By Kristen Manieri
Tasting your way and navigating Magical Dining Month can be such a blast, but also a little overwhelming. This year Visit Orlando has brought together its largest collection of restaurants ever! More than 90 are participating, each with a distinct, three-course prix-fixe dinner designed to wow and delight, now through Oct. 2.
How do you even begin choosing which restaurants to visit? To aid you in this daunting (yet delightful) task, I've put together a cheat sheet of some of my favorite go-to places!
Looking to dine at the most buzz-worthy spots? Start your Magical Dining journey at Osprey Tavern, an award-winning, locally-owned eatery loved for its chef-forward cuisine, expansive open kitchen and bustling craft bar. The beautiful food floating from Executive Chef Joseph Burnett and his team will astound you.
Heading south, Urbain 40 in the Restaurant Row area on Sand Lake Road has given French cuisine a modern reformation in a setting that will transport you to a lavish Parisian brasserie. After dinner, you can slip into Urbain's lounge and library for live music evenings Tuesday through Saturday.
Finally, few can resist gawking at Morimoto Asia's dazzling dining room with its glittering chandeliers and showstopper of a staircase. Inside the stunning space, enjoy a culinary expedition through Asian cuisine with stops in Japan, Thailand, China and beyond.
Veer off the beaten path towards a few stellar Orlando restaurants that continue to reside off the radar. That list includes Maxine's on Shine, a whimsical neighborhood eatery showcasing local music and art alongside fun dishes like Ode to Elvis, a triple brownie served with bacon pecan brittle and topped with whipped cream.
One of only two Forbes Four-Star restaurants in Orlando, NINE18 at Villas of Grand Cypress is seemingly a world away from the towering resort hotels of Lake Buena Vista. Enjoy classic steakhouse dishes like the Florida Pork Tenderloin and the heavenly Chocolate Melt Down while overlooking a natural golf oasis.
Arguably one of Orlando's best sushi restaurants, Kabooki Sushi's location on the edge of downtown means it can too often be overlooked. But for those who've discovered this Japanese gem, an artful array of sushi, delicious Raman and astounding house made desserts await.
Dinner with a View
Those looking for sweeping vistas to admire alongside a Magical feast might consider Canvas Restaurant & Market, a terrific new Lake Nona restaurant with waterfront and sunset views.
Or perhaps Season 52 Orlando, where a patio seat offers lake views to complement Cedar Plank Roasted Salmon or Wood-Grilled Filet Mignon, both on its Magical Dining menu.
At Reunion Resort, guests can ascend the elevator to the top floor where Eleven stands ready to wow with its steak and seafood fare and sweeping views of Disney and beyond. At night, Eleven's enormous rooftop patio becomes one of the best places to watch the Disney fireworks explode into the sky.
Best Bang for Your Buck
Those looking to maximize the value of their Magical Dining dollars will want to gravitate towards some of the pricier restaurants participating in Magical Dining Month this year.
At Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House, for example, the $33 prix-fix consisting of the Chef's Salad, 8-ounce filet and the cheesecake would normally cost you $63.50.
Enjoy the Lobster Bisque, Teriyaki Salmon and Peanut Butter Pie at Ocean Prime for just $33 for all three courses, instead of the $60 you'd normally fork over.
Finally, one of the best deals of this year's Magical Dining Month is courtesy of newcomer Sharks Underwater Grill at SeaWorld, which gives diners free access to the park with dinner between 3pm and 6pm daily.
Options for Vegetarians
Carnivores and fish lovers have no shortage of options amidst 2016 Magical Dining menus but it turns out there are plenty of choices designed to delight plant-focused diners, too.
That list includes Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar, a delightful showcase of Cuban cuisine with a vibrant setting reminiscent of a Havana outdoor courtyard. Enjoy fried ripened sweet plantains with Manchego cheese crema, Vegetable Paella and a rotating array of house made desserts as part of Cuba Libre's Magical Dining menu.
In downtown Orlando, locally-owned Artisan's Table is offering Roasted Beets and Fresh Berry Salads, Zucchini Blossoms stuffed with ricotta and topped with pesto aioli, plus a choice of Tres Leches Cake, Chocolate Mousse or Apple Strudel for dessert.
Best Plan for a Night Out on the Town
Pair your dinner with a few other activities for a complete night out. One option is to kick off the night at Tapa Toro Tapas Bar & Paella Pit followed by a sunset flight on the Orlando Eye and live music at Tin Roof. All three are steps from each other at I-Drive 360 on International Drive.
Let Chef Kathleen Blake take you on a culinary tour of Florida at The Rusty Spoon, a downtown restaurants known for its unwavering dedication to local farms and fisheries. After dinner, enjoy live drama at Mad Cow Theatre, laugh until it hurts at SAK Comedy Lab or listen to live jazz at the Bosendorfer Lounge at the Grand Bohemian Hotel. All are located just minutes from The Rusty Spoon.
Kristen Manieri is Founder and Editor of the Orlando Date Night Guide. Formerly Great Dates Orlando, this website is THE place for local and visiting couples to find an endless list of ideas and recommendations for having fun and meaningful quality time together.