Pop quiz, Hotshot: you’re craving your Nana Stella’s lasagna something fierce but you’re on vacation with the family – in Orlando of all places. What do you do? What. Do. You. Do? You check out 10Best’s list of Italian restaurants, of course. We’re happy to point you in the direction of quality cannoli, premier Piccata, exceptional Alfredo and melt-in-your-mouth melanzane. And with price points and dining digs to suit every need, you can impress your clients (or girlfriend) with lofty menus both nouvelle and old-school or roll in with the kids in shorts, T-shirts and sneaks for pizza, pasta and profiteroles with no need for fancy-schmancy. Antonio’s Market & Café’s lovely lakeside location makes this deli-restaurant ideal for eat-in or take-out with a view while Enzo’s on the Lake offers a similar setting with a decided upscale tilt. Come for an al fresco sunset on the deck and stay for the signature bucatini alla Enzo and a glass or two of wine. Sample the wood-fired pizza at Francesco’s where you can take in the kitchen action at the bar-top or kick back at La Luce by renown Napa Valley chef Donna Scala, where a day of wild fun at the theme parks melts away amid the relaxing atmosphere of the Bonnet Creek Orlando Hilton. How you do Italian here is just a matter of preference.
10 All Italian Market & Deli
For folks who hail from more walkable -- or at least public-transit commutable -- cities, particularly those boasting well entrenched ethnic communities that began with our nation's rich influx of immigrants lo these many years ago, Orlando's network of delicatessens is sadly lacking. All Italian Market & Deli not only offers its customers a wide variety of Italian cold cuts, cheeses and other products from the old country, it serves up some excellent food for lunch and dinner. Where heroes (subs, hoagies, grinders, etc. -- depends on where you're from) leave off, All Italian's paninis pick up and run the ball downfield, cramming hearty breads full with mortadella and salami, soppressata and prosciutto, ricotta, provolone and mozzarella and all manner of fresh herbs, spreads and vegetables. Soups, salads and pastas are also well represented and \I might add, they do a mean and artful caffe latte, as well. ((407) 704-1856)
9 Christini's Ristorante Italiano
Christini's may well be the city's most upscale venues for Italian cuisine -- and the prices are certainly reflective thereof -- but for your money this is an outstanding venue for wooing clients or a date (though the complementary roses for the ladies and the roving accordion player taking requests may make more sense for the latter). From the impressive shank of the osso bucco to the mushroom-laden scallopini, Christini's meat offerings are reliable crowd pleasers (not that the lobster fra diavolo is likely to disappoint in any fashion whatsoever). Its elegant atmosphere is offset by a knowledgeable and affable wait staff that welcomes menu queries and is happy to make recommendations. (407-345-8770)
8 Il Pescatore
The execution is simple and the digs are well worn, but Il Pescatore remains well loved nonetheless, a neighborhood eatery that has remained popular despite changing hands a number of times. Homey and comfortable, many cite friendly staffers as one of the reasons they keep coming back for the meatballs and cannelloni, carbonara and lasagna and lemony veal piccata -- among other takes on hearty homespun Italian classics. Waits aren't uncommon on busy nights -- it's on the cozy side -- so feel free to call in for take-out if your cravings can't be put off. Il Pescatore is nothing if not exceedingly casual; feel free to bring the kids. Just try not to let them fill up on the free garlic bread while waiting for their meals. ((407) 896-6763)
7 La Luce by Donna Scala
At La Luce, the crisp salads, thin-crust pizzas and hearty, old world recipes -- the tender-delicious rabbit cacciatore, hunter-style, over sumptuous ricotta gnocchi comes to mind -- are designed to satisfy. And the setting, the swanky Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, may be minutes from Disney World but La Luce's relaxing atmosphere is light years from the frenetic pace of the parks, ideal for a nice family dinner or romantic evening for two. Famed Napa Valley chef and restaurateur Donna Scala has fused traditional Italian cuisine with the modern and creative flair of her northern California home to create special cuisine with ingredients that are often locally sourced. Be sure to note the art as you enjoy your wine or perhaps a Mediterranean-inspired cocktail; La Luce showcases original works by local artists on its walls. (407-597-3600)
6 Enzo's on the Lake
Enzo's has long been a fixture for fine Italian dining in Orlando, wowing diners with cuisine to match its peerless lake view for roughly 30 years. In fact, the setting is so delightful that many make it their choice for all kinds of special occasions and private parties, weddings included. All that said, Enzo's charming bar and sculpture gardens are a wonderful setting for a simple, lovely dinner, as well. Enzo's is classy, its servers affable and knowledgeable and it's food quite reliably delicious. Favorites here include the bucatini alla Enzo, a creamy-rich pasta dish rife with prosciutto, bacon, mushrooms and parmesan. (407-834-9872)
5 Antonio's Market & Cafe
On the go? Grab your necessaries -- whether the fresh meats, cheeses or produce, the imported-grocery variety or the prepared dish of your choosing -- and head out the door. Feel like camping out? Buy a good bottle of wine before sitting down for lunch or dinner and your server will be happy to cork it for you (or enjoy it while you wait on more crowded visits). Grabbing lunch to go and enjoying it across the street at Lake Lily Park is another inviting option. Regardless of whether you take it out or choose to eat in, the excellent food and warm, if boisterous, vibe at Antonio's Market & Café -- with its multitude of delicious salads, sandwiches, pizzas and pastas -- will fill you up as easily as its fine, Italian fare. (407-645-1039)
4 Francesco's Ristorante & Pizzeria
Great Italian food is just comfortable. Perhaps it's the warm, family-oriented culture, or the memories of your Nonni yelling from the kitchen, or the carb-induced coma that often follows a satisfying meal. No matter, though, Francesco's will inspire feelings evocative of at least one of the above. It could be the cheerful bustle of its open kitchen and oft-crowded dining room but it probably has more to do with the food which, from crisp-crusted pizzas to rich ragu-laden cacciatore to salmon-and-cream-cheese-topped flatbreads (baked fresh), has been luring locals back since it opened in 2012. Its dessert menu, created by proprietor Francesco Aiello's pastry chef father, Paolo, is worth saving a little room for, as well. ((407) 960-5533)
3 Rocco's Italian Grille & Bar
With a lovely setting, inside and out, Rocco's Italian Grille is another higher-end Italian venue, but one with a decidedly warm, neighborhood vibe. Open in 2006 by well-known local (by way of Italy's Calabria region) Rocco Potami, who had been affiliated with a number of lauded Orlando-area eateries in years previous, the restaurant's menu is diverse, featuring dishes from throughout the country: fritto misto alla ligure from the Ligurian Riviera, tender-fried Milanese chicken breast and a grilled Tuscan veal T-bone in a Chardonnay sauce are just a sliver of the regional delights in store. Fresh ingredients -- be sure to ask your server for the bruschetta of the day -- are a big part of this venue's recipe for success. (407-644-7770)
2 Stefano's Trattoria
So many gems of the Orlando metro's dining community are ensconced in anonymous strip-mall digs and Stefano's Trattoria is just such a jewel, this one at the intersection of Red Bug and Tuskawilla in Winter Springs. Its gracious hosts, chef/owner Stefano LaCommare and wife, Marie, greet each diner as though they are guests in their home and make no mistake -- you will leave as sated as you would have from your Sicilian grandmother's table. Hearty gnocchi and lasagna, rich sauces and an array of other crowd-pleasing favorites -- the heavenly cioppino, mussels puttanesca and tortellini di Stefano come to mind -- keep locals coming back for what so many call the best Italian in the area. ((407) 659-0101)
Prato is an upscale enough venue in which to celebrate a landmark anniversary or well-deserved promotion but also casual enough to bring the (well-behaved, please) kids for some wonderfully crispy pizza from the wood-burning oven and sandwiches like the BLT panini or the excellent heirloom eggplant version. Exposed brick, twinkly lights and some patio seating on Park Avenue give the place a cosmopolitan feel. Prato's menu pulls on classic Italian for inspiration but pays due diligence to culinary evolution, allowing for creativity and some turns that might surprise you. Half-portions on most of the pastas allow for a more authentic Italian experience (pastas are often served in small portions before entrees in the Old Country) and offer more opportunities to share and sample. (407-262-0050)
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.
Read more about A.D. Thompson here.
Connect with A.D. via: Blog | Twitter | Google+ | Pinterest