Unchained: Dine Local at Orlando's Family-Friendly Best

It’s undeniably easy to find restaurants catering to families in the Orlando area, but with so many chain offerings to navigate visitors often find themselves eating in places they could just as easily enjoy in their own hometowns. With this in mind, 10Best has culled 10 wonderful local joints your family will love, from lunch-perfect locations like the Hot Krust Panini Kitchen, where house-roasted meats pair with crusty-fresh bread for your midday sammie cravings to to Asian-fusion temples like the Noodles & Rice café, where the grown-ups can get as adventurous as they’d like with no worry for finding something their pickiest little ones will devour. Fast-casual patrons at College Park’s Hubbly Bubbly can enjoy healthy Middle Eastern fare as they explore the Main Street stylings of this vibrant, colorful neighborhood and those out by UCF can enjoy free bocce and phenomenally large slices at Lazy Moon's East Orlando outpost. Downtown visitors enjoying a short urban hike around Lake Eola Park will want to sample more than one of the creative flavors at the Pop Parlour, where icy treats made not only with fresh fruits, but vegetables, herbs and even alcoholic beverages (21 and over for these, please) pack a wonderful – if occasionally boozy – punch. 


Mediterranean/Middle Eastern fare is oft rife with fresh-grown vegetables, cool crisp mattresses of color on which more decadent fare is generally piled. Extra kudos goes to the healthy falafel joint that's extra happy to throw deep-fried cauliflower and what amount to bite-sized latkes (herein called mazel tots; oy vey, so cute you could pinch it!) on the side dish menu. You know, just in case there was a little too much healthy going on. Hubbly Bubbly is a clean, counter-order operation in College Park that's enjoying a nice stream of local biz due to its bright atmosphere, tasty food and a tight but flexible menu. This allows for ordering of items like falafel, shwarma-style chicken or lamb and steak in salad or hummus bowls or stuffed in a pocket sandwich.

Few families can resist the lure of Mexican food when dining out. For one thing, you know the server's going to put chips and salsa down immediately (which means you'll have time to order a margarita and genuinely peruse the menu). At Garibaldi, families have the added bonus of knowing said Mexican food will be dining-out money well spent. Garibaldi is not a tourist hang, it's a bonafide local favorite with a bright, airy interior, great chunky salsa and predictably good cuisine, from their "Little Amigos" menu (which does offer a cheeseburger so the rest of the family need not bow to the pickiest eater of the bunch when craving Mexican) on up to house specialties like their eponymous fajitas and decadent carne guisada.

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!


Even when the Saints aren't marching in the Super Bowl, Tibby's New Orleans Kitchen leans heavily toward festive. Bourbon Street-slash-Mardi-Gras décor with a bit of Louisiana folk art panache creates the vibe. Dishes including red beans and rice, andouille and cheddar grits and a 12-napkin roast beef po'boy seal the deal. Born of Cajun love by folks with roots in New Orleans, fans of the region's cuisine will enjoy muffaletta, shrimp Creole, crawfish etouffe and a host of other popular dishes. And since we're talking New Orleans, don't forget the drinks. You'll find Tibby's pours a hurricane worthy of a few strands of beads.

Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe
Photo courtesy of Park Ave Photography

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.

The brains behind a longtime favorite panini joint here in town (he's since sold that business) is at it again, this time in trendy Mills 50, with Too Much Sauce, a clean-lined rice-quinoa-salad bowl joint that's tailor made for quick service, and healthy food (as healthy as you want it to be, that is) with lots of color. Get creative choosing a base, veggies and a protein - along with one or more of their signature sauces - or let them do the hard stuff and choose from a few pre-designed choices that range from uber healthy (the veggie) to debatable (Sauce of the Border features lots of cheese and sour cream). What's nice is you can customize and keep your calorie counts down if that's something you're interested in - plus the food here is fresh and fun!

East Orlando

When is a slice not a slice? When it's a massive pennant flag of crust covered in melty cheese and the toppings of your choice. That's pretty much what they're serving up at Lazy Moon, much to the delight of the regulars, which come from all walks. Some actually DO walk, in fact, becauseLazy Moon is super-popular with the students at nearby UCF. Not surprising, because Lazy Moon brings the value, It's big pies, classic to creative, are available for eat-in (bring friends, seriously!) or take-out. Stay for a beer or a game of bocce if you like. Their indoor courts are open and free to all patrons. Noobs welcome.

Warm, melty grilled cheese: that's serious comfort fare right there. At Toasted, they level it up a notch with gourmet takes on the good old ooey-gooey, flat-pressed fave that takes you straight back to childhood. For nostalgia junkies and "safe" eaters, they've got the 101 (that's actually what they call it), simple, unfancy tomato and cheddar. For everyone else? The sky's the limit. Gouda and havarti, fontina and jack, muenster and mozzarella meld with all manner of meat, veggie and even fruit, creating cheesy Frankensteins such as the Blackberry Melt (fontina, applewood-smoked bacon, blackberry mash and arugula), the Fig & Goat (havarti, goat cheese, mission figs, basil and honey) and the Street Taco (jack, roasted pork, red onion, cilantro and jalapeno). The burger side of the menu is no less creative and vegans � yes, really � actually have their own menu of melty morsels, as well.

If you can't please a diverse family at a restaurant with "noodles" and "rice" in the name, you may as well just give up on eating out. This Asian fusion favorite culls together an array of delightful dishes, from Hong Kong-style barbecue to the steamy fragrant hot pot. Pad Thai to spicy noodles, ramen to won ton and more satisfy the carbohydrate addict's cravings while an array of other Eastern noshes â€" delicious curry pineapple fried rice, succulent Korean short ribs, crispy-fried samosa â€" make dieting here nearly impossible. Courteous servers are happy to explain the hot pot process for newbies.

The Meatball Stoppe
Photo courtesy of The Meatball Stoppe

Meatballs: so simple â€" a small, round hunks of deliciousness from your Nonna's kitchen, laden with garlic, spices, just the right amount of fat. Top 'em with sauce or cheese or both. Lay them gently onto a bed of pasta or polenta. Smash them into a crusty roll and top 'em with a fried egg. They're filling, comforting, and at this Lake Underhill family-run, fast-casual outpost that's edged out toward East Orlando, quite reasonably priced. What's more is that they're easy to grab on the go, but feel free to stay a while and sample the variety, which runs from traditional to Mediterranean, sausage to mac-and-cheese explosion. Pair them with sauces, salads, sides. Luxuriate in the simplicity â€" and the value.


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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