Home » Let’s Talk About the Food at Universal Orlando Resort’s Parks…

Let’s Talk About the Food at Universal Orlando Resort’s Parks…

Mel's Diner at Universal

Universal Orlando Resort has truly become a force to be reckoned with, to the point that no discussion of Florida theme parks is complete without giving Universal their due.

In the ongoing debate between who does theme parks better—Universal Orlando Resort or Walt Disney World—Universal holds some undeniable strengths. They absolutely have Disney trounced on thrill rides and appeal to teenagers and young adults, and despite the incredible success of both The World of Pandora and the hype around Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter still proves to be one of the most successful ultra-immersive theme park expansions on record.

However, there is one area where it feels like Universal still just doesn’t match up to Walt Disney World.

The food.

This is, admittedly, a controversial subject. Food tastes are highly personal, and there are many who prefer Universal Orlando Resort’s food offerings over Walt Disney World, especially when you consider the proximity of the CityWalk to the parks. The issue isn’t that Universal Orlando Resort doesn’t have good food. The problem is so much of that food is the same, especially if you eliminate the CityWalk from the equation. What are diners supposed to do if you either don’t want to leave the parks or just aren’t feeling the franchise-fair that is the CityWalk? What if diners want to eat healthy or break away from American and pub fare? Here’s what we discovered…

The “theme park food” trap…

Mel's Diner at Universal

Image: Jared, Flickr (license)

There’s a certain picture people imagine regarding theme park food. Usually, the genre consists of crowd-pleasing American classics like burgers and hot dogs, perhaps a barbecue place, and almost always some sort of family-friendly Italian restaurant and pizza joint. On occasion, some homestyle comfort food will be thrown into the mix as well, but often, the food at theme parks usually feels, at best, like offerings from a local Applebee’s or Olive Garden. At worst, it degrades into homogenous cafeteria mush.

The vast—and we mean VAST—majority of food at both of Universal Orlando Resort’s parks fall into these category. A cursory search of the most popular places to eat at Universal Studios Florida almost all fit this mold—the Simpsons Café, Mel’s Diner, Louie’s, Richter’s, and even the somewhat-updated Classic Monster Café are notable examples. Universal’s Islands of Adventure fares a little better but still suffers from the same issue—Blondies, the All-Day Café, Captain America’s Diner, Green Eggs and Ham… the list goes on and on.

There’s nothing wrong with Universal having an abundance of this type of food. It makes sense since their primary business is serving families with varied tastes and with kids who might be picky eaters. Even the CityWalk tips towards catering to the standard American food demographic. However, if you’re a regular at Walt Disney World, the lack of variety becomes apparent quickly. While Walt Disney World certainly has more than their share of theme park food (particularly at Disney’s Hollywood Studios), all one needs to do is open the My Disney Experience app to realize that Disney parkgoers actually have access to a substantial amount of variety, including some adventurous choices in each park. Indeed, for many, the food is half the fun of a Walt Disney World vacation. This dedication to variety seems to give Disney an edge that Universal still lacks. That’s not to say that all of Universal’s dining choices are dismissible though.

A few options for variety…

Confisco Grille exterior

Image: Jeremy Thompson, Flickr (license)

Let’s say you’re not a particularly brave diner but you want something a step above the average theme park offerings inside Universal’s parks. While both parks have a few real standouts that we’ll get to shortly, there are a few spots worth considering if you want to step up your dining game while staying in the realm of mostly familiar foods.

At Universal Studios Florida, one of your best bets for table service is going to be Lombard’s Seafood Grille. This spacious waterfront restaurant offers a pleasant respite from the craziness of the parks with a good menu. The food doesn’t drift far from traditional seafood restaurant offerings, but the menu isn’t bland by any means, particularly if you’re visiting from out of state and want to enjoy some seafood during your visit to Florida.

Universal’s Islands of Adventure does better overall for dining choices. Confisco Grill offers a variety of mostly-familiar international foods like pad Thai and chicken curry chakra. The menu seems to paint the perfect picture of Universal’s trepidation over leaving the realm of theme park food. Confisco offers some great unique options and some healthy fare, but the menu still don’t venture far from the territory of burgers, wraps, chicken sandwiches, and pasta. It also highlights Universal’s penchant for trying to make familiar dishes sound exciting using cringeworthy names like “An Adventure in Fajitas”.

Thunder Falls Terrace is another example in this category. The food is still mostly familiar takes on standard rotisserie and BBQ, but the menu adds just enough variety to feel like a breath of fresh air from the usual burgers and fries. You could probably compare it to Flame Tree Barbecue at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Beyond a range of barbecue and chicken offerings, the menu also include rice bowls and tortilla soup.

The restaurants that really shine…

Bangers and Mash from the Leaky Cauldron

Image: HarshLight, Flickr (license)

The good thing is that despite a tendency towards theme park food, Universal Orlando Resort’s parks do have a few truly standout restaurants.

In Universal Studios Florida, many guests can’t go on enough about Finnegan’s Irish Pub, situated snugly in the Streets of New York section. Even with a cursory glance at the menu, Finnegan’s already passes the first major test most pubs fail—the food is actually Irish-themed without feeling like a St. Paddy’s day party menu. There’s something uniquely disheartening about settling into a pub only to find out the menu is full of nachos and disco fries, and Finnegan’s avoids this with eclectic options like beef pasties, scotch eggs, potato and leek soup, bangers and mash, Kilkenny pot pie, and more. It’s such a good selection that we can forgive them for throwing in a few gag-on-me-Lucky-Charms dish names, like calling a fruit plate “The Leprechaun’s Rainbow”.

Our second option for Universal Studios Florida actually ties to one of our favorite choices in Islands of Adventure. The Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley shares a very similar menu to Three Broomsticks in the Hogsmeade section of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Both of these counter service restaurants share incredible theming (even if we could stand for them to pump up the AC) and a menu of UK comfort food offerings, ironically quite similar to Finnegan’s. Some of the highlights include Beef, Lamb, and Guinness Stew, Cottage Pie, a Ploughman’s Platter, Cornish pasties, a family-sized Great Feast, and even some wonderfully refreshing drinks beyond Butterbeer (the pumpkin drinks are particularly nice). Whether you like Harry Potter or not, there is no question that these two locations offer some of the hands-down best counter service food in any of Universal’s parks.

Mythos giant statue fountain pouring out of mouth

Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

The real king in the dining realm at Universal Orlando Resort, however, is Mythos. We cannot gush enough how much we love this insanely themed restaurant, to the point that we still think Disney could learn a thing or two from it. Mythos is unique in that it is both impossible to ignore and yet completely easy to miss. Its towering statues are visible from almost every waterfront in Islands of Adventure, yet many visitors completely pass it by without realizing what an incredible restaurant lies inside. It’s a bonus point that the walkways surrounding the restaurant are one of the most peaceful places you will find anywhere in the park.

Mythos isn’t a perfect culinary experience—they do have some dishes that are hit-or-miss, and quality sometimes wavers when crowds surge. However, they truly do stand out both for theming and food as a must-visit stop if you’re visiting IOA. There’s something incredibly soothing about Mythos’ cavernous interior, the scent of warm bread, and the creative range of Mediterranean flavors subtly mixed with family-friendly offerings. The only area we found where they fell short was in desserts, but overall, Mythos still offers one of Orlando’s best theme park dining experiences, even over many of the choices at Walt Disney World.

While our focus has largely been on Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure, it is worth noting that Universal’s Volcano Bay also has a few really great dining options. The Kohola Reef Restaurant & Social Club, in particular, offers an awesome menu surrounding Pacific Island-inspired fare including Coconut Curry Chicken, Hawaiian Ribs, and even a decent grab and go menu. It’s such a good selection that visitors to Universal’s other parks might get jealous!

Want to eat healthy? You may run into some challenges…

TODAY Cafe Avocado Toast

Image: Universal Orlando Resort

While Universal Orlando Resort’s parks do have some good dining options, there is one area where visitors may run into some frustrations—eating healthy, especially if you’re on a special diet. People seem to commonly assume that a garden burger, salad, or anything with grilled chicken fits the bill for a healthy diet, and this theme runs true throughout Universal Orlando Resort’s parks. Universal’s app doesn’t offers as much help as My Disney Experience, so guests looking for something healthy might feel a bit adrift when perusing options. Fortunately, there are some choices if you dig, and Universal seems to be getting better and better on this front.

While they don’t offer a particularly large menu, if you’re a meat-eater looking for some tasty counter service food at Islands of Adventure, check out Doc Sugrue’s Desert Kabab House in The Lost Continent. Running with the land’s Mediterranean theming, this quick stop offers beef, chicken, and vegetable kababs, along with some quick bites like hummus, Greek yogurt, and salad. Confisco Grille also offers some good healthy choices, including options for vegetarians like a plant-based chipotle sausage with orzo or a Portobello Veggie Wrap. For table service, Mythos once again takes the crown with a good range of healthy and even some vegetarian choices like their delicious Mezze Platter and a plant-based Tomato Pesto Cresto de Gallo.

At Universal Studios Florida, things get a little more difficult, but there are some options. The Classic Monster’s Café, shockingly enough, actually offers some decent vegetarian options, including a vegan jackfruit combo or platter. Lombard’s Seafood Café offers the best choices for table service diners, with options including a Tuna Poke Bowl, a hearty Harvest Salad, the Portobello Quinoa entrée, and any of the grilled fish entrees. TODAY Café also recently introduced some healthy breakfast items, including a seasonal Avocado Toast and Acai Bowls.

If all else fails, garden burgers abound in Universal’s parks, with some locations even offering Beyond Meat’s highly lauded Impossible burgers (you can find these at Richter’s, Captain America’s Diner, and Kohola Reef in Volcano Bay). While Universal has been a bit slow to catch up with Disney on catering to parkgoers with vegetarian or vegan diets, they are making some progress, which is encouraging for healthy diners overall.

What has been your experience with food inside the parks at Universal Orlando Resorts? What are some of your favorite options to eat, especially beyond standard theme park fare?