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Morimoto at Disney Springs

Orlando’s dynamic dining scene is a real dichotomy: we’ve got celebrity chefs and innovative restaurateurs, but we’ve also got the best Puerto Rican mofongo, Asian char kway teow and Peruvian ceviche in tiny, tucked-away eateries.

We’re a town without a true cultural identity because we are a melting pot with strong Hispanic, Latino, Asian and Southern roots. Our food reflects this incredible diversity and independence with a new wave of independent restaurants springing up – from food trucks to haute cuisine.

While Universal and Disney deserve credit for long-ago elevating Orlando’s dining with Victoria & Albert’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Emeril’s Orlando at Universal Orlando Resort, the wave of celebrity chefs keeps building. The new Disney Springs is now home to restaurants under the watchful eye of four James Beard Foundation-nominated chefs: Masaharu Morimoto (Morimoto Asia, pictured above), Wolfgang Puck (Wolfgang Puck’s), Art Smith (Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Southern Shine), Rick Bayless (Frontera Cocina), and Guy Fieri’s Planet Hollywood Observatory. 

And Orlando hotels host other James Beard winners: Norman Van Aken at Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton, Grande Lakes; Todd English’s Bluezoo at the Walt Disney World Dolphin, and Melissa Kelly’s Primo outpost at the JW Marriott Grande Lakes, all early adopters positioned to capture tourists and locals alike.  

Now a whole new generation of culinary stars lights up the Orlando skyline, with restaurants opening almost every week. The “local” vibe made headlines when James Beard-nominated Chefs James and Julie Petrakis opened the Ravenous Pig in Winter Park, then expanded with Cask & Larder and adjacent Swine & Sons, all focused on local and sustainable sourcing. Winter Park is also home to award-winning Luma and Prato, both under the watchful eye of Chef Brandon McGlamery, a Florida native who supports local farmers and fishermen.

In downtown Orlando the new Dovecote neighborhood brasserie is dishing up tomato water risotto and butter-roasted chicken, joining the Rusty Spoon, where James Beard-nominated Chef Kathleen Blake only sources locally for her menu.

Other not-to-be-missed spots with a local vibe: the Pharmacy on Sand Lake Road, a cozy boîte that harks back to Prohibition-era speakeasies with custom-blended cocktails and delectable small plates made with local products;  4 Rivers Smokehouse, a barbecue empire that  started in 2009 in John Rivers’ Winter Park garage as a “barbecue ministry” that has grown into a regional chain starring his delectable beef brisket, and K Restaurant where James Beard Foundation nominee Chef Kevin Fonzo grows veggies in the back garden of this cozy College Park house-turned-restaurant with a menu that changes almost daily featuring products from local farms.

Forego trendy and local, head to Orlando’s ethnic neighborhoods for global kitchens. For Cuban, it’s Black Bean Deli in a former Phillips 66 gas station along busy Colonial Drive. Asian fans head to Mamak along the same stretch of Colonial Drive for stir-fried maggi goring, or to Ming Bistro for dim sum. Fans of Puerto Rican mofongo head to Kissimmee’s Melao Bakery, and for ceviche, the Peruvian Ceviche House on Semoran Boulevard sits side-by-side with dozens of Latino restaurants.

From award-winning restaurants to family-run favorites, food aficionados will find plenty of delicious eating in Orlando.