Before Disney came along, Orlando was known most for its bountiful citrus groves and glorious seafood (thanks to its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean). So while the city may not have a signature dish like Chicago pizza or New Orleans gumbo, these five foods are indicative of the most delicious eats the City Beautiful has to offer.
Florida Rock Shrimp. Found off the east coast of Central Florida, these crustaceans are typically harvested in autumn, and their hard shells give them a flavor that’s virtually identical to that of lobster. Too many Orlando restaurants to count offer these sweet, delectably textured numbers as a peel-and-eat option — quite a common feeding habit among the state’s seafood cognoscenti.
Key Lime Pie. Sure, Key lime pie is often associated with Key West, but did you know it’s the official pie of Florida? Fashioned from the juice of Key limes, sweetened condensed milk, eggs and a graham cracker crust, Key lime pie is, arguably, the state’s most well-known contribution to world cuisine. There’s no shortage of joints where one can enjoy this sweet, tart and cheek-sucking wonder, be it at Sister Honey’s downtown or Olivia’s Cafe at Disney.
Grouper Sandwich. Grouper is a member of the sea bass family, which means it makes a mother of a sandwich. In fact, no trip to Florida is complete without sampling grouper (red or black are the responsible and ethical choices), prized for its lean, firm flesh and mild flavor. Enjoying a crispy fried fillet between an onion roll, Cuban bread or kaiser simply embellished with lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce is an experience to treasure.
Gator Tail. Some say alligator tastes like chicken, but others claim it reminds them of pork or even rabbit. If eating ‘gator is on your gastronomic bucket list, there’s no better place to cross it off than right here in Orlando. The tail is the prime cut, and most places served it fried, grilled or blackened. You may even see it inside tacos — but to enjoy gator in all its glory, forget Gatorland in South Orlando and head to the Black Hammock Fish Camp in the bedroom community of Oviedo.
Stone Crab Claws. Stone crabs are harvested off Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts from October to May, so you can enjoy them in many of the city’s seafood restaurants for a majority of the year. A “Best Choice” rating from environmental program Seafood Watch makes the luscious meat inside the stone crab’s pincers all the sweeter, whether served chilled with a mustard sauce, or warm with drawn butter and lemon wedges.