Jump in the Line: Chow Down at Orlando's Diverse Buffet Options
By A.D. Thompson
Orlando Local Expert
Looking for the best buffet in Orlando to stuff your gullet? Look no further. We’ve combed the neighborhoods of the City Beautiful for some excellent options for a range of palates and budgets. Not surprisingly, Disney scored big, with flavorful international venues such as the wurst-lovers’ paradise of the Biergarten at the EPCOT World Showcase’s Germany Pavilion and the ever popular Boma, an Afrocentric delight at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. In fact, Disney’s version of Africa ranked twice with Tusker House, a breakfast-lunch-and-dinner outpost in the heart of its Animal Kingdom Park – one where character interaction tries to steal the food’s thunder at breakfast and lunch. Looking to venture beyond the Dark Continent in your dining escapades? Consider the Puerto Rican/Dominican fare of El Palacio, convenient to shopping at the Florida Mall, or Tamarind, where Indian food enthusiasts should hit them up for a midday buffet that's popular with locals. Large groups or families with a special event to celebrate might look to the skilled gauchos of Texas de Brazil, where the rules of churrascaria dictate the sizzling meat-to-diner ratio is a mandatory 20-to-1. Of course, if you’re looking for a buffet that’s always fresh, fast and (for many Americans) familiar, you can do no wrong with a stop at Sweet Tomatoes where the veggies are plentiful and crisp and the prices are reasonable.
Koy Wan Hibachi Buffet
Just minutes from I-4 and the Altamonte Mall, Koy Wan may be a vast Asian buffet, but it's also surprisingly pretty and serene for a dining venue where patrons line up amid the stations and chafing dishes for all the familiar deep -fried, sauce-laden delicacies with which you are no-doubt familiar. In addition, however, Koy Wan's chefs serve all manner of sushi (traditional nigiri along with a host of creative rolls) and cooked-to-order hibachi dishes. Customers can choose from an array of meats and vegetables. Holidays such as Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, along with other occasions, often inspire special drinks and food selections in addition to the regular menu. (407) 628-8866)
What it isn't: fancy, frilly fine dining. What it is: a whole lot of Latin comfort food that's both budget- and family-friendly. Diet-friendly? Not so much. The El Palacio chafing dishes are stuffed to the rafters with Puerto Rican and Dominican specialties including empanadas, platanos, yucca and all the goodies you remember from your abuelitas kitchen. Authentic Latin sodas and beers -- Presidente and Modelo among them -- are available, as well. Carbo-load for lunch or dinner (starch is a primary Latin American food group) and for under $7, you'll have all the calories necessary to scratch an entire theme park off your vacation agenda. And likely a few to spare. ((407) 240-0961)
Woodlands Indian Cuisine
The co-mingled aromas of incense and homespun masalas ignite diners' palates upon entering this unassuming operation on commercial OBT, a favorite of locals, particularly those who work in the area and make it a regular lunch stop. Woodlands serves a vast, all-vegetarian menu, but much of its repeat business comes in the form of omnivores who, luxuriating in the menu's rich flavors, don't miss the meat at all. Woodlands' week-day lunch buffet, while not as massive as what many of us have come to expect from this dining genre, is more the adequate and well stocked with soup, salad and an array of traditional South Indian dishes. What's extra nice is the friendly, family-run atmosphere and slightly more formal setting -- real glassware, for example. Diners are welcome to order from the regular menu, as well. ((407) 854-3330)
Villa de Flora
With a stellar location inside the luxury biosphere of the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center, the Villa de Flora buffet restaurant is open twice daily -- for breakfast and dinner -- serving all the American classics in the am and an array of Italian and Mediterranean fare in the evening. They do a Sunday brunch, as well. Manned carving, omelet and pasta stations cut and/or cook selections to order. It's location affords some of the best views of the Gaylord Palms' lush indoor landscaping, offering diners the sensation of an al fresco meal with none of negative trade-offs of outdoor dining in the subtropics. (407-586-1114)
Serving all three squares on the edge of "Africa" within Disney's Animal Kingdom, Tusker House also is home to Donald's Dining Safari. Translation: Donald Duck and pals will host your character interaction at breakfast and lunch. Early in the day, the flawlessly themed venue serves an array of American favorites (eggs, bacon, Mickey waffles and the like) along with African-influenced dishes such as mealie pap, a traditional porridge, and beef bobotie. Lunch and dinner bring even more Afrocentric fare like Kenyan coffee BBQ pork loin and Berbere-rubbed spit-roasted beef striploin. Fear not, however, picky children and less adventurous eaters will be more than pleased with the selections. ((407) 939-3463)
Sweet Tomatoes -- which sometimes goes by Souplantation -- has locations throughout 15 states, so odds are you may have heard of it. Consistently fresh, this venue offers a massive salad bar -- making one of the few buffet restaurants that will appeal to folks genuinely looking for a healthier option. Vegetarians, vegans (or just salad enthusiasts) will find a wealth of options with which to pile their plates high -- and multiply if they so desire. An array of soups, breads, muffins and pastas help round out the menu. Baked white and sweet potatoes are available, as well, and if you're more inclined to accessories while adding calories, you'll find all the trimmings necessary. Sweet Tomatoes often runs regional specials -- putting Asian, Italian or even seasonal spins on the menu periodically. ((407) 363-1616)
Texas de Brazil
Few restaurants can compete with the atmosphere -- and, yes, the cuisine -- of this colorful chain of Brazilian-style churrascarias. A family-friendly ambiance pervades as diners enjoy an undeniable feast for the ages, one that features gaucho-wearing servers circling the South American-themed dining room with mouthwatering skewers of seasoned beef, chicken, lamb, pork, and Brazilian sausage. Just pick what you want, and they're happy to serve it up. Added temptations are Texas-sized side dishes like garlic mashed potatoes and sweet fried bananas. Texas de Brazil's extravagant salad bar has been known to turn heads as well -- and not just for the vegetarians among you. (407-355-0355)
Tamarind Indian Cuisine - UCF
This is the East Orlando outpost of the popular Winter Park eatery and a no less delicious venue. Extremely popular for its reasonable lunch buffet ($8.95) -- loaded down with chutneys and sauces, vegetarian and non-veg options -- it's very easy to over-indulge. The UCF Tamarind's "edge of Orlando" Colonial Drive location feels semi-remote, but belies the enjoyable atmosphere inside, where warm colors, soft music and Indian touches create pleasant confines in which to enjoy the spice-laden entrees (all you can eat at lunch) and soft, chewy naan. Many diners here are regulars at lunch time due to price and selection, but Tamarind's off-buffet menu is extensive and certainly warrants exploration. ((407) 237-0920)
Oompah-pah into the Biergarten in EPCOT's Germany Pavillion, where it's Oktoberfest every day of the year. Communal tables bolster the jovial atmosphere -- as does the authentic selection of German beers and wines -- as you and your party partake of the vast Deutsch buffet. Pork schnitzel, soft pretzels, hand-pulled apple strudel, fragrant sauerkraut, a host of "wursts" and dozens more delicacies await. Feel free to polka before or after raising your beer stein in celebration; live bands are always part of the mix during lunch and dinner. This is Disney dining -- and a popular venue -- reservations, as always, are highly recommended. ((407) 939-3463)
There are a number of AYCE options in the Disney realm (that stands for "all you can eat," by the way), many of which are worth a visit, but Boma -- Flavors of Africa is a cut above. Why? While there are a plethora of menu items that fall well within the comfort zones of the less adventurous diner, the rotating roster of dishes inspired by those of more than 50 African countries. Fare is notably fresh, served amid the lovely Afrocentric decor of Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. Buffet prices here are a tad higher than several other Disney buffets, but the selection -- and massive South African wine list -- along with the resident animals you may spot while on site at the Lodge, make this one worth it for most who give it a try. (407-938-4722)
About A.D. Thompson
A.D. Thompson has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and roughly 15 as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum. A roller coaster enthusiast, A.D. readily admits there is fun to be had amid the madness of the theme parks, but has found there is magic, as well, in the outer-lying reaches of Mickey’s long shadow. She is delighted to share with you the spoils of her adopted city. Visit her colorful compendium at www.amydrewthompson.com.
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