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What Specialties Shouldn't SF Hounds Miss in Central Florida?

My husband and I will be staying in Melbourne for around 5 days next week, and while he's working, I will be exploring. More accurately, I will be looking for my next good meal. I'm willing to drive around an hour, and am planning visits to Epcot and Cape Canaveral.

Living in the Bay Area, we have access to really good Asian food, so I'd like to focus on what's unique to Florida. What we don't have over here are fresh shrimp and crab (other than Dungeness, in season). We have lots of Mexican food, but hardly any Cuban.

I've gone over previous posts and links on Chowhound, and would appreciate comments on the list below. Clearly, with only around 10 meals (not including breakfast), many places will be missed. Which ones should I move heaven and earth NOT to miss?

Bizzaro's Pizza
New England Eatery
Captain Katanna's
Mango Tree
Hioki's--(for the East Coast fish)
Dixie Crossroads
Crab Heaven
Frankie's Wings & things
Strawberry Mansion
Island Fish Grill
Pineda Crossings

And do you have any recommendations for treats to bring back to California? How are Grimaldi's chocolate-covered potato chips?

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  1. Pia, I don't have a specific rec for you. Just wanted to say that I still remember the fabulous fresh, whole pampano I had at a Thai restaurant somewhere around Orlando a decade ago. As you know, this fish is hardly ever available fresh in the SF Bay Area, so it was a special treat and something you'll want to keep an eye out for.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Thanks for the rec, Melanie! I'd love to try Florida's pompano. But it seems like I will be dining alone a lot: do pompano come small enough for one very eager fish-eater?

      1. re: pilinut

        They come in a variety of sizes. The one I had was too much for one person, but since food costs around the Epcot area were so much less than SF, I didn't care. Wasteful of food, yes, but a bargain. Hope that's still true.

    2. When I visit good friends in Satellite Beach, we always try to hit Dakine Diego's Burritios. This is essentially a surfer hangout with tables outside and massive burritos along with all types of sauces to use on the burritos. Heck, they even give you instructions on how to eat the burrito.

      And yes, get some of the chocolate covered potato chips. To die for!


      1. Eat some stone craps cold with a mustard sauce.They are the best!
        Just buy them at a fish market,deli or supermarket because they come off the crap boats all ready cooked.The restaurants don't do anything to them. You get more bang for your stone crap buck buying them at a market.
        They are not cheap but well worth it.
        The season runs form October through March.
        Do not miss them!

        3 Replies
        1. re: rigaboy

          Actually, the stone crab season starts Oct. 14. It doesn't sound like you will be here on that date.

          You mentioned Epcot. The Food & Wine Festival is underway and runs through mid-November. The Disney Website:


          explains the wide variety of events and activities, including walk-up free beer, wine and tea seminars. There are about 30 little kiosks scattered around the World Showcase, featuring 3-4 food items from different regions of the world, and a couple of wine pairings to match. I think the most expensive one was a nice little lobster roll, very fresh, for $6.50, but most are about half that price.

          If you want to stay for dinner, I suggest making a reservation as soon as you arrive. They go quickly. Everyone has their favorite restaurant there. I like Alfredo's in Italy, Chefs du France and the steaks at Le Cellier in Canada.


          1. re: Bob Mervine

            Thank you for the suggestions and the link, Bob! The dinners all seem to be in the $125-$195 range, tax not included. Menus are not mentioned: what makes these dinners so special and sought-after?

            I am sooooooooo peeved that I will be missing the stone crabs by a day. I don't know how many pounds of chocolate-covered potato chips I will need as consolation prize.

            1. re: pilinut

              You are going to the dinners for a themed meal featuring a well known chef and a flight of wines from one vineyard paired with the food. I did a lunch today that was Mediterranean Street food done by Anissa Helou, paired with a sauvignon blanc and a nice cabernet from a hew winery called Hill Estates. Small group, full cooking demo, great service, more wine than I could drink and a take home cookbook and bottle of wine.

              They vary quite a bit. You sort of have to take a chance on what's available the day you go.
              Since you probably want to spend time at Epcot, just doing the park, I'd suggest building in some time for perhaps one or two seminars -- go to the information center and see what's available.
              Nibble at some of the kiosks and ride some rides, shop, etc. and plan on a regular dinner in one of the Epcot restuarants, again making that reservation as soon as you arrive at the park.

              Can't speak for Brevard area, but the wings in Orlando area are pretty mediocre. I have been buying Houlihan's, out of necessity and convenience. The info on Oyster Bay is correct.

              Also agree with 310 Park South in Winter Park. There are a couple of nicer, more expensive places nearby also. Try Chef Justin's or Luma on Park. Have a drink and check it out before you decide.

              Next door to Luma's is The Wine Place, which has more than 120 wines offered by the pour from a sort of next-generation cruvinet that uses a debit card you purchase from the store in advance. Kind of cool.

              I also thought of a decent Cuban place that might interest you. It's in Celebration, near Disney, and it's a branch of the original, 100-year-old Columbia restauraant in Tampa.


        2. Thank you, everyone! Suggestions have all been noted on my PDA, and my only problem will be trying to eat in as many places as possible. I'm really looking forward to this!

          1. I would say concentrate on the hot wings - they're done nicely in Florida generally - and seafood/fish. If you end up in Winter Park (near Orlando), you really really should go to 310 Park South on Park Avenue and get the absolutely amazing smoked salmon:

            CJ's - Calico Jack's - is great for wings and oysters.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Cinnamon

              Calico Jacks is now Oyster Bay and not as good. Trust me ,, I worked there!

            2. Check out Dixie's - I don't think you'll find a place like this anywhere else in the states. You want to try real shrimp? You've got to get it at Dixie's


              1. I second Roberto's in Cocoa Beach. Went there last winter. Excellent.

                1. Regarding your original list...

                  We're big fans of Pineda Crossing...always something on the menu worth trying.

                  Capt. Katannas...Used to enjoy that place. Went there a few nights ago & was disappointed. Service was so-so. Half the wines by-the-glass on their wine list they didn't have & the ones they had were mostly reds. (This is a fish joint.) Kitchen isn't as good as it used to be either.

                  Regarding the Italian places on your list...we've been to most of them and haven't really been impressed. They're not bad, but as you're from SF, I assume you can get better at home. This opinion is from someone that lived in the NYC area all my life until 15 months ago. If you want Italian in this area, I suggest Silvesto's in Cocoa Beach.

                  In the Orlando area, we've enjoyed Raglan Road Pub in Downtown Disney...but if you go to the Wine & Food Festival at Epcot, you just might be too full from snacking around the World Showcase to want to sit down to a full meal. That's been our experience.