What it isn't: fancy, frilly fine dining. What it is: a whole lot of Latin comfort food that's both budget- and family-friendly. Diet-friendly? Not so much. The El Palacio chafing dishes are stuffed to the rafters with Puerto Rican and Dominican specialties including empanadas, platanos, yucca and all the goodies you remember from your abuelitas kitchen. Authentic Latin sodas and beers, Presidente and Modelo among them, are available, as well. Carbo-load for lunch or dinner (starch is a primary Latin American food group) and you'll have all the calories necessary to scratch an entire theme park off your vacation agenda. And likely a few to spare.
The co-mingled aromas of incense and homespun masalas ignite diners' palates upon entering this unassuming operation on commercial OBT, a favorite of locals, particularly those who work in the area and make it a regular lunch stop. Woodlands serves a vast, all-vegetarian menu, but much of its repeat business comes in the form of omnivores who, luxuriating in the menu's rich flavors, don't miss the meat at all. Woodlands' week-day lunch buffet, while not as massive as what many of us have come to expect from this dining genre, is more the adequate and well stocked with soup, salad and an array of traditional South Indian dishes. What's extra nice is the friendly, family-run atmosphere and slightly more formal setting â" real glassware, for example. Diners are welcome to order from the regular menu, as well.
In the realm of all-you-can-eat, this Altamonte Springs buffet â" which serves Chinese, Japanese, hibachi and sushi â" is favored by many. In particular, those who dig on seafood, which is often a question mark at buffets. Food moves swiftly here and is replaced just as quickly with fresh trays and platters â" kept small, likely for that precise reason. Keep an eye out for specials, like the lobster roll that shows up on Fridays and Saturdays only. Wanna try it before going in whole-hog? Consider lunch "entry-level." At $13.95 (versus $23-25 depending on the day you show up for dinner), it's a comparative steal.
Small, friendly and family-run, Gateway to India serves a comprehensive selection of authentic dishes at dinner time â" vegetarians will find plenty to satisfy and meat enthusiasts can partake of chicken, lamb, goat and more â" but its lunchtime buffet is hugely popular with locals looking to fill their bellies without spending major bank. The spread is diverse; try not to fill up on naan that you might partake of the goat biryani, along with more familiar and perhaps less adventurous but no less appealing options including tandoori chicken and chicken tikka masala. All kinds of lentil- and chick pea-infused goodness will tempt vegetarians, as well.
With a stellar location inside the luxury biosphere of the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center, the Villa de Flora buffet restaurant is open twice daily â" for breakfast and dinner â" serving all the American classics in the am and an array of Italian and Mediterranean fare in the evening. They do a Sunday brunch, as well. Manned carving, omelet and pasta stations cut and/or cook selections to order. It's location affords some of the best views of the Gaylord Palms' lush indoor landscaping, offering diners the sensation of an al fresco meal with none of negative trade-offs of outdoor dining in the subtropics.
Sweet Tomatoes, which sometimes goes by Souplantation, has locations throughout 15 states, so odds are you may have heard of it. Consistently fresh, this venue offers a massive salad bar, making one of the few buffet restaurants that will appeal to folks genuinely looking for a healthier option. Vegetarians, vegans (or just salad enthusiasts) will find a wealth of options with which to pile their plates high - and multiply if they so desire. An array of soups, breads, muffins and pastas help round out the menu. Baked white and sweet potatoes are available, as well, and if you're more inclined to accessories while adding calories, you'll find all the trimmings necessary. Sweet Tomatoes often runs regional specials - putting Asian, Italian or even seasonal spins on the menu periodically.
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.
Oompah-pah into the Biergarten in EPCOT's Germany Pavillion, where it's Oktoberfest every day of the year. Communal tables bolster the jovial atmosphere â" as does the authentic selection of German beers and wines â" as you and your party partake of the vast Deutsch buffet. Pork schnitzel, soft pretzels, hand-pulled apple strudel, fragrant sauerkraut, a host of "wursts" and dozens more delicacies await. Feel free to polka before or after raising your beer stein in celebration; live bands are always part of the mix during lunch and dinner. This is Disney dining â" and a popular venue â" reservations, as always, are highly recommended.
There are a number of AYCE options in the Disney realm (that stands for "all you can eat," by the way), many of which are worth a visit, but Boma â" Flavors of Africa is a cut above. Why? While there are a plethora of menu items that fall well within the comfort zones of the less adventurous diner, the rotating roster of dishes inspired by those of more than 50 African countries. Fare is notably fresh, served amid the lovely Afrocentric decor of Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. Buffet prices here are a tad higher than several other Disney buffets, but the selection â" and massive South African wine list â" along with the resident animals you may spot while on site at the Lodge, make this one worth it for most who give it a try.
This is the East Orlando outpost of the popular Winter Park eatery and a no less delicious venue. Extremely popular for its reasonable lunch buffet ($8.95) â" loaded down with chutneys and sauces, vegetarian and non-veg options â" it's very easy to over-indulge. The UCF Tamarind's "edge of Orlando" Colonial Drive location feels semi-remote, but belies the enjoyable atmosphere inside, where warm colors, soft music and Indian touches create pleasant confines in which to enjoy the spice-laden entrees (all you can eat at lunch) and soft, chewy naan. Many diners here are regulars at lunch time due to price and selection, but Tamarind's off-buffet menu is extensive and certainly warrants exploration.