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White Castle

In the Central Florida battle between kingdoms, a new castle has arisen to rival Cinderella Castle and Hogwarts… and it’s probably not what you’d expect. Just five months after breaking ground, White Castle has joined the lineup of eateries vying for Orlando tourist dollars… The question is, what makes this fast food offering unique, and why in the world is it garnering attention that rivals Orlando's theme parks, and drive-thru traffic that would leave Chick-fil-A stunned? Here's our one-page primer on White Castle and its return to the Sunshine State... 

History on the Grill

Image: White Castle

Envisioned by cook Walt Anderson and real estate agent Billy Ingram, the first White Castle opened in Wichita, Kansas in 1921 (coincidentally, just three months before and a day’s drive from Kansas City, where Walt Disney’s first cartoon studio would debut.) In the early 20th century, many Americans distrusted ground beef thanks to Upton Sinclair’s novel "The Jungle," exposing unsanitary practices in the meatpacking industry. White Castle set out to rehabilitate society's perception of burgers with spic-and-span interiors made of spotless stainless steel, gleaming white enamel tiles, and pressed white uniforms.

But White Castle’s greatest innovation must be… the “slider.” Yes, White Castle is believed to be the first to use the term “slider,” forever immortalizing the restaurant’s unique, fit-in-the-palm-of-your-hand steam-grilled burgers on miniature buns. Their 2 x 2 inch square beef patties are pressed thin. square-cut, then steam-grilled on a bed of chopped onion.

Image: White Castle

As the onions “sweat” on the grill, their steam cooks and absorbs into the thin patties, evaporating through a distinct (and patented!) five-hole punch in the burger. Real American cheese and a sliced-on-site bun come last, creating a unique snack that you probably don’t want just one of. (The “standard” combo is four sliders, crinkle-cut fries, and a drink for around $5; sharable combos offer 10; the largest is a “Pallet,” offering 6,920 sliders for over $6,000. No, really...) 

Still family-owned 100 years after its opening, White Castle’s menu has expanded to offer crispy chicken sliders, “chicken rings,” Sloppy Joe sliders, Impossible sliders, and breakfast sliders sandwiched by mini-waffles. The chain gained international attention thanks to the 2004 film Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle about two stoners’ comical misadventures en route to grab a late night snack at the 24-hour staple.

Image: White Castle

About 400 locations are scattered around the Midwest and Northeast (with a more widespread freezer-aisle business, too), but it’s been a long, long time since Floridians had a fresh, hot-off-the-grill White Castle slider… until now... 

White Castle Orlando

Despite its Midwestern sprawl, White Castle did once operate locations in Florida. When co-founder Billy Ingram retired to Miami in 1958, he brought three White Castles with him. All three were closed by the end of the ‘60s, however, allegedly due to supply chain issues for the remote restaurants. Despite the long lapse in sliders, migrating Midwesterners and Miami memories spurred a number of petitions and Facebook groups eager to invite White Castle back to the Sunshine State…

Image: White Castle

And in November 2020, their wishes came true. CEO Lisa Ingram announced that White Castle would open its largest standalone location ever in the new The Village at O-Town West retail development just off I-4, about halfway between Disney Springs and SeaWorld. Opening May 3, 2021, this super-sized (yet still pretty hilariously compact, 4,567-square foot) White Castle will no doubt become a must-see wonder of Central Florida for foodies, bloggers, locals, and tourists... 

So for thousands of visitors to Orlando attractions, the question is simple: is White Castle worth an “off-property” visit? Though its first few days, weeks, and even months will no doubt see staggering crowds, limited hours, and order maximums, rest assured: if you’re anything from a fast food junkie to a burger connoisseur, it’s certainly worth getting a taste of what TIME Magazine declared “The #1 Most Influential Burger of All Time.” The sliders you get may not look as beautiful as the ones on the menu… but they’ll sure taste as good.

We have just two word of advice: if you join the legion of locals, burger fans, and even theme park bloggers who plan to descend on the newest castle in Orlando on May 3, bring your patience (even a double drive through can only handle so much) and your appetite (on opening day, orders are capped at 60 sliders). At least for its first weeks, the restaurant will stick to an 8AM to 1AM operating schedule. Eventually, Orlando’s White Castle will be like the rest: open 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week. And frankly, no other Central Florida castle can say that...

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