Best seafood restaurants in Orlando

by: Scott Joseph Updated:

Flying Fish Cafe at Disney's BoardWalk at Walt Disney World Resort reflects the high-energy charm of an Atlantic Seaboard pier, with a show kitchen where guests can watch the action.

It’s only been relatively recently -- say, the last 17 years or so -- that Central Florida started getting good seafood restaurants. It seems odd seeing as how the state is surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. But for the longest time, fishing boats would bring in their bounties, someone would pick the fish up at the dock, then take them straight to the airport to be shipped to other parts of the U.S.

Well, it wasn’t quite that direct, but I can attest to the fact that what was showing up on the plates of Florida restaurants wasn’t anything like we have today.

It started to change with Fulton’s Crab House at DownTown Disney. The chef who was hired to open the restaurant, whose name was Ron Pollock, if you can believe it, took obtaining good seafood seriously. Each evening he would post the shipping bills that listed the fresh seafood that had been received earlier that day. Despite the Disney locale, locals flocked to the restaurant to enjoy the fish they had until then been denied. It wasn’t long for other restaurants to catch on, and soon we were seeing the kind of seafood restaurant you expect in a city 50 minutes from port.

Sadly, I know longer count Fulton’s Crab House among them. It still does OK, but there are others that do it better. Here are my choices for the best seafood restaurants in Central Florida:

Oceanaire Seafood Room: I got nervous when I first heard that Oceanaire had been purchased by Landry’s, but I had no reason to fear. Oceanaire is still a top-notch seafood restaurant with remarkably fresh daily selections expertly prepared.

FishBones: I’m specifically recommending the Lake Mary location -- the one on Sand Lake Road just isn’t the same. This Talk of the Town Restaurant Group’s fish is grilled over wood fires, which gives the flesh a smoky flavor.

Big Fin Seafood Kitchen: All the seafood selections are wonderful, but the Monday night lobster feasts are an exceptional bargain.

Flying Fish Cafe: The Disney BoardWalk restaurant is starting to show some age in its decor (though the Coney Island motif is still fun), but there’s nothing worn about chef Timothy Keating’s menu, which, as you might guess from the name, is fish centric (though, admittedly, there is no flying fish offered).

Winter Park Fish Company: And just to prove that good seafood doesn’t have to cost an arm and a fin, this order-at-the-counter place always seems to have a line out the door waiting for George Vogelbacher’s daily specials.