Tourism statistics do not lie: Orlando, the City Beautiful, is among the world’s top travel destinations, hosting up to 59 million visitors annually in recent years. As such, its restaurants—which seem innumerable—must cater to the palates of the many. And not surprisingly, those discriminating palates often crave large hunks of flavorful, aged, high-quality meat available in venues such as Vito’s Chophouse, the Capital Grille, Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster and Kres Chophouse, the latter boasting a decidedly different and altogether “downtown O-Town” location. Many diners are on vacation, after all, so why not splurge on the sumptuous, all-in, steakhouse-and-sommelier experience? And if you’re truly all-in, don’t forget about dessert. Whether your steakhouse sensibility leans toward the stately, warm and traditional, like the Waldorf-Astoria Orlando’s Bull & Bear, contemporary, sophisticated and service-oriented, such as Spencer’s for Steaks and Chops at the Hilton Orlando, a family-friendly Disney-infused experience at the Yachtsman Steakhouse — or even something casual and off-the-tourist-grid with a devoted local following (not to mention comparatively low sticker shock), like that of the Tap Room at Dubsdread, Orlando has the one you’re looking for. You might like your cut medium-rare or black-and-blue, but regardless, every player on this list gets it “well done.”
Shula's Steak House
The '72 Dolphins may have gone undefeated, but your hunger will be down for the count before halftime, particularly if you partake in Coach Don's massive 48-ounce Porterhouse. Despite this lauded restaurant's NFL connection, its atmosphere is decidedly traditional. Team photos are displayed in grand, formal frames befitting a steakhouse, though the menu is printed on the side of a football -- a playful touch for a beloved team. Located inside the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort, Shula's earns high marks from discriminating diners and critics. (407-934-1362)
Much like its grandfather, New York's famed restaurant of the same name, The Palm's walls showcase the same caricatures and cartoons made famous by its earliest regulars. Unlike its predecessor, however, this venture's location inside the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando imbues it with an added cool-factor, making it an ideal accompaniment to an evening of live music (the hotel's "Velvet Sessions," held on the last Thursday of most months, are billed as Orlando's only rock-n-roll cocktail party). The Palm's food and service uphold the New York tradition, though, and the restaurant has built a solid local following in addition to the visitors who rave and repeat-visit. Double-cut lamb rib chops and a 36-ounce N.Y. Strip (sliced tableside, serves 2-3) are among the favorites. (407-503-7256)
No, you're not in Texas, though the size of Vito's monster steaks may confuse you for a moment. This is a classic steakhouse with Italian influence you'll notice on the menu in delicious antipasto and appetizers like the mussels mariniere and mozzarella Malanzon, not to mention rich pasta dishes that are also available as side portions. The wine list here approaches legendary (Vito's has been a recipient of The Wine Spectator's "Best Of" award) with more than 1,200 varieties from over a dozen nations. For carnivorous kings and queens, Vito's offers its Master Cut, an imposing, 52-ounce Harris Rich porterhouse. And for those attuned to steak of a more aquatic nature, the swordfish au poivre will fit the bill nicely. (407-354-2467)
At Capital Grille, you can start your meal with a signature cocktail or choose a glass from the massive wine list. Each cut of their dry aged steak delivers a different experience. Among the most popular cuts is the Delmonico, a tender, bone-in rib eye served au jus. For a different spin, try it seasoned and broiled with a porcini mushroom crust and a drizzle of aged balsamic. Capital Grille's prime location near the convention center supplies a steady stream of lunch customers, as well. New to their midday array is the "Plates Menu," which allows diners to customize their meal with a choice of soup or salad, lunch entrée and a side dish for $18. (407-370-4392)
The Yachtsman -- at Disney's Yacht Club Resort -- reopened in late 2012 following some extensive renovation, primed to serve steak and seafood to the mouse-loving masses in New England-themed digs. Charcuterie and artisanal cheese appetizer selections are tailor-made to inspire exploration of this venue's extensive wine list. Though many of this venue's cuts are repeat-visitor favorites, the 28-ounce Porterhouse is said to be a melt-in-your-mouth experience. In fact, you might even get to watch your steak being cut (well, perhaps not yours specifically, but you catch the drift...) through a window into the Yachtsman's on-site butcher room. (407-939-3463)
Tap Room at Dubsdread
The Taproom at Dubsdread is notable on this list because it's not actually a steakhouse. It's a restaurant that also serves as the 19th Hole on the Dubsdread (public) Golf Course in College Park, a place that enjoys a loyal following for its burgers, brunch and beautiful views. All that said, it's earned its place not only for delivering high quality, well-cooked, hand-cut steaks and chops, but for doing so at a decidedly un-steakhouse price. The 12-oz. ribeye, served with sauteed spinach and mashed potatoes is a favorite. And at $29, the filet mignon and Maryland-style crabcake is the priciest. (407-650-0100)
Bull & Bear Steakhouse
Living up to its New York namesake's reputation, Orlando's version of Bull & Bear pulls out the stops with attentive service and a traditional, club-like steakhouse atmosphere with contemporary touches. Portions are hearty, beef is top-quality and the menu offers both traditional favorites and refreshing surprises; sometimes a melding of the two. Popular favorites include the Bull & Bear Shellfish Platter (the crab cocktail is a standout) and the formidable, Fred Flintstone-sized Tomahawk, a blockbuster, bone-in, 36-ounce cut of dry-aged Certified Angus Beef that is carved tableside and dressed with the velvety drippings of a beef-tallow candle. (407-597-5500)
Spencer's for Steaks and Chops
Locals (those in-the-know) and visitors alike visit Spencer's for Steaks and Chops, and its location inside the Hilton Orlando, which is also connected to the Orange County Convention Center, likely garners this venue a steady stream of corporate business. But really, this exemplary operation, a multiple award-winner, only has one kind of customer: repeat. Featuring USDA dry-aged prime beef, Spencer's for Steaks and Chops receives as many raves for gracious, knowledgeable service as it does for its hefty wine list, heftier porterhouse and heavenly desserts. Spencer's is open Tuesday through Saturday, but hours may vary seasonally. Call or use Open Table for reservations. (4073138625)
It's slick and red, chic and modern with a little vintage essence. It's also downtown which makes it altogether unique on this list, but Kres Chophouse isn't just a pretty face, it offers quality dining the opportunistic carnivore will pair with a Magic game at the nearby Amway Center, live music or dancing at a nearby nightclub (perhaps even some flamenco at Ceviche) or even a slow stroll around Lake Eola, which bolsters romance as well as digestion. The Mixed Grill at Kres -- garlic shrimp, filet mignon and double lamb chop served with asparagus and decadent three-cheese au gratin -- makes for a generous sample platter. ((407) 447-7950)
Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster
What opened as Del Frisco's Prime Steak and Lobster back in the 90s via an agreement that permitted them to use the Del Frisco's name for two decades will before long become Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster. The current name is transitional. Ask the locals, however, and you'll hear that the quality of the steaks and service is still top-notch. In fact, ask New York transplants and snowbirds and you'll often hear them mention Christner's Del Frisco's in the same sentence as the famed Peter Luger, heralded for a century-plus as the Big Apple's best. At CDF, steaks come with a crisp, seared exterior, service is exemplary and sides are sumptuous. (407-645-4443)
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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