Orlando’s Best Restaurants By Neighborhood
Superb dining choices are hallmarks of a great neighborhood. Here are some standouts from each area featured in our cover story.
Downtown Orlando/Thornton Park
There’s no shortage of eateries in Downtown Orlando, from the casually fast (or quickly casual) BBQ offerings at 4 Rivers Smokehouse inside City Hall and burgers to almost a dozen pizza joints. For sit-down delights, wander up to the North Quarter for Mexican masterpieces and tequila treasures at Reyes Mezcaleria; the gems crafted by Chef Greg Richie at Soco just south of Lake Eola, where comfort food such as meatloaf (wood grilled, of course) and Korean fried chicken are faves; and taste bud-exciting dishes from the kitchen at Napasorn Thai—try the massaman curry. One of the best restaurants in Orlando can be found inside the Grand Bohemian Hotel where Chef Laurent Hollaender presides over the award-winning breakfast, jazz brunch and romantic dinner menus at The Boheme (Chef Laurent has a way with salmon and Colorado lamb), while almost across the street, ribeye and New York strip lovers can find their joy at Kres Chophouse. Devotees of quick French fare can meander to Benjamin French Bakery and Café for quiche, crepes and house-baked baguettes filled with Parisian delights. Noodle fans can find crafted ramen at JINYA in Thornton Park, udon at Bento Asian Kitchen just below the Cobb Plaza Cinema (a great before-movie choice), and pad thai at Uodom Thai near Lake Eola.
While their brand-new location in Maitland is getting on its feet, Laurie and Kevin Casey have put fresh energy into the 5-year-old Outpost Neighborhood Kitchen, tending to the local dine-in Southern-inspired and craft beer needs (including a Wednesday night oyster bash) while delivering their fare to the 32804. Blended Bistro & Boba brings a Southeast Asian flair to casual dining, with a wide variety of boba teas, bánh mì sandwiches and customizable pho noodle bowls. The perennial Tap Room holds a unique place in College Park by being both the 19th hole at Dubsdread Golf Course (fresh air and exercise is good) and home to our Dining Hall of Fame “Classic” cheeseburger (among other things). Lewis Lin and wife Stephanie Huang took over Jade Sushi & New Asian in 2016 and upped the local sushi game. The raw items show proper knife skills, and the kitchen turns out enjoyable ramen along with Chinese, Japanese and Thai delights. Lin, by the way, also owns Susuru, the exceptional Japanese izakaya gastropub on Palm Parkway near Disney.
SODO District/Delaney Park
High-end dining from a well-known local chef just outside the environs of Downtown is eminently possible at Delaney’s Tavern, with items courtesy of Chef Anthony Albino like blue crab beignets, fresh pasta and an enviable craft cocktail menu. Meat-optional dining for the “plant curious” has a home at Hungry Pants, with a retro vibe and mouthwatering selections that prove cauliflower, tempeh and veggie burgers should not be feared (select meat add-ons are available if you’re hungry but fainthearted). But what we really want is dessert, and the first choice is Sister Honey’s for homemade sugary treasures like key lime pie, towering cakes and the award-winning cookies of master baker Evette Rahman. Temptingly close is Shaka Donuts, with dazzling permutations of chewy, cakey pleasures. One can’t overlook two fun choices: the Flintstone-sized beef ribs at Cecil’s Texas Style BBQ; and anything at Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers.
Audubon Park/Baldwin Park
Baldwin Park flourishes with food, anchored by two restaurants on New Broad Street: the newly refocused Florida seafood fare at The Osprey and innovative treasures at Seito Sushi, where bao buns and Korean bi bim bap share space with reinvented teriyaki chicken and some of the freshest sushi imaginable. Lakeside views and grilled steaks in the Portuguese style highlight Galeria, while next door at Colibri, tableside guacamole, fish tacos and burritos offer flavors of Mexico. The Gen Z vibe that permeates the Audubon Park area has fostered new takes on traditional breakfast specials at Junior’s Diner (good cheese grits); a return to open air foraging at the much-loved Monday night Audubon Park Community Market at Stardust Video & Coffee, where local suppliers fill tables with fresh greens, exotic mushrooms and impressive bakes; and the area’s innovative food hall, East End Market. EEM houses the craftsmanship of bread, croissants and cookies by Olde Hearth Bakery; sandwich magic from Hinckley’s Fancy Meats (try the bacon turducken sandwich—trust us); and Sonny Nguyen’s ramen and mazemen expertise at the hip Domu. Between the two Markets, stop by to sample Azorean cuisine from Chef Chico Mendonça at Bem Bom on Corrine, known for bacalhau fritters, filet mignon “Portuguesa” and the justly popular chicken prego sandwich (Chef Chico makes his own sauces every day).
Not too many years ago, Winter Garden was a place that was just a little too far for Orlandoans to travel. Now, it is a suburban go-to paradise, with tree-lined streets and fascinating places to eat. Chef’s Table at the Edgewater, along with its companion casual restaurant, The Tasting Room, was chosen as one of Open Table’s most romantic restaurants in the country. Owner Kevin Tarter shows his New Orleanian roots in dishes like shrimp and grits, blackened grouper and chocolate bread pudding. Market To Table shows the talents of Chef Ryan Freelove and his elegant style of cooking both substantial meat and inspiring vegetarian dishes. Plant Street Market has the feel of a rescued industrial warehouse (it’s not) and the tastes of artisanal food, anchored by Crooked Can Brewing Company (12 brews on tap made in the building) and featuring old-school New York pies from Michael’s Ali Coal Fired Pizza, specialty mac ‘n cheese at Mac’d Out, BBQ and sauces at This Little Piggy, and fresh prepared meats and hefty sandwiches from Local Butcher.
The only converted shipping container food hub in Florida resides in Lake Nona at Boxi Park, with Fowl Play fried chicken sandwiches, Claw & Order lobster rolls, Canonita street tacos and beer and wine at Hops and Vine. Sit-down Nona offerings include small-plate specialties like shakshuka poached eggs, Point Judith calamari and Korean glazed lamb ribs at Chroma Modern Bar + Kitchen; the Latin American-themed Canvas, with a saucy flair of ceviche, shrimp mofongo and the famous “Blank Canvas” burger; and Hawaiian raw fish delights from Island Fin Poke Co. Central Orlando favorite Pig Floyd’s has an outlet here, with not-to-be-missed house-smoked pulled pork, juicy brisket and roasted chicken sandwiches and platters.
You might say that Sanford has arrived. The once mighty port town has revived itself as a food and brewery destination, with some of the most well thought-of restaurants and cocktail lounges in Central Florida (not to mention the eight breweries surrounding Lake Monroe). Of course, Sanford can’t be discussed without mentioning Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe, the Oktoberfest-crazed German eatery, where every night is a festival of schnitzel, German beer and live music. Chef Nat Russell’s Tennessee Truffle brings farm-to-table sensibility to Southern cooking for breakfast, lunch and dinner, crafting items like Nashville hot quail and roasted Pasture Prime pork sandwiches, just to name two. A stroll along Sanford Avenue from “downtown” finds several cocktail and just-plain-bar bars, two breweries (Sanford Brewing serves bar bites and “make your own” mac ‘n cheese, along with the veggie-based Celery City Pale Ale) and Shantell’s Just Until Soul Food, the place for roasted turkey wings, chicken and waffles and fried fish courtesy of owner and chef Shantell Williams. The new Henry’s Depot expands our Food Hall environs with outlets of local eateries Greenery Creamery (craft ice cream), Grain & Ember (pizza), Genghis Juan’s (tacos and bulgogi burritos) and Salvatore’s Prime Sandwiches.
Fine casual dining abounds in the polished borders of Winter Park, along with some hidden gems. Take Krungthep Tea Time, for example. On the outskirts of Winter Park, this cozy family owned shop serves lunch and dinner creations that combine the sophistication of classic Thai cuisine with the relaxed style of sandwiches—that’s right, sweet and sour shrimp, satay chicken and green curry eggplant between slices of Olde Hearth bread. Ravenous Pig, the area’s breakthrough gastropub, continues to redefine American food and beer with touches of classical French courtesy of chef Clay Miller. And Hunger Street Tacos is serious food disguised as handheld nonchalance, their tacos, quesadillas and salads vibrant with hand-made heirloom corn tortillas, house-smoked meats and local produce. On the prestigious promenade that is Park Avenue, Luma on Park rules as the place for power cocktails and high-end dinners, chef Brandon McGlamery dazzling with local seafood and fresh pasta (and let’s not overlook the spectacular multi-story wine “cellar”). Bosphorous Turkish Cuisine an fit your informal snack-and-wine plans with a very satisfying meze platter and wine from the Aegean, or slow cooked lamb shank, while nearby Rome’s Flavours creates superior, Roman style pizza and Sicilian seafood served with hand-made pasta. A few minutes stroll down New England Avenue reveals three bastions of international flair: Chez Vincent, Vincent Gagliano’s ode to fine French fare, with a celebrated lamb burger for lunch; Armando’s, the landmark Italian trattoria of Armando Martorelli, complete with wood-fired pizza oven and very popular bar; and Mynt Indian Cuisine, with specialties from Kerala, Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Chennai.
Planned community, yes. Great food, also yes. The Celebration location of Florida’s oldest restaurant chain, Columbia Restaurant (and in our opinion, the best of them) holds place of honor on Front Street, serving the same glorious dishes like Cuban black bean soup, 1905 salad and roast pork “a la Cubana.” Bohemian Hotel Celebration offers breakfast, lunch and dinner at the superb Lakeside Bar + Grill, with finely crafted Florida-themed meals like conch chowder, Florida Bay scallops and porterhouse steak dressed with St. Augustine bourbon. Kids love Avocado Mexican Grill, full of classic burritos, fajitas and nachos, while adults enjoy the specialty margaritas. Celebration Town Tavern is a signature restaurant, its New England-themed menu full of chowder, seafood rolls and fried fish.