Winning Ways

Our Dining Awards event was a memorable celebration of the area's glorious cuisine.


Last weekend saw the 2018 Orlando magazine Dining Awards come to Reyes Mezcaleria, and I will unequivocally say it was the best event we’ve ever had. The space was wonderful, the margaritas very generous, and the mariachi band stirred even the shyest attendee.

There was a lot of family bonding happening in the room. Best Chef winner Kathleen Blake (Rusty Spoon) showed up with her son, as did Trina Gregory-Propst of Se7en Bites. Creech brothers Joseph and David (Hunger Street Tacos, Best Newcomer) arrived at almost the same time as Alice Christner and husband David (Best Steak House winner Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster). Stefano LaCommare and son Lenny proudly accepted the award for Best Italian for their Nonno’s restaurant.

Probably the the most enthusiastic inductee into the Dining Hall of Fame we’ve ever had, Wendy Davis (Poca’s Hottest Hot Sauce), lit up the room in the company of her husband, guitarist Bobby Koelble, and her mom, the appropriately named Linda Sunshine.

 The creative artists behind Best Restaurant winner DoveCote Brasserie, Clay Miller and Gene Zimmerman, accompanied their wives; Joseph Cornier-Burnett made a dashing appearance with wife Viviana Altesor to receive their awards for Best Kept Secret and Best Sandwich for The Deli Downtown.

Our hosts, Sue and Jason Chin, kept a gracious eye on the proceedings. Chef Huy Tin and manager Steve Conkle of the Chin-owned Best Pan-Asian winner Seito Sushi proudly displayed their Seito T-shirts and award plaques.

Cutest couple award may go to Bruno Zacchini and Leelah Meow as they picked up awards for Best Pizza and Best Neighborhood Restaurant Pizza Bruno. A non-existent award for Best Hair to Leelah, Best Glasses to Maxine Earhart (more on her in a moment), and Most Crowd Pleasing to the crew of Reyes, who went out of their way to care for the, shall we say, enthusiastic crowd.

Pom Moongauklang (Pom Pom’s Teahouse & Sandwicheria – Best Sandwich) doesn’t usually come to award’s gatherings, so I was especially pleased to see her  mingling with adoring fans.

Kirt and Maxine Earhart (Maxine’s on Shine) picked up their Best Kept Secret and Best Neighborhood titles (still not sure how you can be both) in the company of their staff and Chef George Vogelbacher (Hall of Fame 2013). Maxine, never a shy flower, grabbed the microphone from me and extolled the virtues of the restaurant, their newly established full liquor bar, and the strength of the drinks at Reyes. And most of the cast and crew of Chef's Table at the Edgewater (Best Chef’s Table, natch) arrived, as per their custom, a la limousine with Laurie and Kevin Tarter, including Chef de Cuisine David Lampman.

In the busy world of top-level chefdom, the chance to get out of the kitchen and share a cerveza is rare, so seeing Hall of Fame inductee Greg Richie (Soco); Chelsie Savage of Best Vegetarian winner The Sanctum Cafe; Tim Keating (Best Fine Dining, Urbain 40); and Camilo Velasco (Best Destination Restaurant, 1921NVA) swapping stories in the same room was the highlight of my night. Wendy Lopez (Tapa Toro) had a grand time mingling with fellow culinarians while picking up her Readers' Choice Best Chef win.

Along with recognizing the big players in the Orlando food scene (Toojay’s, Ace Café, Bull & Bear), the OMag awards ceremony tipped its collective cap to the indie owners in attendance: Beth Steele (Best Burger winner Beth’s Burger Bar); Best Independent Bakery winner Taissa Rebroff of Buttermilk Bakery; Dominique Marie and German Gutierrez of Best French Café de France; Sonny Nguyen from Best Japanese winner Domu; Amit Kumar from Best Indian winner Tamarind; and Fernando and Carroll Melgarejo of Peru Power (Best Food Truck) were just a few.

And I loved seeing some of the stars of my Bakers’ Dozen spotlight who arrived as special guests: Celine Mariah Duvoisin (Valhalla Bakery); Stacey and Ed Tomljenovich (P is for Pie); Evette Rahman (Sister Honey’s); Amanda McFall (Urbain 40) and the aforementioned Trina Gregory-Propst. Look for a Cookie Crawl event in the not too distant future.

Dining Awards takes an astounding amount of work, but the payoff is an evening with the best culinary brilliance in Orlando, and that makes it all worthwhile. I can’t wait to see who joins the party next year. Check out some photos from the evening here.

Orlando is an award-winning food town. What are your award-worthy places? Send me a note. Stay in touch at and access a comprehensive list of my print and online reviews here!



Categories: Savor Orlando