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Orlando area: ethnic gems and a fancy place?

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I live in LA. More to the point, I live in Anaheim (the "other" theme park) and know all about the horrors of tourist-oriented chain food, as it's less than a mile from my house. I'm going to Orlando for a week in October, staying at Disney but going all round the city (a convention at the JW Marriott, a day fishing out on Lake Apopka, a few days at Das Maushaus). I'm travelling with a few people who know my reputation as a walking encyclopedia of good, reasonably-priced chow in LA, and I need to uphold my reputation.

What's good that I can't get in LA? (Cuban and Puerto Rican, for example, and South American besides Brazilian, maybe Spanish or Portuguese, all of which LA does pretty badly or not at all)

I need mostly fairly reasonably priced (let's say anywhere from cheap holes in the wall to $25-$30 out the door not including alcohol), but I also would like to find a fancy place to take clients out near the JW Marriott. I don't mind driving, but I don't know a thing about Orlando, distances, times, etc.

Any ethnicity (really) for the holes in the wall, but something normal for the fancy dinner (meat & potatoes, Italian, etc.) as I'll be hosting a lot of non-Chowhounds.

Any fantastic breakfasts I shouldn't miss near Disney or the JW Marriott? I love breakfast, but prefer it sans dancing children's characters and cranky parents in black socks and Birkenstocks.

I remember from my last visit a decent Cuban place in Celebration and a boatload of truly terrible places on 192 in Kissimmee (which is very close in sound to a very rude Arabic curse).

I really appreciate it!

P.S. While I don't know Orlando at all geographically speaking, I'm renting a car with GPS and a FasTrak toll thingy (SunPass?), so I'll figure it out -- good chow is worth a drive!

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  1. I guess I'll start...
    The Fancy Cuban place in Celebration is Columbia. They are a Central-South Florida chaind of about 5 - 8 locations.

    Hole in the wall = Chalo on 11301 S. Orange Blossom Trail, 407*247*5903. Colombian hot dogs ( I can't stop telling people about Colombian hot dogs). Here is a site that lists some of the Colombian restaurants in the area, call to make sure they are open. http://www.caracol.com/caracol/mediaB...
    O'Kenan is a Venezuelan hole in the wall in the Publix shopping plaza, corner of I-drive and Vineland Ave. Try the Tequenos w/ the whitegarlic sauce or the Cachapas.
    You said skip Brazilian so I'll not get in to Texas de Brazil.
    Near the J.W. is Costa del Sol. It's a tapas joint. Gets crowded fast on nights they have Flamenco dancers. Last time I went the veggies w/ my g/f's steak were cold (been meaning to write a post about that incedent). Stick to the tapas. Or Cafe Tu Tu Tango on International drive.
    On Disney property, must hit up a restaurant at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Go with Jiko, trust me, dealing with the afformentioned kiddies and their ill dressed 'rents will be well worth it.
    Breakfast, since you'll be headed in the directin of Lake Apopka, Try Buttermilksor the breakfast buffet at Barnehills. Then again the Golden Coral at Sand Lake and I4 or SR 535 and Vinland Ave are our secret pleasures. If you want to risk going in to downtown Orlando on a weekday you can hit up some places in Thornton Park.

    Is that a god start? Good luck, O-town is a slowly maturing (food wise) city. It's not all about feeding the tourists and the kiddies and getting them back in to a park anymore...well outside of Lake Buena Vista and Kissimmee.

    3 Replies
    1. re: NY P8ntball

      That Chalo place sounds interesting. Do you have their hours by any chance. I hate venturing out to try a new hole in the wall only to see they are closed. Also, how welcoming would they be to a stupid college kid like me. Thats always another concern when I try one of these places.

      1. re: coasterphil

        You'll have to call them when you get here for the hours. But it's a place people go from lunch to late dinner Sun - Thur. Fri and Sat, I can tell you from experience he is open until at least 2 am.

        As for welcoming? College kid, I think my answer just above answers this also. You'll see all types there from Latinos to hungry Asians like me.

        1. re: NY P8ntball

          Good to hear. I always worry about looking completely out of place when I go to a houndish restaurant. I'm putting it near the top of my list to try out in the next few weeks.

          I just haven't had the time,motivation, or interest in spending, to eat out much since I've started school here. Now that I've started working I'll hopefully be out more since I don't have to feel as guilty about spending money.

    2. We have one very good Spanish restaurant in Orlando and it's not all that far from the mouse:
      http://www.orlandosentinel.com/entert...

      I've traveled in Spain and this place has nevere failed me. You can make a great meal out of just the tapas offerings, but they do have some other wonderful entrees on the menu.

      By the way, can you bring me a bag of fish tacos? We don't have very good ones in Orlando, yet :)

      4 Replies
      1. re: bkhuna

        Have you tried the place in Winter Park, next door to Rocco's on 17-92, I think it is called la Bodega or some variant of the word?

        I stuck my head in and looked at the menu, and I've heard good buzz on it, and Scott Joseph gave it a passing grade.

        Just wondering?

        Bob

        1. re: Bob Mervine

          It's called either El Bodegon or El Bogedon, and it's very good--and absolutely authentic. Friendly, slightly tacky decor, great garlic shrimp with toasted bread to dip into it.

          1. re: Bob Mervine

            I haven't made it there yet. My daughter who grew up traveling the world with us and who has also spent time in Spain ate there and said it wasn't anything to write home about.

            That being said, different regions of Spain have different takes on the same dishes, so who's to say whether or not it's "authentico" or not. I'll try the place eventually.

            1. re: bkhuna

              I felt that way about Costa del Sol. I lived in Castil, in Salamanca, and traveled through Spain again years later. I found Costa del Sol inauthentic and sort of cheesy, while El Bodegon/Bogedon resembled the foods I ate during my travels. But you're right: It's a diverse country, and every region has very different food, so we may have different expectations.

        2. For your fancy dinner---at the JW Marriott there is Primo, which is excellent. . There is also Norman's at the Ritz (which is right next door to the Marriott). Both are perfect places for an expense account dinner. If you do a quick search on this board you will find much more info on both of these restaurants. There were several discussions on them recently.

          1. I have found a small gem near Downtown Orlando at El Bodegon Tapas and Wine. Not only was their price and selection good enough for the locals--the taste of the food was approved by my father, a Spanish expatriate who is set in his old ways and will not fall for anything less than authentic and original food. The traditional decor and the music set the mood (Gypsy Kings and similar Flamenco-style tunes) was just right and not overwhelming like other restaurants that plague the walls with props and pictures. Personally, this is the best Spanish restaurant in town and a great alternative to other Latin restaurants in the area. El Bodegon has good food, good times and a good price!

            -----
            El Bodegon Tapas and Wine
            400 S Orlando Ave Ste 100, Winter Park, FL 32789