Jackets Required: Dress Up for Orlando's Best Fine Dining

Photo courtesy of A,D, Thompson
By A.D. Thompson, Orlando Local Expert

Alright, the title's a little misleading. Technically only the No. 1 pick – Walt Disney World's famed Five-Diamond venue Victoria & Albert's – actually requires male guests to wear jackets. Some diners balk at restaurant dress codes, but when it comes to fine dining, wearing a special-occasion dress or cufflinks seems to level everything up, making an opulent evening out that much more sumptuous. Not that you'd call the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa's signature venue anything but. With up to 14 prix fixe courses available, dining at Victoria & Albert's is nothing less than a culinary experience, which is why reservations are best made well in advance. But lest you think the Disney realm is the only place in Orlando where dining is magical, be sure to investigate this roster’s other gems. Those looking for a classic steakhouse experience will find no fault at Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster where thick cuts are seared to perfection and the side dishes are as decadent as anything off the dessert menu.  Celebrity chef Norman Van Aken's namesake at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes will delight those who enjoy Floribbean fare and if you're looking for something with more of a locals-only feel, check out his newer venture in Mount Dora: 1921. Its charming, walkable location boasts many options for pre-meal cocktails and window shopping to work up your appetite.

10. The Venetian Chop House
Photo courtesy of The Venetian Room

It's all those things people love to read: AAA Four-Diamond, award-winning, all that, but more importantly The Venetian Chop House affords diners a sumptuous evening of fine dining. With steaks and entrees that range from $32-59, you will pay for it, but the service, the detail and the food are truly exceptional. Creamy lobster bisque with chunks of tender meat lie in wait beneath a layer of flaky, buttery puff pastry, flavorful, slow-braised bison short ribs satisfy the heartiest of appetites, but if you're splurging on the luxury of the Venetian Room, you have to save room for its always-creative dessert selections. Ooh la la.

9. Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster
Photo courtesy of 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, this Orlando icon is today known as Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster and is still owned and operated by the Christner family. Ask the locals and visitors alike and you'll hear that the quality of the steaks and service remains top-notch. Designed to reflect the Christner family's rich history of exceptional quality and meticulous service, the award-winning menu features only the finest USDA Prime steaks, fresh seafood and a wine portfolio of over 4,500 bottles, in addition to imported and locally-crafted whiskies, spirits and beer. Boasting two unique lounges, nine private dining rooms and an intimate main dining room, guests enjoy an elegant fine dining experience complemented by celebrated live entertainment.

8. Flying Fish
Photo courtesy of Disney/Matt Stroshane

Gone are the fun house mirrors and Ferris wheel parts of its predecessor, Disney-fan favorite the Flying Fish Cafe. The newly minuted version comes with a shortened name and some exceptionally swanky decor that pairs beautifully with its sustainable seafood. Plancha-seared scallops, wood-fired Spanish octopus, crispy soft shell crab and Maine lobster nero pasta are among the phenomenal entrees. Got a dining companion who's less than keen on joining the Little Mermaid "under the sea?" Turf items such as Wagyu filet mignon should do nicely. Walking in on a busy evening? The restaurant's elegant bar is an idea spot to wait, imbibe and peruse the evening's catch, or you can head next door to the steampunk-Houdini haven of AbracadaBar where the drinks are imbued with so much Disney magic, you'll want to make a couple disappear.

7. Norman's
Photo courtesy of Ritz-Carlton

Norman Van Aken is a culinary legend and a proud adopted Floridian, which plays nicely into delicious and often Latin-, Caribbean- and even Key West-infused fare. Sit outside and enjoy spectacular views of lakes, gardens and the Ritz-Carlton's expansive, green golf course or dine in climate-controlled majesty – vaulted ceilings and Italianate windows help bring that outside essence in. Tapas like Key West shrimp ceviche or delicate caviar may prime your palate for creamy cracked conch chowder or rhum and pepper painted Florida black grouper. Norman's is, of course, not a one-dollar-sign venue, but for vacationers and those looking for a sumptuous meal out, few venues are as resplendent as the Ritz-Carlton, and few restaurants could match it as well as Norman's.

6. The Boheme
Photo courtesy of Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando

Hotel: a delicious word that conjures crisp sheets, sleeping in, vacation. "Brunch" is another sleep-in kind of word. And when the accommodations in question are as top-tier as the Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando, then you know the brunch �" in this case a Jazz Brunch at its acclaimed Boheme restaurant �" is going to be something truly exceptional. Whether it's to linger in the last moments of your sumptuous weekend stay, in celebration of a special occasion or simply a decadent splurge, Sunday brunch at the Boheme will run you $45 per person ($15 for kids 6-12) and showcases all the hallmarks of high-end: a prime rib carving station, custom omelet station and fresh waffle station among them. Of course, brunch being what it is, it makes sense that you might want some snow crab legs, oysters or steamed shrimp to pair with that waffle. And did we mention the Kitchen Action Station, where seafood and meats are prepared to order? And that's not even the spread in its entirety. We're not sure how you'll save room for dessert, but we're sure you'll manage. Start strategizing now.

5. Urbain 40
Photo courtesy of A,D, Thompson

This beautiful venue �" which bills itself as an American brasserie �" was new on the scene at the close of 2015 and has been delighting guests with its 1940s panache and versatile continental menu. Groups here are well taken care of and larger parties are welcome to book separate spaces that allow for as much privacy or visibility as is desired. In fact you may want to leave the doors open to hear the live music, which plays nightly and pulls material from a host of beloved genres, from instrumental jazz to Sinatra favorites. Buyouts are available here, as well, and your guests will no doubt be wowed by the place, from the gorgeous fountain out front where they can set up for outside service to the inviting warm interiors.

4. Chef's Table at the Edgewater
Photo courtesy of The Chef's Table at the Edgewater

It should immediately be noted, the average main course price is not $59; that's the cost of your entire, impeccable three-course meal. This intimate room inside the Winter Garden's historic Edgewater Hotel is a sorta-kinda best-kept-secret in Orlando. It has made everyone's list, from local publications to Zagat's Top Restaurants in America, but its size and location (out in Winter Garden; about 15 miles west of downtown Orlando) has allowed it to keep some of its clandestine buzz, despite being open several years. Menus shift with fresh ingredients but never disappoint. Chef's Table is a special-occasion delight. Turn your cell phone off; leave the kids at home. Enjoy.

3. Chatham's Place
Photo courtesy of Chatham's Place

Chatham's has been wowing Orlando's fans of fine dining since 1988, an impressive feat for any restaurant these days, and that's likely due to a well executed combination of ambiance, service and culinary excellence. From lump Cajun crab cakes to filet mignon, Florida grouper to rack of lamb, the menu is not extensive, but laden with interesting spins on classic dishes. Whatever it is, it keeps diners coming back for special nights out. Attentive but unintrusive service allows diners to enjoy their meals quiety, intimately, and often with live piano accompaniment. Chatham's is an excellent choice for client dinners, as well, but when it comes to special occasions, birthdays, anniversaries and other potentially romantic occasions, it's an ultra-reliable go-to.

2. 1921 by Norman Van Aken
Photo courtesy of 1921

Who invented "Florida cuisine?" We're not sure if the first person to smoke mullet and smear it on a cracker graduated from culinary school, but we do know that if a name jumps out for having raised the bar (and this is NOT to underplay the importance or deliciousness of basic smoked fish dip on any level), it's surely Norman Van Aken. His skills with the Sunshine State's oceanic bounty are on full display at 1921, where you might find barrelfish or striped bass or some other tender-flaky offering, but those less inclined to opt for the raw bar will find plenty of other options, from a "Koreatown" take on fried chicken and mac to a succulent wagyu ribeye to a juicy burger with house bacon and a zingy horseradish cream.

1. Victoria & Albert's
Photo courtesy of Disney

While exemplary fine dining can be found throughout the Disney compound, none surpass the level of service delivered during a Victoria & Albert's prix fixe, seven-course meal that can only be described as a top-of-the-line culinary experience. Meals here are an event, whether served in the elegant dining room or, if intimacy and knowledge of the kitchen's inner-workings are more your game: the Chef's Table. Here, six guests will dine in the kitchen alongside the chef himself, learning the ins and outs of running a AAA Five-Diamond restaurant as they dine on up to 14 courses. Unless you're a regular on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," Victoria & Albert's is an eatery probably best reserved for very special occasions, but meals here, and the service with which it comes, are guaranteed to become memories that will last a lifetime.