Something Fishy: Get Hooked on Orlando's Best Seafood



One might think Orlando's options where seafood is concerned wouldn't compare to nearby cities with tighter proximity to the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean, the swells and waves of which burst with succulent offerings bound by both scale and shell. But we've got plenty! In fact, we have both casual, local, some even downright divey joints worthy of attention, a well as highfalutin, upscale venues, and the list continues to grow to the delight of resident and visitor alike. Which makes paring it down to 10 even harder. You'll find this roster runs the gamut from the old and venerable, such as Lee & Rick's Oyster Bar, which has been shucking bivalves over what amounts to a concrete basin for some 60 years, to the cosmopolitan-but-casual Muddy Waters in South Eola. Also on deck, family-run places where boiling, steaming pots and sizzling pans occasionally turn already unpretentious dining into a Cajun spice-infused crash course in marine biology (I'm looking at you, iCajun Seafood Shack). Unstuffy dining choices are scattered about, as well, including the aloha-infused Big Kahuna's Island Style Bowls, making East Orlandoans smile as much with their Dole Whip as they do their poke. 



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Epcot ®


 

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 â€" Flying Fish â€" and exceptionally swanky decor that pairs brilliantly 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 beautiful 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.


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Boston's Fish House
Photo courtesy of Boston's Fish House


 

The protocol at Boston's Fish House comes straight out of the region from which its chef prevails. Step up to the counter to order, then head for a table and patiently await the arrival of salt-water morsels that include fried shrimp, succulent steamers and creamy, generously stuffed lobster rolls. Most of Boston's Fish House's devotees come for the menu's many deep-fried delicacies, but don't let the grease scare you off. There are plenty of broiled, steamed and salad-y options if you really mean business with that diet. Portions are hearty, dress is casual and kid-friendly is most definitely its middle name.


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Doctor Phillips
Ocean Prime


 

Long lauded a Dr. Phillips-area favorite for steak- and seafood-related special-occasion splurges, Orlando's Ocean Prime outpost (there are several throughout the country) knows how to handle groups â€" even the largest of them. Its two private rooms accommodate up to 32 and 64 diners with ease, but smaller parties will enjoy stellar service, as well as some phenomenal 10-layer carrot cake if they are so inclined. Watch for weekly specials such as Half-Off-The-Shell on Wednesday evenings when fresh oysters are half-price in the bar. Sunday brings with it Family Dinner night, featuring a three-course menu where crab-stuffed half lobsters or center-cut filets go for $39/per person.


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Reel Fish Coastal Kitchen + Bar


 

This is Southern fish-camp cookin'. A bit fancied up, to be sure, plated to perfection, but solid, succulent seafood that tastes somehow traditional, whether your grandpa's fishing trips culminated in Low Country boils spilled out on a hastily covered picnic table or a big, steamy, serving dish downloaded with garlicky, buttery clams over linguine. Reel Fish will feel a tad familiar to fans of the Ravenous Pig, which abandoned this, it's original location, for more expansive digs up the street. It's a tad beachier now, and they pile the fries high alongside the okra and tomatoes that go with the whole fried fish.


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This post should kick off telling readers about the heaping bowls of semi-DIY poke they're slinging at this Winter Springs outpost. (Or not so DIY, because some folks, like this 10Best contributor, enjoy leaning hard on the in-house expertise of BK's poke pros when crafting their island experience.) But it won't. Because East Orlandoans, or really anyone closer to this part of town than Disney, have a new go-to spot when they're craving the Dole Whip. Yes, real Dole Whip. And yes, they do pineapple floats.) Whew. Okay. Now that that's out of the way: seafood. Yes. We actually did mention it first, and that's apt, because the fish, like the ahi tuna and yellowtail, for example, is tender and fresh. The ceviche is tangy. The toppings are plenty. The servings are filling. And the price is definitely right.


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West Orlando


 

You don't have to have seafood at Joyful Garden. There are numerous chicken, beef, veggie and pork options amid its expansive menu of largely Hong Kong-style fare, but you'd be missing out. The unassuming place, located in the Asian-eats wonderland around the 1st Oriental Supermarket in West Orlando, boasts a pet store's fortune of glass tanks in which its freshest ingredients are housed. Joyful Garden is the adventurous diner's playground, to be sure, but risk-averse guests interested only in a pleasant and delicious dining experience can be gently guided to items within their culinary comfort zone.


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Lee & Rick's opened in 1950 and was the first restaurant of its kind in Orlando. Save a couple of seafood-heavy, Louisiana-style joints around town, it could be argued that it's still the only one. Whether you're a fan or not (the place has MANY fans) few would disagree it's in a class by itself. Lee & Rick's famous shucking bar â€" an 80-foot slab of concrete where customers belly up for the show as mountains of fresh oysters are opened, served, slurped and swallowed, their shells often tossed unceremoniously into a trough behind the bar â€" is where the action is. Why? Where else can you can get a massive bucket of bivalves and a beer for under $25? Reviews on the rest of the menu, the loud, rock-laden jukebox and the overall appearance of the place are often mixed, but for the oyster lovers, little else matters.


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Suck the head and pinch the tail at this small family-run operation off Colonial. They do brisk take-out business here â€" and it's no surprise considering the expertly seasoned troughs of seafood they're slinging. You want bayou flavor? This is the place. Order crawfish, clams, crab legs - mild, medium or spicy. And if you opt to enjoy their cozy operation, grab a bib and make use of the paper-towel rolls as you eat your way through a veritable marine biology class full of tasty creatures. Bonus points for giving diners the option of leaving the shrimp heads on, as eye contact makes for such intimate dining. Grab French bread side ($1) to sop up the goodness that lies beneath. For those less inclined to tear through their meals like a raccoon, neater selections abound in the form of seafood platters, po' boys and the like. Save room for beignets!


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The setting here is casual with decor not merely reminiscent of Old Florida, but constructed therefrom. Tables are made from wood reclaimed from the St. John's River following Hurricane Charley. Order your food at the counter, find your place at one of said tables and like the many Winter Park residents eager to welcome a dedicated seafood joint when the place opened back in 2010, you may be surprised at the level of care and artful cuisine that emerges. Beer and wine will cool you off on the hottest days. Outdoor seating is available and the patio is dog-friendly; they even offer salmon jerky for the pups!


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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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