When I mention the best Orlando restaurants for ethnic food, do you automatically think about EPCOT in Walt Disney World? If that’s the only thing that comes to your mind, then it is definitely time to expand your horizons. We love the EPCOT restaurant options just as much as every Disney fan but there are some restaurants in Orlando that are worth escaping the parks to visit. Orlando has developed a thriving ethnic restaurant scene, and here are 5 of our family-friendly favorites that are authentic, delicious, and won’t break the bank.
It is rare for our family to ever eat in a chain restaurant; we’re more the off-the-beaten-path, hole-in-the-wall, and farm-to-table types. However, Orlando is our exception. We have found that these restaurants (some of which are chains) are our go-to favorites when we are tired, hungry, and not in the mood to be disappointed with mediocre cuisine. But let me warn you: these aren’t your typical chain restaurants. They are by far some of the most delicious eateries that serve up some of the most authentic ethnic cuisine that could rival anything you would eat out of a native’s kitchen.
NEWS FLASH: Ramen is much more than the 19-cent dried noodles sealed in a plastic package that got you through college. Located on the northwest side of Orlando, Sapporo Ramen creates and serves tasty and authentic Japanese Ramen. Every single time we roll into Orlando, whether it’s for a two-day visit or a week-long vacation, you will find us here slurping (yes, slurping) Ramen here.
My kids love the Shoyu style with its soy sauce based broth and tons of flavor but no spice. For those a little more daring or Ramen-experienced, the Tonkotsu style with its rich and creamy opaque slow-boiled pork bone broth, slices of chasu (tender slow roasted pork belly), and thin straight noodles is phenomenal.
Personally, I like both of these styles, but my absolute favorite offering at Sapporo Ramen is their Spicy Miso Ramen. It is heaven in a bowl with the perfect balance of thick wavy noodles, slight heat, milky richness, and perfect seasoning.
Ramen is obviously their specialty, but they also serve Udon and Soba noodle dishes and a selection of curries. Their portions are large and most entrees are only $8 to $9!
And as a tip, there is no shame in wearing a napkin in your shirt collar like a bib. Almost all Japanese folks do it when eating Ramen, as the art of slurping is a tad messy and drops of broth will almost always make it onto your shirt to try to take up residence forever. So grab a napkin and tuck it in; you can thank me later when you’re finished slurping and still have a clean shirt when you leave.
While Miami is famously associated with Cuban influences, Orlando has several wonderful Cuban restaurants, as well. Our favorite is Padrino’s Cuban Cuisine located on the south side of town, between Orlando International Airport and Walt Disney World.
Our favorite entree here is lechon asado (slow roasted pork, marinated with citrus mojo and topped with sauteed onions) with arroz moro. Our kids also love the pork but they usually like to split the Churrasco skirt steak with black beans and Cuban rice.
Padrino’s is the perfect place to expand your palate with their Cuban specialty dishes like mofongo, caldo gallego, and palomilla. We typically eat here for lunch because their portions are still big but the prices are smaller with sandwiches and entrees all less than $10. While our girls go big with ordering from the adult menu, Padrino’s also offers a diverse kids menu that will satisfy any child’s palate.
Our hunt for traditional Mexican food took us a fair distance off the beaten path to find Tacos Express. This is homemade, traditional Mexican food and not Tex-Mex like you find in your local town with 2-for-1 margaritas and bowls of yellow queso dip. It is also very authentic; notice the large beehive-shaped vitroleros filled with horchata and aguas frescas sitting on the counter.
Their menu borders on overwhelming because they have so many excellent choices. I would recommend tacos, sopes, burritos, tortas, and gorditas if you want to play it safe and the alambre, arrachera de la casa, parrillada de la casa, their molcajete, or tacos de tripa or lengua if you’re more adventurous.
Our kids love their carnitas, asada, al pastor, and beef and chicken quesadillas with beans and rice. Their portions are absolutely huge; the prices are fantastic; and everything is made fresh when you order it.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention their incredible homemade salsa bar. It offers exactly the same kinds of salsas that you find on roadside taco carts all over Mexico like avocado crema, salsa verde, salsa caliente, etc. Like those in Mexico, Taco Express’ salsa flavor profiles are unbelievably incredible, but because their food is so on point, it rarely ever needs any salsa to enhance it. Luckily, they supply you with plenty of delectable (and thick) freshly made warm tortillas to sop up as much salsa as you can handle!
The restaurant is located on the south side of town between Orlando International Airport and Universal Studios Orlando. Don’t let their strip mall location or exterior appearance scare you away because the food is utterly fantastic. And beware, you will most likely pass it and not even know it, so look for the BMW dealership; Tacos Express is right across the street.
While a working knowledge of Spanish is a plus (you’ll mostly only hear Spanish being spoken by both guests and staff), it’s definitely not a requirement. The staff speaks English; the menu is bilingual; and there are plenty of pictures lining the top of the wall and throughout the menu to help those less familiar with authentic Mexican cuisine.
Orlando also happens to be home of one of the Phở Hōa Noodle Soup locations found in the U.S. The bulk of their restaurants are in Asian countries like the Philippines, South Korea, and Singapore. Phở Hōa specializes in fresh, healthy, traditional Vietnamese food and is by far one of our favorite Vietnamese restaurants in Florida.
For those unfamiliar with Pho (pronounced “fuh” as in fudge and not like “foe” in fo shizzle), it is a Vietnamese noodle soup that begins with a clear broth made from pork, chicken, beef, seafood, or vegetables that has been slow simmered with various warm spices like star anise, allspice, cumin, cinnamon, and peppercorns for days. This delicious broth comes with a variety of meticulously sliced and prepared proteins and either rice or egg noodles and always has a bevy of accouterments. In Vietnam, Pho is usually eaten for breakfast, but here in America, it’s become more of a lunch or dinner specialty.
For Pho beginners, I recommend Phở Hōa’s traditional Phở Tái noodle soup with eye round steak. It is delicious as is and even better when spiced up with their thick (and hot) chili sauce, a dash of hoisin, a few squirts of sriracha, and several springs of fresh cilantro. If you’re more adventurous, Phở Hōa offers an entire menu page of Pho modifications, adding ingredients like tendon, tripe, meatballs, and fatty flank. Their shrimp summer rolls with nuoc mam (fish sauce) dipping sauce and grilled pork summer rolls with peanut-hoisin dipping sauce are also two of our must-order menu items.
Our kids absolutely love Pho and Phở Hōa never lets any of us down. Although they do have a kids menu, our 6- and 8-year old girls prefer to share one regular size bowl of Phở Tái with a side of extra rice noodles. However, beware, the regular size bowl is HUGE. For those with even bigger appetites for Pho, they do offer an extra-large bowl for only $2 more.
Besides Pho, there are no fewer than five pages of delectable Vietnamese dishes to choose from on their menu, so if Pho isn’t your thing, you can be rest assured that you will find something satisfyingly fantastic to dine on. The prices are so amazing at Phở Hōa that our dinner rarely adds up to over $35 for our hungry family of five. Really.
Phở Hōa is located on the northeast side of town about 3 miles from the Amway Center, home of the Orlando Magic basketball team.
ASIAN STREET FOOD
Hawkers Asian Street Fare currently only has three restaurants and one is located in Orlando on the north side of town not far from the Orlando Science Center. A take on street food found in hawker centres around east and southeast Asia, Hawkers uses the freshest ingredients to deliver tasty comfort food from countries like Malaysia, China, Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Thailand.
Eating at Hawkers takes us back to our favorite hawker centre in Singapore, and we have yet to find anything on the menu that is not outstanding. However, our favorites are the banh mi sliders, roti canai (an amazing Malaysian flat bread served with the most magnificent peanut curry dipping sauce), coconut curry shrimp, zha jiang mian, and bulgogi beef skewers. And our kids love the mee goreng, bao, hokkien mee, sesame chilled noodles, and BBQ pork char siu.
All of Hawkers’ menu items are portioned small in size and are designed to be shared family style at the table, which is fantastic because you get to taste a little bit of everything. Hawkers also offers many vegetarian and gluten-free items in addition to suggestions for substitutions to make certain menu items GF, and the kitchen always uses clean utensils, bowls, oil, etc. to ensure that your dish is truly vegetarian or gluten-free. Plus, if you go Monday through Friday between 3 pm and 6 pm, they offer a great kid-friendly “hoppy hour” featuring $3 small plates and $3 select drafts.
And for those unfamiliar with using chopsticks, the menu offers a handy tutorial on not only how to use them but also how to uphold proper chopstick etiquette. So in addition to making your mouth water from reading all the delicious options, the menu will teach you a thing or two for your next round of random trivia or at least give you a giggle if you’re already a chopstick guru.
Hopefully these ethnic restaurant suggestions will help you venture off the beaten path to enjoy delicious family and kid-friendly meals without falling prey to the tourist trap eateries that offer mediocre food at sky high prices. As I’m quick to mention, we love to eat. And we love to run. And the authentic, fresh, real, homemade, scratch-made, and locally sourced meals are the ones that are worth running extra miles for. All of these meals and eats I’ve mentioned fit that bill. In fact, after every half-marathon, marathon, Glass Slipper Challenge, and Goofy Challenge race that we complete in Orlando, our first post-race meal is always at one of the above restaurants.
As a side note, I did NOT receive any compensation, reduced or free meals from any of these restaurants. I mention them because they are some of my family’s favorite ethnic eateries in Orlando and I hope you enjoy them too!
This article was originally published by Hilton Mom Voyage.