We are seeking thrills and adventures in life — not just of sight and sound — but more and more we are starting to travel for great food as well. Universal Orlando Resort’s food and beverage is taking a front seat as a nourishing and delightful part of the adventure at the resort. From new, world-class pastries at TODAY Cafe to the wood-grilled ribeye steaks at Bigfire in Universal CityWalk, and of course the classic Butterbeer in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, there are a lot of options for foodies to come explore and even plan their trip around.
I recently visited Universal Orlando Resort for my very own 3-day culinary experience and discovered some tips, tricks, and recommendations that may spark ideas for your next visit. Come along with me on a journey to seek out some of the best bites at Universal Orlando Resort.
- Make sure to download the Official Universal Orlando Resort App. It has a sortable resort map, showtimes, wait times, menus, hours, and locations. This can be very helpful for planning out your meals as hours can vary for each restaurant or food cart. You can link the app for payment in the park and also use it for placing Mobile Food and Drink Orders from select restaurants.
- Tickets, Please. This adventure works best with an Annual Pass or a three-day park-to-park ticket, which allows you to park hop at any time.
- Check on the latest health and safety guidelines before heading to the parks.
- Bring sunscreen and appropriate Florida-weather clothing.
Breakfast | The Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley, Universal Studios Florida
I started the day off right at Universal Studios by making a beeline over to the immersive The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Diagon Alley. My first stop was to grab a caffeinated concoction (cup of coffee) and some hearty British-inspired breakfast at one of the wizarding world’s favorite London-based pubs, the Leaky Cauldron. My recommendations…
- Traditional Breakfast – The Traditional Breakfast will definitely nourish you enough as a starter for the full day of adventure ahead at Universal Orlando. This very filling British breakfast is a heaping plate of savory sausage links, English bacon (kind of like our American ham), black pudding sausage, baked beans, a grilled tomato, sautéed mushrooms, and breakfast potatoes.
- Egg, Leek, & Mushroom Pasty – Another great British-inspired dish — this delectable biscuit-like pastry dish is a satiating and satisfying dish to start your day, stuffed with scrumptious scrambled eggs, mushrooms, and tasty leeks and served with some delicious breakfast potatoes and fresh fruit.
After breakfast, you are ready to explore the nooks and crannies of Diagon Alley. Grab some Earl Grey & Lavender ice cream at Florean Fortesecue’s Ice Cream Parlour or a refreshing cup of Butterbeer to enjoy underneath the flames from the fire-breathing dragon atop Gringotts bank. While you’re there, don’t miss a ride on the very thrilling, multi-dimensional Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.
Hop on the Hogwarts Express from King’s Cross Station in London and travel to Hogsmeade Station in Universal’s Islands of Adventure. There, find out if you are “Team Motorcycle” or “Team Sidecar” as you experience the brand new Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. I had such a blast living my wildest Hagrid-biker fantasy dreams on this new ride, going up to an exhilarating 50 miles per hour while racing through the Forbidden Forest and meeting some of the Wizarding World’s rarest magical creatures.
Lunch | Mythos in Universal’s Islands of Adventures
Saunter over to the nearby Mythos for lunch, an award-winning restaurant hidden beneath towering rock formations in a mythic grotto-like setting with cascading waterfalls. This full-service restaurant offers creative and exceptionally executed American, Mediterranean, and Asian-inspired cuisine in a fantastical setting.
I started this celestial feast off right with a Mythos Potion of the Gods, a strong ruby red concoction that lit a fire in my belly.
The menu often changes here based on seasonal ingredients, but a must-try staple is the Pad Thai noodles, a guest-favorite sweet and sour peanut sauced noodle dish that can be customized with tofu, chicken, or shrimp and topped with fried wonton skins.
Inspired by its Greek roots, the chimichurri-sauced Grilled Lamb Meatballs with creamy rosemary-infused polenta and the fall-off-the-bone tender Mediterannean Braised Lamb Shank are both stellar lip-smacking must-try dishes at Mythos.
Snack | Natural Selections in Jurassic Park, Universal’s Islands of Adventure
Trek on over to the jungle island paradise known as Jurassic Park, where prehistoric dangers lurk behind every corner. After you’ve met Blue at Raptor Encounter, take a break from the excitement and refuel at the new Natural Selections snack cart. The cart can be found near the location of the upcoming Jurassic World VelociCoaster, coming in Summer 2021.
Blink and you might miss it — this unassuming cart may look like any old churro cart, but it is so much more. Grab some of these sweet and savory bites and head to the Splash Zone to enjoy while watching guests on Jurassic Park River Adventure splash down 85-feet to escape from the jaws of a prehistoric T-Rex.
- The Dulce de Leche Churro is so delightful — soft and fluffy fresh — unlike many other churros out there — and coated in a sticky dulce de leche caramel, sprinkled with toasted coconut flakes — the flavors and textures all melt together — just “Magnifico” work by the pastry team.
- The Guava Pastelito is a freshly baked, sweet guava and cheese-filled croissant pastry topped with a fine layer of powdered sugar and is unlike any guava pastelito you would find at the local panaderia — and maybe one of the finest renditions of guava pastelitos you will ever eat.
- The Beef Empanadas are stuffed with a perfectly seasoned mix of beef, peppers, and onions that transport you to the Caribbean — just golden pockets full of sazon and joy.
After you’ve enjoyed any (or all) of these bodacious bites, head over to nearby Skull Island: Reign of Kong, a cavernous expedition deep into a primal, perilous jungle on the mysterious island – one filled to the brim with monstrous prehistoric dinosaurs, flying tec, the thunderous king (King Kong) himself. Some of my favorite parts of this ride actually come from the very detailed sets in the queue — there’s a primordial, almost creepy ambiance as we made our way deeper and deeper into the darkness of Skull Island.
Dinner | Red Oven Pizza, Universal CityWalk
For dinner, reminisce about the adventures of the day with your friends and family over some fine pizza and fine wine at Red Oven Pizza Bakery, found in the heart of bustling Universal CityWalk. Red Oven is a quick-service style pizza restaurant that shares some kitchen space with sister restaurant, VIVO Italian Kitchen. Watch as the pizzas are brought out of the massive centerpiece namesake red oven freshly baked and topped with sweet San Marzano tomatoes, and creamy buffalo mozzarella. The red and white Neapolitan-style pizzas are made from scratch with hand-tossed dough using double zero finely ground Italian flour, considered the gold standard for pizza dough, baked fresh inside a 900° stone-lined oven.
- Savor the signature Prosciutto & Arugula pizza topped with fresh mozzarella or the classic Big Eye Pepperoni pizza with a nice glass of chardonnay or house wine.
Grab a quick bite of breakfast at your hotel (check this blog for some great hotel options to consider!) and head on over to Universal’s Volcano Bay, the idyllic South Pacific island centered around the colossal 200-foot-tall Krakatau volcano with cascading waterfalls. It’s home to not only the fabled Waturi tribe and their many thrilling water slides and wild rivers, but also to tasty and innovative dishes inspired by the island’s tropical roots.
EDITOR’S NOTE: On November 2nd, Volcano Bay closed for the season and will reopen on or before March 1, 2021.
Lunch at Volcano Bay
- At Kohola Reef Restaurant & Social Club, grab the Quinoa Edamame Burger — a sure hit with both vegans and non-vegans alike. This burger is a plant-powered crispy quinoa edamame patty and topped with roasted shiitake mushrooms, packed with umami flavors.
- For those seeking a touch of island spice for lunch, head on over to Whakawaiwai Eats for a bountiful bowl of shareable, savory and satisfying Jerk Shrimp Mac n’ Cheese, a creamy pasta shell dish topped with Jamaican jerk-spiced, pan-seared shrimp that transports you straight to the Caribbean.
After lunch, dive into the Kopiko Wai Winding River with a tube and enjoy a relaxing and calm lazy river experience. Then, hop on over to TeAwa The Fearless River to dial up that lazy river experience about 10 notches. If you ever wondered what it was like to go white water rafting but with your body and a life vest instead, the TeAwa is it — full of churning rapids and chopping waves.
Snack at Volcano Bay
- A visit to Volcano Bay is just not complete without an ice cream cone full of Waturi Fusion Ice Cream (and the accompanying photo with it!). The Waturi Fusion ice cream is a cooling and delicious rainbow of colors, full of sweet swirls of banana, blue raspberry, strawberry, and orange flavors. Head on over to Waturi Beach, grab a beachside seat and enjoy the lapping surf waves at the lagoon with your ice cream in hand.
Happy Hour | Velvet Bar, Hard Rock Hotel Orlando
After freshening up for the night, head on over for happy hour and dinner at the Hard Rock Hotel, a rock-and-roll themed hotel modeled after a mission-style southern California estate, complete with a rock-star palm-lined swimming pool.
The signature pieces that adorn the walls of the newly renovated and ultra-sleek Velvet Bar just drip with swag and would put any music fan in awe — a sequined tunic worn by Prince, leather pants worn by Lenny Kravitz, shoes worn by John Lennon, a jacket won by Johnny Cash, a linen jacket worn by Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones during their 1976 European tour for the Black and Blue album, among many others.
Catch up on the day with friends at the bar and grab a cocktail or two like the Topanga Canyon and the Electric Cumberpatch before walking downstairs for dinner at The Kitchen at Hard Rock Hotel.
Dinner | The Kitchen Restaurant, Hard Rock Hotel Orlando
The centerpiece of rock-and-roll themed The Kitchen at Hard Rock Hotel (which specializes in new American cuisine and comfort food) is its open kitchen. Here you can watch a live cooking show of sorts as the chefs and cooks deftly prepare your meal on flaming hot stoves and frying pans. There’s something for everyone here, from the homestyle mac and cheese to perfectly seared filet mignon. Start the meal off with a few of their signature cocktails like the Coco Nib Old Fashioned and the gorgeous Summer of Love. Here are a few of my recommendations at The Kitchen:
- Mac & Cheese – This is a superb rendition of the traditional mac and cheese dish, but elevated with baked bread crumbs on pasta shells and three types of cheeses including Manchego, Monterey jack, and Cheddar. Adding bacon makes this dish extra decadent and made this one of my personal favorites at The Kitchen.
- Stir Fried Cauliflower Rice – If you are a big fan of traditional fried rice (made with traditional rice) as I am, you’ll love this modern twist on the dish made with cauliflower rice. Perfect for vegans as well as those looking for something light on the carbs, this towering cauliflower rice is delightful, just full of scrumptious vegetable flavors, including crispy edamame, peppers, onions, carrots, and spicy jalapeno.
- Grilled Filet Mignon – The Kitchen might not be known for steaks, but they should be as they are serving some very fine steaks here that rank among the best in Orlando. The filet mignon is high quality, perfectly seared and is served with a traditional red wine demi sauce along with plentiful sides of spinach, potato puree, and port glazed mushrooms.
- Grilled Sixty South Antarctic Salmon – So tender and so very flavorful, I loved this fresh grilled salmon, specially harvested from cold Antarctic waters – hence the namesake sixty (degrees) south. The salmon is complemented by a citrus shallot butter sauce and sides of traditional green beans and mashed potatoes.
- The Kitchen Sink – I hope you brought your family and friends with you to dinner because this cake is gargantuan! The Kitchen Sink is seven layers of gooey goodness — including Brownie, Peanut Butter Crunch, Chocolate Chunk Cookie, Pecan Pie, Vanilla Cheesecake, Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake, and Vanilla Chiffon, topped with a Chocolate Sauce and served with a scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream.
With dining experiences like this, you will be asking for an encore at the Hard Rock Hotel very soon. Look out for chef specials for dinner on the weekends — call ahead to find out, you may find fantastic tempura grouper and shrimp in the lineup…
Breakfast | TODAY Cafe, Universal Studios Florida
Designed to feel like stepping onto the iconic TODAY show set, the TODAY Cafe is located near the entrance to Universal Studios — an ideal location for those guests who enter the park in the morning and are looking for a morning cup of coffee and breakfast. There is a high level of craft dedicated to the food at this cafe, not only in taste, but also presentation. I was so delighted by their craft pastries here — like the adult strawberry pop tart and the blueberry bomb pastry — so delicately balanced and elevated that you could tell these are made by a world-class pastry team here at Universal Orlando.
- Smoked Salmon Lox Bagel – You will love the freshness of the smoked salmon topped with dill cream cheese and red onions on a toasted everything bagel — and the presentation is a work of art as an extra bonus.
- Park Avenue Avocado Toast – Avocado toast is the breakfast dish of choice for the health and environmentally conscious these days. It’s hard not to see why this TODAY Cafe staple is a favorite.
After breakfast, take a short walk down the boulevard to catch one of the newest shows at Universal Studios Florida: The Bourne Stuntacular. It’s an immersive, cutting-edge fusion of choreographed live action and technology — pure Hollywood movie magic. I was so blown away by how real the set looked — created by a massive 3,640-square-foot LED screen with over 19 million pixels — blurring the lines between technology and reality. This whole show was heart-thumping, non-stop action for me. And afterward, to keep the heart-thumping, non-stop action going, I headed over to Hollywood Rip-Ride Rockit for one of my all-time favorite rides in the parks.
Lunch | Fast Food Boulevard in Springfield, USA, Universal Studios Florida
Any fan of The Simpsons will love the unique, quick service dining at Fast Food Boulevard located in The Simpsons’ family hometown of Springfield. From Krusty Burger to Moe’s Tavern to Cletus’ Chicken Shack, you can pick up classics like the:
- Krusty Burger – Krusty the Clown’s signature juicy 6 ounce burger with secret sauce, American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles. Get a taste of delicious!
- Chicken & Waffle Sandwich – Cletus’ Chicken Shack’s fried chicken breast and waffles with lettuce, tomato, drizzled maple syrup and mayo sauce. Served up with fries or crispy tater tots, this sure makes for a good meal!
- In the mood for a nice cool drink? Enjoy a Buzz Cola or Flaming Moe! The Flaming Moe was my favorite, mostly because of the fun “Flaming” and orange fizz presentation. Plus, it’s non-alcoholic so foodies of any age can enjoy.
Snack | Crepes from Central Park Crepes Stand, Universal Studios Florida
Central Park Crepes is one of the newest quick service stands at Universal Orlando, and it has become quite popular already with its offerings of sweet and savory crepes. For savory crepe lovers, there’s Chicken and Goat cheese, Smoked Brisket, and the plant-based vegetarian crepe with vegan mozzarella and gardein sausage varieties. For those with a sweet tooth, try the lemon blueberry or strawberry hazelnut crepes.
Snack | Jacket Potatoes in London, Universal Studios Florida
We here stateside might call them “baked potatoes”, but over on the other side of the pond, our British friends call these “jacket potatoes”, served in an unassuming cart located in London near the Knight Bus. They are a popular mainstay with guests, and no wonder as these massive loaded potatoes topped with bacon, sour cream, and cheddar cheese are a beauty to behold. Be prepared to have fellow guests stop to ask you where to pick up a jacket potato when they see you with yours!
Happy Hour | Orchid Court Lounge & Sushi Bar at Loews Royal Pacific Resort
As the day winds down, hop on the complimentary Water Taxi in CityWalk and head toward Loews Royal Pacific Resort for happy hour with craft cocktails and sushi rolls at the newly renovated Orchid Court Lounge & Sushi Bar. Royal Pacific is a Polynesian paradise, with all the vibes of the South Seas. The absolutely gorgeous, modern and stylish Orchid Court Lounge & Sushi Bar, complete with a new massive chandelier fixture above the bar and breathtaking scenic views, is just the perfect place to catch up with friends before dinner and enjoy something from the vibrant menu of inventive sushi and appetizers, along with innovative cocktails, Japanese whiskeys, sake and beer.
- Start off with a craft cocktail like the Golden Dawn, Japanese cocktail or the Yokohama Selfie.
- You could also try a glass of Kaiyo Japanese whisky neat, made from whisky aged in Mizunura Oak, one of the most expensive barrels in the world.
- Enjoy it with some sliced seared tuna tataki in ponzu sauce and a dragon roll with a drizzle of eel sauce.
Dinner | Bigfire, Universal CityWalk
Walk along the trail or hop on the Water Taxi back to Universal CityWalk for a grand finale at Bigfire, one of Universal CityWalk’s newest restaurants. Imagine Bigfire restaurant as that cozy Colorado lakeside lodge with an open fire pit, but instead of just s’mores, the wood-fire grills here are bringing to you the flavors of elevated American fare like steaks and freshwater fish, kissed by the delicate smoke of cherrywood, pecan wood, and oak wood.
- With cocktails like the Smoked, Smoked Maple, the oakwood gives the Knob Creek bourbon a lovely and enjoyable light smoked flavor. I loved the table-side presentation, complete with a smoking mini-show.
- To start, order the beer-glazed scallops served with bacon and fire-grilled vegetables. These fire-grilled vegetables are such a must when you visit BigFire, accentuated by the wood-fire smoke.
- For an entrée, the Brook trout served with tarragon sauce and the Bigfire signature steaks are a sure crowd pleaser, especially the 16 ounce Creekstone Cowboy Ribeye. I loved how juicy this ribeye is here at Bigfire!
- For sides, definitely try the potatoes au gratin, the creamy pork belly mac and cheese, and the aforementioned fire-grilled vegetables.
- For plant-based options, try the Cauliflower steak, served with Shishito peppers, roasted vine tomatoes, warm farro salad, and a charred tomato sauce.
- Leave plenty of space to share dessert, especially for the exquisite Baked Alaska – layers of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry ice cream, covered with creamy white meringue, and torched tableside by your server. I loved watching the flames dancing on this dish, and then extinguishing, just like watching the last embers of campfire go out before heading to bed for the night.
There is something so very special about the time family and friends cherish together around a table with good food, sharing stories of adventures had, times gone by, and times to come. Food is nourishment and sustenance, but at Universal Orlando – food and drink is also an adventure to be experienced and shared. Hopefully, you have found some dining inspiration to thrill your inner foodie as you plan for your next vacation at Universal Orlando Resort.
Must be 21 years and older with valid identification to purchase or drink alcoholic beverages.