Asian-American and Pacific Islander History & Culture in Orlando
Orlando’s wonders don’t just attract visitors from all over the world — we also boast a global mix of citizens, including vibrant Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities that are as richly diverse as the countries they represent. In addition to headlining one of Orlando’s most popular dining and nightlife districts, Mills 50, AAPI influence on local culture and history can be found throughout the destination, including unique restaurants, shops and annual celebrations that you’ll want to experience while you’re here.
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Asian-American and Pacific Islander History in Orlando
When refugees fleeing the Vietnam War settled in Orlando during the 1970s, they built businesses, homes, churches and families, particularly in the downtown area, becoming an integral part of our societal fabric in the process. Today, second- and third-generation Vietnamese Americans help shape Central Florida’s social, economic and political landscape while honoring their ancestors’ traditions.
Learn more: Orlando History
Vietnamese influence is particularly evident in downtown Orlando’s multicultural Mills 50 dining and entertainment district, which features numerous Vietnamese restaurants, retailers and service-providers. And every winter, Vietnamese history and culture are celebrated during Orlando’s Tet (aka Vietnamese Lunar New Year) Festival.
While people of Vietnamese descent make up the largest portion of Orlando’s AAPI population, many other cultures and countries are represented, including sizable Chinese, Asian-Indian, Filipino and Korean communities, plus smaller groups representing Thailand, Laos, Japan, Indonesia and Pakistan, among others. Accordingly, Orlando is home to a wide range of authentic Asian-owned eateries and other businesses, not just in the Mills 50 district but all over town.
Learn more: Mills 50
Take Orlando’s Chinatown, for example. Located about 15 minutes west of downtown, it features a collection of authentic Chinese restaurants and shops. It’s also extremely easy to find: Just look for the traditional Chinese arch known as a paifang or pailou, which serves as the historic area’s eye-catching centerpiece.
Authentic Asian architecture awaits at Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando, too. It’s home to a ting, or one-story structure similar to a pagoda, that was built in Shanghai and signifies Orlando’s sister-city relationship with Guilin, China. Lake Eola Park also has a Japanese-style rock garden adorned with a massive piece of black marble that was gifted to Orlando by Taipen, Taiwan. You’ll find additional examples of AAPI influence throughout the Central Florida area.
Learn More: Downtown Orlando
Asian-American and Pacific Islander Cultural Events in Orlando
Orlando hosts numerous AAPI festivals and special events every year, including these popular options. Check with Visit Orlando’s Events Calendar to see what’s happening during your next visit!
Central Florida Dragon Parade Lunar New Year Festival (February; 2022 Dates TBA)
Held in downtown Orlando’s Mills 50 district, this vibrant event brings East Asia to Central Florida with martial artists, taiko drummers and ample food vendors, as well as the signature parade. After making the difficult decision to cancel in 2021, organizers expect the festival to return in 2022.
Tet Festival (February; 2022 Dates TBA)
Celebrating the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, Florida’s largest Tet Festival is produced by St. Philip Minh Catholic Church and usually takes place at the Central Florida Fairgrounds. Tet is the most important event in traditional Vietnamese culture, and this celebration goes to great lengths to honor it.
Orlando International Dragon Boat Festival and Asian Cultural Expo (Oct. 16, 2021)
Produced in tandem, these free, one-day events showcase the wonders of Asian culture through exhibitions, performances and crafts. Both celebrations are held in Bill Frederick Park, just north of Universal Orlando Resort.
Orlando Japan Festival (Nov. 7, 2021)
Experience authentic Japanese music, dance and other entertainments at this festival, presented by Japan Association of Orlando. You can also look forward to a variety of Japanese food and drinks, including takoyaki (octopus ball), Ramune (a popular Japanese soda brand), taiyaki (fish-shaped cake) and more.
Orlando Korean Festival (November; 2021 Dates TBA)
Hosted by the Orlando Korea Culture Center, this event features plenty of delicious Korean food, energetic K-Pop musicians, and other authentic Korean surprises and delicacies. It traditionally takes place at Korean Grace Church of Orlando close to The Florida Mall®.
FusionFest (Nov. 27-28, 2021)
Downtown Orlando’s annual celebration of the people and many cultures that make Central Florida awesome, FusionFest features food, dance, art and more from numerous AAPI communities and other global groups. It takes place during Thanksgiving weekend at the open-air Seneff Arts Plaza, part of downtown Orlando’s Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
Asian-American and Pacific Islander-Owned Restaurants in Orlando
If you’re hungry for authentic Asian flavors, take a bite out of these AAPI-owned and operated eateries the next time you’re in Orlando.
Main Tourism Districts
Aashirwad Indian Food: Just off International Drive, aka I-Drive, this restaurant offers a diverse mixture of flavors and tastes that reflect a variety of cultures, geography and climate.
Bawarchi Biryanis: A wide range of aromatic spices are used to create beautiful pots of biryani, this I-Drive eatery’s namesake mixed-rice dish.
B&B Express: Close to Walt Disney World® Resort, this fusion restaurant’s “B&B” stands for burgers and biryani.
BBQ Tonight: Enjoy Indian staples such as tandoori chicken and biryani at this casual option near Walt Disney World.
Chaat House: This Pakistani restaurant serves gyros, kebabs, pizza, burgers, seafood and more.
Charcoal Zyka: Dig into a mixed variety of American, Portuguese and Indian dishes at this casual grill close to SeaWorld® Orlando.
Dragonfly Robata Grill & Sushi: Part of Restaurant Row, this hip, modern, Japanese cafe serves tapas-style sushi and robatayaki.
Learn more: Restaurant Row
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Qi Dragon Bakery: Close to The Florida Mall, this bakery offers a big selection of Asian cakes, cookies and breads.
Saffron Indian Cuisine: This stylish Restaurant Row eatery serves an extensive selection of traditional and inventive Indian dishes.
Sizler Tandoori Restaurant: Staples like biryani and samosas are served at this Indian and Pakistani restaurant.
Sushi Katana: This casual Japanese eatery near The Mall at Millenia pairs innovative specialties with a variety of sushi rolls.
Thai Thani: Carved wood decor and traditional artwork perfectly complement this International Drive restaurant’s authentic Thai cuisine.
Woodlands: Minutes from The Florida Mall, this casual vegetarian Indian venue features dosas, curries, a lunch buffet and more.
Chuan Lu Garden: This local favorite serves Sichuan-style Chinese cuisine with expansive lunch and dinner menus.
Little Saigon: Big portions and big flavor are the watchwords at this colorful Vietnamese eatery.
Ming’s Bistro: Enjoy dim sum and then some with 33 options plus a full regular menu.
Nha Trang Subs: Traditional banh mi Vietnamese sandwiches are king at this counter-service eatery.
Royaltea: Orlando’s outpost of this growing international chain makes freshly brewed tea with modern technology.
Sticky Rice: Dig into tapas-style Laotian dishes at this fast-casual restaurant.
Tasty Wok: This Chinese restaurant serves pan-fried noodles, roast duck and other specialties.
Tori Tori: Modern meets traditional at this mashup of an eclectic cocktail bar and Japanese food pub.
Vietnam Cuisine: The name says it all at this venue, where Vietnamese noodles and steamed rolls are staples.
Ahmed Indian Restaurant: Breakfast, lunch and dinner are available at Ahmed’s locations close to SeaWorld Orlando and the University of Central Florida.
DOMU: Sample one of Orlando’s most rarified Asian dining experiences at DOMU’s locations at Audubon Park’s East End Market close to downtown and Dr. Phillips near the theme parks. For on-the-go versions of their creations, visit DOMU Chibi Ramen in Waterford Lakes east of downtown.
Learn more: Audubon Park
Hawkers Asian Street Fare: Serving Asian street eats, this national restaurant family has locations in Orlando’s Mills 50 and Windermere areas.
Izziban Sushi & BBQ: Dig into all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue and sushi at their locations in Mills 50, Metro West and near The Florida Mall.
Seito Sushi: With locations in Baldwin Park near downtown and Restaurant Row, this envelope-pushing sushi restaurant has built a reputation for quality and consistency.
Tabla Indian Restaurant: Enjoy some of Orlando’s best Indian, Indo-Chinese and Asian fusion fare at Tabla’s locations in Winter Park and close to Universal Orlando.
Urban Hibachi: Hibachi meats and creative sushi rolls share the spotlight at locations close to The Florida Mall and Universal Orlando Resort.
Viet-Nomz: Discover a modern take on Vietnamese cuisine at their locations in Mills 50 and nearby Winter Park.
Learn more: Winter Park
Other Downtown Orlando-Area Districts
Kadence: Located in Audubon Park, and exclusively available by reservation, this intimate eatery focuses on multicourse tasting menus and a carefully curated selection of sake.
Kathi Rolls: Specializing in Indian street food that ranges from rolls to bowls, this casual eatery is in the Conway neighborhood east of downtown.
Le House Vietnamese Restaurant: Part of downtown Orlando’s Church Street district, this concept offers fresh, affordable dishes that originate from the owners’ hometowns of Ninh Hoa and Nha Trang in Vietnam.
Le Ky Patisserie: Sweet and savory treats await at this bakery, which can be found in the Hourglass District close to downtown.
Pho Hoa: Part of a casual chain, this restaurant in Orlando’s Milk District close to downtown serves traditional pho (noodle soup).
Pom Pom’s Teahouse & Sandwicheria: Routinely rated as one of Orlando’s best sandwich shops, Pom Pom’s makes creative finger foods, teas and sweets in the Milk District.
Saigon Noodle and Grill: Head to Orlando’s Milk District for traditional Vietnamese dishes at this family-run eatery.
Sun Pearl Bakery: This gourmet pastry shop creates pastries, cakes and desserts that blend Taiwanese traditions with modern flavors.
Taglish Filipino American Fare: Named after the mixture of Tagalog and English, this fast-casual concept pays homage to the owners’ Filipino traditions and American upbringing.
Curry Bowl: Located in Maitland, just north of Winter Park, this colorful Indian buffet offers all-you-can-eat classics such as curries, biryanis and dosas.
Hotto Potto: This Chinese eatery and dim sum spot specializes in hot pots served tableside with housemade sauces.
Kiko Japanese Cuisine: Enjoy traditional sushi rolls and Japanese entrees at this casual restaurant, including vegan options.
Krave Tea: This boba tea shop serves handcrafted milk tea, fruit tea and more.
Light on the Sugar: Lighthearted bites are always on the menu at this bespoke bakery and cafe.
Moghul Indian Cuisine: Tandoori and curry dishes are served in a serene dining room at this Northern Indian eatery.
Mynt Fine Indian Cuisine: Classic Indian fare is artfully presented in a refined setting with white and taupe furnishings.
Tamarind Indian Cuisine: Enjoy Northern and Southern Indian specialties in a bright, mural-decked dining room.