2021 Dining Awards: Editor’s Choice Part 2
Editor's Choice Part 2, right this way.
Editor’s Choice: Impact Award
What is it about coffee that inspires us? Is it the strong, bold flavor? The way the cup feels so familiar in your hand? Or the wafting aroma that brings to mind thousands of memories spanning a lifetime? Or it could simply be the energizing buzz from the caffeine. Regardless, coffee unites us in community and encourages gathering, so it’s the perfect platform for high-minded folks to use when looking to solve some of the globe’s biggest problems—and that’s exactly what our friends at this local spot are doing. Stop by one of Axum’s locations for a latte, or take a bag of beans home, and you’re supporting their mission to “brew goodness together.” Proceeds from their sales benefit myriad causes, both local and international. From partnering with Matthew’s Hope in West Orange to serve the needs of the homeless to assisting vulnerable children and funding clean water initiatives, they’re doing their part to reach the world—one bean, one cup, one smile at a time. —B.F.
Editor’s Choice: Best Classic Hotel Restaurant
If it’s been a minute since you’ve visited Cítricos, it’s time to book a table. And I know it’s been a minute—because the restaurant, located at Walt Disney World’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa—just reopened this summer for the first time since the pandemic shutdown shuttered many of the resort’s fine dining spots. But it’s clear there’s a bit of a silver lining to the hiatus. Disney used the downtime to give the eatery a refresh—both in terms of decor and its menu. Inspired by Mary Poppins Returns, touches from the film can be seen throughout the whimsical decor, from corseted upholstery to butterfly-bedecked chandeliers. Chef Andres Mendoza has refocused the menu as well to celebrate the bounty of Florida within a framework of Mediterranean influences. Can’t-miss dishes include the Butter-poached Florida Cobia and a Short Rib done up in a delightful Guava Barbecue. For dessert, don’t even try to resist Pastry Chef Kristine Farmer’s Chocolate Torte. And the service? As impeccable as ever. —B.F.
Editor’s Choice: Best Theme Park/Attractions Restaurant
Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant
While theme parks reopened last summer, many of their eateries, especially table-service and high-end dining spots, have been slower to resume operations. Although we’re hopeful that the next year will bring a return to something resembling normalcy, we would be remiss in leaving out attractions dining altogether. Raglan Road at Disney Springs has consistently served a terrific mix of Irish pub favorites, like Fish & Chips, while also introducing diners to more contemporary dishes inspired by both local flavors and Emerald Isle influences. Recent additions include the Grilled Lollipop Pork Chop with spiced pineapple chutney, purple kale, parsley mashed potato and smoked butter sauce. Brunchers can sample the new Anglo Irish: Eggs Benedict with poached eggs, Irish ham and wilted spinach served atop brioche and topped with hollandaise. Daily entertainment, including musicians and dancers from Ireland, create a lively atmosphere in the antique-bedecked space. Can’t make it to Ireland? No worries. They bring Ireland to you. —B.F.
Editor’s Choice: Best Neighborhood Restaurant
Alda and Joe Rees, longtime residents of the Mills 50 neighborhood, set out to create something wholly…ordinary. That may sound underwhelming, but it’s not meant to be. Their wonderful restaurant, The Strand, is that happy surprise you happen upon; at once unexpected, and yet perfectly articulated, as though it grew organically into the space. The minimalist, wholly unpretentious dining room, with whimsical touches like an old television, speak a language very familiar to fellow Gen-Xers, whose latchkey selves grew up watching old reruns of shows that predated our existence, as well as new series meant to capture a bygone time. But it’s the incredible care and attention to detail with every dish that keeps us coming back again and again. After all, who among us hasn’t ordered the Buttermilk Chicken Salad or Strand Burger with complete satisfaction? (And don’t even get me started on that coleslaw.) The carefully curated beverage program always offers the perfect wine or beer to go with your selection as well. And here’s a protip: never pass up a dessert, always inspired by and made with the season’s freshest flavors. The Strand is the kind of place that nearly tempts me to move to Mills 50—just so I can eat there every day without crossing town. —B.F.
Editor’s Choice: Best Casual
The Ravenous Pig Beer Garden
It seems sometimes that culinary dynamic duo James and Julie Petrakis are out to conquer the world, one genre at a time. Their wildly popular Ravenous Pig continues to thrive, as do Cask & Larder at Orlando International and The Polite Pig at Disney Springs. But this last year has brought an expanded adjoining concept to the Pig, the spot that started the Swine Family and arguably put Orlando on the map as a serious culinary contender: the Ravenous Pig Beer Garden. The outdoor, family-friendly space offers ample shaded seating and a separate menu of Southern-accented gastropub favorites, in addition to refreshing on-tap cocktails and a full menu of beer, courtesy of the brewery just next door and other local brewers. Whether you’re seeking a special night out, or you prefer a festive and casual gathering with a backyard feel, you’ll find what you’re looking for at the Winter Park eatery. It’s next-level culinary excellence in a casual setting. —B.F.
Editor’s Choice: Best Food Hall
Plant Street Market
Dad wants barbecue. The kids want pizza. Mom is craving her favorite tacos. Do you hit up three different spots on UberEats? Nah—just head to Plant Street Market, our pick in 2021 for Orlando’s best food hall. Anchored by Crooked Can, one of Central Florida’s most popular craft breweries, the market is home to 20 vendors offering everything from beer to artisan chocolates. The most recent tenant to take up space at Plant Street is a name familiar to Orlandoans: Hunger Street Tacos. The wildly popular Mexican street food restaurant, with its original location in Winter Park, recently opened in West Orange County to cheers and daily sell outs. Co-owner Joseph Creech sees the Winter Garden location as the perfect fit for their brand. “It is a very whimsical place that is rare these days and we think it is the perfect fit for our second location.” —B.F.
Editor’s Choice: Best Cocktails
Have you ever dreamed of stumbling into the chic lounges and bars you see in old movies and TV shows? You know, the kind of place where everyone is effortlessly chic, the conversation is lively and bubbling and clearly, no one has to get up early the next morning. If you want to channel that vibe, head to Tori Tori. But the bar—by all means, do not call it a restaurant—is so much more than flash and image. It also brings the goods when it comes to chic food and drink. Think Izakaya, but with a little American-ness thrown in just to shake things up. Tori Tori is known especially for its light, bright highball cocktails: bubbly, wispy things that marry together spirit and carbonation in perfect harmony. Try any number of the concoctions made with various Japanese whiskys; or opt for something a bit more unexpected, such as the Mexican Firing Squad—a delightful blend of joven tequila, mezcal, lime, pomegranate and soda. Feeling peckish? You will never go wrong with the Chicken Karaage or Brussels Okonomiyaki. And new this fall/winter, look for EDOBOY, a new standing sushi bar concept by the same group, to open directly behind Tori Tori. —B.F.
Editor’s Choice: Best Place to Make a Toast
Bites and Bubbles
I got lost on a recent visit to the new Bites and Bubbles location (thanks, Apple Maps). But when I finally made it, the circuitous trek was oh-so-worth the trouble. The event? The celebration of a good friend’s birthday. The crowd? Three working moms out for a drink on a Tuesday night. The experience? Flawless. From the bubbles—a girly, frivolous bottle of Canard Duchene Brut Rose—to the small plates and beyond to a main plate to share, it was all just the way you wanted a midweek meetup, celebrating a good friend, to be. Hang the excuses that there’s no time! Forget planning everything for the weekend! A Tuesday night toast was a reminder to live every moment to the fullest (especially when you can find a babysitter), and Bites and Bubbles is the perfect place to indulge. When you visit, don’t miss the stellar selection of cheese or the melt-in-your-mouth Duck Fat Burger. Looking to splurge? The caviar menu will help you to accomplish that goal in style. —B.F.
Editor’s Choice: Best Bakery
This small, independently-owned bakery in Winter Park has been a go-to for this editor’s family for years. Whenever we’re craving an authentic taste (albeit an oversized portion) of classic French favorites, we head to Croissant Gourmet for the flakiest, crisp-tender croissants, pain au chocolat and almond croissants around. The jalousie, filled with rich frangipane and tangy raspberry confiture, is my favorite, and is big enough to share. Aside from bakery items, you’ll find fine pastries ranging from napoleons and fruit tarts to eclairs and macarons. The bakery also offers a full menu of breakfast and lunch specialties as well as coffee. With a small seating area inside and charming tables outside, it’s easy to pretend you’ve meandered down a quiet Parisian street. —B.F.
Editor’s Choice: Best Street Food
Bombay Street Kitchen
The American palate continues to evolve—and along with it, a sense of maturity as it relates to the world’s great cuisines. Increasingly, it’s no longer acceptable to lump food from another country into one big pile; more and more, we distinguish by city or whole country within a given cuisine. And that’s especially true for the rise of the world’s most humble offering: street food. Bombay Street Kitchen does a masterful job of introducing diners to myriad offerings from the streets of Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore and beyond in an approachable, affordable and beautiful concept. The new restaurant, which debuted in March 2021, offers guests the chance to explore beyond the familiar favorites, like curries. Go deeper with a variety of shareable plates—many vegetarian. What sets the concept apart? Scratch cooking and a commitment to using freshly-ground spice mixtures that are prepared in-house. Some of our favorites include the Chura Vada Pav (potato patty sliders with garlic-cilantro chutney) and the Street Special Dosa. —B.F.
Editor’s Choice: Best Place to Meet for Lunch
The Goblin Market Restaurant & Lounge
If it’s been a while since you’ve played hooky and stolen away to meet a friend for lunch, it’s time to remedy that. And we have the perfect spot: The Goblin Market Restaurant & Lounge in Mount Dora. Situated on a sleepy side street in the picturesque downtown area, this insanely charming spot wraps you in its spell the moment you enter with cozy nooks surrounded by bookcases and warm wood touches. Longtime Mount Dora resident and avowed Goblin Market fan Janice Epaillard sums it up best: “Goblin is the restaurant where we take friends from out of town because we know they will be as enchanted with the restaurant as with our beautiful and quaint city of Mount Dora.” But the menu will keep you coming back for more. For lunch, don’t miss the tempura-battered Artichoke Hearts with pesto cream cheese, the Lamb Burger, or the Strawberry Salad. Plan ahead: They’re only open for lunch Wednesday through Saturday, and seating is first come, first served. —B.F.
Editor’s Choice: Best Vegetarian
Dharma Southern Kitchen
One doesn’t typically say the words “Southern comfort food” and “vegan” in the same sentence—unless it’s an exercise in comparison and contrast. However, if you favor flavors popularized south of the Mason Dixon line, but prefer your food to be without a face, Dharma Southern Kitchen is probably the solution you’ve been seeking. Chef/owner Shaun Noonan spent years honing his craft before hitting the Orlando food scene with his Vegan Hot Dog Cart, which eventually morphed into the present-day eatery. Now with locations in Orlando, Sanford and Tampa, plant-based food enthusiasts have more opportunities than ever to dig into specialties like Carolina BBQ Pulled Jackfruit, Nashville Hawt Chick’n or The Brew Burger—a veggie burger smothered in cashew beer cheese and topped with Purple Cabbage. Or stick with the classic Orange Bird: Citrus-BBQ Chick’n smothered in slaw. —B.F.