THE TOP TEN Italian Restaurants in Orlando
Some people call it "spaghetti sauce," others call it "gravy," but when we enjoy a well-made pasta topping, we don't hesitate to mop up the extra with some bread rather than let it go to waste. You can't always tell which restaurants are making fresh pasta, or their own tiramisu, by looking at the red tablecloths and white napkins. Whether you're craving a simple plate of spaghetti and meatballs, or an osso buco that melts in your mouth, here are our choices for the Top 10 Italian Restaurants in Orange County (CA), presented in alphabetical order. Mangia!
Some people call it "spaghetti sauce," others call it "gravy," but when we enjoy a well-made pasta topping, we don't hesitate to mop up the extra with some b... more
Antonio's La Fiamma
611 S. Orlando Ave., Maitland, FL 32751 / 407-645-5523
Downstairs, the Gentile family runs a small deli and wine shop, while upstairs is fine dining---linen tablecloths, candlelight and knowledgeable waiters. Antonio's has been consistently good for years, the kind of place where the food isn't necessarily dazzling, but you can always count on the freshest seafood, perfectly grilled meats, al dente pasta and a decent bottle of wine. It's the perfect spot for a quiet business lunch or midday rendezvous. The menu offers many of the same dishes for lunch and dinner, mainstays like the buffalo mozzarella, risottos and simple pastas. The dinner entrées expand with more complicated dishes, like the pork filet, lightly sautéed with caramelized sliced apples and raisins in a Port wine sauce; and a divine penne Boscaiola with portobello and porcini mushrooms, pancetta, fresh cream and a touch of tomato. The wine list offers plenty of Italian vintages and a handful of American choices. When Antonio's opened, the Gentiles dedicated Antonio's to the authentico spirito d' Italia, and the passion is still strong.
Portofino Bay Hotel, 5601 Universal Blvd., Orlando, FL 32819 / 407-503-1415
This link in the Bice chain of upscale Italian bistros that spans the globe is not your average hotel restaurant. Polished wood and marble floors and graceful flower arrangements give this restaurant a very fancy air---but nothing about the place is stuffy. The waiters are attentive and the dining room is relatively quiet, even when it's full. There's a small selection of wines by the glass, but the real stars are available only by the bottle. Though the menu changes seasonally, entrée stalwarts include a braised veal shank with saffron risotto, or the beef tenderloin with foie gras and a red wine sauce. Pasta dishes are light and simple; the fettuccine with porcini mushrooms in vegetable butter sauce is a must-try. Other carb-laden delights include seafood risotto and spinach-and-ricotta tortelloni. Appetizers like a generous antipasto platter with dry cured meats, olives, fruits and cheese, and fritto misto round out the traditional menu. Whatever you do, save room for the soft chocolate soufflé cake served with vanilla ice cream topped with chestnut honey, or try the classic tiramisu.
Brio Tuscan Grille
Winter Park Village, 480 N. Orlando Ave., Ste. 110, Winter Park, FL 32789 / 407-622-5611
There's always a crowd of beautiful people at this high-end eatery in trendy Winter Park Village. With warm Tuscan colors and Carrera marble, the somewhat-noisy grill is best known for its generous portions, like the pasta Brio with grilled chicken, mushrooms and roasted red pepper sauce. Start with a flatbread, fried calamari or bruschetta, or a simple salad of lettuce, Gorgonzola, bacon, tomatoes and Parmesan dressing. The thin-crust flatbreads are fun to share. Or, if you don't want to share, order your own wood-grilled salmon, a properly cooked piece of fish served with Romano-crusted tomatoes and fries. For meat-lovers, we recommend the double-cut pork chop with mashed potatoes, or the strip steak with Gorgonzola.
691 Front St., Kissimmee, FL 34747 / 407-566-2233
You'll find Café D'Antonio at the end of the street that Walt built. Walt himself didn't build the street, but the entire planned community of Celebration owes its beginning to a dream of Walt Disney. The café isn't owned by Disney; it is owned by Greg Gentile, who also owns an Italian restaurant in Maitland. His café in Celebration does not disappoint. You'll find good Italian cuisine in a casual yet sophisticated setting. Try the fresh bruschetta or the antipasto to start. Don't pass up any dish that comes with a side of risotto. Other options include a grilled veal chop, and the linguine with fresh clams in a garlicky broth. The outdoor seating is among one of the most pleasant in Central Florida, facing quaint Front Street and its bordering lake.
Rosen Shingle Creek, 9939 Universal Blvd., Orlando, FL 32819 / 407-996-9939
Rosen Shingle Creek is set on 230 acres of lush landscape along its namesake creek, the headwater for the Florida Everglades. Its top restaurant offering is a slick Italian bistro warmed by live piano music and a convivial bar. Familiar but contemporary pastas, roasted meats and seafood preparations are sent out into the 160-seat dining room or to the long, inviting "presentation cooking" bar ideal for single diners. Nothing comes cheap, but the kitchen has a deft touch with robust and clean-flavored dishes such as steamed clams with roasted garlic and linguiça, or a filet mignon gussied up with a mantle of Fontina. Dishes such as the Tuscan veal chop tip the prices into the over-$40 category, but with 445,000-square-feet of meeting space and a David Harman-designed championship golf course, the property is well-suited as an expense-account favorite.
Christini's Ristorante Italiano
7600 Dr. Phillips Blvd., Orlando, FL 32819 / 407-345-8770
For more than four decades, Chris Christini has been greeting his customers at his Southwest Orlando restaurant, consistently a top pick as the place to entertain upscale clients if you're on a business trip. The service is professional and the food is first-rate, with prices to match. There are no surprises on the menu, with old-fashioned specialties like the signature veal chop with fresh sage and Calvados, filet mignon with Barolo sauce and sautéed grouper in butter and fish broth. Pastas range from a homemade cheese ravioli in a light cream tomato sauce to a decadent fettuccine Alfredo. Sweet endings are Italian classics like tiramisu, cannoli and ricotta cheesecake. Christini's solid wine list includes an impressive range of French, American and Italian vintages, many by the glass.
Enzo's Restaurant on the Lake
1130 U.S. Hwy. 17-92, Longwood, FL 32750 / 407-834-9872
Housed in a former residence, Enzo's sits behind a wall along Highway 17-92, a little gem in the midst of car lots and mom-and-pop businesses. Don't let the location fool you---Enzo’s lakeside eatery is a local institution, with upscale, classic Italian cuisine. Service often lacks and the kitchen has some off nights, but you can't go wrong with the bucatini alla Enzo, pasta with a sauce of peas, mushrooms and prosciutto, tossed with fresh black pepper and Parmesan---it's been on the menu since the restaurant opened many years ago. The simple spaghetti alla carbonara with bacon, egg yolk, sautéed onions and Romano cheese is another favorite. And there's always a daily risotto special. If you're in the mood for a steak, try the straccetti di manzo, thin-sliced Black Angus steak sautéed in shiitake mushrooms, arugula and balsamic vinegar. You'll find a wide selection from Italy, France and California on the wine list.
651 N. Primrose Dr., Orlando, FL 32803 / 407-896-6763
This longtime Italian eatery continues to serve made-from-scratch specialties, from a simple tortellini or linguine with clams, conch or squid to a rich cannelloni stuffed with meat. Or just settle for a simple pizza or calzone. For dessert, dive into the tiramisu, a fine rendition of the classic Italian sweet.
JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes, 4040 Central Florida Pkwy., Orlando, FL 32837 / 407-393-4444
Melissa Kelly, noted for her Primo restaurant in Rockland, Maine, is wowing diners at the Grande Lakes Resort. Her classy, 114-seat restaurant in the touristy JW Marriott is a far cry from the down east Victorian mansion with four acres of organic gardens, but the Orlando outpost does have its own small patch of organic garden and an upscale dining room with an open kitchen. Kelly makes an occasional appearance but leaves the cooking to chef Kathleen Blake, who knows her organics, too: starters like tuna tartare with Meyer lemon and a sunny-side-up quail egg, or pistachio-crusted goat cheese with organic baby beets and dried cherry vinaigrette. Entrées include pan-roasted grouper with sweet shrimp risotto; grilled Long Island duck breast with butternut squash, greens and potato gnocchi in a sage-walnut pesto; and handmade spinach linguine with littleneck clams. The menu changes every few weeks so there's always something new and notable. Bread, too, is worth a nibble, baked daily with help from a 10-year-old dough starter that Kelly carries along on her trips from Maine. Save room for the irresistible espresso float or a gelato with homemade biscotti. Service was a bit slow on our visits, but be patient---the overall experience is worth the wait.
Rocco’s Italian Grille
400 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park, FL 32789 / 407-644-7770
If you’re looking for more than a pizza joint, but authentic Italian in a stylish setting, reserve a table at Rocco’s. Rocco and his business partner Enrico, both natives of southern Italy, are often busy in the dining room, helping guests to choose a bottle of wine or offering suggestions or tastes from the menu. Start with the fritto misto, a crisp jumble of calamari, shrimp and zucchini, or opt for classic beef carpaccio drizzled with white truffle oil and topped with arugula, capers and lemon. Generous fish, chicken and meat dishes vary from crispy whole fish for two to a juicy, balsamic-marinated New York strip steak and a thick grilled veal chop in a robust sauce of wild mushrooms and Cognac. Al dente pastas range from classic linguine with garlicky steamed clams to tiny pillows of ricotta gnocchi. Ask for a dessert sampler for a taste of cannoli, tiramisu and crème caramel. Top off the experience with a tiny glass of fragrant limoncello.
(all people watching this list)