This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at the Top Six Restaurants at the Universal Orlando Resort (UOR). This was a tough list to compile, and after several agonizing hours of internal debate, I had to cut a list of about a dozen eateries down to only the best of the best. It broke my heart to not include The Kitchen at the Hard Rock Hotel, as The Kitchen Sink Challenge just may be my favorite thing I’ve ever done at the UOR. Another tough one to cut was Finnegan’s Bar and Grill in Universal Studios Florida. Finnegan’s has exceptional food offerings with reasonable pricing (the Guinness Beef Stew being a favorite) and great atmosphere. And of course anyone who has heard me on the Universal NOW! podcast knows my love for the NASCAR Sports Grille runs deep, with their pretzel breadsticks possibly being my all time favorite food.
So knowing how hard it was to get to these final six, let’s have a look at those restaurants which rose above the rest…
# 6 – The Three Broomsticks (Islands of Adventure)
In a word? Wow. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is filled with jaw droppers. The Hogwarts castle facade. The Forbidden Journey queue and ride. Butterbeer. The Ollivander’s wand experience. The shop windows in Hogsmeade village. The Three Broomsticks is as good as anything in WWOHP. From the great Sirius Black wanted poster outside, to the wonderful decorating and atmosphere inside, to the peaceful outdoor seating area, and of course the menu.
Whether it’s a “traditional English breakfast” in the morning featuring black pudding and English bacon to the lunch/dinner menu with roasted potatoes, corn on the cob, Shepherd’s Pie, and Fish & Chips, The Three Broomsticks has items that most counter service restaurants at the park don’t offer. It is also one of the only places in WWOHP that you can get a pumpkin fizz, so make sure you add a meal at The Three Broomsticks to your next visit to IOA.
# 5 – Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville (CityWalk)
A volcano erupting with margarita mix, Jimmy Buffett’s greatest hits, and possibly the best nachos on property make this venue a hit at UOR. You’re going to expect Applebee’s/Chili’s level of food, but I think you’ll be surprised with the size and quality of the menu. My personal favorites include the Landshark Lager Fish & Chips, Cheeseburger in Paradise, and of course the Volcano Nachos. But the true highlight may be the Chocolate Hurricane dessert. Here’s the description: Made for sharing. Everything the name implies. Warm brownies served with vanilla bean ice cream, Kit Kat and Heath bars, pirouette and mini shortbread cookies, grilled pineapple, whipped cream and chopped macadamia nuts. Swirled tableside with hot fudge and caramel sauce.
The Chocolate Hurricane is almost destination dining in and of itself. A large lazy Susan-like spinning wheel is put on the table in anticipation of the dessert. Two containers of chocolate sauce and caramel are delivered, and these are used so that the guests can spin the Hurricane and drizzle their own toppings. The bowl with the Chocolate Hurricane is something to behold, with full Kit Kats sticking out like monoliths. I don’t know what the Oscars or Emmys are called for the dessert industry, but whoever invented The Chocolate Hurricane deserves a lifetime achievement award. We’ve listed the Top Six Outrageous Eats at Universal, and then we looked at six more but now it appears a third article demands to be written.
Margarittaville also has a great little outdoor bar area right across the walkway called the Lone Palm Airport. With breakfast, lunch, and dinner items, a full bar and a daily Happy Hour, this is a great place to grab a quick bite to eat and drink during your park touring as well as a perfect people watching spot.
# 4 – Confisco Grille (IOA)
The menu is above average at the Confisco Grille, with hummus, fork & knife meatball sandwich and the wood fired pizzas always scoring high marks, but it’s the atmosphere that gets the really high marks. The back story behind Confisco Grille is that merchants and travelers from around the world stopped by to try the unusual and exotic dishes of the restauarnt. Confisco Grille is located at the end of Port of Entry, and on their way to the restaurant they were stopped by the local constable with the more strange and unique items they were carrying being confiscated and put on display.
Take a walk around the restaurant and you will discover items from every single island within Islands of Adventure. There is a gigantic Triceratops skull representing Jurassic Park, a gold coin from Kingpin’s arcade in Marvel Super Hero Island, Rocky & Bullwinkle from Toon Lagoon, ancient artifacts from The Lost Continent, The Cat in the Hat’s hat from Seuss Landing. and even a wand from the Wizarding World if you look hard enough.
# 3 – Bob Marley – A Tribute to Freedom (CityWalk)
I’ve always enjoyed Bob Marley’s in CityWalk, but it wasn’t until a recent cruse in which I went to the country of Jamaica did I truly understand everything that the restaurant was trying to represent. An exceptionally unique and great tasting menu (our favorite remains the Manchester Lamb) that you can enjoy while sipping on a Red Stripe. There are live bands every night and a laid back atmosphere. With the restaurant having an open air courtyard, there’s generally a good breeze going through in the afternoon and the night under the stars can provide an experience like no other in UOR. Yucca fries, beef patties, strong drinks, and an overall vibe that makes you want to say “Yeah, mon” to more return trips to Bob Marley’s.
# 2 – Hard Rock Cafe (CityWalk)
What else can I write that I didn’t cover in my earlier Saturday Six looking at The Top Six “Secrets” of the Hard Rock Cafe? The amount of music memorabilia is awe inspiring. I only consider myself a casual fan of music history and I was completely overwhelmed by the history contained within this restaurant. As for the menu, I consider it a better version of the Cheesecake Factory menu, and I say that as a huge compliment. There’s something for everyone, and where the restaurant truly shines is with its signature items like the Twisted Mac & Cheese along with their Legendary Burger.
The Hard Rock Live venue located within the Hard Rock Cafe has hosted some of the biggest names in music and comedy over the years. Do yourselves a favor and check in with a V.I.B.E. host next time you are at the Hard Rock and look into picking some music that will be played during your meal and inquire about taking the VIP tour, I guarantee it will be well worth your time and an experience you won’t soon forget. An absolute MUST DO for music lovers, to the point of it could be the highlight of your entire UOR vacation. It’s that impressive.
# 2 (tie) - Mythos (IOA)
Consistently voted among the best in all theme park restaurants, what makes Mythos stand apart from most of its competition is amazing theming, great quality of food, and an actual value for your money. When the bill arrives for your meal at Mythos your eyes may pop out of your skull, but not because the check is so high, but because it is so low. We’ve become conditioned to just expect insane high prices for food within theme parks, and then jacked up even higher if the place has any type of theming like Be Our Guest restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, but Mythos delivers the goods and gives them to you for a reasonable price.
With a facade that would easily fit within several franchises (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, etc) the rock work of Mythos is stunning to behold. Seemingly carved straight out rock and full of caves, the inside of Mythos is actually quite large and open. The soothing background music mixed with waterfalls give Mythos a very serene atmosphere despite all the hustle and bustle going on around you. Head on over to Open Table right now and book a reservation, you won’t regret it, and be sure to check out the Pad Thai as it has yet to disappoint.
# 1 – Fast Food Boulevard (Universal Studios Florida)
The latest introduction to the UOR food family is also the greatest, which is saying something because it replaced one of the resort’s weakest eateries with the old International Film & Food Festival. There is a sense of humor throughout Fast Food Boulevard that makes eating lunch or dinner a fun – and more importantly – funny experience. Great facades, clips from the Simpsons television show, and jokes within the actual menus (if you can’t laugh at “Head Lamp Dog,” you may be dead) make eating at Fast Food Boulevard a dream come true for any fan of The Simpsons.
Wait a second, did we forget to mention the actual food? Fast Food Boulevard has a Who’s Who list of unbelievable food and drink choices. Here’s just a small sample: Krusty Burger, The Clogger, The Ribwich, Basket o’ Bait, Double Batter Chicken Platter, and Meat Liker’s Pizza. Fast Food Boulevard is also the only place in either park where you can get seasoned fries and tater tots, both a big thumbs up over the usual french fry choice we get at the other restaurants. You can also get a Duff Beer or Flaming Moe. However, the one food you gotta get…the one food that rises above all others….the one food that would make this the number one restaurant on this list if the entire area had no theming whatsoever is the Chicken and Waffle Sandwich from Cletus’ Chicken Shack. An experience that just may change your life – or at the very least your cholesterol levels – the maple flavored mayo that accompanies this sandwich needs to be bottled ASAP.
See you next weekend for the latest edition of the Saturday Six. If you had fun, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories and Merch! articles or head on over to the TouringPlans.com Podcast Network and check out Universal NOW! and Pardon the Pixie Dust (especially this episode where we do a live dramatic reading of the Jingle Cruise script).
Special thanks to Universal NOW!’s Brandon Glover for his assistance with this article.