To be perfectly honest, Orlando's options where seafood is concerned don't necessarily reflect its glorious proximity to the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean, the swells and waves of which burst with succulent offerings bound by both scale and shell. In fact, we will happily venture there are more casual, local, some even downright divey joints worthy of attention than highfalutin, upscale venues, but the list of options at both ends – and even in the middle – continues to grow to the delight of resident and visitor alike. You'll find this roster runs the gamut from the old and venerable, such as Lee & Rick's Oyster Bar, which has been shucking bivalves over what amounts to a concrete basin for some 60 years, to the cosmopolitan-but-casual Two Chefs Seafood Oyster Bar in downtown's North Quarter. Also on deck, family-run places where boiling, steaming pots and sizzling pans occasionally turn already unpretentious dining into a Cajun spice-infused crash course in marine biology (I'm looking at you, iCajun Seafood Shack). Unstuffy dining choices are scattered about, as are the more upscale eateries you'd book for joyous celebrations, impressive business functions or wow-factor first dates. The resort area manages to come through with places such as Todd English's BlueZoo along with Roy's and Ocean Prime in Dr. Phillips.
Flying Fish Cafe
Roller coaster memorabilia and an exhibition kitchen distinguish this Disney restaurant, which serves ocean-fresh seafood in a lively atmosphere. A variety of appetizers and entrees depend on fish and shellfish, the most notable being the potato-wrapped red snapper, which is the house specialty. Other memorable dishes are the crab cake appetizers and oak-grilled scallops, which come with corn and bacon risotto. If you make it to dessert, the best option is the lava cake, which oozes liquid chocolate and is enough to make you swoon. Added bonus, you can walk off a multiple-course gorge fest on the quarter-mile Disney BoardWalk just outside. (407-939-2359)
Todd English's BlueZoo
Sleek, trendy decor and brilliant lighting provide the perfect complement to celebrity chef Todd English's contemporary take on seafood. BlueZoo is an undeniably glitzy place for date night, a lounge and restaurant in one. Dressing to impress and linger over a few pre-dinner designer cocktails and soak up the venue's soaring extravagance before delving into the likes of teppan-seared jumbo sea scallops, the delights of the raw bar and entrees that include miso-glazed mero, Florida flounder and dirty south swordfish. Feeling spendy? Go for the two-pound Maine "Cantonese-style" lobster, fried and tossed in a sticky soy glaze. Reservations are most certainly required. (407-934-1111)
Boston's Fish House
The protocol at Boston's Fish House comes straight out of the region from which its chef prevails. Step up to the counter to order, then head for a table and patiently await the arrival of salt-water morsels that include fried shrimp, succulent steamers and creamy, generously stuffed lobster rolls. Most of Boston's Fish House's devotees come for the menu's many deep-fried delicacies, but don't let the grease scare you off. There are plenty of broiled, steamed and salad-y options if you really mean business with that diet. Portions are hearty, dress is casual and kid-friendly is most definitely its middle name. (407-678-2107)
LA. Boiling Crab & Seafood
They're kinda Cajun, kinda Vietnamese and they don't skimp on the garlic. Boiling Crab is a modest, friendly, family-run joint on Colonial Drive where hefty tins of seafood are slung daily to the delight of those who love to crack the shell, pinch the tail and suck the head. We're melding shellfish methodology, we realize, but only because the combination platters, some generously portioned for multiple diners, will have you honing all your skills at once. Snow crab, blue crab, oysters and a rendition of gumbo that may take some spicy influence from the Vietnamese side of things are among the menu's delicacies. And hey: beignets! ((407)898-7770, (407)694-9550)
Long lauded a Dr. Phillips-area favorite for steak- and seafood-related special-occasion splurges, Orlando's Ocean Prime outpost (there are several throughout the country) knows how to handle groups – even the largest of them. Its two private rooms accommodate up to 32 and 64 diners with ease, but smaller parties will enjoy stellar service, as well as some phenomenal 10-layer carrot cake if they are so inclined. Watch for weekly specials such as Half-Off-The-Shell on Wednesday evenings when fresh oysters are half-price in the bar. Sunday brings with it Family Dinner night, featuring a three-course menu where crab-stuffed half lobsters or center-cut filets go for $39/per person. ((407) 781-4880)
Lee & Rick's Oyster Bar
Lee & Rick's opened in 1950 and was the first restaurant of its kind in Orlando. Save a couple of seafood-heavy, Louisiana-style joints around town, it could be argued that it's still the only one. Whether you're a fan or not (the place has MANY fans) few would disagree it's in a class by itself. Lee & Rick's famous shucking bar – an 80-foot slab of concrete where customers belly up for the show as mountains of fresh oysters are opened, served, slurped and swallowed, their shells often tossed unceremoniously into a trough behind the bar – is where the action is. Why? Where else can you can get a massive bucket of bivalves and a beer for under $25? Reviews on the rest of the menu, the loud, rock-laden jukebox and the overall appearance of the place are often mixed, but for the oyster lovers, little else matters. (407-293-3587)
Authentic Pacific-Rim cuisine is the hallmark of Roy's Hawaiian Fusion. Founded by chef Roy Yamaguchi, its kitchen masterfully crafts exotic dishes like andouille-crusted snapper, Roy's original blackened island ahi, teppanyaki shrimp and miso-seared butterfish. Roy's is not exclusively seafood – steak- and pork-lovers will find formidable fare, as well – but the "surf" offerings are its shining stars. Whatever your selection, be prepare for a satisfying evening. Roy's is busy and can get quite loud, but its reputation for great food and service have helped it maintain popularity with locals and business travelers alike. Save room for the pineapple upside-down cake. (407-352-4844)
Two Chefs Seafood Oyster Bar
You could get a little Forrest Gump at the North Quarter's Two Chefs Seafood Oyster Bar – oysters on the half shell, baked oysters, oysters on fire, fried oyster BLT, oyster po'boy.... – but we want to let you know right off the top: this is not a bad thing. In fact, it's all good in this cozy little restaurant tucked into an as-yet-unassuming part of Orlando's perpetually burgeoning downtown. The chefs here hail from prominent places – one once helmed Emeril's Orlando, the other the Palm – and the plates here, simple, superb, succulent and Southern – are a pescatarian's delight (even if you didn't come for the oysters). (407-270-4740)
iCajun Seafood Shack
Suck the head and pinch the tail at this small family-run operation off Colonial. They do brisk take-out business here – and it's no surprise considering the expertly seasoned troughs of seafood they're slinging. You want bayou flavor? This is the place. Order crawfish, clams, crab legs – mild, medium or spicy. And if you opt to enjoy their cozy operation, grab a bib and make use of the paper-towel rolls as you eat your way through a veritable marine biology class full of tasty creatures. Bonus points for giving diners the option of leaving the shrimp heads on, as eye contact makes for such intimate dining. Grab French bread side ($1) to sop up the goodness that lies beneath. For those less inclined to tear through their meals like a raccoon, neater selections abound in the form of seafood platters, po' boys and the like. Save room for beignets! (407-734-5997)
Winter Park Fish Company
The setting here is casual with decor not merely reminiscent of Old Florida, but constructed therefrom. Tables are made from wood reclaimed from the St. John's River following Hurricane Charley. Order your food at the counter, find your place at one of said tables and like the many Winter Park residents eager to welcome a dedicated seafood joint when the place opened back in 2010, you may be surprised at the level of care and artful cuisine that emerges. Beer and wine will cool you off on the hottest days. Outdoor seating is available and the patio is dog-friendly; they even offer salmon jerky for the pups! ((407) 622-6112)
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 | Instagram | Twitter | Google+ | Pinterest