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SeaWorld – North End: Shark's Underwater Grill

What: Fine dining in a dramatic setting
Where: In the Shark Encounter building
Price Range: $$ - $$$$

This is the crown jewel of SeaWorld dining and one of the most spectacular restaurants in Orlando. Even though the restaurant itself has no windows (there are a few in the bar area), the place has a spectacular view. That’s because it looks directly in to the massive shark tank, filled with over 100 sharks and other fish. The effect is, quite literally, breathtaking.

The main dining area is long and narrow, so no table is very far from the massive glass walls of the tank. You can sit right next to the tank, but I prefer the banquette-like booths against the opposite wall, which afford some perspective on the amazing sight before you.

The food, which is styled as “Floribbean,” has a tough act to follow and, by and large, it meets the challenge. You might expect seafood to dominate the menu here, but equal time is given to poultry and meat. Among the appetizers, I can recommend the Stuffed Mushroom Trio and the Land and Sea, which pairs cold, blackened tuna and a beef empañada.

Among the seafood entrees, you will find blackened scallops, crab cakes, salmon, and red snapper. An excellent choice is the Shark’s Trio of shrimp, scallops, and tuna, either pan seared or blackened Cajun style. I am also partial to the Caribbean Seafood Ragout, served over penne.

For the diehard meat eater, there is a decent, if pricey, filet mignon and a New York strip steak. You can also find a chorizo-stuffed breast of chicken and Moho Pork, which is Cuban-style pork loin served with black beans and rice. Desserts are elaborate and extravagant.

This is the only place in the park where you can get a mixed drink, although the choice, both of drinks and liquor brands, is somewhat limited. There is a small but perfectly adequate wine list, with some good wines served by the glass, all at more than reasonable prices. Of course, you can always choose the beer of your choice, as long as it’s made by Busch.

The pricing takes a quantum leap above that at other SeaWorld eateries, but the price of entrees is no more than you might expect at a restaurant of similar quality and none of those can beat the view here. I doubt that anyone who has dined here will feel they were overcharged, unless they let their little ones order from the grown up menu. (No “Kid’s Meals” here, but there is a more moderately priced menu with entrees under $10 for those under 12.)

For obvious reasons, this is a popular dining spot and, unless you eat early, you will have a wait for a table. Your best bet is to call ahead for priority seating; the number is (407) 351-3600. Otherwise, you can stop by the restaurant early in the day (it opens at 11:00) and make arrangements for later in the day. The restaurant closes half an hour before the park.

Tip: The best-kept secret at Shark's is the bar area. The bar itself is pretty neat — its top is a long shallow aquarium with tiny, brightly colored fish swimming among simulated coral outcroppings. But the best news is that you can eat at the bar or at one of several raised tables around it. Just tell the greeter out front that you’re heading for the bar; I have never encountered a wait. From the bar, you have a pretty good view of the shark tank; not as good as if you were sitting in the main dining area, but pretty good nonetheless. What’s more, you can always visit the restrooms, a journey that will take you the length of the dining area. Take your time.

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