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Feb 1, 2012 07:00 AM

Orlando area top 10 - February 2012

While I know there's only like 5 people who post here regularly (tangent - where do all the Orlando foodies correspond online? I think they're all bloggers rather than message boarders - though that seems navel-gazing to me), I still thought it might be fun to name each of our current top 10 favs in the Orlando area based on whatever criteria you want to use - food, decor, value, trendy, scene, etc

Just list your 10 with a few comments to support each.
Here's mine:

1) Ravenous Pig - great food, full of flavor without getting pretentious, awesome bar and cocktail program, too damn hard to get into on weekends
2) Tasting Room - hidden gem with great food on an ever-changing menu, also a great cocktail program, worth the drive
3) K - stick to the rotating new menu options and you'll get a meal on par with any in a bigger city - had my best dish of the last year here of gnocchi with pig head ragu
4) Luma on Park - great, fresh seasonal food in a scene-y but beautiful space - chef is the best in town with seafood but great with everything else too
5) La Luce - hard to believe there is something this great in a hotel on Disney property - there will be kids around but with food this good and a great staff you must find a way to try this place
6) Chef's Table - sister restaurant tot he Tasting Room above - prix fixe only place with simply prepared but deceptively complex flavors - great spot for a date night
7) Memories of India - just great traditional Indian food with a range of flavors in a simple strip mall setting - this holds my ethnic slot on the list, but also considered here were Pho 88, Hanamizuki, Cedar's Lebanese, Nile Ethiopian, Beewon Korean and Anatolia
8) Pio Pio - a Colombian chicken joint that's my top value pick in town - the chicken is amazing but the rest of the food is great too - other value choices that almost made the cut were Yellow Dog Eats, Press 101, Kona Dog, and Beefy King
9) Chatham's Place - old school standby tucked away in the sea of glitzy chains on Restaurant Row - the best choice in town for a quiet special occasion meal. Other option is Victoria & Albert's but the WDW location gives me pause
10) Big Wheel Provisions - had to include the best food truck as this trend has really taken off this year - you also won't go wrong with the Crooked Spoon

You see how I managed to get in more than ten? :) That said the main ten I listed are really my best choices for any type of occasion, though I would have loved to find a place for the others I mentioned above as well as some that didn't make the cut but are also wonderful (or pefect for certain situations) like the Rusty Spoon, Nagoya, Dragonfly, Cafe Tu Tu Tango, Le Coq Au Vin, Hollerbach's Willow Tree, Funky Monkey Downtown and Lac Viet

One final thought - there are a few categories of cuisine missing that I wanted to mention and bemoan our state of here in Central Florida - no seafood places (a true tragedy considering our location), no steakhouses (all interchageable) and finally no entries for my personal favorite cuisine: BBQ - we are ok here but I find 4 Rivers a bit overrated by locals (and I prefer southern pork-based BBQ and 4 Rivers is Texas beef-based) and Bubbalou's is OK but ultimately average - if I had to choose I'd go with Harry and Larry's in Winter Garden.

Now what are your lists? I reserve the right to alter mine if one of you jogs my memory of a place I forgot

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  1. You're right -- I think you, me, Sandwich_Sister, and a few others are the only local Chowhounds who don't run our own "flogs," although I enjoy the hell out of Tastychomps' blog, and appreciate it when he still comes in to post. I've never posted on Yelp -- it seems like too many drive-by reviews, rather than a stable community of regulars.

    Anyway, my top ten:

    1. The Ravenous Pig -- my favorite restaurant in town, but still a "special occasion" place. You're right about it being hard to get reservations on weekends, plus it's too expensive for my wife and I to enjoy on a regular basis. But they have the best food around, as far as I'm concerned.
    2. 4 Rivers Smokehouse -- it may be overrated, but I think it deserves all the hype. I'm just relieved the Longwood location is finally open, with parking and indoor seating.
    3. Bosphorous -- absolutely love this Park Avenue Turkish restaurant. The mixed appetizer platter and fluffy, puffy lavash bread make a perfect meal for two, but the meat entrees I've tried are all incredible as well. I mean to order something new every time I go, but that rarely works.
    4. Fiddler's Green -- I've never had anything but an excellent meal at this Irish pub in Winter Park, whether I get burgers, fish and chips, Irish stew, or corned beef and cabbage. They have the best hot tea in town, too.
    5. Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe -- a fun place in quaint downtown Sanford with huge portions of delicious German food, and now they have the Magnolia Square Market right around the corner. Love it!
    6. Naradeva Thai -- a new Thai restaurant near the Millennia-area Super Target, decorated like a beautiful, serene temple with waterfalls and Buddha statues. Just sitting down made me feel relaxed, and the food was wonderful. I have to give it a slight edge over my previous Thai favorite, Thai Singha in Waterford Lakes.
    7. Big Wheel Provisions and The Crooked Spoon (tie) -- my two favorite food trucks. Big Wheel's constantly-changing, locally-sourced gourmet menu can compete with most fancy sit-down restaurants, and the only burger in town that could possibly beat the Crooked Spoon is the aforementioned Ravenous Pig.
    8. Sushi Pop -- a new, creative, funky sushi restaurant nestled in suburban Oviedo, this place impressed the hell out of us on New Year's Eve. I love Bikkuri Sushi on East Colonial (and you can't beat their prices), but Sushi Pop is someplace I'd expect to find in New York or Miami (and I mean that in a good way).
    9. Hawkers Asian Street Fare -- this newish Mills Avenue restaurant serves pan-Asian small plates, perfect for sharing and sampling. The decor reminds me of a Chipotle, but the selection is great and the food has always been top-notch (and quite affordable).
    10. The Boheme -- we got married at the Grand Bohemian Hotel, so this restaurant is close to our hearts, and perfect for anniversaries and special occasions. Definitely the best service we've had in town.

    My runner-ups: Little Saigon, Lac Viet, Del Dee Bistro (my favorite pizza in town), Bikkuri Sushi, Sonny's Real Pit Barbecue (a favorite of mine since college days in Gainesville), Korean BBQ Taco Box (truck), Fuddruckers (still serving great burgers after all these years, and far superior to Five Guys), Enzo's on the Lake, Chilango's, Polonia, Thai Singha, Jersey Mike's (tell me where to find a better Italian sub in Orlando!)

    5 Replies
    1. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

      Great list and so different from mine - goes to show you the diversity this city has to offer - my guess is you live on the north side of town based on your options.

      Is Naradevo that place shoved into a strip mall by Off Broadway shoes (used to be a crappy sandwich place)? I'm shocked its good - will need to check that out - my fav Thai is Red Bamboo

      Is Sushi Pop worth the drive from Southwest Orlando?

      Have you tried Anatolia on Sand Lake? Curious if you think Bosphorous is better or if they both deliver the same great quality because to me Anatolia is awesome

      As far as flogs go, I just like the back and forth message boards provide, to me blogging seems like broadcasting vs. a conversation

      Yelp is full of complainers :)

      1. re: YosemiteSam

        Yes, I'm on the north side, and I consider anything south of downtown a "schlep" (even though the occasional schlep is worth it). I forgot to mention I love Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza, and Texas de Brazil is another great "special occasion" place, but I hardly ever make it to that side of town.

        That's why I've never tried Anatolia -- I'm sure it's great, but Bosphorous is over half an hour closer, and we love it. Greek Flame Taverna, in the same shopping center, is also wonderful, but we used to go all the time when it was in Casselberry, and now we've only been twice since it moved across town to Dr. Phillips.

        As for Naradeva, I'm not sure about an Off Broadway Shoes (I would not have noticed it), but it is in the strip with Coliseum of Comics, a musical instrument store, Gamestop, and Subway.

        And Sushi Pop is definitely worth the drive, at least once, if you like sushi. I keep meaning to take my wife to Dragonfly in Dr. Phillips. It's the same kind of trendy/upscale/non-traditional sushi, probably -- I loved the original Dragonfly as a super-rare splurge when I lived in Gainesville. Take the 417 to Sushi Pop if you can, and it'll drop you off moments away, on Red Bug Lake Road.

        1. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

          i live in Florida...but not in the Orlando area...but i did used to go there a few times a year to a work related training center...and my family and i visit at least a few times a year with our 4 yo...

          that being said...we did try the Chefs Table a few weeks ago..loved it..we will visit there again...(just avoid the toll road)

          and my wife and i have enjoyed Texas de Brazil a few times...

          we havent tried any of the food trucks yet...

          so with sams and others help here and other sites...i look forward to trying more and more each time we visit Orlando

          (the only problem is we are stuck with some chains when my wifes family visits)(they are nowhere near any kind of adventurous eaters)...

          and i still have a weakness for Golden Corral....

      2. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

        Thanks for the kind words Lou!

        here are my top picks

        1. Hanamizuki's - I-drive area - Go during lunch for the shio butter ramen and fried rice and the hanamizuki roll!
        2. Shin Sushi - Downtown - Shin hotate and volcano rolls
        3. The Ravenous Pig - Winter Park - Their Pub Burger is the best in town
        4. Pho Vinh - one of the better Vietnamese places, just a few doors down from another favorite Pho Hoa
        5. The Venetian Room - by Disney area - VERY pricey but their Grand Marnier souffle is so divine, served table side with the creme anglais.
        6. The Crooked Spoon - Food truck - their mac n cheese and burger are some of the best in town.
        7. Big Fin Seafood - Pricey, but check out their happy hour, there are quite a few nice surprises on there
        8. Texas De Brazil - watch out for Fogo De Chao brazillian steakhouse coming on Idrive next month
        9. Croissant Gourmet - their almond croissant and croque madame sandwich are amazing
        10. Luma on Park - fresh, seasonal food and K Restaurant - creative, delicious

        other faves - Banh Mi Nha Trang - best banh mi sub sandwiches in Orlando, Finesse in Lake Mary - try their grouper cheeks and the seafood risotto, Padrino's - best cuban in Orlando, Fortuna Bakery - wonderful colombian bakery on the south side of Orlando, Pom Pom's sandwicheria - seriously good sandwiches you will leave very full! Golden Lotus has a decent line up for authentic chinese noodle dishes and dim sum

        i labeled some other favorites on the ol flog

        1. re: pdpredtide

          Fortuna Bakery is great. The menu is all in spanish but they are good about helping out if you need assistance.

          It would be a nice treat for people visiting that don't have such options where they live.

      3. Yosemite Sam - thanks so much!! I will be coming in from Montreal next week for a few days and wanted some info on great restaurants. Your list will most definitely help in my selection!

        13 Replies
        1. re: FrenchPeach

          Let us know what part of town you're in and we'll provide some specific recommendations - Orlando is very spread out.

          One more thing, mmmmm Montreal - Joe Beef, Au Pied du Cochon, L'Express, bagels, smoked meat - great food city! We can't match that here but you can find some interesting options if you know who t ask - us!

          1. re: YosemiteSam

            Yes, we do have some fabulous restaurants!

            I will be staying on International Drive near Sea World and Universal Studios...I will have a car but would rather not use it since I may plan on having a drink or two...the car will be used for my shopping trips to the Florida Mall. ;-)

            1. re: FrenchPeach

              Nah, skip Florida Mall at hit the Premium outlets at the NORTH end of International Drive and maybe the Mall at Millenia.

              As for food, from my list above you are short taxi distance from Memories of India, Hanamizuki, Cedar's, Nile, Anatolia, Pio Pio, Press 101, Kona Dog, Chatham's Place, Nagoya, Dragonfly and Cafe Tu Tu Tango. Not sure which ethnicities you have good dining options for in Montreal outside of Greek, but if you don't have good Vietnamese then it may be worth one car trip downtown to the ViMi district - stick with a beer and you'll be fine to drive. The other great ethnic option on my list you won't find much of outside of Florida is Pio Pio. Unfortunately the tip top places in town are not in the I Drive area so you'll miss out on our best if you don't drive.

              1. re: YosemiteSam

                Another I-Drive spot to hit: Texas de Brazil, for an all-you-can-eat meat splurge (the best deal is lunch on Friday; only $20-something instead of $45 for dinner every night).

                Cantina Laredo was solid (if overpriced) Mexican in the same fancy shopping center as Dragonfly, Cafe Tu Tu Tango serves tapas in a funky room with artists and entertainers performing, and as Yosemite Sam mentioned, Nile is our only Ethiopian restaurant in town, and it is very good.

                1. re: YosemiteSam

                  Yosemite - just returned last week. Unforttunately it was not the best weather...but took your advice and hit the outlets and the Mall at Millenia.
                  Was planning on hitting Cafe Tu Tu the night I arrived but since my flight was delayed I didn't make it in until after closing.
                  Went to eat at Memories of India which was my first intro with Indian food and must admit it was delish. The service was outstanding as well.
                  Please don't hate me but Idid hit up a Red Lobster...which is no longer existent in the province of was great..service so so since they lost my credit card and then miraculously found it in the garbage bin!
                  In any case, i wish that I had had more time but I will be back. If you have any questions regarding my hometown, feel free!!

              2. re: YosemiteSam

                I'm thankful for this post as well! I'm going to be in Orlando/Winter Park this weekend. I'm staying in Thornton Park and would love some local options there. I'm also going to be at Rollins College and would love some options within walking distance. (I'll have access to a car but not at all times.)

                1. re: dracisk

                  I mentioned the Turkish restaurant Bosphorous and the Irish pub Fiddler's Green in my post earlier in this thread -- two of my favorite restaurants in town, and both a few short blocks away from Rollins College.



                  I hardly ever venture into Thornton Park, but those two Winter Park restaurants wouldn't be terribly far from there either, nor would my favorite restaurant in Orlando, The Ravenous Pig (make a weekend reservation now!), or the pan-Asian Hawkers Asian Street Fare.



                  1. re: dracisk

                    You're less than 5 minutes from the Vietnamese places as well - I like Lac Viet and Pho 88. A little closer than Ravenous Pig is K - just as good too

                    1. re: YosemiteSam

                      Seconding Lac Viet, and I also like the more casual Little Saigon.

                      Sam, I have to try Pho 88 one of these days!

                      1. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

                        Thank you both! I'm not a huge fan of Vietnamese (it's OK, just not one of my favorites), so I may try Bosphorous. Maybe Fiddler's Green, too, since my boyfriend's always up for an Irish pub.

                        Sadly, I tried making a reservation at The Ravenous Pig over a week ago (can only do dinner) and came up with nothing. Maybe next time!!

                      2. re: YosemiteSam

                        Sam, there a very few Vietnamese places in the far north & west suburbs of Philadelphia. I'm familiar with Pho and enjoy it. However, other than some of the rolls, I'm not knowledgeable at all about Viet cuisine. What would you suggest to get me started - to help all little, I like Thai, Chinese, Japanese and what little Korean I've tried - I really don't like sweet coconut curries.

                        1. re: RAGHOUND

                          Aside from pho, my favorites are banh mi, which are Vietnamese sub sandwiches. Due to the French influence in Vietnamese cuisine, they are served on great crusty baguettes made partially with rice flour, and contain a variety of thin-sliced cold cuts or hot meatballs, chicken, grilled beef or pork, and other meats. Banh mi are usually dressed with liver pate (think liverwurst), mayonnaise, pickled carrot and daikon radish, cucumber, jalapeno peppers, and handfuls of fresh cilantro. They're cheap and delicious and often cool and refreshing, and I love 'em!

                          This 2010 Orlando Weekly feature rated most of the local banh mi joints:

                          1. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

                            BBVL - I had read some things about banh mi before, but that Orlando Weekly article was really informative. My first thought was "this is the Vietnamese version of the Philly Hoagie", where we look for great bread and a nice balance of meat/cheese to veggies, and good olive oil. I'm gonna have to give Boston Bakery a try for lunch before I head back home at the end of the month. Thanks for the explanation and the link to the article. Very helpful.

                2. That's why I love Chowhound! I'm a flogger (love that) about theme-park food only, but I'm not located in Orlando. So when I'm there, which is pretty often, I usually eat in Disney or Universal properties so that I can gather blog material. The only exceptions are when I go out for business dinners, usually near the convention center or in my hotel near the convention center, and it's almost never my choice.

                  I did get to take a group to Wa (sadly, on closing night), and it was awesome, and another group to Cafe Tu Tu Tango, which was totally fun. Posters like you all are the people who let me know about Wa to begin with. As soon as I get to pick the next business dinner, we're headed to Ravenous Pig.

                  I am a regular 'hound on the Boston board, where I have nothing to flog. I'll refrain from posting top 10 Disney and Universal spots, because seriously, there aren't 10 that are actually chow-worthy.

                  1. I was here last year and took recommendations (primarily) from Sam, BBVL, and Sandwich Sister. I was not disappointed by anything any of them suggested. I'm back to spend Feb. here and I'm definitely heading back to places like the Pig, Anatolia, Cedars, K and Crooked Spoon. I'm ready to try a few others on these lists and will definitely post a trip report in early March.

                    1. I have so much more to try! but here are my top 10 for now. In no particular order

                      1. Anatolia
                      2. Oblivion
                      3. Rusty Spoon
                      4. Ravenous Pig
                      5. Winter Park Fish Company
                      6. Mikado Sushi - Hunters Creek
                      7. Red Bamboo
                      8. Swede dish - food truck
                      9. Pinchomania - food truck
                      10. Memories of India

                      Bonus - Bar environment with awesome Tacos - Sloppy Taco Palace