At La Luce, the crisp salads, thin-crust pizzas and hearty, old world recipes (the tender-delicious rabbit cacciatore, hunter-style, over sumptuous ricotta gnocchi comes to mind) are designed to satisfy. And the setting, the swanky Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, may be minutes from Disney World but La Luce's relaxing atmosphere is light years from the frenetic pace of the parks, ideal for a nice family dinner or romantic evening for two. Inspired by famed Napa Valley chef and restaurateur Donna Scala, La Luce fuses traditional Italian cuisine with the modern and creative flair of northern California to create special cuisine with ingredients that are often locally sourced. Be sure to note the art as you enjoy your wine or perhaps a Mediterranean-inspired cocktail; La Luce showcases original works by local artists on its walls.
Recommended for Italian because: La Luce's soothing atmosphere sets the tone and its food warms the belly. It's a nice hotel-based 180 from a day at the parks.
A.D.'s expert tip: The butterscotch pudding is no joke. Order two. You won't want to share.
On the go? Grab your necessaries – whether the fresh meats, cheeses or produce, the imported-grocery variety or the prepared dish of your choosing – and head out the door. Feel like camping out? Buy a good bottle of wine before sitting down for lunch or dinner and your server will be happy to cork it for you (or enjoy it while you wait on more crowded visits). Grabbing lunch to go and enjoying it across the street at Lake Lily Park is another inviting option. Regardless of whether you take it out or choose to eat in, the excellent food and warm, if boisterous, vibe at Antonio's Market & Café – with its multitude of delicious salads, sandwiches, pizzas and pastas – will fill you up as easily as its fine, Italian fare.
Recommended for Italian because: I'd put it on for the gorgonzola-fig pizza alone, but Antonio's boasts excellent service to match its food and a friendly, convivial ambiance.
A.D.'s expert tip: If Antonio's Market & Café is your loud, funny cugino from Puglia, Antonio's Upstairs is his quieter, more elegant counterpart from Milan. Try it for more formal occasions.
Enzo's has long been a fixture for fine Italian dining in Orlando, wowing diners with cuisine to match its peerless lake view for roughly 30 years. In fact, the setting is so delightful that many make it their choice for all kinds of special occasions and private parties, weddings included. All that said, Enzo's charming bar and sculpture gardens are a wonderful setting for a simple, lovely dinner, as well. Enzo's is classy, its servers affable and knowledgeable and it's food quite reliably delicious. Favorites here include the bucatini alla Enzo, a creamy-rich pasta dish rife with prosciutto, bacon, mushrooms and parmesan.
Recommended for Italian because: Keep the weather in mind. Enzo's and its lakeside deck is particularly enjoyable during Orlando's best-weather seasons.
A.D.'s expert tip: Keep the weather in mind. Enzo's and its lakeside deck is particularly enjoyable during Orlando's best-weather seasons.
The execution is simple and the digs are well worn, but Il Pescatore remains well loved nonetheless, a neighborhood eatery that has remained popular despite changing hands a number of times. Homey and comfortable, many cite friendly staffers as one of the reasons they keep coming back for the meatballs and cannelloni, carbonara and lasagna and lemony veal piccata – among other takes on hearty homespun Italian classics. Waits aren't uncommon on busy nights – it's on the cozy side – so feel free to call in for take-out if your cravings can't be put off. Il Pescatore is nothing if not exceedingly casual; feel free to bring the kids. Just try not to let them fill up on the free garlic bread while waiting for their meals.
Recommended for Italian because: Il Pescatore's simple charms lie in its menu and its mom-and-pop vibe.
A.D.'s expert tip: Gems often appear and disappear as daily specials. Don't forget to ask.
Vincenzo Cucina Italiana is a hybrid of sorts, a superb restaurant that melds family-run warmth with a fine-dining vibe, making it a wonderful place for a date night, a client dinner, a post-work glass of Chianti or a special occasion dinner. You know, like Nana's birthday. It's convenient for both vacationers and business travelers, but Vincenzo's tourist-friendly I-Drive location does nothing to keep the locals from returning for authentic cuisine and service that often goes above and beyond. Live music (like Sinatra, of course!) keeps things lively on busy Friday nights. A diverse menu ensures everyone in your party will find a dish to suit.
Recommended for Italian because: Live entertainment, excellent food, warm service. It's an Italian fine-dining trifecta.
A.D.'s expert tip: Don't be lulled into carelessness by the warm bread. Save room!
Great Italian food is just comfortable. Perhaps it's the warm, family-oriented culture, or the memories of your Nonni yelling from the kitchen, or the carb-induced coma that often follows a satisfying meal. No matter, though, Francesco's will inspire feelings evocative of at least one of the above. It could be the cheerful bustle of its open kitchen and oft-crowded dining room but it probably has more to do with the food which, from crisp-crusted pizzas to rich ragu-laden cacciatore to salmon-and-cream-cheese-topped flatbreads (baked fresh), has been luring locals back since it opened in 2012. Its dessert menu, created by proprietor Francesco Aiello's pastry chef father, Paolo, is worth saving a little room for, as well.
Recommended for Italian because: Great ambiance, inside and out, and bar-top, kitchen-view seating where you can take in the kitchen action help make Francesco's a fun place to dine.
A.D.'s expert tip: If you're watching your wheat intake and tend to avoid Italian restaurants, you can dine at Francesco's without fear and with pizza – the gluten-free variety, of course.
Christini's may well be the city's most upscale venues for Italian cuisine – and the prices are certainly reflective thereof – but for your money this is an outstanding venue for wooing clients or a date (though the complementary roses for the ladies and the roving accordion player taking requests may make more sense for the latter). From the impressive shank of the osso bucco to the mushroom-laden scallopini, Christini's meat offerings are reliable crowd pleasers ... not that the lobster fra diavolo is likely to disappoint. Its elegant atmosphere is offset by a knowledgeable and affable wait staff that welcomes menu queries and is happy to make recommendations.
Recommended for Italian because: You can't argue with a resume that's 45+ years running.... This is upscale, sumptuous, Italian dining that's family-warm, not upmarket stuffy.
A.D.'s expert tip: Looking for a place to impress clients that isn't a been-there-done-that steakhouse? Christini's fits the bill nicely. And if you still want a steak, they got it.
College Park's lucky residents have a host of wonderful dining options within a casual stroll of their homes and many choose to saunter into Adriatico again and again. Why? Authentic Italian is the order of the day at this intimate trattoria where the husband-and-wife-team behind it serve dishes they brought with them from their home: the seaside city of Ortona. Appropriately, seafood shines here � from the hefty shrimp atop the fra Diavolo to the melange you'll find in the zuppa di pesce. Be sure to sop the broth! Open for lunch and dinner, this ain't no pizza joint (though they do serve a couple); linen tablecloths and candlelight is of the order. Grab a slice elsewhere and come here for date night.
Recommended for Italian because: Adriatico serves authentic, delicious Italian (made by Italians!). Buon appetito!
A.D.'s expert tip: Adriatico is small. Plan ahead if possible with a reservation.
Trevi Pasta is just the sort of place you'd expect to find in a walkable stretch of neighborhood like College Park - small, family-run, friendly. And its exceedingly fresh fare - handmade pastas cooked to order - is just the sort of thing folks are willing to walk for when the weather 'round these parts starts hitting those summer high notes. Tender, carb-wonderful varieties such as porcini, spinach, peppercorn, along with those more traditional (stuffed pastas, too!) can be paired with one of their house-made sauces. Take some home to make yourself or dine in and delight in the cozy vibe. Oh, and you'll probably want to save room for homemade gelato, as well.
Recommended for Italian because: Phenomenally fresh artisan pasta, ravioli, gnocchi and an array of homemade sauces at the ready? Yes, please.
A.D.'s expert tip: No need to actually dine out. Trevi's market allows you to take that masterfully-stuffed ravioli (among other things) home to enjoy as you like.
Prato is an upscale enough venue in which to celebrate a landmark anniversary or well-deserved promotion but also casual enough to bring the (well-behaved, please) kids for some wonderfully crispy pizza from the wood-burning oven and sandwiches like the BLT panini or the excellent heirloom eggplant version. Exposed brick, twinkly lights and some patio seating on Park Avenue give the place a cosmopolitan feel. Prato's menu pulls on classic Italian for inspiration but pays due diligence to culinary evolution, allowing for creativity and some turns that might surprise you. Half-portions on most of the pastas allow for a more authentic Italian experience (pastas are often served in small portions before entrees in the Old Country) and offer more opportunities to share and sample.
Recommended for Italian because: Prato's wonderful location, varied menu, reliable wait staff and comfortable vibe have made it a local favorite since it opened in 2011. Reservations are recommended.
A.D.'s expert tip: The Cetriolo cocktail, a refreshing amalgam of cucumber-infused vodka, lime, white cranberry and basil, imbues one's happy hour with spa-like Zen.