That is exactly what the fine folks at Orlando’s Italian Restaurants have been doing since 1965. In fact, Texas Monthly magazine coined their menu as Tex-Italian. Here’s what you are guaranteed at Orlando’s: amazing Italian food with an unmistakable Texas twist. It’s a dream come true for this Texas gal who lives for pasta, but always needs a little spice to keep me feeling truly Texan.
Orlando’s is actually Lubbock’s oldest, full-service restaurant. Through it all, the business has remained a family affair. In 1965, Mike Cea opened the first Orlando’s location at 2402 Ave. Q, which is still in operation today. Mike had hoped one day his son, David, would become part of the business, but in the 70s David had other career goals on his mind. Luckily, Loyd Turner, a Tech graduate who had recently returned to the “Hub City” after traveling the United States where he more often than not slept in his VW Bug, was given the opportunity of a lifetime. For $2,000, he officially formed a partnership with Mike.
One day, while Loyd was bartending at the restaurant, a beautiful blonde named Karen came in and asked for a copy of the menu. Unbeknownst to Loyd, Karen was actually doing research for one of his competitors. He asked her to play racquetball the next day, she won and he decided it was best to marry her before she could hurt/beat anyone else. Eventually Karen, the self-proclaimed “Big B” (the B stands for boss), became a partner at the restaurant. Along the way, Mike’s son, David, realized the family business was exactly where he wanted to be. Today, more than 300 employees are spread out between four restaurants owned through a partnership between Loyd and Karen Turner, David and Cheryl Cea and Gerol and Heather Fanta. Orlando’s Enterprises, Inc. includes two restaurants and the group also owns two restaurants that are part of CapRock Restaurants, Inc.
While a lot has changed over the past 50 years, Orlando’s menu has relatively remained the same. It’s so good and unique it would be a crime, in my opinion, to change. For this foodie experience, I brought the entire Visit Lubbock marketing and communications team along to try out Orlando’s great menu. The first thing we chowed down on was the Down-N-Dirty Tortellini featuring sausage, chicken and sautéed mushrooms and served with Orlando’s original ranch dressing (the best around). No lie, I order this appetizer every time I am in the restaurant. If you want to look like one of the regular customers, ask for the dish “old-style” – just don’t let on who told you the secret.
Next up, Orlando’s bestselling specialty dish, Green Chile Chicken Linguine, a spicy southwestern blend of marinated chicken breast, New Mexico green chilies, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, toasted almonds and garlic sautéed and served with linguine. As the Italians would say, it’s “delizioso,” which in Texas translates to “that’s pretty durn good y’all!” While holding the bestselling title, this dish was actually invented in less than 10 minutes time simply playing around in the kitchen.
Whenever I am at Orlando’s with my family, our go-to menu item is the Green Chile Chicken Pizza, a spicy southwestern blend of marinated chicken breast, green chilies, olive oil, Parmesan and garlic. Dip it in Orlando’s original ranch dressing, and you will literally come to blows with your family over the last piece.
The restaurant is also known for its great drink options – the most popular being the Blue Zuni, which just happens to be the favorite drink of a former Texas governor (the Orlando’s staff’s lips remain sealed). This potent concoction, featuring two shots of Jose Cuervo Gold and a shot of Blue Curacao, has been keeping customers smiling since 1978.
If Tex-Italian just isn’t your thing, then be sure to try the Cheeseburger in Paradise, which was named the No. 10 Burger in Texas by TexasMonthly magazine in 2009. After that announcement, the restaurant went from grilling 150 burgers a week to 900.
You can’t leave the restaurant without trying the Homemade Chocolate Rum Cake, a chocolate Bundt cake soaked in butter and rum and served with vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream and a cherry. This is an Orlando’s original recipe that your taste buds should not be denied.
To put it simply in Texan, “When it comes to Tex-Italian, the Orlando’s posse ain’t messin’ around so it’s bout time y’all got ya some!”
Friday & Saturday from 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
By: McKenna Dowdle
By: McKenna Dowdle
By: Visit Lubbock Interns
By: Katherine White