Orlando is a destination oft visited by large traveling groups. Some come to the City Beautiful for business, others for weddings, still more for family reunions rife for theme-park agendas. While all must eat, their needs are often decidedly different. This 10Best list features a range of options. Some, like posh, inviting Luma on Park, are ideal for just about any occasion whether you're proposing marriage or pitching a hot idea to the shareholders. Same goes for Dr. Phillips' chic Urbain 40 where they're happy to host groups inside and even out, by a resplendent fountain evocative of Old World European charm. Others, like Tibby's New Orleans Kitchen make great venues for family birthdays, softball team celebrations or, you know, if the Saints in the play-offs. At Seito, succulent cuts of tender seafood and a host of other Asian-inspired delicacies will tempt your party's palates. And at Cask and Larder, the Whole Cookery Feast menu will treat guests to succulent, homestyle delights like suckling pig or a Low Country seafood boil. Or you could just bring your bowling team for a big ‘ol biscuit-and-Bloody Mary-heavy brunch. Either one is an excellent choice.
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)
Fogo de Chão
Fogo De Chao, the well-known Brazilian steakhouse chain, could be described as something of an upscale all-you-can-eat option. Offering the I-Drive crowd – and a preponderance of locals keen on churrascaria, the Brazilian tradition wherein roaming "gauchos" present and slice a vast array of pit-roasted meats tableside – a dining experience that allows them to pace their meal as they wish, using a two-sided disc to signal when they're ready for more. The eatery's "salad bar," which is laden with far, far more than veggies, helps round out the meal with side dishes. Fogo de Chao is pay one price. Half price for kids and free for those ages 6 and under. ((407) 370-0711)
Vincenzo Cucina Italiana
Vincenzo Cucina Italiana is a hybrid of sorts, a superb restaurant that melds family-run warmth with a fine-dining vibe, making it a wonderful place for a date night, a client dinner, a post-work glass of Chianti or a special occasion dinner. You know, like Nana's birthday. Convenient for both vacationers and business travelers � but Vincenzo's tourist-friendly I-Drive location does nothing to keep the locals from returning for authentic cuisine and service that often goes above and beyond. Live music (like Sinatra, of course!) keeps things lively on busy Friday nights. A diverse menu ensures everyone in your party will find a dish to suit. (407-745-4030)
Taverna Opa Orlando
Consistently ranked as a Greek favorite in the City Beautiful, Taverna Opa is something of an all-encompassing experience, as diners are immersed in authentic, satisfying Mediterranean fare – along with a steady stream of flying napkins and Ouzo shots. Nighttime brings out the DJ and the alluring belly dancers (they often play with fire, so watch those napkins) who somehow manage to encourage even the shyest of patrons to join in traditional Greek line dancing, sometimes even on the table tops. Pointe Orlando is arguably the I-Drive ground zero for tourism but that doesn't stop locals from getting in on the fun. (4073518660)
Want an atmospheric venue for an evening out with friends? A restaurant with sexy vibe for date night with a special someone? Look no further than Ceviche, where delicious tapas, fruity sangria and live flamenco (they also feature evenings with reggae, jazz and pop acts) make the warmly lit room crackle with energy. Like the menu, the d�cor is infused with Spanish allure and all the succulent small plates, there are hot and cold selections, make sharing the order of the evening. Let the menu warm up your insides while the music of the flamenco lounge warms up everything else. (321-281-8140)
Luma on Park
One of Orlando's most sophisticated and big-city-beautiful restaurants, Luma on Park draws local politicians, Orlando Magic basketball players and other local celebs with its elegant atmosphere matched by expertly prepared cuisine. One might not think such an elegant venue would "push tables together," but Luma is surprisingly accommodating and also offers a $35 prix fixe menu Sunday-Tuesday. Downstairs, groups of up to 48 can slip through the restaurant's wine vault into the ritzy "cellar" hideaway, which is equipped with audio-visual equipment for presentations if need be. While Luma's food is well-known for its upscale quality, its atmosphere is decidedly unpretentious. It's also popular. For groups most certainly: reservations a must! ((407) 599-4111)
Cafe Tu Tu Tango
It's all about artistry here – from the works of art adorning the walls to the creations coming from the kitchen. As is the norm with tapas, portions are small and eminently shareable – great for business mixers or large parties that want to mingle as they sample. Dishes pull on a host of ethnicities: Latin American, Caribbean and Middle Eastern among them. Cajun egg rolls and duck confit salad, hummus and falafel, seafood skewers and alligator gumbo. The menu is as colorful as the art adorning the walls, all of which is for sale. You may even spy one or two artisans at work on a new piece while you dine. (407-248-2222)
This beautiful venue – which bills itself as an American brasserie – was new on the scene at the close of 2015 and has been delighting guests with its 1940s panache and versatile continental menu. Groups here are well taken care of and larger parties are welcome to book separate spaces that allow for as much privacy or visibility as is desired. In fact you may want to leave the doors open to hear the live music, which plays nightly and pulls material from a host of beloved genres, from instrumental jazz to Sinatra favorites. Buyouts are available here, as well, and your guests will no doubt be wowed by the place, from the gorgeous fountain out front where they can set up for outside service to the inviting warm interiors. (407-872-2640)
Seito Sushi - Sand Lake
Seito Sushi has earned its reputation for being a quality and creative restaurant, and the Dr. Phillips location makes for phenomenal date nights, or family or business dinners, For discriminating groups, the venue excels. Smaller parties can be accommodated in the lovely main area, however larger groups of up to 40 can enjoy intimate events in Seito's private dining room, whether for professional gatherings or special, family-related events. As always, fresh, melt-in-your-mouth cuts of fish tantalize sushi fans while traditional Japanese fare and Asian-inspired dishes tempt those less enthused by raw offerings. Seito has something for everyone in your party. (407-248-8888)
Cask & Larder
With a rotating menu that features upscale 2.0 versions of apps like boiled peanut hummus and entrees such as fried chicken, catfish sandwiches and a succulent Low Country seafood boil, Cask & Larder – billed as a Southern public house – gets to the home-style heart of the matter. They've got a killer brunch ideal for post-whatever-your-Sunday-special-occasion-is (also a great group-meal choice for this popular Winter Park foodie haven). Additionally, however, C+L hosts Whole Cookery Feasts for a minimum of eight guests. Depending on your choice of menu, these run from $60-75 per person. Options include that aforementioned Low Country boil (smoked snapper, shrimp, clams and oysters) and roast suckling pig. Restaurant buyouts are available for private events, as well as meals in its offset brewing room amid the tanks. Reservations at Cask & Larder – even for a couples' night out – are obligatory unless you want to wait. Though admittedly, you could do far worse than a cozy stint in their bar. ((321) 280-4200)
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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