First came the splashy opening of Antojitos, which offers more casual Mexican dining downstairs and a bit more of a “date night” atmosphere up top. It’s a whole new look for this corner of CityWalk – one you couldn’t miss from space, with its playful, color-swathed exterior – and a venue in which street tacos and potent margaritas meld with a more upscale south-of-the-border menu when you head upstairs. Perhaps most importantly: you can have fresh guac made tableside at either.
You may choose to cool off with a tequila-rocks outside as you people watch, but some visitors have sweeter (and more kid-friendly) ideas about how to do it. That’s where the new Menchie’s and Cold Stone Creamery venues come in. Serving up favorites familiar to many, either will suit for a break from the heat of Orlando’s divine – if occasionally over-the-top – sunshine.
In addition to the new Cabana Bay Resort and Diagon Alley at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal will be opening a host of new dining venues at CityWalk throughout 2014 — Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort
Fans of Italian have two new places to test the waters, or the pizza crust, as it were. The fast-casual Red Oven Pizza Bakery has a tight-and-tidy menu of pies – five red, five white – including traditional favorites like Margherita and pepperoni, along with more adventurous offerings such as pear and fig.
With the restaurant's gooey amalgam of mozzarella and blue cheeses, those looking for creamy decadence may find there’s little need to hit up the ice cream parlor afterward. Beer, wine and soft drinks are available here, as well, along with a small selection of salads (either for sharing or avoiding the aforementioned gooey calories).
For those with a little time to sit – or perhaps those returning from a day at the parks – Vivo Italian Kitchen offers a cool, contemporary oasis for respite along with an open kitchen that may just garner enough attention from the kids to allow parents a few quiet moments to enjoy a refreshing post-coaster Bellini.
Pasta here is fresh-made daily (You may see it drying artfully on racks, in fact.), and the dishes range from classics like chicken parmesan to exotic offerings like the squid ink seafood with its alluring, black ribbons of pasta. Unlike Red Oven, Vivo is a full-service restaurant. Entrees run between $11 and $32.
It's hot out there, Orlando. CityWalk visitors can now cool off at Cold Stone Creamery — Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort
And speaking of alluring, still to come at CityWalk is an Orlando outpost of the Cowfish, a unique North Carolina venture that brings together two perennial favorites: sushi and hamburgers. This one may well be CityWalk’s hottest venue when it opens; it's ideal for groups who just can’t agree on a restaurant.
While the menu does keep the two separate for traditionalists (burgers for the beef, bison and veggie lover; traditional sashimi and nigiri selections, etc.), they have a bit of fun with it on a “burgushi” menu. And, yes, that means exactly what you think it does.
Antojitos boasts fierce colors, festive margaritas and fresh-made guacamole — Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort
Also on deck: the Hot Dog Hall of Fame and the Bread Box. For the former, Universal partnered with the creator behind popular venues such as the Rainforest Café to bring this slice of Americana to CityWalk. The menu will allow diners to have it their way if they like, of course, but offers up a selection of iconic hot dogs and sausages, like the NY Deli Dog or Chicago Red Hot, so folks can sample. The latter is another original-concept affair, where sandwiches will be the order(s) of the day.
Curious (and perhaps famished) Florida residents would do well with a reminder: parking at CityWalk is free for locals after 6 p.m. with proof of residency. For the rest of you, it’s reduced to $5.