      1. re: Bob Mervine


        Thank you for taking the time to provide feedback.

        We are staying at the Sheraton Vistana, which is just around the corner from Downtown Disney. Transportation will not be a problem (my parents always drive down so we will definitely have a car).

        Other than our mandatory trip to one of the Disney parks, we generally try to avoid the Disney properties (too much walking for my mother). I have had a few meals at Disney restaurants (mostly enjoyable but overpriced) out in California, but none in Florida.

        My little cousin does just fine with ethnic food. We usually have to find something relatively plain on the menu (especially when we eat Indian) but we never really have a problem. Unlike most kids who ask for peanut butter and jelly or hot dogs everywhere they go, she is happiest with an undressed salad, veggies and grilled chicken or fish.

        I realize we are a difficult group to please which is why I have asked for help. I have combed through the Florida board, but it is hard to tell what will work given our unique requirements. I appreciate any assistance you can provide.

        Just so you know, based on your prior posts (and others’ posts) I am currently considering the following:

        Dinner for my parents private night out:
        Dell Frisco Steakhouse
        Seasons 52

        Meals for the whole family:
        The Breakfast Club
        Memories of India
        Don Pepe's
        Taquitos Jalisco

        1. re: Ineverwrit

          Amanda ( whom I think I know if you went on the DVC cruise )

          One recommendation I have is to not go to Don Pepe's and maybe go to Ole Ole in Winter Park instead.


      2. Leave the grandparents with the child one night and splurge on Charley's Steakhouse on International Drive.

        1 Reply
        1. re: carallard

          Thank you for your comment. Funny enough, I am actually planning to do the opposite one night, and send my parents out for a night alone (they are raising my cousin and haven’t had a night alone in over a year). I have eaten at Charley’s once on a business trip and was reasonably happy with the experience. I’ll put that on my list of suggestions for their night out.

        2. Is Season's 52 considered a chain? I know there are more than one location...at any rate I suggest you check it out. I had several fantastic meals there the last time I was in Orlando and wish there was one near where I lived. Great menu, fresh healthy dining options, nice decor, friendly staff, reasonable prices. http://www.seasons52.com/locations/or...

          1 Reply
          1. re: Windsor

            Based on your recommendation and the restaurant website, Season’s 52 is spot on as a suggestion for my fiancé (if he is able to go on the trip) and me. Any restaurant with a seasonal menu and local ingredients is a great start for us. I’ll also include it in my suggestions to my parents for their night out for sure. Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to eat there myself, if not this trip then sometime in the near future.

          2. Fish Bones on Sandlake.Charley's steak w/ great seafood.Bring an extra wallet $$$$$$.Gotta pay to play.

            3 Replies
            1. re: clean plate

              Clean plate,
              Thanks for the suggestions. Another Charley recommendation makes it sound like I can’t go wrong with that choice. Fish Bones looks like a good choice as well. I'll add it to my list.

              1. re: clean plate

                I personally do not see the fascination with Charley's Steakhouse. To me it is a mid-level steak house that serves, at best, a mid-level steak. No way it is Prime beef and if I am going to extend myself that much paying for that quality of a steak which is a little extreme then I will go a little further and go to Del Friscos on Lee Rd. or Shulas at the Dolphin. To me any place that, at least use to, give a free Steak on your birthday, to me is trying to bring you into the restaurant for things other than the food. You can do better IMO

                1. re: theflytyr

                  I agree with you about Charley's. Totally boring dining experience. Average to below average food. Average service. No atmosphere.

                  I'd much prefer Del Frisco's. Old school steakhouse with premium cuts of beef. Excellent wait staff.

              2. Flying Fish, which is at the Boardwalk hotel is delicious but as I remember, pricey. When I was a student at the University of Central Florida, we always enjoyed the Colorado Fondue Company and I believe it was reasonably priced and very appropriate for a large group with children. It is a little less cheesy and also healthier than some other fondue places (The Melting Pot, for instance) as the proteins are cooked on a hot granite slab and not in a pot of boiling oil: http://www.coloradofondue.com/cfcweb.htm

                1. JAC13,
                  Thank you for suggesting Flying Fish. We have not dined on Disney properties much in the past, but may have to give it a try.
                  Colorado Fondue Company sounds like a great option. I checked out the website and it seems like this would be good fun for the entire family. I especially think my cousin would enjoy it. I will add that to my suggestion for the family.

                  1. Italian: Christini's Ristorante- www.christinis.com
                    Blue Bistro & Grill - www.bluebistroandgrill.com
                    Moon Fish - www.fishfusion.com

                    All places we've enjoyed that aren't chains in Orlando.


                    1. If I offended in any way with my aside about closing the restaurant when I saw your group coming, I apologize. It was meant to be a compliment on how well our area hospitality workers deal with challenges.

                      With a couple of caveats, I would disagree with none of the reccs so far. I do not know Sweet Tomato well, but they have a sterling reputation.

                      I don't think Mom would love Beto's, especially the one on the Orange Blossom Trail. Big portions, cheap, but not a great neighborhood and sometimes not as clean in the dining room as I would like. Food's great !

                      Among the category of dinner for your parent's night out, I'd put Del Frisco's at the top -- if Dad can swallow a check for 2 over $100. If not, Seasons 52 is a better choice. Clean, fresh, great service and -- by comparison -- moderately priced.

                      As for meals for the family, for breakfast, the TooJay's in the Marketplace is good. The Breakfast Club is too much of a drive for breakfast. Try First Watch, also on west Sand Lake. There's also a pretty cool McDonald's Bistro on Sand Lake, and a couple of Cracker Barrells around, if you are familar with the concept.
                      I just did a fairly detailed post on breakfasts in your neck of the woods. Search for "Breakfast in Orlando" in the last week or two.

                      For fast, cheap and good try the Earl of Sandwich in the Disney Village Marketplace. Excellent. Also, for something different, you might enjjoy Raglan Road, a new Irish pub with evening entertaiment that Mom, Dad and the five year old will all enjoy.

                      For Indian, I favor Daksin, especially since it is so convenient to you. I just had a good brunch at the Memories of India in Lake Mary, and suspect you'd do well there also.

                      If it isn't too exotic, in order of exoticness, I recommend Cedar's on west Sand Lake for Middle Eastern, Jerusalem on SR 535 and, if Indonesian interests you, Asia Bagus just across the street.

                      Nothing wrong with Ole Ole, except a too ambitious menu, but for tapas-style I'd go to Cafe Tu Tu Tango on I-Drive. Fun for all of you.

                      I'm convinced there ar no consistantly good Cuban restaurants here. I have had a good meal at Rolando's lately, in Casselberry, first one in several years. Lunch last week at Don Pepe's was greasy, but black beans were good. If a Cuban sandwich will suffice, try Cuban Sandwiches to Go on Lee Road.

                      Taquitos Jalisco is the spot for Mexican. Go to the one in Metro West, not Winter Garden, and keep Mom happy.

                      Bonefish Grill is great value for the money. It's a chain, but quite nice. Try the firecracker shrimp appetizer. For even better seafood value, go to Straub's on east Colonial -- make Dad happy and hit them during the early bird.

                      For German, find your way to Bauern-Stube (8015 S Orange Ave, Orlando, 32809 - (407) 857-8404) for the best in town.

                      Other advice, in general, work the concierge desk at Vistana for discounts, reccomendations, etc. 80 percent of it will be crap, but they can probably get you some discounts if you mention specific places you are going. Also work all the tourist guides you'll find in the rack at the check in desk. Most have coupons.

                      The area is kid friendly and any reasonably behaved five year old will never be a burden no matter where you go. The staff will go out of their way to cater to her.

                      As for Colorado Fondue Co., it is quite good. They do regular (oil) fondue, the hot rock cooking, cheese and dessert fondues. Worth the trip -- driving past two Melting Pots to get there.

                      I'm pretty much middle of the road on Charley's. They are part of the Talk of the Town chain, which has Fishbones (not to be confused with Bonefish) as well as the aforementioned Moonfish and Vito's. Not bad, but not special either.

                      Flying Fish has a new chef, so not sure what you would be in for there. There's a tapas place next door called Spoodles that might intrigue you.

                      Blue Bistro is not for the family. Love it, love the chef and the food, but pass on it with your group.

                      Christini's might also be a good Mom and Dad special night out -- but again, it ain't cheap.

                      Hope that helps.


                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Bob Mervine

                        Hey Bob, I just finished my first trip to Costa del Sol. Party of 4 split 12 tapas (way to much food, will scale back next time). Apart from not having any Fino, I was pleasantly surprised with their menu.

                        Have you eaten there and if so, how do you compare it to Ole Ole.

                      2. There's another good German restaurant I always neglect, located (probably) on the outskirts of your operating area. It is called hollerbach's Willow Tree and itis in downtown Sanford.
                        Not better than Bauern-Stube, just different. Bigger, brighter, more collegiate with equally good food and bier.


                        1. Costa del Sol is news to me. In what appears to be a fairly remote location, sound sreally good. Loving the tapas -- I'll bring my own fino. Tell me more, man.


                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Bob Mervine

                            Scott Joseph said it better than I could:


                            If you do eat there, get the cold seafood salad served over avacado halves, it was one of the highlights of the meal.

                            The only disappointment, other than the missing Fino, was the lack of a good variety of olives. But that's next to impossible to find anywhere.

                            1. re: bkhuna

                              Oh my God . . .

                              How could I have missed this one? It's definitely on my To Do list.


                          2. Briarpatch restaurant in winter park is great for breakfast and is kid friendly; however, it can be very busy. I also recommend Hue and Chef Justin's for a nice dinner, adults only. Christini's is defnitely good and i would recommend it for the whole family.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: strephking

                              For a moderately priced, interesting buffet, we like Boma at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. It's not too exhorbitantly priced, and the food is interesting and offers a nice variety. I usually don't enjoy buffet quality food, but I like Boma very much. Reservations there are highly recommended, as it's become very popular.

                              Heather W

                            2. I know this is an old post, but I couldn't help but comment after reading it because its such a specific post and others may benefit from it. We all have to dine with picky people sometimes. I think a lot of the posters got it right.

                              Bob M. (RIP) - Still offers good advice even years after his passing. And other suggestions as well.

                              Just a few to add, for anyone in the same circumstance.

                              Padrinos Cuban - is clean, decently priced, I love the art on the walls there but above all that the food is outstanding.

                              Two main Florida chains (not national) for cheap but decent food.

                              Tijuana Flats - a funky tex mex restaurant with a hot sauce bar. Great for families but during lunch rush there can be limited sandwiches.

                              Flippers Pizza - good quality pizza, salads and subs a step up from the major chains.

                              Disney Area
                              I agree with Earl of Sandwich and Raglan Road, or the Biergarten inside of Epcot for a German buffet, and show that is sure to please young and old.

                              Cafe Tu Tu Tango on I-drive is great as mentioned above but I don't get out of there without spending about 30 bucks a person.

                              Also for Latin Pollo Pio Pio

                              and southern food - Mama Nems - it can be pricey but I think your mom would appreciate the high class feel it has over other soul food locations.

                              Cafe Tu Tu Tango
                              8625 International Dr, Orlando, FL 32819

                              Pio Pio
                              2500 S Semoran Blvd, Orlando, FL 32822

                              1. I recommend a Colombian restaurant called Pio Pio, the one on Kirkman and I-drive is probably convenient. They do a nice pargo rojo, red napper, and their chicken is good. There are some good Colombian, Cuban restaurants in the area.

                                I know it is a chain, but Mimi's Cafe does nice home style meals, liver and onions, chicken pot pie, pot roast, meatloaf, turkey and dressing etc.

                                Rossis Pizza on SOBT and Oakridge is a local legend.

                                If you want something different in the fast food, look up Old Dixie Fried chicken and order a few pints of chicken gizzards.

                                For old Florida there are a few fish camps on East lake Toho that are very good.

                                Old Dixie Cafe
                                300 N Old Dixie Hwy Ste 101, Jupiter, FL 33458

                                Pio Pio
                                2500 S Semoran Blvd, Orlando, FL 32822

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: kernow

                                  I would also recommend Jean Pierre in Kissimmee. This minght not have met the needs of a picky mother, but in every other respect probably would. And for a fmilly looking for a change of pace from the chains but still in the area, it's a great option. The food is French Bistro, but it is NOT a themed place. The food is freshly cooked, and run by the owner and his daughter. Service can be bit slow when it gets busy, as food is cooked fresh. But off times it is great.

                                2. What a great restaurant. I have been coming to orlando for years and could never find anything beyond a chain. This has very fresh, seasonal, exceptionally tasty and creative food. A beautiful decor, very mission, very wine country. A very enjoyable experience

                                  Seasons 52
                                  7700 W Sand Lake Rd, Orlando, FL 32819

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: traveldw

                                    Um.. Seasons 52 is a chain - from Darden of Olive Garden and Red Lobster fame

                                    Darden Restaurants
                                    5900 Lake Ellenor Dr, Orlando, FL 32809

                                    1. re: YosemiteSam

                                      Too funny. I guess some chains are better than others

                                      1. re: scubadoo97

                                        lol yes.

                                        I do like Seasons 52. I enjoy their fish tacos and those cute little deserts. I had a seared ahi tuna salad there that I wasn't in love with but all other food I've had there I've liked.

                                        1. re: Sandwich_Sister

                                          I've had some decent fish there but find the vegetables a big boring. Vary basic food IMO

                                          1. re: scubadoo97

                                            Right, but for a chain it's not a bad choice.