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Family-Friendly Eats Near the Parks: Safe Havens, Adventurous Options



In a city like Orlando, families on vacation have myriad options. Many are in town to visit the theme parks and while those looking to uber-capitalize on the Disney, SeaWorld or Universal experience do much of their dining in amid the attractions, many more want to branch out. For one thing, off-site dining can be far friendlier to the wallet. And it's nice to venture out into other areas of the city, even the more tourist-driven among them. It offers a break from the parks' frenetic pace. Familiar faces are always nice when you're in a strange place. You'll find a few on this list. Kobe Japanese Steakhouse, for example, serves up teppanyaki fun, its hibachi chefs with proffer surprisingly hearty fare along with some mealtime entertainment. Same goes for King's Bowl, although you'll supply your own fun as you strike-and-spare your way to 10-frame supremacy with a side of surprisingly sophisticated menu options for a bowling alley. Pointe Orlando has many options. One is Marlow's Tavern, where leveled-up pub food merges with copious kid selections and craft cocktails for moms, dads and the like. But Orlando, while chain laden, has far more than chicken nuggets and fries up its sleeve. You'll find more exotic selections in places like the Russian/Eastern Euro-infused Ararat and Mediterranean/Middle Eastern venue of Maraya at Sabrina's. 


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Many visitors to Orlando are surprised to find so many diverse, family-run restaurants in a city they many believe is comprised of nothing but chain dining options. Maraya is one of many venues that disproves this common assumption. Offering up house-made Greek, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern fare in a casual, modest setting, locals laud the eatery for succulent lamb, creamy hummus, crisp-fried kibbe and a vast selection of vegetarian and vegan options for those looking for a meal free of animal products. Lunch prices are reasonable and its location is super convenient to the Florida Mall and just a few miles from Universal Orlando Resort.

Recommended for Family Friendly Restaurants near Theme Parks because: Maraya's is local, family-friendly and well located for Universal Orlando visitors. Lots of veggie-based options for meatless gourmands and adventurous kiddies.

A.D.'s expert tip: Vegetarian and vegans, rejoice! Lots of delectable options on Maraya's menu.

Read more about Maraya at Sabrina's Restaurant →


Marlow's Tavern
Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson


Marlow's Tavern bills itself as "the 'Best of the Best' in American tavern fare. Its Pointe Orlando location is both warm and modern, with a lovely outdoor seating area that's beautiful in Orlando's best weather and heater-served on cooler nights. As long as there's no rain, it's a go. Whether you sit inside or out, you're in for leveled-up bar food. Marlow's serves pub classics with contemporary twists. The kids' menu is surprisingly sophisticated, as well. Your wee ones will delight in the 'grown-up' presentation while you enjoy something from the eatery's ample beer and cocktail menu. Lots of TVs mean you don't have to miss your favorite sporting event, either.

Recommended for Family Friendly Restaurants near Theme Parks because: "Upscale" enough for the grown-ups with great kids-eats options in casual-chic digs, Marlow's also boasts a convenient Pointe Orlando location.

A.D.'s expert tip: Kids will revel in the grown-up presentation of items such as the "big kids' steak" or Captain Marlow's fish sticks.

Read more about Marlow's Tavern →


So, yes: it's a bowling alley. But when was the last time you went to a bowling alley where you could enjoy a few fames while dining on such delights as maple glazed sea scallops or house-smoked baby back ribs? That's what we thought. King's Bowl has retro flair, reasonable prices an ample menu and a full bar. Bring the kids! But bring them early because after 8 pm this place gets progressively more clubby (live music and DJs are not uncommon). For lunch and early dinners, though? The whole family's welcome to partake in bowling, video games, pizza, fries and milkshakes. Seriously, their menu is huge.

Read more about King's Bowl →


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Floridians (and perhaps a few Canadians) know Twistee Treat. The rest of you? You're missing out, so make it a point to stop in on your next Orlando jaunt. There are several locations around the metro, Flint's serves the I-Drive area and those unfamiliar with the franchise will be immediately charmed by the little ice-cream cone stand. We're being literal as well as figurative here; the actual stand is shaped like a swirly cone of soft serve. That's what you'll find here: a creamy, dreamy answer to the Orlando heat. Sundaes and milkshakes are available, too, but there's something special about the soft ice cream and of course, its storybook edifice. It's a lake- or beach-side vacation on a wafer cone.

Recommended for Family Friendly Restaurants near Theme Parks because: Twistee Treat is roadside ice cream. Literally and figuratively.

A.D.'s expert tip: Dip it. Dip it good! Coatings come in cherry or chocolate. (And you really haven't lived until you've had soft-serve pistachio ice cream.)

Read more about Twistee Treat →




With locations in an abundance of states â€" the most telling being its success in Texas â€" Chuy's is a solid chain option for Tex-Mex if you're in the mood for chimis, nachos, fajitas and the like. And don't forget the margaritas. Elvis aficionados who've never been should stop by just for the theming; there's an Elvis shrine in every location. Generous portions and a casual, colorful atmosphere make Chuy's fun for groups. Orlando visitors have two options to get their queso dip fix: I-Drive or Kissimmee. Specials include Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom Enchiladas and Big As Yo' Face Burritos. You won't go hungry, that's for sure.

Recommended for Family Friendly Restaurants near Theme Parks because: Chuy's is colorful and fun, a great place for kids (and not just for the mini-burritos and enchiladas).

A.D.'s expert tip: Kids love the chips and salsa, parents love the weekly happy hour (4-7 p.m.). Especially after a day spent at the parks.

Read more about Chuy's - I-Drive →




What's the burning question on the minds of Pio Pio patrons, you wonder? Perhaps it's how they serve such generous portions in the tourist zone for such reasonable prices. Perhaps, if they're locals, it's a disbelief that it's taken them so long either to find the comfort food their abuela used to make or how they haven't sampled Latin staples such as maduros, empanadas, or grilled skirt steak before stumbling onto this unassuming, family-friendly little place. Maybe they're just wondering what the secret ingredients are for Pio Pio's signature rotisserie chicken marinade. All are valid. But don't think too hard. Just eat.

Recommended for Family Friendly Restaurants near Theme Parks because: Pio Pio's kid-friendly rotisserie chicken is delish. And the Salchipapas y Papas Fritas (franks & fries) side dish is a a straight-up dream.

A.D.'s expert tip: Got picky kids? My guess is that they'll find something native to love but fear not: Pio Pio's got an unremarkable children's menu so parents can enjoy the flavors of Latin America sans whining.

Read more about Pio Pio →




Not that the theme parks don't offer up enough entertainment, but after a day spent entertaining the kids at Disney, SeaWorld or Universal, maybe you just want to kick back with a sake bomb and let someone else do the work (within reason, of course). Welcome to Kobe, where the hibachi chefs provide ample meals â€" along with a few laughs and a fiery cooking show to boot. If seared steak, shrimp and/or chicken aren't hitting your sweet spot, order from the ample sushi menu. Kobe welcomes large groups (you may end up sharing your hibachi with other diners if you're less than eight) and has a nice happy hour food and drink menu, as well.

Recommended for Family Friendly Restaurants near Theme Parks because: Few dinner venues, even in Orlando, are entertainment-inclusive. Kobe is one of them.

A.D.'s expert tip: Kobe runs Early Bird Specials from Sunday - Thursday between 5 and 6 p.m., Time it right and save!

Read more about Kobe Japanese Steakhouse →




With locations in more than 20 states nationwide, Maggiano's Little Italy has wide name recognition â€" and a solid reputation. Groups are more than welcome at its spacious, tourist-convenient Pointe Orlando location, as are parties in its private rooms, and it is most certainly kid friendly, so bring them along for fun, family-style Italian fare. Service is solid, portions are impressive (there is a family-style option, which makes dinner all the more interactive and "homey") and the food â€" especially when you take the chain-restaurant idea into consideration â€" is really quite impressive! This venue is especially well located for post-shopping or pre-drinks/evening entertainment options. Pointe Orlando has many.

Recommended for Family Friendly Restaurants near Theme Parks because: Maggiano's offers good food, nice atmosphere and a kids' menu that's larger and higher quality than most chain offerings.

A.D.'s expert tip: It's a large venue, but busy. Reservations are a good idea.

Read more about Maggiano's Little Italy →




Serving up tasty fast-casual eats from its comfortable Dr. Phillips digs, this cheery "paninery" does up a multitude of classic pressed sandwiches with fresh, locally made bread and house-roasted meats, which makes a big difference when it comes to taste. Vegetarians will find more than a few selections of krusty-with-a-K goodness for their diets, as well. From Philly steak to fondue turkey, Greek veggie to the sriracha-laden "Razzle Dazzle," which melds steak, provolone, strawberry jam and banana peppers for a unique fruity-tangy-creamy amalgam, â€" diners are sure to find a sandwich to suit in HK's fast-casual environs. They're pretty friendly, too!

Recommended for Family Friendly Restaurants near Theme Parks because: Are your kids adventurous? There's loads to choose from. If not, the children's offerings have reliable picks (and in combo form; great value for parents!).

A.D.'s expert tip: Are your kids in a prickly mood? Have them try the Cactus Chili! Regulars love it! And yes, there's actually cactus in it.

Read more about Hot Krust Panini Kitchen →


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Meet A.D. Thompson

Amy Drew has spent nearly three decades as a professional writer and roughly half her life as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum.

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