What’s Hot And What’s On The Radar
I’ve assembled a list of must-try, amazing local restaurants that you need to experience in order to live your best Orlando lives, and a few more that haven’t opened yet but you should keep your peepers on
The food scene in Orlando changes on the regular, with hot chefs and food trends coming and going like a toddler that’s not ready to go to sleep yet. Think of this list more as a “What’s Hot” right now kind of roundup, rather than something that’s set in stone. Because I’m afraid of commitment. Also, I need a link to send people to when they ask me “Where should we eat tonight, Brendan?” Because y’all seem to be asking me that a lot.
This East End pop-up kitchen turned drop-dead gorgeous chef’s table restaurant specializes in Vietnamese dishes with French finesse in Baldwin Park. Expect dishes like papaya with salmon and Vietnamese coffee-crusted wagyu at this multi-course experience crafted by rising Orlando star Chef Tung Phan. Also, what’s up with Baldwin Park becoming such a fun foodie destination? Go walk around Lake Baldwin after your date and pretend you’re an old Italian couple indulging in a passeggiata.
The folks behind post-bar Mills 50 favorites like Chi-Kin, King Bao, and Poke Hana have a new hit on their hands that was inspired by a Star Wars character and Mongolian barbecue. The trendy new quick-service restaurant on Colonial Drive serves up Mongolian-inspired rice and noodle bowls that are perfectly prepared with the use of fancy tabletop stir fryer machines that could actually be astromech droids with hip-hop names like R2-D2 or MC Circuit Breaker if you squint hard enough. Or like a Mandalorian’s helmet, hence the name. Try the fried green beans.
The fan-favorite Filipino food truck has opened a new brick-and-mortar restaurant on Lee Road near Fairview Shores and is serving up uber-flavorful dishes of kalua pork, lumpia Shanghai, and pancit, all with a side of fragrant rice for their loyal following. If you’re not sure what to get, just ask about the monthly special.
Papi Smash Burger
This new downtown hot spot started as a food truck before glowing up and taking over the former Jimmy Hula’s space on Pine Street and Magnolia Avenue. The Caribbean-influenced burger menu serves up some really tasty and innovative dishes like the “Noche in Miami,” which is like a Cuban sandwich/smashburger homunculus that could save your life if you’ve been barhopping all night. Don’t sleep on the boozy coquito milkshake either.
Thomas Ward’s new “Italian-ish” barbecue/pizzeria concept has been busy ever since it opened. The pizzas have a traditional sourdough base but that’s where the Italian bit ends and they stray into the “-ish” bit, with Ward’s trademark experimental palette stomping in and showing its passion. Expect non-traditional pairings like candied jalapeños and bacon, and BBQ chicken on one pie, or brisket, grape jelly BBQ, cheddar, and pickled onions on another. I think the pasta is your best bet though. Don’t look at Yelp, Ward has been taking all the comments to heart and tweaking his menu since the opening to make it better and better.
The owners, Daniel and Silvia King, cut their teeth serving the streets of Central Florida via their insanely popular food truck through the years before finding their perfect home on West Fairbanks. Silvia, a former butcher from Tampico, Mexico, has truly melded her talents with her husband’s, and the resulting menu of birria-heavy dishes is really something special. If you’re not familiar with birria, it’s basically the French dip of Mexican cuisine, with a side of consommé or a rich broth to dip your stuff into. The birria ramen bowl is a true exercise in delicious excess and the tortas will have you dreaming of coming back as soon as possible.
Two Scoops at Main House Market
Vegan ice cream can be hit or miss in Orlando but I’m happy to say, this relocated Winter Garden business knows what’s up and has hit a home run. Located in the former Market on South, the new Main House Market is a vegan food hub in Orlando’s Milk District that has a little something for everyone. Two Scoops, the vegan creamery counter, has a churro cake and vanilla ice cream combo that you need to see to believe. I almost had a second helping; it was so good.
THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO:
This is a new Sichuan concept by the folks at Chuan Lu Garden, which happen to be some of the more popular dishes at Chuan Lu at the moment. They’ve taken over the former Orlando Meats space in the Ravaudage development on 17-92 near Enzian Theater and they’re expected to open this summer, if not this fall.
College Park has seen an almost seasonal turnover in its restaurants on the Edgewater Drive corridor since the pandemic started. Seeming stalwart brands like RusTeak and Outpost both made the move to greener pastures in Thornton Park and Maitland and their replacements are still in the works (though the milk-meat science lab that’s replacing Outpost still has me scratching my head). We can talk about that next month though when we hopefully get some more info. A Sanford concept by Mike Smith (the man behind the bro-friendly couch-racing spectacle that is Sofas and Suds) will be opening an Orlando annex of his popular The Current Seafood Counter at Henry’s Depot in the former Jade New Asian location at 2425 Edgewater Drive, and College Parkers are frothing at the mouth for it to open. Smith was hoping for a spring opening but we’re betting on late summer.
This popular vegan Latin concept has been popping up at farmers’ markets for the past few months, testing out their evolving menu of healthy food with a “Latin twist,” and people are loving it. They’re opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant by Greenery Creamery and Eola Pets at 420 E. Church Street in the South Eola neighborhood any day now, so follow them on the ‘Gram for some updates or ask them about it when you’re ordering a plant-based empanada by Lake Eola next Sunday.
Which I’m assuming is pronounced “foo-wah, foo-wah,” is a new Japanese pancake concept from the same-named Canadian franchise that specializes in obscenely jiggly souffle pancakes that are made with egg whites that are whipped to high airy peaks before being cooked at a slow and low temperature to preserve their ultimate fluffy fluffiness. They were supposed to be opening in February 2023 in a former Subway building on Colonial Drive near Little Vietnam, but permitting and supply chains have been holding them hostage.
Leiah Kitchen + Celler
So, besides the fact that they misspelled “cellar,” this under-development concept in downtown Orlando is already billing itself as “Orlando’s next best restaurant.” It’ll be located on the ground floor of the new Hilton Garden Inn where the old City Diner used to be and will offer a selection of “handcrafted cuisine, curated wines, and an elevated atmosphere” led by Chef Omar Torres. Torres comes to Leiah with time under his belt at The Ritz Carlton, Waldorf Astoria, Hilton, and Marriott. I hear it’ll be using organic produce from local farmers so expect lots of greens.
Besides being almost impossible to sound out phonetically, this new German Scratch Kitchen is still building up a buzz before opening sometime before the end of the year in downtown Orlando. Almost nothing is known about this new concept other than it’s owned by the same peeps as Dan’s Bavarian Takeout, a ghost kitchen based out of Dollins Food Hall in the West Lakes neighborhood. They’ve taken over the former Neon Beach storefront on Orange Avenue. I’m just holding out for spaetzle and gravy.