It’s undeniably easy to find restaurants catering to families in the Orlando area, but with so many chain offerings to navigate visitors often find themselves eating in places they could just as easily enjoy in their own hometowns. With this in mind, 10Best has culled 10 wonderful local joints your family will love, from lunch-perfect locations like the Hot Krust Panini Kitchen, where house-roasted meats pair with crusty-fresh bread for your midday sammie cravings to comfort food havens like Guavate, where the mofongo is as authentic as any you’d get in San Juan to Asian-fusion temples like the Noodles & Rice café, where the grown-ups can get as adventurous as they’d like with no worry for finding something their pickiest little ones will devour. Fast-casual patrons at College Park’s Hubbly Bubbly can enjoy healthy Middle Eastern fare as they explore the Main Street stylings of this vibrant, colorful neighborhood. Downtown visitors enjoying a short urban hike around Lake Eola Park will want to sample more than one of the creative flavors at the Pop Parlour, where icy treats made not only with fresh fruits, but vegetables, herbs and even alcoholic beverages (21 and over for these, please) pack a wonderful – if occasionally boozy – punch.
The Pop Parlour
Jettison the fro-yo and skip the butterfat in the ice cream, the Pop Parlour offers a healthier, lighter alternative: gourmet popsicles made from the freshest ingredients. In fact, you might not always find your favorite unless its contents are in season. Creative flavors like avocado coconut, lemon cucumber mint and strawberry basil sit side-by-side with tamer classics like watermelon, canteloupe and strawberry, each one a refreshing respite from the Orlando heat. Take yours to go and amble just a few steps to Lake Eola and enjoy your treat in the shade of the live oaks as you watch the resident swans glide. Nearly all their pops are vegan and gluten free. ((321) 348-7677)
That One Spot
For every just about every family, That One Spot should fit the casual-easy-fun bill nicely. It's a burger joint. And while you could certainly go familiar if that's your game (the That One Kids Burger will fit the bill nicely for traditional child palates), TOS's menu all but begs you to break out of your usual burger state of mind. Try the Grilled Curry Chicken Burger; red and green peppers along with fresh basil and curry mayo infuse an American classic with Thai influence. Get textural with the Crunch Burger, which adds potato chips to the mix, not to mention homemade horseradish sauce. Throw some brisket on top for good measure (and an extra $1). Vegetarians and vegans need not fear the place, either. Black bean and Greek spinach veggie varieties are available – and as decadent as you'll allow. (34761, (407) 877-7575)
Mediterranean/Middle Eastern fare is oft rife with fresh-grown vegetables, cool crisp mattresses of color on which more decadent fare is generally piled. Extra kudos goes to the healthy falafel joint that's extra happy to throw deep-fried cauliflower and what amount to bite-sized latkes (herein called mazel tots; oy vey, so cute you could pinch it!) on the side dish menu. You know, just in case there was a little too much healthy going on. Hubbly Bubbly is a clean, counter-order operation in College Park that's enjoying a nice stream of local biz due to its bright atmosphere, tasty food and a tight but flexible menu. This allows for ordering of items like falafel, shwarma-style chicken or lamb and steak in salad or hummus bowls or stuffed in a pocket sandwich. ((407) 985-5841)
Garibaldi Mexican Restaurant
Few families can resist the lure of Mexican food when dining out. For one thing, you know the server's going to put chips and salsa down immediately (which means you'll have time to order a margarita and genuinely peruse the menu). At Garibaldi, families have the added bonus of knowing said Mexican food will be dining-out money well spent. Garibaldi is not a tourist hang, it's a bonafide local favorite with a bright, airy interior, great chunky salsa and predictably good cuisine, from their "Little Amigos" menu (which does offer a cheeseburger so the rest of the family need not bow to the pickiest eater of the bunch when craving Mexican) on up to house specialties like their eponymous fajitas and decadent carne guisada. (407-275-5035)
Hot Krust Panini Kitchen
Serving up tasty fast-casual eats from its comfortable Dr. Phillips digs, this cheery "paninery" does up a multitude of classic pressed sandwiches with fresh, locally made bread and house-roasted meats, which makes a big difference when it comes to taste. Vegetarians will find more than a few selections of krusty-with-a-K goodness for their diets, as well. From Philly steak to fondue turkey, Greek veggie to the sriracha-laden "Razzle Dazzle," which melds steak, provolone, strawberry jam and banana peppers for a unique fruity-tangy-creamy amalgam, – diners are sure to find a sandwich to suit in HK's fast-casual environs. They're pretty friendly, too! ((407) 355-7768)
Tibby's New Orleans Kitchen
Even when the Saints aren't marching in the Super Bowl, Tibby's New Orleans Kitchen leans heavily toward festive. Bourbon Street-slash-Mardi-Gras décor with a bit of Louisiana folk art panache creates the vibe. Dishes including red beans and rice, andouille and cheddar grits and a 12-napkin roast beef po'boy seal the deal. Born of Cajun love by folks with roots in New Orleans, fans of the region's cuisine will enjoy muffaletta, shrimp Creole, crawfish etouffe and a host of other popular dishes. And since we're talking New Orleans, don't forget the drinks. You'll find Tibby's pours a hurricane worthy of a few strands of beads. ((407) 672-5753)
Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe
Willkommen! Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe is a family-run operation that many say serves the best traditional German fare in all of Central Florida. Craving your tante's schnitzel? Ready to sample more sausage than a Bears fan at a tailgate? This is your place. Also on tap: more than 50 different German beers (draught varieties come in three sizes) and live entertainment on their expansive sidewalk patio Thursday through Sunday. And if your brat's not a fan of brats, fear not – potato pancakes, cheese and cold cut platters and massive German pretzels will sate the group's picky eater. ((407) 321-2204)
Guavate Puerto Rican Eatery & Bistro
Latin food and family tend to go hand-in-hand and such is the case at Guavate, where the Puerto Rican comfort food is deliciously on point and a friendly, easygoing vibe levels up the comfort another notch. Be prepared for a possible wait – the tables are oft crowded with families for precisely this reason. Portions are extremely generous and the food is akin to what you remember from abuela's kitchen. Delicious meats and seafood and of course – lots of good Latin starches to go with. The mofongo here – they serve a variety – is universally lauded. If you're unfamiliar with this flavorful green plantain mash, generally served with stewed meat ladled over the top, this is definitely the place to try it. (407-281-4700)
Noodles & Rice Cafe
If you can't please a diverse family at a restaurant with "noodles" and "rice" in the name, you may as well just give up on eating out. This Asian fusion favorite culls together an array of delightful dishes, from Hong Kong-style barbecue to the steamy fragrant hot pot. Pad Thai to spicy noodles, ramen to won ton and more satisfy the carbohydrate addict's cravings while an array of other Eastern noshes – delicious curry pineapple fried rice, succulent Korean short ribs, crispy-fried samosa – make dieting here nearly impossible. Courteous servers are happy to explain the hot pot process for newbies. (407-895-8833)
The Meatball Stoppe
Meatballs: so simple – a small, round hunks of deliciousness from your Nonna's kitchen, laden with garlic, spices, just the right amount of fat. Top 'em with sauce or cheese or both. Lay them gently onto a bed of pasta or polenta. Smash them into a crusty roll and top 'em with a fried egg. They're filling, comforting, and at this Lake Underhill family-run, fast-casual outpost that's edged out toward East Orlando, quite reasonably priced. What's more is that they're easy to grab on the go, but feel free to stay a while and sample the variety, which runs from traditional to Mediterranean, sausage to mac-and-cheese explosion. Pair them with sauces, salads, sides. Luxuriate in the simplicity – and the value. (407-270-6505)
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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