Universal Orlando is BACK. One of my final vacations pre-pandemic was the inaugural 5K and 10K Character Run in February 2020. You know what they say about runners and their fueling… And celebratory adult beverages… With Coronavirus still very much a consideration, I’m thankful for all that “research.” Since for the foreseeable future it seems open air will be more appealing than ever, outside is “IN.” Here’s our list of the best of the best outdoor dining spots at Universal Orlando.
According to the CDC, the risk of Covid-19 transmission outdoors is significantly lower than indoor spaces. Additionally, the BBC reports that UV rays (that spectrum of the sun that makes your skin tan) may be toxic to the life of the virus. No wonder Zagat’s calls eating outdoors “the future of dining.”
Best Outdoor Dining at Universal Orlando
Unlike its Orlando competitor, this resort is lacking in their in-park table service options. Quick service abounds at Universal Orlando. I don’t know about you, but standing in long lines in confined spaces doesn’t sound appealing at this moment. (Even with Mobile Ordering.) Luckily, our perennial favorites reside in the resort hotels. And other “creative” locations!
We simply love the Universal Orlando hotels. Whether Premier or Value, there is wide appeal with each. Whenever possible, we escape to our resort or CityWalk for dinner. As the park hours here are typically shorter than at Walt Disney World, this is generally advisable.
*Note that at the time of publication, the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel and Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn and Suites have not reopened. Please refer to the official Universal Orlando Resort site for updates.
This is our hands-down favorite restaurant at Universal Orlando. Yes, it is pricey. And though it is part of an international chain (I’ve been to the one in Abu Dhabi!!), it does not feel like it.
Named after it founder, this Milanese restaurant reflects that architecture and cuisine. Its service is exceptional and beyond theme park-worthy. Though I always intend to try something new, I tend to gravitate towards one of their fresh pastas. ( Lasagna classiche Bolognesi con ragu di carne e besciamella or Tagliatelle al ragu’ di carne , specifically!) . I have sampled my family’s Veal Piccata and Chicken Piccata. All delizioso!
Perhaps the highlight of this gem at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is its perch overlooking the waterfront and Harbor Piazza. Dining while overlooking the action below easily transported us to our sultry evenings in Venice.
And for la dolce vita… If you time your meal right, you will be serenaded by Musica Della Notte at sunset.
Mama Della’s Ristorante
Also in the Portofino and another family-favorite is Mama Della’s Ristorante. This is a homier Italian concept. And a step out of some of the dining rooms I have visited in Brooklyn. Complete with strolling musicians, this restaurant is playful. Sing-a-longs will do that!
This menu features Italian staples like Chicken Parmigiana (Pollo alla Parmigiano) and Spaghetti and Meatballs . Tradizionale, as Mama would say. She even offers pizza for the kids!
Outdoor in the piazza, there is additional seating on their patio. Again, this allows for viewing of Musica Della Notte. And like their neighbor across the piazza, the food and “atmosfera” are splendido!
Trattoria del Porto
And yet another at the Portofino. (Sensing a theme? We love this hotel!) This is our go-to breakfast spot in Universal Orlando. With Italian theming (once again!), the atmosphere is casual. Typically a lavish buffet is set here. However, this will be suspended for the foreseeable future. Since mama (that’s me) likes to be served when on vacation, we always order off the menu anyway.
From Eggs Beneditto ($15) for breakfast, to the Grilled Salmon ($18) for lunch, to Grilled RibEye ($36) for dinner, all are solid choices. Not homeruns, but convenient. If the pricing doesn’t throw you, the atmosphere should win you over.
Sharing the same piazza as Mama Della’s the outdoor dining here is just lovely. And plentiful. Umbrellas and iron tables overlook the “harbor.” (Or waterway to Universal Studios parks.) We just love starting our day here!
Bar 17 Bistro
A star atop the new Universal’s Aventura Hotel, this rooftop oasis overlooks the parks. (Can you spot Volcano Bay in the distance?) A dedicated lobby elevator will take you up, up, up to this open air perch.
Though this location is billed as a bar, the menu here may surprise you. Sure, you can order chicken wings and cheese boards, but there is so much more to try. Think bao buns, salads, salmon, filet mignon, and a delicious Rooftop Burger ($15).
But remember, the view and the wide open space is the star here!
At each of the nine resort pools, the range of pool bars offer food as well as drink. If you are staying at any of their hotels (except for Value hotels) your hotel key will grant you access to each pool. And amenities! My favorites? The Hard Rock Hotel’s beachclub and Portofino’s Splendido Bar & Grill. Parks getting too crowded for comfort? Take a break and grab a meal (with a vacation-type beverage). It’s my Universal pro tip!
Universal CityWalk Dining
I didn’t get it. At first the burger/sushi fusion concept seemed unappealing. But on my last family visit, it was one of the few restaurants open for lunch in Universal’s CityWalk . Conversion! My son ordered the now-famous “Burgushi.” This hamburger meat inside a sushi roll might be a tad less healthy than conventional sushi. But boy, is it GOOD. Likewise with the pork BBQ High-Class Hillbilly Roll. Of course conventional sushi and burgers are on the menu too!
Dining on the outdoor patio is an added bonus, as you can get a birds-eye-view of CityWalk and the parks beyond. Unfortunately, this establishment has not yet reopened. Look for it!
The near-exact replica of its cousin in New Orleans, the large patio is the place to be. Especially now. Grab a Hurricane by the outdoor fountain and some French Quarter cuisine. Sadly, this spot too has yet to open its doors.
Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville
Though there is certainly an open-air appeal here, I will be honest. The food is so-so at best. BUT those margaritas make up for it!! Live music is another bonus and adds to the “on vacation” vibe. And this restaurant HAS reopened. Yay!
Universal Studios Florida
Lombard’s Seafood Grille
This flagship restaurant in Universal Studios sits on the lagoon and has limited outdoor seating on its dock. With the Fisherman’s Wharf, it seems fitting to sit outside and watch the birds. . If you do opt to sit inside (air conditioning??) the large indoor saltwater aquarium is a draw for the kiddos. Though this is a table service venue, the vibe is far more relaxed than it once was.
The menu features mostly fish, of course. And FRESH. We’ve never had a bad meal here! For our health-conscious times, Lombard’s Seafood Grille is the perfect break from a burger and fries. (Though you can get both here. And they are delish!)
Universal’s Islands of Adventure
Our all-time favorite theme park restaurant resides here!!
You may have heard that this establishment has been voted the “#1 Theme Park Restaurant in the World” by Theme Park Insider. They have been getting my family’s vote for over 18 years!
The good news is that they offer outdoor dining. Relaxing while overlooking the lagoon attractions has always made this my boys’ must-eat-at in Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
And mama’s must-do is always the Risotto of the Day!
What was originally conceptualized as a theme park fine dining destination, Mythos Restaurant has adapted with the times. The architecture is stunning. (Think dining inside a mythological cave, complete with streams.) The designer of The Cheesecake Factory made another splash here!
Though the menu still offers Greek specialties like Spanakopita Dip, fusion elements have infiltrated; Sushi and Pad Thai are now highlights. The service has always been professional here. But the dress code is casual!
Universal Orlando Resort Safety
“Screening, Sanitizing, and Spacing.” Resort safety precautions are many. At the hotels, there will be no valet parking. For the restaurants, there are parks, CityWalk, and resort hotel temperature checks. Face coverings are mandatory (until sat at your table) and occupancy limited to 50%. Therefore, advanced reservations will be more vital than ever. (Check the online reservation system or Open Table for many of the above-listed establishments.)
Unlike Walt Disney World, quick service abounds at Universal Orlando Resort. If you are vacationing during the pandemic (or at any time, for that matter), relax and enjoy that “good life.” Sit in a piazza. Dine on a balcony. Graze overlooking the water. Enjoy the open air. Enjoy the best of outdoor dining at Universal Orlando. And a chin don! (May you live another 100 years!)