Dining That's Universal. Diverse Options Abound at CityWalk, the Parks & Beyond

So, where to dine when you're at Universal? First let's get specific. For this 10Best list's purposes, Universal is defined as the entire 840-acre Universal Orlando Resort: its multiple theme parks, its on-site hotel properties and its Universal CityWalk entertainment complex. As you can imagine, choosing a dining venue in a place this vast can be daunting. Lucky for us, we live here. And we know eating at the parks isn't one-size-fits all. Some people want fine dining and others something more kid-friendly. And pretty much everyone likes to keep at least one eye on the budget. For enthusiasts who want to do as much as possible, sit-down meals are less of a concern than the best venues to get in, get out and get back on the roller coasters. Whether your tastes run more Caribbean, Amatista Cookhouse, or painstakingly themed wonderlands like Three Broomsticks at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade, you're in for some stellar choices.


Amatista Cookhouse

Described as a coastal chic eatery with Caribbean-inspired cuisine, Amatista Cookhouse, located in Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, changes its menu depending on the season and what's fresh. A breakfast buffet is served every day from 7 a.m. until 11 a.m. Offerings include everything from fresh tropical fruit to an omelet station to fresh-baked pastries. The extensive lunch and dinner menus are really where you'll taste the Caribbean flavors. There's mojo marinated rotisserie chicken, island fish sandwiches, empanadas and plenty more. If some in your party are looking for more American flavors, those are on the menu too, from salads to flatbread to burgers. There's something for everyone.

Recommended for Universal's Best Restaurants because: Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, this is a great option to enjoy fresh food while dining in or outside.

Michelle's expert tip: Although it's open to non-hotel guests, reservations are highly encouraged.

Read more about Amatista Cookhouse →

Mama Della's Ristorante

Mama Della's Ristorante may be located in Loews Portofino Bay Hotel but the menu features authentic dishes from Tuscany, Naples and Piemonte. Family style dishes of creamy pastas, hearty meats and gooey desserts draw diners to this homey Italian restaurant. Mama, the quintessential hostess, welcomes you at the door, and old-timey musicians walk the dining room, evoking fun and laughter. Favorite dishes include chicken cacciatore, rack of lamb, frutti di mare with shrimp, scallops and grouper... but be sure to save room for dessert. After all, it is not every day that you're offered chocolate lasagna with blood orange sauce!

Recommended for Universal's Best Restaurants because: A trip to Italy may not be in the cards, but Mama Della's Ristorante is with an extensive wine list, tiramisu and cannoli and more.

Michelle's expert tip: Get the lasagna and thank us later.

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Bar 17 Bistro

Located atop Universal's Aventura Hotel, this rooftop bar and grill offers spectacular 360-views of Universal Orlando's three theme parks. From 17 floors up, you'll be able to see Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay. Once you're done marveling at the view, you can enjoy the menu, which features urban international flavors like steamed bao buns, Korean fried chicken wings and friend rice. More traditional items include sliders, salads and even a kids' menu. There's also creative custom cocktail offerings like Orlandos & Don'ts, which has Seagram's Gin, sake, lemon, cucumber and raspberry. Beer and wine also are on the beverage menu.

Recommended for Universal's Best Restaurants because: Technically this is located on theme park property, but this isn't your average theme park restaurant.

Michelle's expert tip: Time your visit around sunset for the perfect cocktail, meal and view.

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Sleek and contemporary on the outside, the menu at Vivo Italian Kitchen belies its traditional soul. Serving up Italian classics, this Universal CityWalk original-concept dining venue opened with fanfare in 2014, offering visitors a taste of Italy and a show of sorts. With its open kitchen, guests can watch chefs preparing fresh pasta by hand along with other favorites from the Old Country, such as linguine with clams, osso bucco, chicken Marsala. Of course, you may not feel like scarfing heavy carbonara before a ride on the Hulk. Lighter choices including roasted beet salad or classic Caesar, for example, are available as well.

Recommended for Universal's Best Restaurants because: Vivo is a chic, new, full-service venue that's ushering in Universal's new era of finer (and "funner") dining at CityWalk.

Michelle's expert tip: Visiting Universal in the evening? Vivo opens at 4 p.m. which makes it ideal for a refreshing and relaxing Bellini before hitting the parks.

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Potter fans will marvel as they step inside the "thousand-year-old" space that is the Leaky Cauldron, an iconic location from the beloved books and films. Hungry patrons who've never read a word of it will likely enjoy it just the same. Serving British-style fare that includes bangers and mash, Toad in the Hole, fisherman's pie and the like (not to mention some pretty decadent desserts; chocolate clotted cream, anyone?), the Leaky Cauldron is a delight for the imagination. And the growling belly, as well. Feel like being a looky-loo? Pop in for a quick Butterbeer and gawk to your heart's content.

Recommended for Universal's Best Restaurants because: The traditional English fare will satisfy your hunger while transporting you into the traditional English pub.

A.D.'s expert tip: Diagon Alley's signature draughts, Wizard's Brew and Dragon Scale, give you a great excuse to visit the Leaky Cauldron if you're not hungry.

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It is said that J.K. Rowling herself (not to mention the Harry Potter films' art director and production designer) had a hand in every facet of the recreation of her young wizard's world here at Universal Orlando, and so it's no surprise that a meal at Three Broomsticks feels eerie-wonderfully like stepping into a scene at Hogsmeade (If Hogsmeade were the sort of place with fast-casual eats for wizards and witches on the go.) The food here is adequate, a mix of British and American fare served daily at lunch and dinner, but let's face it: visitors to the Wizarding World come primarily for the thrill rides and thrilling theming. Three Broomsticks could easily teach a Hogwarts course in the latter.

Recommended for Universal's Best Restaurants because: For Potter fans, Three Broomsticks will be especially magical. Sit a spell and be as charmed by its authenticity as was Ron by Madam Rosmerta.

Michelle's expert tip: At the back of Three Broomsticks is nestled the infamous Hog's Head pub, serving an array of refreshing ales. Looking for high-demand Butterbeer? They serve that here, too, and shhh ... there's hardly ever a line!

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The Cowfish is the best of both worlds, a burger and sushi joint. Located amid the hustle and bustle of Universal Orlando and an ideal place to grab a bite before a night out hitting the various hotspots along the colorful loop of the CityWalk complex. The menu features sushi rolls and unique craft burgers including Burgushi. Burgushi items include sushi rolls created using burger components and pick-up style sandwiches created using sushi ingredients. To give you an example, the taste explosion roll includes certified angus beef, Applewood bacon coated with tempura flakes, tomatoes, jalapenos and pepper jack cheese. The menu is bursting with unique flavorful combinations.

Recommended for Universal's Best Restaurants because: It's fun and lively, creative and cool, and satisfies a host of cravings for those traveling in diverse and/or picky groups. Burgushi? Just say yes.

Michelle's expert tip: Can't get a table? Consider eating at the bar. The full menu is available and staffers are affable and gifted in the realm of the craft cocktail.

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Bigfire's unique theming is designed to make guests feel as though they have stepped into a lakeside summer house, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of relaxed evenings spent at the water's edge, cooking and creating memories with friends and family. Chefs prepare signature dishes inspired by the style of open-fire cooking –" but with a significant and modern twist - chefs thoughtfully match each dish with wood species that have been chosen based on the flavor they exude, resulting in delectable entrees, sides, and even cocktails, that all infuse these smoky spirits. From Cherrywood to Pecanwood, the pairings add bold, delicious flavors to create elevated American fare, including a signature bison burger, New York sirloin strip, freshwater trout and more.

Recommended for Universal's Best Restaurants because: This relatively new restaurant will bring you back to summer BBQs with the family.

Michelle's expert tip: You must save room for dessert - s'mores you prepare right at your table.

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Steampunk fantasy and SERIOUSLY HUGE MILKSHAKES, await at this towering eatery and candy outpost at Universal CityWalk. The 19th century steampunk themed restaurant is designed with chocolate as the core of the restaurant's menu. Whether you're enjoying from the all-day brunch menu, appetizers or dinner, you'll find items like warm chocolate bread, coffee and chocolate stout chicken wings and cocoa pork tenderloin. But the shining star is the dessert menu. The right side up shake comes complete with a pineapple upside down cake and the red velvet milkshake comes with a red velvet cupcake. If milkshakes aren't your thing (is that possible), there over-the-top sundaes and other desserts to pick from.

Recommended for Universal's Best Restaurants because: The food here is no slouch, but it's the dessert and atmosphere that earns this place a nod. Milkshakes are an absolute MUST.

Michelle's expert tip: If you really want to enjoy dessert here, eat light. Or don't eat anything BUT dessert! Also, order milkshakes early on busy days, there is often a wait.

Read more about The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen →

Its exterior calls to mind ancient Greece, the Kraken, "Clash of the Titans," and the menu does include Mediterranean influence, but so, too, will diners find fare that touches the cuisine of Asia and items far more homespun. Mythos is an unexpected eatery amid the thrill rides of Islands of Adventure, and fans find it an elegant and relaxing respite from the heat with above-average food for a theme park restaurant. A selection of appetizers could suit your group's flair for sampling (they'll run you $6-10 a pop); in fact, the Mezze Platter may best suit the atmosphere this grotto-like venue invokes.

Recommended for Universal's Best Restaurants because: Its grand facade is decidedly "theme park," but its food is surprisingly upmarket for the location. Solid "in-park" selectin for a Universal date night.

A.D.'s expert tip: If you lean cold, either hit Mythos before the water rides or dry off before you come to dine.

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Meet Michelle Spitzer

Michelle Spitzer grew up in South Florida taking many family vacations to the Orlando area. For the past 14 years, she's called central Florida home.

A journalist for more than two...  More About Michelle