The long-awaited Orlando opening of Jaleo by Jose Andres is a stunning success. The largest of his restaurants, so far, gleams and amazes its diners, both visually and gastronomically.
Location: 1482 Buena Vista Drive, Orlando, Florida (inside Disney Springs)
Menu: The menu at Jaleo consists of Spanish cuisine presented in an extensive variety of tapas, authentically-prepared paellas, and five large plates created to serve two people or more.
Typically, a table full of guests will order five, six, or more tapas and then start sharing. Or, if you’re ready for a splurge, Chef’s Tasting Menus are offered each night consisting of a large variety of tapas and plates with a per person charge.
The menu headings are in Spanish but include full descriptions in English.
Tapas are arranged in categories of appetizers, salads, vegetables, fish and seafood, frituras (fritters or other fried dishes) or meats. Two different paellas are prepared each night, one vegetarian and one with meat. The croquetas de pollo (chicken fritters) are served on a special platter in a design which suggests the pillow holding Cinderella’s glass slipper. No doubt a delightful connection to the magical Disney setting.
The desserts are Spanish, also, and range from a cheesecake made with goat cheese to a flan, an olive oil ice cream with grapefruit or a chocolate custard with brioche ice cream.
An extensive drink menu features sangrias, margaritas, wine and beer.
Thoughts: Owner/Chef Jose Andres is both a James Beard Outstanding Chef winner and a celebrated humanitarian for his work in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria in 2017. His efforts led to 3.5 million meals being served to those whose homes and lives had been devastated. His restaurants in Las Vegas and in the Washington, D.C. area have garnered awards, and the Disney Springs location is sure to rack up as well. Another Jaleo is slated to open soon in Dubai.
Jaleo lives up to the hype with its fabulous decor, outstanding dishes and impeccable service. Guests enter to the sight of soaring ceilings and splashes of red, orange, gold and black with whimsical, unexpected accents in the perfect places. There is a mixture of leather booths and simple, light-colored wood tabletops. Guests may also sit at a foosball table or in a ringside seat around the open kitchen with a view of the wood fire paella pit. Upstairs is an 11-seat Jaleo Academy designed for demonstrations and wine pairings, and a large outdoor patio takes advantage of central Florida’s mild climate.
Several specially-trained meat carvers circulate through the dining room with the Jamon Iberico, and diners should be advised that the tapas are served as they are prepared and not necessarily all at the same time.
The vibe pulsates with lively music, happy chatter, excitement and anticipation, and advanced reservations are highly encouraged. Jaleo would be particularly good for a celebration with a group of friends or family members.
Price range: Tapas are between $8-36 with most closer to $12-20. Large plates serving two or more are $28-75. Paella and rice dishes are $25-38. Desserts are $9-14.