Dining Awards 2022: Editor’s Picks, Part 1
We had so many selections this year we had to split it into two parts.
Editor’s Choice: Best Restaurant
The Ravenous Pig
Ravenous? Book a table at multi-award-winning The Ravenous Pig, and your taste buds will swoon with delight. Winter Park chef-owners Julie and James Petrakis, whose restaurant earned a Michelin Bib Gourmand honor this year, source the freshest sustainable ingredients to make each dish sing with seasonal, oh-so-delicious edibles. Consider the crab bisque prepared with whole blue Ponce Inlet crabs; the crispy pork belly tossed in hot honey over cornbread pudding with watermelon and the local red snapper over spaghetti squash with preserved mushrooms and hazelnut in a Thai curry broth. “Our menus are based on what inspires our chefs, brewers, and bar team. From vegetable dishes to our butcher’s cuts, house-made charcuterie, house-brewed beers, seasonal cocktails, and desserts,” says Julie Petrakis, with a nod to the Pig’s pastry chef, Brian Cernell. He created a crème fraiche cake in tres leches custard with caramelized honey and cinnamon streusel. “Guests literally order seconds of this one.” The Petrakis’ brewing company offers 18 namesake brews on tap in the adjacent beer garden with food-truck pairings like a colossal Bavarian-style pretzel drizzled with honey and accompanied by pimento cheese fondue. | theravenouspig.com
Readers’ Choice: Best Business Restaurant & Editor’s Choice: Best Place to Celebrate a Special Occasion
Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster
If you’ve got a birthday, anniversary, graduation, or other celebration, head over to Christner’s Prime Steak and Lobster. This restaurant features dishes that scream celebration, like perfectly seared USDA prime filet mignon and cold-water rock lobster tails carved tableside. And don’t forget a bottle of wine. With more than 4500 bottles of wine, there’s always something new and delicious to try. The Christner family is proud that “the traditions that made Christner’s popular in the 1990s are the same traditions that families, two and three generations later, adhere to and believe in today, making Christner’s a true Central Florida favorite.” | christnersprimesteakandlobster.com
Editor’s Choice: Best Chef
Chef Henry Moso, Kabooki Sushi
Chef Henry Moso is taking Japanese cuisine to a new level and getting recognized for it, not just in Orlando but nationally. He was nominated for the 2022 James Beard Award, Best Chef of the South, a prestigious award presented to chefs who set high standards in their culinary skills and leadership abilities. “I like to think that part of the reason I was recognized by the James Beard Foundation is because of my passion for cooking. I have high respect for my roots and the traditional techniques of Japanese cooking and love to use techniques and flavors from all over the world to influence my food,” says Moso, who has two restaurants in Orlando.
Diners at Kabooki Sushi have their favorites. Moso elaborates, “the Maguro Truffle is a lean tuna with powerful flavors of balsamic truffle soy, shiitake crema, and serrano peppers, while the Hamachi Carpaccio is light and refreshing with flavors of citrus ponzu sauce, yuzu tobiko, and kaffir lime oil.” | kabookisushi.com
Editor’s Choice: Best Newcomer
Soseki Modern Omakase
When Chef Michael Collantes opened Soseki Modern Omakase in March 2020, traveling wasn’t an option. Most people were wary about boarding a plane. But to this chef, diners could safely travel through their taste buds to experience new flavors. Omakase, a Japanese meal comprising dishes selected by the chef, was an ideal way to take guests on a global journey. His restaurant accommodates 10 diners at a long counter; he has two nightly seatings.
“We say ‘modern omakase’ as we like to utilize our own chef experiences to curate the menu while staying with a Japanese theme,” he explains. Guests enjoy 15-plus “bites” made with Florida-sourced ingredients. His savory mackerel from New Smyrna Beach is cooked over smoking hay provided by the farm where he gets his eggs. A brown butter cake is topped with local pineapple and mango espuma. “Orlando diners have really embraced the experience of not having a menu and leaving it to the chef,” he says. | sosekifl.com
Editor’s Choice: Best Burger
Gourmet burgers and craft cocktails? Count us in. The Whiskey serves up creative libations along with an elevated burger menu. Kick off your meal with one of their signature barrel cocktails—like our favorite, the out-of-stock Gotham smash, perfect for bourbon and peach lovers. We recommend trying the savory pear burger topped with arugula, tomato, whiskey onions, bourbon-poached pear, smoked applewood bacon, creamy brie sauce, and garlic aioli. It’s the perfect balance of sweet and salty and 100% satisfying. If you’re feeling adventurous, try something off their game meat menu! Ever tried a camel burger? | downatthewhiskey.com
Editor’s Choice: Best Chinese
Chuan Lu Garden
When Chuan Lu Garden opened more than a decade ago, the owners figured they’d sell General Tso chicken and beef broccoli to the Americans. The traditional Sichuan dishes would be for their Asian customers. “We were really surprised by how many Americans like Sichuan food,” says Joyce Yan, who is the kitchen manager. Their Sichuan dishes are so popular that they are currently shifting their menu to all traditional Chinese food. “We want people to eat the same things we eat in our hometowns in China.”
If you are new to Sichuan food, Yan recommends starting with one of their most popular dishes, the laziji chicken—little bits of breaded popcorn chicken fried with an aggressive helping of dried chilies and Sichuan peppercorns. The peppercorns have a tingly, numbing effect on the tongue. Combined with the spicy chilies, it creates a euphoric flavor explosion. | chuanlugardenorlandofl.com
Editor’s Choice: Best Japanese & Sushi
Seito Sushi Sand Lake
With 22 years of serving Orlando, it’s no surprise the best place for Japanese and sushi is Seito Sushi. From their signature rolls like The Chairman with A5 wagyu, made with lobster, fresh truffle, pancetta, asparagus, fresno chili, and porcini aioli, to their house-made brisket gyoza, this menu is full of delicious bites. Owner Eric Springer attributes their success to “a team that truly cares about the entire guest experience from the moment they step in our doors from the food, service, and vibe. That’s what we strive for, to create a personal and memorable experience.” | seitosushisandlake.com
Editor’s Choice: Best Impact
As the saying goes, “Good things come to those who wait.” If you have a sweet tooth, then you know waiting 20 minutes in line at the East End Market for a Gideon’s Bakehouse cookie is worth it. These aren’t just any cookies. They are big and thick, slightly chewy, and loaded with chocolate chips, a sweet treat that makes an impact. For owner Steve Lewis, baking was a stress hobby that turned into a successful business, which he describes as a personal expression of self. “I have no training, and I’m a music major,” he admits, adding, “I like to joke that Gideon’s cookies stand apart from your average cookie because I don’t know what I’m doing.”
His spot at the market looks like an antiquarian bookstore. In a vintage cabinet, chocolate chip, pistachio-toffee chocolate chip, and banana-bread chocolate chip cookies tempt visitors. He also sells mile-high layer cakes. He recently opened a second location at Disney Springs. Every quarter Lewis holds events to raise money for animal projects such as Central Florida’s Liberation Cat House rescue. “I’m very proud of the local food scene in Central Florida, and I’d like to think I’m doing my part to put a spotlight on all of us.” | gideonsbakehouse.com
Editor’s Choice: Best Rooftop Dining
When the sky over Disney World lights up with explosive fireworks, you want to be outdoors sipping cocktails and sampling sushi at illume’s rooftop lounge on the ninth floor of JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa. “The unparalleled views of Disney’s nightly firework shows and the surrounding lush green nature preserve make illume so special,” says Erin Cajayon, food and beverage operations manager for the contemporary, Asian-inspired illume. Inside, guests enjoy floor-to-ceiling window views.
Sitting on plush couches and lazy loungers, guests sip Magritte’s Pipe cocktails. “This beautiful, billowing Japanese Old Fashioned, created with blended Hibiki Harmony whisky, is presented and smoked tableside,” says Cajayon about the dramatic preparation. From a menu of nigiri, sashimi, maki, and yakitori-style skewers, the Gyu No Kani is the most popular. “This maki roll of incredibly light snow crab, topped with lightly seared beef tenderloin, black garlic aioli, and truffle oil, illuminates the palate with incredible flavor.” | marriott.com
Readers’ Choice: Best Vietnamese & Editor’s Choice: Best Vietnamese
Viet-Nomz is the brainchild of UCF graduates Chris Chen, Philip Nguyen, and Michael Cho. “Most Vietnamese restaurants in Orlando are more traditional, family style. We wanted to be more modern,” says Chen.
With three locations in the Orlando area, their specialty is pho, available in beef, chicken, or veggie. “Beef is our most popular. But the veggie has gotten a lot of traction.”
Each restaurant offers an herb bar, which allows customers to add whatever herbs or veggies they want to their dish.
In addition to pho, the menu includes a carefully curated selection of Vietnamese street foods like báhn mí sandwiches, baos, and even street tacos. They’ve built a custom bowl rack in each location to separate the kitchen from the dining room.
“Just like you would see in Asia,” Chen explains. When coming up with a décor, the trio “tried to emulate the streets of Saigon but in a modern way.” | vietnomzfl.com
Editor’s Choice: Best Tap room
The Tap Room at Dubsdread
With its exposed stone fireplace and wraparound patio, the Tap Room at Dubsdread in College Park could’ve served as the location for Caddyshack. Inside the nearly 100-year-old building, you’ll find so much vintage wood you’ll think you’ve stepped into a British pub. People go to the Tap Room to have fun.“We want you to sit down for a couple of hours and really enjoy yourself,” says Tap Room manager Kelly Bofill.
The Tap Room is known for its award-winning burgers, made with 100% Certified Angus Beef. Another crowd favorite is their Maryland crab cakes, served with a house-made remoulade. They feature a dozen beers on tap and an extensive wine list. “I’m a huge bourbon person. I always try and keep up with the new, trendy bourbons.” | taproomatdubsdread.com
(PHOTOS PROVIDED BY BACAN)Editor’s Choice: Best New Hotel Restaurant
BACÁN at Lake Nona Wave Hotel
The burgeoning Lake Nona community is on a roll, opening new dining venues faster than Disney churns out thrill rides. Just opened in late 2021 and honored this year with a Michelin recommendation, BACÁN’s dramatic, richly appointed “open theater” kitchen and curated menu of Central and South American dishes serves up a dining experience worthy of a date-night splurge. Think charred octopus with Argentinian chimichurri, Peruvian chili pepper, and smoked feta finished with black olive dust and paired with a Mexican red. Executive Chef Guillaume Robin says one of his favorite creations is the Stuffed Squash Blossom with chorizo, ancho buttermilk dressing, and date candied cashews. “The flavors pair so well for a dynamic dish this season,” he says. Another is his Key West pink shrimp ceviche with Asian pear, toasted sesame seeds, and caviar. “It’s giving guests a surprise-and-delight moment.” | lakenonawavehotel.com