Universal Orlando’s CityWalk district is now home to many new dining experiences, making it better than ever. Now that these new establishments have been in business for some time, we can evaluate the lineup – although I should note that it’s difficult to actually rank each new addition against one another; each has its unique reason for becoming part of the CityWalk mix, and the argument could be made that each serves a different demographic.
Rather than play favorites, I’d like to examine each one and share what makes it a great addition to the dining/shopping/entertainment complex.
Quick-service category: Bread Box, Red Oven, and Hot Dog Hall of Fame
While there are plenty of high-quality full-service dining options at CityWalk, there hasn’t been a lot to choose from if you are in the mood for something quicker and more casual. Sure, prior to CityWalk 2.0, there was (and still is) the mini-food court on the second level with Moe’s, Panda Express, and the Burger King Whopper Bar, but these options are on the extreme end of the quick-service spectrum. Bread Box, Red Oven Pizza Bakery, and Hot Dog Hall of Fame all offer heartier options that are more satisfying.
Image © Inside the Magic
The sandwiches at Bread Box are fairly filling though they are served a la carte, so adding a drink or side will cost a little extra coin. If you are staying nearby, consider the restaurant for a to-go order to satisfy your craving while back in the comfort of your hotel. There are a few yummy treats and shakes on its menu, if your sweet tooth needs some attention, as well.
I’ll admit – when the news about Hot Dog Hall of Fame first broke, I wasn’t all that excited. I mean, I can get a hot dog pretty much around any corner at Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida, so what could be the appeal of an entire hot dog joint at CityWalk? I am now a believer. The fast fare at the Hall of Fame is darn good stuff – crave-able, even!
Personally, as much as I visit CityWalk, I am not typically in the mood to grab a gourmet hot dog. However, I discovered the real perk of having such an establishment present: my husband and I were making the most of a fun evening dancing at Red Coconut Club when we decided to hop over to the groove, the area’s resident nightclub. Before we entered the line to get in, the succulent aroma wafted over from the Hall of Fame. We obliged the temptation and were both thankful for the quick sustenance.
Red Oven Pizza Bakery is hard to miss, with its bulging red pizza oven and lovely al fresco seating. If you want authentic, crispy, charcoaled-kissed crust with fresh, traditional toppings, then you’ll love the pizza at Red Oven. Personally, I have not ventured into the dining area itself (it’s always busy), but pizza is available for delivery at the outdoor CityWalk bars along the waterfront! This is a magnificent idea and an excellent option when you’re enjoying a round of drinks amid the electric ambiance that CityWalk casts outdoors.
Desserts: Menchie’s and Cold Stone Creamery
What is it about ice cream or frozen yogurt at the end of a fun day in the theme parks? Since the early days of Disneyland in California with its classic ice cream parlor, it has been a tradition to indulge in a sweet, cold confection while enjoying the parks.
With the addition of Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt and Cold Stone Creamery, you can end your visit to Universal Orlando by satisfying your craving for something sweet. My personal preference is for Menchie’s rather than Cold Stone because they have more health-conscious choices. Plus, they tend to be less packed than Cold Stone, and, of course, it’s lots of fun to make your own mix of toppings and yogurt flavors.
Still, both are sweet additions to the CityWalk food scene, and both are more than worth hitting up.
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Continue onto the second page to get the run-down on the new full-service restaurants.[page]Full Service: The Cowfish, Vivo, and Antojitos
One of the main motivations behind the CityWalk revamp was to give guests a reason to stick around the area rather than making a bee-line for the parking structure. Already boasting Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, Hard Rock Café, and Emeril’s, there was some strength in CityWalk’s full-service dining portfolio. However, other places, like Pastamore and NASCAR Sports Grille, didn’t necessarily resonate with the majority of guests.
As Antojitos, Vivo, and The Cowfish were coming into existence, there was much buzz and anticipation. Now that these three new kids on the block are open, they have – for the most part – lived up to the hype.
Everyone seems to have their favorite of this tremendous trio. Each one has its good points and drawbacks, but, regardless, each of these new restaurants has unquestionably elevated the dining scene at CityWalk.
My own personal favorite is The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar. The menu features crazy-good burgers, sushi so fresh you’d think the ocean was right out the door, and the collision of cultures with “burgushi.” To top it all off, their hand-crafted cocktails go down way too easily, and dessert consists of thick, creamy milkshakes – and, even, spiked shakes! There are some folks who have voiced concerns about service quality, but I can say that after 10 or more visits, I have had nothing but good times.
Image © Orlando Sentinel
Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food was the first of the new full-service restaurants to make its debut, and many have since fallen in love with the authentic Mexican cuisine that waits to welcome hungry guests. There’s no denying that the food at Antojitos is flavorful and filling. Plus, you’ll find a wide variety of tequila, marvelous margaritas, and other thirst-quenching cocktails. The stand-out favorite dish is a side: the tableside guacamole.
With a live mariachi band performing throughout the evening, this south-of-the-border restaurant is a great destination.
Vivo Italian Kitchen is perhaps the surprise hit of the new additions. Sadly, it is somewhat overshadowed by the colorful, popping façade of The Cowfish. Nestled on the ground floor, with outdoor seating and a warm, inviting interior, Vivo is a fantastic choice if you want a calmer, semi-sophisticated atmosphere.
The menu is very approachable and features updated classic Italian fare. Old favorites are given modern twists. The pasta is made in-house each day, and you can really taste the difference. Many of the entrees are reasonably priced (by theme park pricing standards) and are quite satisfying. And, of course, the wine list is well-rounded – a rare treat for CityWalk; I rather enjoy grabbing a glass of wine and one or two appetizers at the bar once in a while. Other than Emeril’s, there really is no other restaurant at CityWalk that offers a similar dining experience.
It’s quite interesting to think back to the CityWalk days of old. While I am a fan of the nightclubs and am sad that we had to part with a few of them to make way for some of these new additions, I know the demand really is with dining experiences. A few other closures have been unfortunate, as well, but, all in all, it seems everyone can agree that CityWalk 2.0 is the definitive version (yet).
What’s the best venue of the new CityWalk – and what should be added in the next expansion? Let the world know in the comments below.
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