Eating In Orlando

Eating in Orlando
Are you visiting Orlando and want the skinny on the best places to eat? Believe it or not, there is a rather large dining scene in Orlando, if you know where to look. We get a bad rap with all the chain restaurants and Disney theme parks, so I feel like it is my duty to share. Perhaps you just moved to the area, or have been here a while and want to try something new? Here's my list of my personal faves, from cheap eats to fine dining, the Boozy Epicure has you covered.

Asian & Sushi
Chuan Lu Garden - Part of the Mills 50 scene in Orlando, Chuan Lu serves real Chinese food. As far as I can find, they make the only hand-pulled noodles in town and the dishes are fresh, tasty, and come as hot as you want.
Hawkers Asian Street Fare - 
I used to love Hawkers' mix of Asian cuisines, influences, and street food. I think I've tried just about every dish on the menu and my faves included the roti canai, roast duck, jicama salad, and all the noodle dishes. I've been back twice in the last few months and left both times disappointed. They've changed recipes and probably cooks - I'm hoping it returns to its previous glory, but right now, this is recommended with reservation.
Korea House -  Korean BBQ shines at this Longwood restaurant where you can cook for yourself or let them handle the BBQ for you. The banchan (side dishes) include kimchi and a sweet/spicy pickled squash that is killer to go along with your meat. The galbi is especially nice, although everything I've tried has been yummy.

Orlando has a lot of "okay" sushi restuarants. Shari, Wazzabi, Fuji, Amura, just to name a few. Such a shame since we're right near the ocean. The freshest fish in town is at Shin Sushi, and its a very good choice if you are in the mood for nigiri and sashimi, although the selection of fish is not on par with restaurants in other major metros. For my everyday sushi moods, when I'm happy with maki, I stick to reliable Sakari Sushi (used to be Seito) in Winter Park Village. The fish is fresh and tasty, the price is right, and service is great.

Kabooki Sushi - Hands-down my favorite sushi restaurant in town. Fresh, inventive, and delicious. The only place in town that competes with the sushi you'd find in other cities.

There is only one game in town if you want real bread, and the home location is a little bit of a hike since its closer to Leesburg than Orlando. Yalaha Bakery is top notch, they make the good stuff. I'm still willing to make the drive to get to their main location, but I do admit to hitting their downtown location to pick up a loaf or two.

First Watch - Yep, its a chain, unexpected right? When I wake up early on a weekend morning, do you know what I crave? Their fresh fruit crepes with a side of soft bacon.
Briarpatch - When I want a more "special" breakfast or am craving eggs benedict, this is the place.

As much as I love a good burger, I don't want to go to a sit down restaurant. That takes away popular places like Ravenous Pig and the Taproom at Dubsdread. I really wish that Orlando, addicted to chain  restaurants, would get a Bobby's Burger Palace already. Alas, not yet, so when I want a juicy burger, I go to just two places.
Five Guys - Just a darn good fast food burger.
BurgerFi - While their burgers are okay on my list, I really go here for their fries. Seriously. Come for the fries and have a cheeseburger while you're at it.

Kellers - Reliable Southern BBQ.
4R - I love the Burnt Ends, but hate waiting in those long lines.
Porkie's - This tiny Apopka joint has a homey atmosphere and some seriously smokey BBQ. The meat is so flavorful, you don't need sauce (although I stick with the sweet).

Fine Dining/Celebratory Meals
California Grill, Disney's Contemporary Resort - When it comes to resort dining, steer clear of celebrity names and get yourself a real meal at the California Grill. While the sushi choices are limited, its the best I've tasted in Orlando, and if you get a reservation that lets you watch the Disney fireworks during dessert, you'll feel the Disney magic.
Chef's Table at the Edgewater, Winter Garden - Who knew this gem was sitting in Winter Garden? The menu is small, you choose 3 courses from a set list, but that's the point in this intimate restaurant where the chef comes out and visits your table. Wine pairings are delicious, and the food is killer.
Ravenous Pig, Winter Park - Any place that makes their own charcuterie makes me happy. Quite simply put, a freakin' good restaurant. It can be pricey (the wine list in particular can really put a dent in your wallet) but the quality and preparation are top notch.
Norman's, Ritz-Carlton, Orlando - Fine dining that is worth getting dressed up for. The seafood is seriously delicious, and the fusion cuisine offers flavors and combinations that are both unexpected and fun. My favorite tasting menu in Orlando. Add the wine pairings and you've got Boozy Epicure heaven.
Primo, JW Marriott, Orlando, Grande Lakes -  It took me a while to get to this restaurant, although the parent Primo (in Maine) has been on my list for a while. Upscale Italian, wonderful handmade pastas, seasonal ingredients, and a quality wine list (either by the glass or the bottle) make this a great choice. The menu offers a lot of variety, whether you are an adventurous eater or not, there'll be something for everyone.
The TableDr. Philips - Not a traditional restaurant, The Table is more of a supper club. They serve dinner on Friday and Saturday nights only and they have all 22 seats around one large table. The meal is one all inclusive price, paid in advance, so you show up, get a cocktail and appetizers then sit down to a five course meal that includes wine pairings for each course. It's my idea of a pretty perfect evening.

Cafe de France, Winter Park - Skip over hyped French restaurants with luxe interiors and try French cuisine in a simple setting. The escargot and homemade terrines are divine, and while the wine list isn't incredible, it's got a nice mix whether you are drinking by the glass or grabbing a bottle.
Le Coq au Vin, Orlando -  An Orlando original since the 1970's, this is classic french cooking, not haute cuisine, so don't expect tasting menus or crazy garnishes, but well prepared classic dishes. The portions are ample and the service is warm, this restaurant just has old school charm.

Yes, I understand that these are two different cuisines, but the truth of the matter is, in my world, it's the same craving: some sort of sausage (knockwurst, bratwurst, etc,) potato pancakes, beets, sauerkraut, rye get my drift. For German, I like Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe in Sanford, and for Polish, I go to Polonia in Longwood.

Greek Village in Lake Mary always hits the spot. Service is sweet and welcoming. I'll try other places, but when I'm craving a gyro, this is where I go.

1st Oriental Supermarket -There are a lot of Asian markets in the Mills 50 section of Orlando, Vietnamese grocers and restaurants flourish, but most of the time when I am in need of Asian groceries, I make the hike to the other side of Colonial to hit 1st Oriental. It's huge, with full bakery, produce, meat, fish and frozen goods. They carry all the staples, plus the store is clean and not too smelly.
Fresh Market - like a mini whole foods, although the cheese selection is severely lacking 
Hoover's Market - health food store, organic fruits and vegetables, bulk bins full of grains and nuts, and all the flour alternatives you could desire. I get tons of baking supplies, from nut flours to food-grade beeswax for caneles.  If it's gluten free, holistic, or alternative, Hoovers probably has it. 
Petty's Meat Market  - this place just gets better and better. From quality meats to sausage casings and imported ingredients, it's well worth the separate stop. The cheese selections are improving, and you can even get a decent bottle of wine. 
Publix is the big name in town. It's where I do my basic shopping, but for higher end options like creme fraiche or fancy cheese, you'll need to go elsewhere. 
The Meat House -  Located in Winter Park, this butcher is a little more upscale than Petty's with slightly smaller selection, but they carry dry-aged beef which keeps me coming back.

Whole Foods - The only game in town if you are making a substantial cheese board. Gourmet or organic ingredients abound. Too pricey for my regular shopping, but a place I end up having to go to pretty regularly when I need specialty ingredients.

Prato, Winter Park - I mean no insult to Italian restaurants in Orlando, but coming from New York they just don't compare. Except for Prato. Stick with the pastas and you won't be disappointed. I appreciate the wood fired pizzas, but they can miss, giving you not enough crisp and a little too much char. Wine list has many tasty choices by the glass and a respectable mix by the bottle.

Kohinoor in Altamonte Springs - I've tried others, they are fine to good, but in my humble opinion, Kohinoor is the best in town, why go anywhere else?

Cafe 118  - When I feel the need to cleanse, when I've eaten too much cheese and sausage and wine, I crave a meal at Cafe 118. Its vegan (no meat, no dairy, etc) raw (nothing heated beyond 118 degrees) and expensive for a plate of vegetables, but it is creative and tasty.
Dexter's - This is where I go when I want a salad for my meal. My husband can get a sandwich, their house made chips are crazy good, and the wine list is perfect for the atmosphere. 3 locations
Pom Pom's Teahouse and Sandwicheria - Really interesting sandwich combinations when you are in the mood for something different
Winter Park Fish Co -  Perhaps the best seafood in Central Florida, the lobster roll and fried grouper sandwich are just two of my faves.
Yellow Dog Eats, Windermere - When I first moved to Orlando, this was the first restaurant to convince me here might be more to the dining scene than chain restaurants and Disney properties. While this place is super casual and not a fine dining place by any means, the sandwiches and BBQ are creative and top notch. Fish knows what he's doing and I keep coming back. Any place that has had me as a regular for 8 straight years had to be on my "best of" list.

I separate pizza places from Italian, and coming from New York, I'm pretty picky here too. My preference is the wood or coal oven styles, with a thin crispy (not cracker) crust, and not too many toppings, think Lombardi's Pizza in New York City and you'll get my drift. But when I want a quick dinner and a slice that reminds me of New York I go to Anthony's Pizza in Altamonte Springs. Service is great and the pizza is leaps and bounds better than anywhere else in the Orlando area.

Cask & LarderWinter Park - The same chef/owner couple that created Ravenous Pig brings this new addition to my list. It opened in September of 2012 and while there are definite hits and misses, the Country Ham trio with biscuits alone is worth going for. The hand-crafted beers and house made everything make this a welcome addition to the Orlando restaurant scene.
Tibby's New Orleans Kitchen 
I am no expert in Creole, Cajun, or New Orleans food. I have not been to the Big Easy,  but I know when a restaurant is doing things right. Tibby's (founded by the owners of Tijuana Flats) has solid versions of all the traditional dishes, from gumbo and jambalaya to beignets and muffuletta (they even ship the bread from New Orleans.) The price is right and the portions are ample. There are two locations (Winter Park and Altamonte Springs) and Tibby's makes a great lunch or casual dinner.

Bosphorous, Winter Park - Turkish cuisine that can't be beat. I haven't had a bad dish, and am addicted to the mixed appetizer and LAVAS bread. Wine list is decent too.

Eola Wine Company - I love the atmosphere and really enjoy their flights. The cheese plates are potentially the best in town, especially if you add some charcuterie to keep you munching while you drink. 2 locations
K Restaurant, College Park - Fresh, local, perfectly cooked. K is flawless in execution if a bit predictable in menu offerings. With the solid wine list, I'm always eager to go. I also like the sense of community and warmth in the service.
Luma on Park, Winter Park - Sister restaurant to Prato. I love the wine list, and half glass options are great since it's the small plates that really shine.
Wine Room on Park - I am seriously addicted to these wine tasting machines. Much bigger selection of wine than Eola Wine Company, but the atmosphere isn't as laid back. The quality of the cheese plates are good, but they don't feel as ample as Eola either.

Labels: ,