We're not going to lie: this list was hard. They all are, actually, but here in Orlando, where the weather is so often exceptional for dining out of doors, there are many venues from which to choose. Submitted here, a selection than runs the gamut from one dollar sign to four, venues suitable for 50th anniversary dinners and junior-high movie dates and everything in between. Their common thread, however, is that each boasts lovely outdoor seating areas where live music, trickling fountains, resplendent lakes and golf course views inspired lower blood pressure (as opposed to the high your game might inspire). For upscale occasions, Norman's is a no-brainer, whether dining inside its well-appointed Ritz-Carlton dining room or out on the beautiful porch. Hillstone, too, has its charms, with excellent food and an enviable setting alongside Winter Park's Lake Killarney. Want the same view without the fuss? Just up the street, Shake Shack beckons, not only via the smell of fryer-fresh onion rings, but water views that pair beautifully with its cold beer and simple, far less expensive fare. Nearby, tucked into a charming nook of Park Ave., Barnie's CoffeeKitchen offers a relaxing outdoor space whether you're visiting for a quick latte or a farm-to-fork weekend dinner. Try them all, we say. And then a bunch more we didn't have room to include.
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)
Vanbarry's Public House
Vanbarry's expansive and mostly covered outdoor section is a haven with fire pits, live music and serene water views. Okay, there's a parking lot, too, but you won't mind. The vibe here is casual, friendly, local – you may already know its sister venues (Ollie's in College Park and Finnhenry's downtown) and Vanbarry's is a nice addition to the family, in particular for its breezy outdoor section. The menu, while loaded with traditional pub offerings, tilts toward the unexpectedly upmarket (fig-prosciutto flatbreads) with a bit of the unexpected mashup (bacon caramel fries). Prices are reasonable, atmosphere is lively, and the patio is a nightly reminder that Florida livin' is pretty good. (407-704-8881)
With its truly exceptional lakeside setting, fine dining at Hillstone may leave you and your guests stuffed, but no one at the table will find it stuffy. In fact, it's just the sort of place to loosen the tie, slide the power heels off a bit (under the table, perhaps) and unwind after a day of wheeling and dealing – one cocktail and a bit of fresh air and schmoozing becomes simple socializing over an ample wood-grilled steak, crisp salad or perhaps a sandwich or burger. Save room. Hillstone's desserts are decadent, as well. Thank goodness the view has zero calories. (407-740-4005)
Winter Park's famous Park Avenue is home to many unique local shops and restaurants. And this flagship Barnie's location, while small and cozy, houses a hidden foodie gem, particularly come weekend nights, when the focus – while still on-point for chai and latte and all things caffeine – leans heavily into farm-to-fork dining. Yes, really! Local ingredients, artful prep, delicious results, with excellent wine and craft beer to pair with. And the "outdoor dining" part? You could certainly do worse than its petite adjacent courtyard. A sparkling fountain add lovely ambient sound to a romantic enclave that feels more like a nook in some small Spanish town than Central Florida. And it's not a bad place for a quick morning coffee or midday craft beer, either. ((407) 629-0042)
Norman Van Aken is a culinary legend – and a proud adopted Floridian, which plays nicely into delicious and often Latin-, Caribbean- and even Key West-infused fare. Sit outside and enjoy spectacular views of lakes, gardens and the Ritz-Carlton's expansive, green golf course or dine in climate-controlled majesty – vaulted ceilings and Italianate windows help bring that outside essence in. Tapas like Key West shrimp ceviche or delicate caviar may prime your palate for creamy cracked conch chowder or rhum and pepper painted Florida black grouper. Norman's is, of course, not a one-dollar-sign venue, but for vacationers and those looking for a sumptuous meal out, few venues are as resplendent as the Ritz-Carlton, and few restaurants could match it as well as Norman's. (407-393-4333)
Tap Room at Dubsdread
Nestled into the lovely, rolling greens of College Park's public Dubsdread Golf Course, the Tap Room enjoys a loyal following of locals who come for lunch, dinner, Sunday brunch and a popular and notably jovial Happy Hour in cozy and comfortable digs. Though here for ages, it's not uncommon to encounter locals who've only just discovered the place. The wraparound porch (or verandah, as they call it) boasts some truly exceptional outdoor seating; come cooler months, it's the place to be – a delightful location for any occasion or no occasion at all save the pleasure of sublime al fresco dining. (407-650-0100)
The Shake Shack chain is renowned for tasty burgers, snappy hot dogs, thick milkshakes and the like, so if you're in the mood for a clean, fast-casual, all-American meal – they've got what you need. But if you're in the mood for a posh view without the four-dollar-sign menu, Winter Park's Shake Shack is precisely what you need. Their partially covered back patio is miles away from the busy lot out front, with resplendent lake views just as lovely as any of the city's upscale waterfront venues. Grab a beer, park yourself in one of the colorful Adirondack chairs and soak it all in. (321-203-5130)
Soco Thornton Park
Soco offers up loads of plated Southern comfort, though its name is actually a representation of Southern contemporary, which means you'll find some down-home diner favorites that have undergone an evolution into something more upscale. Think boiled peanut hummus, mac-and-cheese croquettes and chicken and dumplings that infuse the latter with lobster. Its dining room is warm and inviting but its al fresco sidewalk seating infuses meals with a hip, urban vibe that ticks everything up a notch. As appealing for dinner as it is for Sunday brunch or happy hour cocktails, Soco's patio is lively when the weather suits (which in Orlando is often), but the food here is exemplary, and well worth the visit even if the Florida rain is teeming outside. . (407-849-1800)
Yellow Dog Eats
This charming, off-the-beaten-path venue is charming and rustic, evocative of some diamond-in-the-rough surprise you'd stumble upon while road tripping. Its food is surprising, too. Sandwiches, salads, scrumptious starters and a whole lotta barbecue. A host of offerings showcase piles of YDE's signature pulled pork, including the Rufus (pork topped with thick-cut Brie, cherry ring peppers and topped with raspberry melba sauce). Ribs are available by the half-rack, as well. And YDE's house slaw is a sweet, tangy treat. Vegans, fear not! There are loads of truly exceptional options! Live music in the restaurant's outdoor beer garden adds ear candy to the menu, Thursday through Saturday. (407-296-0609)
World of Beer - Downtown Orlando
Mmmmmm. Beer. Homer Simpson said it best. And it's this enthusiasm for all things hoppy that keeps folks coming back to World of Beer locations all over. At the downtown Orlando venue, however, the incredible outdoor section overlooking Lake Eola makes it an alluring option even for teetotalers. And you're going to need a designated driver anyway. With live music, ringside seats for any of Lake Eola Park's many events all year long (fireworks, anyone?), a very dog- and family-friendly vibe and a large food menu to accompany its many fine beers, WOB is a stellar selection for dining and drinking al fresco. (407-270-5541)
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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