ORLANDO — One of the challenges of being from New England, and then relocating to Orlando, is you tend to have high standards and even higher expectations when it comes to seafood.
Growing up in Fall River, Massachusetts, right off Mount Hope Bay, the number of amazing seafood restaurants that were a quick drive from my home absolutely, totally … well, spoiled me. Fried Clams. Baked Scrod. Boiled Lobster. Quahogs. When you’re in a Massachusetts or Rhode Island seafood restaurant, the menu is so lengthy you have to pace yourself.
And Orlando? I’m always surprised when I ask people if they can recommend a really good seafood restaurant, and the first thing they say is …. Red Lobster.
No slight to Red Lobster fans at all, I’ve eaten there many times myself. But chain restaurants are a far cry from the kind of mom and pop seafood restaurants that I grew up on in Southeastern Massachusetts.
But I have discovered one local restaurant that can rival anything back in New England, where the seafood selection is absolutely amazing. It’s not a fancy seafood restaurant — small tables, and limited seating. But what they do have is delicious beyond belief, which is why I keep returning happily to Lombardi’s Seafood.
What’s Special About Lombardi’s Seafood?
Lombardi’s Seafood is a short drive from my home, no more than 10 minutes up the road, at 1888 W. Fairbanks Ave., in Winter Park. It’s a seafood market that sells a delectably diverse selection of seafood daily at their front counter … which is L-shaped and seems to go on indefinitely. As you stroll past it eagerly checking out what they have to offer, you’re going to be intoxicated in the same way I am as a seafood fanatic. There’s also a frozen seafood section for anyone planning a big seafood dinner in the not-so-distant future; it’s where I got a bag of frozen breaded fried clam strips for our recent July 4 celebration dinner.
And the folks at this place know what they’re doing, since Lombardi’s has been in business for more than 50 years, and routinely delivers fresh seafood products to Orlando’s many hotels, restaurants, caterers and corporate food service companies.
They also do takeout orders with curbside pickup, but it’s also important to note that Lombardi’s also has a café. It’s a cozy one, yes, but you can order directly from the counter and then sit down and enjoy everything from a New England Lobster Roll to fish tacos, crab cakes, sea scallops, fried oysters, even fish & chips. Sometimes it feels like you’re dining in nearby St. Petersburg, but a lot of it for me had a distinctly New England taste.
Lombardi’s has starters that include corn fritters and calamari, a la carte orders like shucked oysters, and a cup or bowl of New England Clam Chowder. There are Fish Of The Day specials and even a homemade Key Lime Pie.
As Lombardi’s likes to note in its advertising, “All seafood is freshly caught, using local as much as possible and even off our own boat, the F/V Bottom Line, fishing out of St. Petersburg, Florida.”
What Do The Critics Say About Lombardi’s?
Lombardi’s recently got named as one of the Twenty Must Visit Orlando Eateries by the Orlando Food Critic, prompting co-owner Mike Lombardi to note on their blog, “Our family business has grown exponentially with the addition of our upscale market and cafe. We are honored to be known as the place for fish and shellfish by the Orlando Food Critic. We look forward to continuing to serve our local friends and family with our excellent products.”
The 2020 Orlando Sentinel Foodie Awards also selected Lombardi’s Seafood as the region’s best seafood restaurant. I couldn’t agree more, although I do have some other excellent seafood restaurants in Central Florida to recommend in the future.
Lombardi’s is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., although the café is closed on Sundays. To learn more about Lombardi’s Seafood, call 407-628-3474.
For me, a Lombardi’s seafood special — Cooked Crawfish, Swordfish steaks, or Mayport White Jumbo Shrimp — is too tempting for me not to keep coming back for more. It satisfies my craving for something I miss the most about my hometown in Massachusetts.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book When I Woke Up, You Were All Dead. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.