I've seen so many changes to the food scene since I moved to Orlando, I feel like I need to rewrite this post every other moth. So as of now, Summer of 2015, this is my guide to all the eating the Orlando area has to offer.
Asian & Sushi
If you are looking for Asian food in Orlando, you really have to hit the Mills 50 region of Orlando. There is solid banh mi to be had, my favorite being Boston Bakery and Cafe (1525 E. Colonial Dr.) along with a bunch of Vietnamese places that are good. With two locations in town, the best pho to be had is at Pho 88. For Chinese in this area hit Chuan Lu Garden (1101 E. Colonial Dr.) 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. Another place to try in this neighborhood is Hawkers Asian Street Fare (1103 N. Mills Ave.) 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.
If you are looking for Korean BBQ, Orlando has that covered as well. My go-to spot is Korea House in Longwood. 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 restaurants. I've enjoyed Shin Sushi and Shari Sushi downtown and they are very good choices although the selection of fish is not on par with restaurants in other major metros. If you are willing to do the hike, Sushi Pop in Oviedo is good too. My hands-down favorite in town, though, is Kabooki Sushi. Fresh, inventive, and delicious. The only place in town that competes with the sushi you'd find in other cities.
I'm dying to try Kappa at East End Market, but sadly, I haven't been there yet. This is the newest addition to the Orlando sushi scene and I've been hearing very good things.
There are a couple of places to hit for good bread in O-Town. Starting in East End Market, you can't go wrong with Old Hearth Bread Co. If you are willing to drive, Yalaha Bakery is top notch, they make the good stuff, but the location is a hike since it's closer to Leesburg than Orlando. They used to have a second location at 1213 N. Orange Ave, but that bakery has separated and is now The Backhaus - German Bakery and Deli.
Breakfast and brunch places keep popping up in Orlando. You can go to First Watch. It's a chain, but reliable. Another reliable chain is Keke's Breakfast Cafe. If you are looking for someplace nicer, head to Winter Park and hit Briarpatch. There are always lines out the door, but the food is worth it. For a more eclectic vibe, hit White Wolf Cafe, just minutes from local antique shops. A local favorite, I find I go here less for the food and more for the atmosphere.
As much as I love a good burger, I don't want to go to a sit down restaurant every time I want one. That takes away popular places that do amazing burgers like the 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 fast-food burger, I hit one of three places. Five Guys makes just a darn good fast food burger, sloppy and calorie laden. Next up is 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. Finally, it took forever, but Orlando finally has a Shake Shack! It's in Winter Park, sharing a parking lot with Trader Joe's which makes it crazy and hectic to park, but nevertheless, it's my favorite fast food burger in town (although I may be biased cause I fell in love with Shake Shack in NYC.)
Orlando does quite well for itself when it comes to BBQ. There are the local chains like Sonny's and Bubbalou's that I'm not into, but Keller's has two locations and gives you reliable smoky BBQ in Altamonte Springs and Lake Mary. In Apopka, there's a tiny joint named Porkie's that has a homey atmosphere and some seriously smokey BBQ. The meat is so flavorful, you don't need sauce (although I enjoy the sweet). The big name in town, and the one people go crazy for, is 4R, as in 4 River's Smokehouse. I love the Burnt Ends, but hate waiting in those long lines. Next on my list is Texas-style bbq at Cecil's. All the meats are good at Cecil's, and don't be afraid of the jalapeño mashed potatoes, they rock. Last on my list is a newbie and not classic barbecue at all, but rather a fusiony play on barbecue that I'm really into right now called Pig Floyd's Urban Barbakoa. Pig Floyd's has ribs, yes, but uses their pulled pork in several inventive sandwiches, my favorite being the Banh Mi. Beans and rice as well as sweet plantains are some of their best side dishes
To be honest, Orlando is not the place to get a fancy French meal. There are those that try, and there are two restaurants, in my humble opinion, that are worth visiting. Of course we are going to start in Winter Park. Skip over hyped French restaurants with luxe interiors and try French cuisine in a simple setting at Cafe de France. 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. The only other place in town is an Orlando institution, Le Coq au Vin. One of the few restaurants in existence 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 bread...you get my drift. For German, I like Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe in Sanford, and for Polish, I go to Polonia in Longwood.
Publix is king in Florida, and if you are reading a food blog you are already aware of Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and the Fresh Market, all three of which have an Orlando presence. I keep praying that Wegmans will work its way down, but here are the not-so-known places to stop by if you are having trouble finding specialty items.
East End Market - It's not a huge place, but East End is a big deal to the Orlando food scene. It's a small neighborhood market, but more than that it is a central hub for artisans and foodies. Inside the market you can find high end coffee roasters, a cheese shop, a bread baker, craft beers, a juice bar, and more. Every time I go, it's gotten better. The selection grows and the market is finding its niche.
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.
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.
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.
Italian & Pizza
Yes, I know Pizza isn't strictly Italian, but we're in America here folks and let's face it, Americans consider pizza Italian cuisine. This is a very difficult category in Orlando to fill, what with all the Olive Gardens and Carraba's here. I mean no insult to Italian restaurants in Orlando, or to anyone who prefers the chain Italian-American cuisine, but coming from New York they just don't compare. We've got an honorable mention with Prato in Winter Park. Prato serves the good stuff, tasty crudos, handmade pastas, an escarole caesar that is downright addictive, not to mention their house made lemonade. Sister restaurant to Luma below, 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.
While my preference is always for wood or coal oven style pizza, 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) I do crave a standard NY style slice. So when I want a quick lunch or dinner that reminds me of the ubiquitous New York counters, 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.
There's a slew of new Indian restaurants in Orlando. The two that I've been meaning to try but haven't yet gotten to are Mynt in Winter Park and Fusion 360 (previously American Gymkhana) off of Sandlake Rd. It's hard to get myself out there since I live so close to Kohinoor in Altamonte Springs. It's exactly what I want in a local Indian restaurant. I can get take-out in less than 20 minutes, and the dishes come as spicy as you want. I'm a big fan of the Mutter Paneer as well as their basic lentil soup.
Orlando could use more and better Greek restaurants. If you are looking for standards like gyros, skip Taverna Opa on International Dr. and hit Greek Village in Lake Mary. Service is sweet and welcoming. If that is too far north for you, Mykonos in Longwood works, and closer to downtown is The Greek Corner at 1600 N. Orange Ave.
That isn't to say we don't have good Turkish food though. Bosphorous in Winter Park offers 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. There is a second location in De. Philips, but I haven't visited.
There are a handful of restaurants I love and frequent that don't exactly fit one category. May of these are sandwich or lunch spots, but several are local favorites, or one-off ethnic places. I don't have a better place to put them, so I lumped them all under miscellaneous.
Beefy King -Think old school fast food. Around since the 60s, their roast beef sandwiches (especially with horseradish) are super tasty, as are the classic tots and hand-spun milkshakes.
Black Bean Deli - a Cuban Cafe, this place serves up authentic Cuban food to go. The price is right and there's seating at the Colonial location if you want to eat-in.
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. It's 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.
Dandelion Communitea Cafe - Vegetarian options about at this little house-turned-cafe. The teas, whether hot or iced, are always on point. I like the big black bean burrito, my husband goes for the ultimate grilled cheese or their portabella mushroom burger.
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. The tea selection is excellent and it's open late.
Scratch - They call themselves a tapas restaurant, but I don't think it does them justice. The food is highly inventive (the pork belly adobo is somehow Filipino fusion) and very well executed and the place has a local, caring, and kind of funky vibe that sets it apart from the other restaurants in Winter Park.
Swine & Sons - Sandwiches, baked goods, charcuterie and snacks brought to you by the folks behind The Ravenous Pig and Cask & Larder.
Txokos - How many modern Basque restaurants does your city have? We've got one in East End Market and it's pretty darn good. Definitely a place for a nice meal, but great for snack/appetizers at the bar.
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 - When I first moved to Orlando, this was the first restaurant to convince me there might be more to the dining scene than chain restaurants and Disney properties. It's a trek out in Gotha, but 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.
While Florida may be in the South, Southern cuisine has only recently taken off in Orlando. If you are looking for a Public House and Brewery, head to Cask & Larder in Winter Park The sister restaurant to The Ravenous Pig, 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.
If you want some casual southern cuisine, the folks at 4 River's Smokehouse opened a fried chicken counterpart with The Coop in Winter Park. I like the meatloaf quite a lot, and the counter service makes this a fast and satisfying meal.
For a new take on Southern cuisine, Soco (for Southern Contemporary) in Thornton park is a great option. Great for a date night or a nice dinner with friends, they play with Southern classics, from pork belly biscuits to Korean fried chicken. The flavors are familiar yet creative. And the cocktails are great too.
I am no expert in Creole, Cajun, or New Orleans food, but I always enjoy Tibby's New Orleans Kitchen (founded by the owners of Tijuana Flats.) They have 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.
I call this next section fine dining, but everything is pretty casual here in Orlando. Some of these places have tablecloths and fancy service, others do not, but any place in this list would be appropriate for dinner if you are going out to celebrate a special occasion.
First, when it comes to resort dining, I'm not a big fan. I tend to steer clear of the crowds and tourists, but have to admit, I've enjoyed several meals at the California Grill, Disney's Contemporary Resort The menu has a lot of well made options and while the sushi choices are limited, it's some of the best I've tasted in Orlando. Plus, if you get a reservation that lets you watch the Disney fireworks during dessert, you'll feel the Disney magic. The other Disney restaurant I must mention is Victoria and Albert's in the Grand Floridian. I haven't eaten there, but it's been nominated for countless James Beard awards and several of my friends consider it not only the best in Orlando, but top-notch and among their favorites anywhere. High praise indeed, and maybe 2015 will be the year I try it out.
After the Disney properties, there are two restaurants attached to hotels in Orlando that not only have celebrity chefs to add to their appeal, but darn good food as well. The first is Norman's in the Ritz-Carlton, Orlando. The cuisine of James Beard award-winning Norman Van Aken is 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. Not to be outdone, Melissa Kelly has her second Primo in the 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.
Next on the list is a real gem hiding away in Winter Garden. Chef's Table at the Edgewater has only a handful of tables and a very small menu, but boy does it deliver. This place is intimate. You choose 3 courses from a set list and the chef comes out and visits your table. Wine pairings are delicious too and you really can't go wrong.
From here we move to the epicenter of the Orlando restaurant scene, Winter Park. This little town boasts a ton of good restaurants. Just walk down Park Ave and enjoy yourself, you are sure to find a great meal (Prato, Bosphorous, Cafe de Fance, Briarpatch, Cafe 118, BurgerFi, these are all in that Park Ave area) but when it comes to the top of the pack, there are a few places you shouldn't miss. I'm going to start right off with my favorite restaurant in all of O-Town, The Ravenous Pig. Any place that makes their own charcuterie makes me happy. Everything done here makes me happy, from barrel-aged cocktails to entrees, to desserts. 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. It's also one of those restaurants though where you can walk-in and have a great casual meal at the bar. The burger and fish tacos are both great for lunch, and the first Saturday of each month they do a seasonal roast featuring seasonal specialties from whole pigs to housemate sausages and even clambakes.
If you are more in the mood for small-plates and sampling several half-glasses of wine, you really should check out Luma on Park. The bar scene is hopping on weekend nights and the dining room can get a little noisy, but the food always delivers.
A hop, skip and jump out of Winter Park brings you to College Park and the next place on my list, K Restaurant. 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.
I can't talk about fine dining in Orlando without mentioning Rusty Spoon. Chef Kathleen Blake has been nominated for a James Beard award three times for Best Chef, Southeast. For that reason alone, this is a restaurant to check out, but I have to say, I recommend it with reservation. I've eaten at the Rusty Spoon twice and both times, I was underwhelmed.
So tell me, now that I've finished my guide to all things food in Orlando - what did I miss?
And now that we've looked into all the food options in Orlando, where should you go to get a drink?
Labels: Orlando, Restaurants