I loathe theme park food. The parks all claim to have taken their food offerings to a new level, providing freshly prepared foods, interesting flavors and anything but the same ol’ burgers and fries, but few deliver. Quite simply it’s hard to feed the masses, especially when the masses are accustomed to mac and cheese and anything fried. The new restaurants at Universal Orlando CityWalk are a welcome exception.
A whopping eight new food venues are planned to debut by the end of this year. So far, three have opened: Red Oven Pizza Bakery, Antojito’s Authentic Mexican Food and VIVO Italian Kitchen.
The latest CityWalk venue to debut is VIVO Italian Kitchen. The decor is modern chic with wood tables, banquettes, ironwork details and fresh pasta strands hanging on racks. It’s definitely not counter food, and it’s not fine dining, but it manages to be family-friendly while giving adults the feeling they've gone out for a nice meal. Each table is set beautifully, with wine glasses included, and the atmosphere is perfect for practicing table manners with your kids (though they can certainly wear shorts).
My kids loved the crostini appetizer, which arrived at our table with four spreads served in adorable small mason jars: roasted eggplant, tomato mozzarella, ricotta with candied walnuts and beans with pesto. The ricotta spread was the fave at my family's table. It was sweet and tangy and the perfect precursor to our main entrees. My kids asked for a second batch of the Tuscan bread, which we allowed because we we're quite sure if the food would actually be kid-friendly. It turns out we had nothing to worry about.
One of our kids had the pizza — thin and with a generous helping of cheese, the taste hinted at the stove oven where it was baked. Our other son had the roasted pork loin, which was grilled perfectly. I opted for the chicken Parmesan, and it arrived just the way I requested it: A thin, lightly breaded chicken cutlet with a light dusting of cheese and marinara, and my choice of pasta on the side. My boyfriend ordered the lasagna, and it was both hearty and handsomely prepared in a small pot in lieu of a plate. It made him feel like “a sweet Italian grandmother cooked it at home.” Our family liked VIVO so much, we’re planing a return visit when friends visit soon.
Two other food venues have already debuted at Universal CityWalk: Red Oven Pizza Bakery and Antojito’s Authentic Mexican Food . I’ve never been to Red Oven Pizza Bakery and not had to wait in line for at least 15 minutes, but that’s testament to both its quality and popularity, and the wait is worth it. The Neopolitan-style pizzas are made while you wait in a 900-degree stone oven. Most folks carry them to whatever empty table they can find, but I’ve seen a few people order whole pies on their way back to their hotel from the theme parks, which is a great idea, especially if you’re staying at the new Cabana Bay Beach resort, where all suites come with kitchenettes and plenty of room for a family to eat.
Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food is sort of a two-in-one eatery. Downstairs, the atmosphere is casual and the menu reminiscent of the tasty foods you find in street carts. A huge stage at the back hints at live entertainment a few nights per week. Upstairs, the menu is a tad more formal, but still kid-friendly and totally tasty. From the fish tacos to the carnitas and the fresh guacamole prepared table-side, I found the options a welcome reprieve from chicken fingers.
Next to open is Hot Dog Hall of Fame, Menchie’s, Cold Stone Creamery, Bread Box, home to powerhouse deli sandwiches on freshly baked bread, and Cowfish, a unique sushi-and-burgers concept made popular in North Carolina.
For more details on everything new at Universal Orlando CityWalk, click HERE.
Please note: I visited Universal Resorts Orlando during a press trip. All opinions are my own.