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Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining: Scott’s tips, cautions and recommendations

Written By Scott Joseph On August 25, 2023

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Visit Orlando Magical Dining

The 2023 edition of Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining is in full swing – with a record 132 participating restaurants – running through Oct. 1.

For the uninitiated, VisOrMagDin is a yearly promotion of area restaurants that agree to present a special three-course, prix fixe menu. For the first time, this year’s list features two fixe’d prixes, $40 and $60. That means each restaurant will offer one price level or the other, not both. Generally, the higher price means it’s a tonier restaurant whose regular prices are of the three-dollar sign or higher type. Though that’s not the case for all of the restaurants on this year’s list. There’s one two-location chain that had me rolling my eyes at its $60 menu. I won’t say which restaurant, but it has the same initials as The Melting Pot.

The $60 option makes participating more reachable for higher priced restaurants. But if you do your proper research, you can still come out ahead of ordering off the regular a la carte menu.

And it’s nice to know going in that you’re going to spend just $40 or $60 on your meal.

There’s something else you should know: You’re going to spend more than $40 or $60 on your meal.

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That’s because tax and gratuity are not included in the fixed price. Also, beverages are extra. Some will even have optional upgrades.

And not every restaurant’s offering constitutes a bargain, which has always been one of the attractions of Magical Dining. To know if a restaurant is worth your Magical Dining attention, you need to do a little homework. Go to the Magical Dining website and scroll through the list of participants. When you see one you like or you’ve been wanting to try, click on it to see the three-course menu.

Next, go to the restaurant’s website, find its regular menu and add up the costs of the dishes if you were to pay for them separately. (Visit Orlando has made this easy with links to the websites on each restaurant’s Magical Dining listing. In the early days of Magical Dining, the official website was a mess. It’s really nice this year. A chef’s kiss to the designer.)

When you get the two menus next to each other, you may find that the dishes on the MagDin menu aren’t necessarily on the restaurant’s regular menu. That’s because some participants “create” dishes especially for the occasion, most like dishes with lower food costs to make up for the discounted price. I think that’s a mistake – the main attraction to the business is to introduce new diners to your restaurant and show them what you do. Offering food not on your menu doesn’t make sense.

(Besides promising to offer the prix fixe menu – and paying a marketing fee to Visit Orlando to participate – restaurants also pledge to donate $1from a $40 meal or $2 from a $60 sale to a charity. Details about the charity on the website.)

You may also find that some restaurants don’t list prices on their website’s menu. I usually move on past those when I’m making my selection. I might have been interested in MyLounge, a $60-level restaurant in Restaurant Row. But its priceless online menu doesn’t allow me to do the appropriate math. The same was true of Bacan, the Lake Nona Wave hotel’s signature restaurant, which I’ve been to and like. I’ve left it off my list of recommendations because it also does not present its prices.

And here’s something else to consider. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t usually order dessert, you may find that you’re better off not going with the Magical Dining menu. Often, it doesn’t begin to be a bargain until you add in the dessert.

(Since the beginning of Magical Dining, I’ve always wished for a three-course option that would include soup or salad, appetizer and entree instead of dessert. Maybe someday.)

Also, be sure to ask for the Magical Dining menu when you’re seated; not every restaurant presents it by default. You may have done your homework and know which dishes are offered on the special menu, but you can’t just order them from the regular menu. It doesn’t work that way.

Finally, when it comes time to leave the gratuity, tip with the original cost of the meal in mind. 

Here are some of the restaurants I recommend you try during this year’s Visit Orlando Magical Dining:

Hemisphere – Get the tempura vegetable, Niman Ranch pork chop or chicken vichyssoise, and Key lime panna cotta.

Rocco’s Italian Grille & Bar – Vitello tonnato, lombata all Milanese and cannoli.

Salt and the Cellar by Akira Back – Here’s one where you’ll almost make up the $60 charge just with the appetizer. Order the wagyu taco or AB tuna pizza for an appetizer and the miso cod entree. The off-the-rack cost of the pizza and cod alone comes to $76, so dessert is fluff. Also, Salt and the Cellar does not serve alcohol, but your allowed to bring your own wine with no corkage fee added, so there’s a savings there, too.

Aurora at the Celeste – There’s a new chef and a new menu, so now’s a good time to check it out.

The Boheme – New chef, new menu and newly redesigned dining room.

Jaléo – The Disney Springs restaurant is offering a starter as well as an appetizer, so it’s like getting four courses of very good food.

Big Fin – Big Fin’s Golden Shrimp, Angler’s Catch of various seafoods, and Key Lime & Coconut Cake.

Z Asian – If you haven’t been to this Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant, Magical Dining is a good time to correct that.

Bites & Bubbles – Get the Escargot appetizer, lamb shank or beef short rib entree, and chocolate brownie for dessert.

UnReserved Food Bazaar – UnReserved Roll, beef cheek ragout, carrot cake.

Turci Pasta – Classic bruschetta, pear ravioli, tiramisu.

Tap Room at Dubsdread – Ask if you can have prime rib for all three courses.

We hope you find our reviews and news articles useful and entertaining. It has always been our goal to assist you in making informed decisions when spending your dining dollars. If we’ve helped you in any way, please consider making a contribution to help us continue our journalism. Thank you.

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