Last weekend, with rare time off from both jobs, like a good 'ol Miamian, I decided to take a quick trip to Orlando, FL to visit Islands of Adventures and Universal Studios. Unlike Disney World that is situated on acres of secluded land on the outskirts of Kissimmee, FL, Islands and Universal are smack dab in the middle of throbbing tourism clusters: restaurant chains, gift shops, escape rooms, illogical amounts of tattoo shops.
You would think that we'd talk about cool, under-the-radar spots we recommend, but realistically, after days full of travel and walking back and forth between parks, driving a half hour away from your hotel for Black Rooster Tacos isn't too appealing.
Te lo agradezco, pero no
And thus we accepted the challenge of finding convenient grub spots that didn't break the bank, but still fed the foodie. We're happy to report we had three great successes. Our "Health-o-Meter" will be going up and down on this post because we'll cover a lot of ground, but we've got your back!
Our first recommendation is Cafe TuTu Tango, located on International Drive. This national franchise is an art-inspired restaurant that serves fusion tapas. The restaurant is essentially an art studio and gallery dressed in pieces by local artists for sale to the public. Sprinkled between tables and art exhibitions are live art installments and other special acts, such as professional tango dancers. On our "Health-oMeter" we rate them a 3 out of 5 due to their raw plates and small potions. Our favorite dish was the Jalapeño Mac N’ Cheese. It had the perfect ratio of spicy to crunchy - now that we think about it, we’ll take any kind of ratio seeing as how you can’t go wrong with a plate like this.
Our second spot was the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium. Located in Universal’s City Walk, the formerly NBA restaurant is now, you guessed it, a living, breathing homage to the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Willy Wonka) film. The building literally looks like a factory; sticks out like a sore thumb next to the Hard Rock Cafe Stadium. The place was packed when we dropped by late afternoon. There was an hour and half wait to get a table and try out their American fare. As such, we resorted to their bakery at the front of the house; this was a also a retail area selling movie memorabilia and knick knacks. Because we could only try their sweets, on our "Health-o-Meter" we'll give them a 1 because we believe chocolate is great for mental health (Have you ever felt sad after eating a chocolate chip cookie?). We loved their macaroons - counterintuitive on paper given where we were, but it was absolutely worth it. They were delicious! You must try their lavender macaroons; they are so light and aromatic.
Oompa Loompas sold separately
Our final spot and the biggest bang for your buck is Chuy’s. We decided to visit the Tex-Mex joint after spending the last 9+ hours at the parks. We wanted something filling, homey and affordable (after spending $17 on chicken tenders in Universal). The International Drive spot is your quintessential tourist trap: crazy decor, giant stone busts, balloon animals. But! The price and taste of the food would have told you otherwise. We give it a 3 on the "Health-o-Meter." They're focused on fresh ingredients and feature some traditional veggie-based Mexican dishes. We highly recommend ordering their Chicken Tortilla Soup. It had the perfect melody of flavors and recharged us after a long day.
Our intent in writing this article is to appease your FOMO. Its ok to pass on hidden gems/hipster dives every now and then. We all know the time and effort it takes to find and visit these places. But part of traveling to certain destinations or attractions means embracing the kitsch of it all. So remember, when in Rome…