Universal Orlando Dining Tips and Recommendations

| April 9, 2012

Attention Marvel super heroes, students of Hogwarts, and citizens of Duloc; it’s true, you get hungry too.  If you plan on visiting the Universal Orlando resort in the near future you’ll certainly want to know the best places to dine and understand how the resort handles its dining logistics.  Like any other theme park resort Universal Orlando has dining outlets you won’t want to miss and some you’ll want to miss altogether.  When someone asks me about food at Universal Orlando my number 1 tip is to try and dine at the 3 onsite resort hotels first.  If that isn’t an option then try a location at Universal Citywalk.  Try and avoid eating in one of the two theme parks.  Unless you are so food deprived that you are about to keel over from hunger pains leave the theme parks to dine.  There are a couple of decent locations inside the theme parks, but your chances of a better dining experience are much greater just outside of the theme park gates.  To learn more about Universal Orlando dining tips and top dining locations continue through the page break.

The food prices at Universal Orlando are on par with other major theme park resorts.  There are opportunities to save money by flashing your AAA card or annual pass.  Make sure to always ask if the restaurant accepts any discounts when you pay the bill.  Also, Universal offers something called a Meal Deal that allows guests to dine in their theme parks and a few Citywalk locations all day.  You can eat as much as you want, but be aware the dining locations are limited.  The Meal Deal isn’t typically a good deal unless you can eat a lot of food throughout the day.  Only you can really gauge if it’s a good deal based on your family’s eating habits.  You can find out more information about the Universal Meal Deal here.

Here are a few tips and insights to consider if you plan on dining at the Universal Orlando resort.

- Reservations are not usually needed except at the more popular restaurants during peak times of the year.  I’ve been able to walk-up to most restaurants and get a table within 20 minutes at most restaurants.  However, if you have a very large party or if it makes you feel more comfortable by all means call for a reservation.

- Some Universal dining locations allow you to get the next available table if you are a resort guest.  Just flash your room key and you’ll feel like a VIP as you get seated ahead of the crowd.  Be sure to see if the restaurant you are visiting adheres to this policy when you check-in.

- Universal Orlando has more than 1 dining reservation line.  Making a reservation for a resort hotel or theme park requires you to call different numbers.  In some cases you may need to call the resort or restaurant directly.  Be sure to search for the correct phone number to call when making your reservations.  Also, most Universal restaurants accept reservations through Opentable.com  You may find it easier to try and book your reservations through their website. 

- Some of the higher-end restaurants at Universal have dress code recomendations; like Emeril’s for instance.  Make sure you know the dress code recommendations before visiting the restaurant.  You wouldn’t want to be under dressed wearing nice shorts, but should be wearing pants or a nice shirt when a shirt and tie is recommended.

Dining at Universal can be quite an experience.  I’ve dined at most locations and I can tell you I’ve had my worst and best theme park meal there.  The range in restaurant experiences spans the entire spectrum.  The worst theme park meal I ever had was at the Spiderman character breakfast.  How they messed up breakfast like this I’ll never know.  You can read a full review of  the same character breakfast without Spiderman by Webmaster and DIS Boards owner Pete Werner here.  His experience was similar to mine.  I should also mention my experiences at the Universal restaurants may not be the same as yours.   Everyone has a different palette for taste, food types, and theme.  You should always try a restaurant for yourself to form your own opinion and decide if it was good, average or awful.  With that in mind here are my top 5 table service restaurants at Universal Orlando.

Number 5 – Mythos Restaurant – Islands of Adventure’s Lost Continent

Now I know I said to avoid the theme park dining at Universal Orlando, but this place is pretty good when it comes to an in-park dining experience.  The food is above average with a lot to choose from on the menu, but what I really like about this restaurant is the immense theming and the theme park view out of the back of the restaurant.  It’s simply stunning.  I find myself wanting to stay in the restaurant longer than I have to so I can enjoy the view.

Number 4 – Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville – Universal Citywalk

I normally wouldn’t include a chain restaurant in my top 5; however, I’ve visited other Margaritaville restaurants across the country and this one is by far the best.  Most food items on the menu are very good and the portions are gigantic.  In most cases entrees and appetizers can be shared.  The restaurant is huge and can accommodate a lot of guests.  If the weather is nice I’d suggest dining outside on the covered patio.  It has a great view of Citywalk and the Islands of Adventure theme park.

Number 3 – The Kitchen – Hard Rock Hotel

When rock star celebrities visit the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando they often find themselves working in “The Kitchen” as a celebrity guest.  Rock fans rejoice as there’s another music –themed restaurant to visit other than the Hard Rock Café.  The Kitchen adorns its walls with rock star culinary themed memorabilia.   On select nights The Kitchen hosts a character dinner for families to enjoy.  Be sure to check at the hotel’s front desk for days and times when the characters will appear.

Number 2 – Emeril’s Tchoup Chop (pronounced chop chop) – The Royal Pacific Resort

One of the leading celebrity chefs in the business has struck it rich at Universal Orlando.  Chef Emeril Lagasse has brought Asian and Polynesian influences to this restaurant; the second he’s opened on Universal property.  You’ll feel immersed in the South Pacific seas as you dine in this restaurant.  It provides a more casual dining experience than Emeril’s Restaurant at Universal Citywalk.  The food also gives way to more bold flavors in a restaurant complete with bamboo touches, waterfalls, and sculpted gardens.  BAM!

Number 1 – Mama Della’s Ristorante Portofino Bay Hotel

Have you ever had one of those moments where you kicked yourself for not trying something sooner?  For me this was one of those moments.  I was finally exposed to this restaurant by a friend who lives in Orlando who suggested it to me.  I’ve often passed by the restaurant, but never gave it a try until the recommendation.  I’m 100% Italian and never thought a restaurant could smell like my mother and grandmother’s kitchen, but this restaurant has accomplished it.  When you walk into the restaurant you are exposed to the smells of garlic, basil, and warm Italian bread.  Just the wonderful smell alone can bring you to your knees.  I can’t say the food tastes exactly like my mother and father’s (my dad is a pretty good cook too), but it sure is close.  For an unbelievable Italian dinner experience be sure to give this restaurant a try.  I’ll go as far as to say it’s the best dining experience I’ve had in all of Orlando.

Honorable Mention – Here are a few restaurants that didn’t make the top 5, but are worth checking out.

Sal’s Market Deli – Portofino Bay Hotel – More of a counter service location, but for theme park standards they prepare some very good pizza pies.

Emeril’s – Universal Citywalk – Probably the best upscale dining experience at Universal Orlando.  Good food and a great view of Citywalk await guests.

Pastamore – Universal Citywalk - Pretty good Italian food in a Mediterranean setting.  Flatbread pizzas are a specialty and recommended.  Several Italian specialties to choose from in an open-kitchen environment, but a little on the expensive side.  A Chef’s Table option is available for a more exclusive dining experience.

Conclusion

The dining at Universal Orlando does cover quite a bit of cuisine.  One tidbit I failed to mention above is some of the best theme park resort pastries can be found on property.  For some reason the pastries, especially at the Croissant Moon Bakery inside Islands of Adventure, are awesome!  It just goes to show you that something as simple as pastry can be memorable if prepared properly.  The same goes for the top restaurants at Universal.  For the most part you’ll notice they are well managed and take great care and pride in serving guests the best possible meal.

Do you have a favorite restaurant or dining tip at Universal Orlando you wish to share?  Please leave them in the comments section below or on the DIS’s official Facebook page.  We’d love to hear your opinions as well.

If you plan on visiting Universal Orlando in the future be sure to do your dining research and make sure to choose restaurants wisely.  From my experience there are some real stellar restaurants and then there are some real duds.  Consider reading some other reviews before choosing where to dine to help solidify your choices.  Fantastic dining experiences can make the difference between a good theme park vacation versus an excellent one.  At Universal Orlando fantastic dining experiences await.  You just need to find them.

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