Unsurprisingly, most restaurants run by celebrity chefs are found inside glittering hotels and theme parks. But in the last year, we’ve seen the city’s first Wahlburgers open downtown, and Norman Van Aken, godfather of Floribbean cuisine, has chosen (gasp!) Mount Dora for his next restaurant venture. Heartening gestures, to be sure, but let’s not delude ourselves – these established chefs and their backers are drawn to the city not so much for the food-conscious denizens and burgeoning gastro-culture, but for its concentrated volumes of visitors. The star power is certain to intensify in the coming years, making the growing list below all the brighter.
Todd English's bluezoo
Where: Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Hotel
There's never a dull moment with Todd English, whose original Boston flagship, Olives, garnered international acclaim. The same could be said of his seafood-centric resto. Case in point: The "Dancing Fish," fileted tableside and served with polenta, mushrooms, rock shrimp and caper sauce.
1500 Epcot Resorts Blvd., 407-934-1111; swandolphinrestaurants.com
Emeril's Orlando and Emeril's
Where: Universal Orlando and Loews Royal Pacific Resort
Long the media darling of the culinary world, Emeril Lagasse's foothold in the Orlando area goes beyond his restaurants – his foundation has helped fund the kitchen house and culinary garden at the Orlando Junior Academy.
Emeril's Orlando, 6000 Universal Blvd., 407-224-2424;
Where: Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek
The legacy left behind by influential Napa Valley chef Donna Scala, who passed away in 2014, is palpable inside the kitchen of this modern and elegant Italian kitchen helmed by Alberto Navarrete Arias, who spent the better part of two decades working alongside Scala.
14100 Bonnet Creek Resort Lane, 407-597-3600; laluceorlando.com
Where: Disney Springs
After his action-heavy stint on Iron Chef, it's no surprise that Masaharu Morimoto's palatial paean to pan-Asian fare is just as dramatic, with dishes like whole Peking duck and a memorable seafood tower.
1600 Buena Vista Drive, 407-939-6686; disneyworld.disney.go.com
Where: Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes
Of all the celeb chefs, gastronomy's poet laureate, Norman Van Aken, spends the most time in Orlando, and Central Floridians can expect to see even more of him when his Mount Dora resto, 1921 by Norman Van Aken, opens this summer.
4012 Central Florida Parkway, 407-206-2400; normans.com
Where: Disney Springs
Along with executive chef Steven Richard, James Beard Foundation Award-winner and Top Chef Master Tony Mantuano has transformed Portobello into a casual, kid-friendly country Italian trattoria.
1650 Buena Vista Drive, 407-934-8888; portobellorestaurant.com
Where: JW Marriott, Grande Lakes Resort
You'll often find Melissa Kelly, the first two-time James Beard Foundation Award-winner and original "farm-to-table" adopter, in her Orlando kitchen during the winter months when she closes her flagship restaurant in Maine.
4040 Central Florida Parkway, 407-393-4444; marriott.com
Where: Disney Springs
Kevin Dundon, one of Ireland's finest chefs, has cooked for monarchs, presidents and Bono. On a handful of occasions during the year, he cooks modern Irish fare for guests at his inviting Disney pub, famous for killer clogging shows.
1640 Buena Vista Drive, 407-938-0300; raglanroad.com
Where: Dr. Phillips Restaurant Row
Roy Yamaguchi brought his brand of Pacific Rim and Hawaiian fusion cuisine to Orlando back in 2001, and while it's a rare sight to catch him in the kitchen, there's something to be said for the restaurant's longevity.
7760 Sand Lake Road, 407-352-4844; roysrestaurant.com
Where: Downtown Orlando
The first Florida location in brothers Paul, Donnie and "Marky" Mark Wahlberg's fast-food empire is arguably the most popular burger joint in the city. The epic Thanksgiving Day turkey burger is piled with stuffing, orange-cranberry sauce and roasted butternut squash.
200 S. Orange Ave., 407-293-7777; wahlburgersorlando.com
Coming super soon to Disney Springs, the quick-service version of yoga-loving scholar of regional Mexican cuisine and kitchen warrior Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill will bring his nouveau take on fresh-Mex.
Homecoming: Florida Kitchen & Southern Shine
The ever-gregarious and popular Art Smith seems like a perfect fit for Disney Springs; we might even get an Oprah sighting or two.
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