Today, my boyfriend and I went up to Orlando to spend the weekend in Disney World with his friend Jorge and girlfriend, Lulu. Although the parks here are great, finding good food in the Orlando area can be a challenge (both inside and outside the parks). Not even a Google search can solve this food dilemma. I Googled “best places to eat in Orlando” and the search engine put Perkins on the top 20 list. Really, a chain pancake house qualifies as a city’s top dining option?!? My thoughts: what is this World coming to, and YUCK!!
Driving around on the main drag (International Drive) until you find something isn’t an option either, unless you’re okay eating some variation of fast food that is. Sure, you can find the world’s largest Checkers (which they proudly boast on their sign) and the McDonalds with the largest playroom in America, but chances are that your not going to want a burger after all the greasy amusement park food you’ve eaten during the day. However, if you are a buffet lover and “all you can eat” is your kind of thing, then International Drive will have you moaning in ecstasy because they have managed to make every kind of cuisine into a buffet style—typically for less than $11.99 per person! You think I’m kidding? Here are some snapshots of what you can find food wise on International Drive:
Not calling you? Didn’t appeal to us either. However, we did realize that chain restaurants would be unavoidable in Orlando, so our plan was simply to find the nicest chain. We got lucky and found out that there was a Houstons about 20 minutes away from International Drive, where our hotel was. Houstons is an upscale, relatively small chain restaurant, owned by the Hillstone Group. My boyfriend and I go to the one in Coral Gables all the time and we were ecstatic to find one just outside Orlando. We all agreed that it was the prettiest Houstons any of us had been to, complete with outdoor patio seating that overlooks a lake.
The food at Houstons does not resemble that of a chain restaurant. In fact, I never even knew that Houstons was a chain until very recently. My favorite thing on the menu (so good I’ve only ever ordered one other thing) is the Famous French Dip Au Jus. It is the most perfect thing that I have ever tasted. Slowly roasted prime rib, sliced thin and piled high on a house made french roll…I’m salivating now at the thought of it. It is served with a mug of hot and salty au jus for dipping, and a mountain of golden shoestring fries. If this sandwich is not served in heaven, then quite frankly, I don’t care to go. The only time I have ordered something other than the french dip, was because my boyfriend told me that I had to try something else on the menu to give the restaurant a more complete review. So I ordered theThai Steak and Noodle Salad, which has your choice of marinated filet or rotisserie chicken with avocado, mango, and herbs in a Thai dressing. It was very good and flavorful, but obviously not quite as satisfying at the french dip. I have since then remained loyal to my favorite sandwich, and of course had it tonight!
The other must have at Houstons is the Spinach and Artichoke Dip, which is served gooey and hot in a crock with a side of tortilla chips. Additionally, they give you homemade salsa and sour cream to enjoy the rest of your chips once the delicious dip is gone. If you go in a group and order this as an appetizer, be prepared for the awkward moment that will inevitably arise when the chip pile gets down to about 2 or 3 chips. This dip is so good that no one will just passively sit back as the last couple are eaten, so there will be an uncomfortable moment when 4 people reach for the last chip and the don’t back down to offer it to the other person. You might just have to flip a coin to decide who gets it…
Also very good at Houstons are the Barbecue Pork Ribsand the House-made Veggie Burger. My roommate, who is a semi-vegetarian—I say semi because she makes exceptions for the Crunch Wrap Supreme at Taco Bell around 4 am—swears that this is the best Veggie Burger to be had and orders it as often as I order my french dip!
On top of the great food, Houstons also has impeccable service. The wait staff is all very experienced and professional (aka no teenage, or even college student, waiters). You will never have an empty glass, no request is too much, and your food is always brought out piping hot!
GO TO HOUSTONS!