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Best of Orlando - January 2013

Well, the last time we did one of these we were still getting posts 11 months later and have racked up over 120 replies, so I thought that the beginning of a new year was a good time to refresh the topic and allow the varied "experts" on here to provide an overview of the Orlando dining scene as of a point in time - specifically January 2013.

Feel free to either use my categories either to comment or build your own lists or to create your own unique categories. It's been a slow year in the local dining scene so not too much has changed since our last lists, but this should be easier to navigate and see the latest opinions.

Best Fine Dining / Special Occasion Place (>$125 for two with drinks)

1) The Table
2) Chatham's Place
3) Chef's Table
4) Victoria & Albert's
5) Christner's

Best Upscale ($75 - $125 for two with drinks)

1) Ravenous Pig
2) K
3) Luma on Park
4) Tasting Room
5) Cedars
6) Cask & Larder
7) La Luce
8) Rusty Spoon
9) Hanamizuki
10) Dragonfly

Casual (< $75 for two with drinks - with servers)

1) Pio Pio (cheap eat)
2) Memories of India
3) Pho 88 (cheap eat)
4) Nagoya
5) Lac Viet
6) Beewon Korean
7) Nile Ethiopian
8) Cafe Tu Tu Tango
9) Taquitos Jalisco (Winter Garden)
10) Thai Silk (formerly Red Bamboo)

Cheap Eats/Fast Casual (counter service)

1) Yellow Dog Eats
2) Border Grill (Kirkman/Vineland)
3) Taco Palenque
4) Tako Cheena
5) Press 101
6) 4 Rivers
7) Harry and Larry's
8) Greens and Grills
9) Beefy King
10) Burger 21

Best Food Truck

1) Big Wheel Provisions
2) Crooked Spoon
3) Korean BBQ Taco Box
4) Yum Yum Cupcake Truck
5) Monsta Lobsta

Best Opening 2012

1) The Table
2) Cask & Larder
3) Border Grill
4) Tako Cheena
5) Peperoncino (lunch)

Best Place to Take Out of Town Guests

- With Kids - Cafe Tu Tu Tango
- Foodies - Ravenous Pig
- Business meal - Luma on Park

Places I'm Excited to Try in 2013

1) Prato (2012's big opening I missed)
2) New place from The Table's owners (a la carte with a strong cocktail program - opening soon I belive)
3) Raga
4) Sushi Pop (long drive)
5) Cress and Spanish River Grill (longer drives)
6) East End Market
7) Peperoncino (dinner)
8) Hawkers
9) fresh.
10) Hot 'n Juicy Crawfish

Places I Need to Re-visit (been too long)

1) Le Coq Au Vin
2) Norman's
3) Primo
4) California Grill
5) Antonio's La Fiamma

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  1. could you elaborate more on 4rivers bbq--they appear to close rather early, so gather it's primarily lunch or early dinner spot--how long would it take to drive there from sand lake and turkey hill intersection? thanks....is it really great bbq?

    Must try a bbq place on our upcoming trip to disney...been looking on best of lists for orlando...see bubbalou's? Which has the best chicken, turkey, brisket...we don't eat ribs...also, a great salad would be wonderful--I see that 4rivers has fried pickles...there's an amazing bbq place called swingbelly's in long beach that got destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, and we love that place..so that's our benchmark for deliciousness....

    2 Replies
    1. re: janie

      4 Rivers is the best barbecue place in Orlando, and probably the best in all of Florida. The brisket is the best of the best, pulled pork is great too, and my friends have liked the pulled chicken. Fried pickles are supposedly good (I don't like pickles), but they also have smoked jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon (incredible!), and Krispy Kreme and/or Bananas Foster bread puddings, depending on the day (as sides, not desserts!). They also have a great selection of rare and "microbrewed" sodas in glass bottles (awesome if you're not drinkers, as we aren't) and Cheerwine (caffeinated cherry soda from North Carolina) on draft.

      Honestly, you won't get better barbecue in town. I like Sonny's more than most people here, Bubbalou's is okay, Cecil's is good but in a slightly dodgy area (and their specialty is big beef ribs), but 4 Rivers is worth the time it'll take to get there. If you get on I-4 (right near the Whole Foods on Sand Lake) and take it east, it should take about 20 minutes to get there in good (non-rush hour) traffic. 4 Rivers is off the Fairbanks exit.

      1. re: janie

        I actually like Bubbalou's too - it just missed my list and it is very close to where you are. Basically, 4 Rivers is Texas style BBQ so it's best is brisket and it has amazing sides. Bubbalou's is pork-centric and it's best options are pulled pork and sliced pork and it's turkey is good but the sides are mostly only ok (though their beans are amazing) If you jump on I-4 at Sand lake Road at the right time you can get up to Fairbanks Avenue where 4 Rivers is in about 10-15 minutes if there's no traffic downtown. I'd say you can have good BBQ here at either place but really we don't have anywhere that's truly amazing like the BBQ in Kansas City or Memphis or the Carolinas or Texas

        If you want a great salad not connected to BBQ consider Greens and Grills - my fav place for salads in Orlando

      2. NJ 'hound here...thanks for this excellent list! I have been doing some research and am glad to see that many of the restaurants I found are on your list(s) as well.

        One question, though--I'll be in Orlando at the Renaissance Sea World without a car for a conference later this month. I could use a rec or two for breakfast meetings outside of the hotel. Are there any decent options in the immediate area? I'm assuming that taxis or the trolley I've read about could get us there, but we need to be within 5 miles so we can dash back to the conference afterwards.

        Thanks in advance for your help!

        7 Replies
        1. re: Curlz

          Near the outer limit of your 5 mile radius is a great breakfast place called First Watch (in the Restaurant Row area on Sand Lake Road) - it's a small Florida chain and while it has everything there what I like is that it also offers some very good healthy options in case you don't want your breakfast like a ton of bricks in your gut all morning. You'll need a cab for First Watch as it's off I-Drive a bit so the trolley won't work.


          Closer to you and if you don't mind hitting a different hotel is the B-Line Diner in the Peabody Hotel - you can take the trolley for that one.


          Everything else in the area is chains or generic hotels

          1. re: YosemiteSam

            THANK YOU! I had seen the B-Line Diner on another thread and that may be the answer for us--it'll all depend upon our client's schedule.

            Btw, if there's a standout CASUAL (but good, because I'M a pain
            :-) )spot where my co-worker and I can go via the trolley, feel free to let me know. He's a beer/wings kind of guy and I can certainly appreciate that if it's done well. We'll definitely have at least one night to go out solo.

            Thanks again!

            1. re: Curlz

              It's not great by any means, but just past Pointe Orlando is a branch of the Orlando Ale House. What's nice about this one is the large amounts of outdoor seating which is usually great this time of year. Food is good but standard sports bar food and they have a full bar and tons of TVs. For better food and also well-priced but without the TVs and full bar, I'd personally recommend going a little further down I-Drive to Pio Pio. The chicken is just amazing and it's something unique to the area

              1. re: YosemiteSam

                I enjoy that Ale house the outside area is very nice.

                agreed on the food but when I just want a snack I get some drinks and some gulf oysters. The oysters are usually pretty large and enjoyable.

                1. re: Sandwich_Sister

                  As a tourist and staying at the JW Marriott/Ritz a couple blocks down from the Miller's Ale House, we found it to be really good for drinks, app's, football watching and cheap too.
                  Those 'zingers' with Thai were off the chart good..soup and oysters were excellent.
                  It was packed at 10:00pm

                  Sandwich sister was awesome in helping me..thank you sista!

                  1. re: Beach Chick

                    It's a good no frills sports bar and grill. Great fun and for anyone who's Florida list contains gulf oysters it's great.

                    I'm glad you liked it Beach Chick.

              2. re: Curlz

                Delmonico's is good, nice portion sizes and reasonable priced. Very short cab ride, walkable if you need a little exercise.


          2. Thanks for the great list. Headed to WDW to run Goofy this weekend and when I'm done I plan to treat myself to one or more places on this list. Have done Ravenous Pig already (really enjoyed the charcuterie)....this time will go for casual and closer to the Mouse.

            1. My List to try this year

              Cask and Larder
              The Table

              I saw we have a grilled Cheese truck now and I want to try it

              Also I want to introduce my husband more to Indian cuisine. He's only had my Lamb Vindaloo I make at home and I thought maybe I'd take him a few places

              Memories of India
              Raga which I haven't tried yet.

              1. So I ate at Prato, and it was really wonderful from a food perspective. If you hate crazy crowded places then avoid it on weekends, it is jammed and very loud. But it reminded me of a NYC style place, and our service was great.

                Therefore, I need to update one of my above charts (drumroll)

                Best Upscale ($75 - $125 for two with drinks)

                1) Ravenous Pig
                2) K
                3) Luma on Park
                4) Prato
                5) Tasting Room
                6) Cedars
                7) Cask & Larder
                8) La Luce
                9) Rusty Spoon
                10) Hanamizuki
                11) Dragonfly

                3 Replies
                1. re: YosemiteSam

                  which location of 4 rivers bbq would be closest to sand lake and turkey intersection...thanks...

                  1. re: janie

                    Almost equidistant to either the Winter Park or Winter Garden locations -- Google Maps reveals 14.1 miles to Winter Park and 14.5 miles to Winter Garden.

                    I think Winter Park would be a much easier drive -- essentially a straight shot east on I-4 for 20-25 minutes, depending on traffic.

                    1. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

                      thank you..and thank you again for this thread..so much helpful info....

                2. Best Upscale:
                  The Ravenous Pig
                  The Boheme
                  Enzo's on the Lake (romantic Italian in Longwood)

                  Best Ethnic:
                  Bosphorous (Turkish in Winter Park and Dr. Phillips)
                  Polonia (Polish in Longwood)
                  Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe (German in Sanford)
                  Lac Viet
                  Sushi Pop (Oviedo... the prices push it into the Upscale category)
                  Bikkuri Sushi
                  Tasty Wok
                  Thai Singha (Waterford Lakes)
                  Naradeva Thai (near Millenia)
                  Nile Ethiopian

                  Best Cheap/Casual/Neighborhood Joints:
                  Pom Pom's Teahouse and Sandwicheria
                  100 Montaditos (Waterford Lakes)
                  King Cajun Crawfish
                  Fiddler's Green (Irish pub in Winter Park)
                  4 Rivers Smokehouse
                  Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza (wish it wasn't so far!)
                  B&B Junction (in the old 4 Rivers location on Fairbanks)

                  Places I'm excited to try in 2013:
                  Cask & Larder
                  Primo Hoagies (there's nothing I love more than good sandwiches, and this is an Italian hoagie/sub shop from Philly! Hoping for greatness...)

                  Bistro 436 (supposedly using the recipes of the former owner/chef of Del Dee's Bistro, which had the best pizza in town until it closed last year)
                  Prato (tried it once over a year ago, but I'd like to give it another shot)

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

                    I always love comparing your lists with mine - you could basically draw a line through downtown and Winter Park and you're pretty much North and East of it and I'm South and West of it :)

                    Combine the 2 lists and we've got Central Florida covered!

                    1. re: YosemiteSam

                      Yes indeed! I rarely venture south of the Millenia area for any reason, since Seminole County/Winter Park/Colonial-Mills are so much more convenient. But that means Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza is a once-a-year treat for me, especially since my wife doesn't like it nearly as much as I do. (Fuddrucker's was a similar rare pilgrimage for us, but the quality has really gone downhill in the last few years.)

                      I'm disappointed the first announced Primo Hoagies location is at John Young and Sand Lake, which seems like a world away. They have a second store coming, so I really hope it's closer to my end of things.

                  2. Thank you for this list. I will be with my wife in Orlando next week and would love to go to Orlando's best eateries where locals go to. Not so much the fancy places but the hidden, off the beat, cheap eats. This foodie would appreciate it if anyone following this post could give me a recommendation for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Also if there is a nice, must not miss high end place recommendation. Thanks.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: funkycold

                      I highly recommend Cask & Larder which is likely going to run you close to $100 for two for dinner if you have a drink each, dessert and 2 plates each.

                      Very close by is Dylan's Deli (http://dylansdeli.net/) which I think is now Dylan's Bistro and serves a great variety of small items, good for lunch.

                      Cafe 906 is a French bakery, excellent for breakfast and crepes to order on the weekend.

                      1. re: funkycold

                        funkycold, you might want to pack your tux and medals and take your bride to Victoria & Alberts. If you can get a reservation.

                        1. re: funkycold

                          Where are you staying? I did have a cheap eats category in the original post for this thread, but if you mean one close by then I'll need to know your hotel as Orlando is very spread out

                          1. re: funkycold

                            We are in resort part of town and tons of chains. The food at the Hyatt is not bad. Good mahi mahi fish tacos and swordfish tacos by the pool and better than average room service. Went to Bongos at DTD and was surprised by how good it was. Was expecting Planet Hollywood Latin food but it was pretty authentic. If anyone has a recommendation for a birthday tomorrow night in these parts please let me know. The Victoria restaurant at the Waldorf was just too expensive.

                            1. re: funkycold

                              Consider La Luce in the Hilton Bonnet Creek - about a 5 minute cab ride from you

                          2. Just back from my business trip, and wanted to thank the FL 'hounds for their feedback on this thread. THE thing I'd say to those who haven't been there is that Orlando is pretty spread out, so reading that a place is "in Orlando" doesn't mean much--look at maps, not just restaurant websites before you go!

                            We had a couple of better-than-average meals, so I thought I'd share:

                            The first night we went to Delmonico's Italian Steakhouse with clients. It was close to our hotel, and none of us (clients included) wanted anything fancy. I can't lie; when we pulled up to a small strip mall and I saw this used to be a Bennigan's (bonus for those of us from NJ--the Bennigans sign, while dead, remains above the Delmonico's one on the tall pole), my heart sank a bit. I was expecting a nicer looking place (even from the outside), but we were pleasantly surprised once we got in. A bit too much 'theme' for my taste, but there are big caricatures and a real 'wise guy' tone to everything. I could have done without the waitresses in fishnets and fedoras, but whatever. Everything we had was tasty, and the portions HUGE. And I say that and I'm from NJ, where our diners and many other places serve far too much food! One client ordered the chicken and eggplant parm, and it was literally 4 enormous pieces--2 of each--over what must have been a pound of pasta. My pal from work inhaled his Delmonico and said it was tasty, and my (boneless) pork chops were so good that I took the 2nd one back to hotel fridge and nibbled on it over the next two days!

                            The second night we tried to go to Brickhouse Tavern and Tap on International but there was a 1+ hour wait thanks to the PGA being in town. Onward! I had chosen Brickhouse for my co-worker b/c he rarely gets away from his all-female household and it looked like it would have been a good 'guy's' spot, but we ended up at Ming Court and he was still talking about that dinner 2 days later. Check out the Ming Court website and you'll likely laugh like I did before we left, but I read so many good recs that we gave it a shot. Terrific food...we had chicken lettuce cups, a spicy tuna roll, spring rolls (tasty but the only dud of the night, imo--VERY greasy), and he had Orange Beef while I went with a hotpot dish of chicken and basil that was EXCELLENT. We almost went back...

                            Last meal was at Copper Canyon Grill, a boisterous place that smells wonderful, thanks to lots of wood-firing (under rotisserie chickens, under grills, etc.). When a server greets me with "Hello my name is...and then proceeds to say that 'this is a chef-driven kitchen, and EVERYTHING is made in-house, including salad dressings, marinades, and desserts...'" I'm a pretty happy cavern. Looks like a chain, and it turns out it is--a small one--based in MD, which explains the crab cakes on the menu. We had v good fried calamari w/an excellent salsa, he went with prime rib, and I had a steak salad. The filet was marinated in a delicious Asian marinade, and the addition of Asian pear and sesame seeds rounded out a terrific dish. Dessert was excellent Key Lime Pie w/a crust that had coconut in it. Service was attentive, too. The place is a tad noisy, so I wouldn't recommend it for a client dinner, but I'd go back there with friends/co-workers in a heartbeat.

                            Thanks again for the updated lists! This was a great starting point for my pre-trip research.


                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Curlz

                              Glad you had a good trip. I've never been to any of those places (I'm on the opposite end of town), but a friend also recommended Copper Canyon Grill very highly.

                            2. back home in nyc after trip to miami and orlando--went to Pio Pio on intern drive, heads up for those going there, place looks so run down and odd from outside because windows covered up and no awning, but once inside place is comfortable, --lunch special was good with generous portions--green sauce nowhere near as good as the Peruvian places here in new york (like tu casa or Pio Pio)---but it was affordable and would reccomend for those looking to avoid high prices at disney site places--went to Bento which was recommended to me on sand lake, and while we thought it was okay, was very dissapointed to find out that everything on their menu has msg in it, and they don't state it, and since they don't claim to not put it on their menu--they said they are not obligated to say anything unless asked, so be warned if you have a sensitivity to it which I do, make a better choice...don't know what's up with that Louie's bar next door, but it was non stop action--how's their food? menu looked not bad--had a sandwich from place next door to bento and it was nothing special--that whole foods though is excellent with good bakery choices, cute cafe and good buffet station and sushi area--the pineapple dole whip was good and lived up to the hype, although drinking it in a designated smoking area not cool, especially for the kids...but I digress.....the famed carrot cake cookie was soggy and lousy, but a white macadamia choco cookie excelled...since we don't have chick fil a in nyc--we cheated a bit and went there, and frankly, it was delicious! Best coleslaw ever--there really needs to be a better selection of restaurants open past 11pm, most of them closed at 9 or 10 and stopped serving early on--and we were still at the parks late--so, it was not easy finding a late dinner, and that taco place that was supposed to be open late wasn't.....the restaurants at downtown disney were a madhouse, and overpriced,and the earl of sandwich place we found to be vile, and overpriced and absolutely nothing on the sandwich....we started to get frustrated by the lack of value and quality....foodwise.....but otherwise, it was a great trip....if more time, and restaurants open later we would have more flexibility to try more...thanks for the info..next time...

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: janie

                                Thanks for the report back - the truth is that almost all of our best restaurants are on the other side of Orlando from the theme parks as most of the tourists prefer chains and buffets so the only places that can afford the rent and do enough business are generic, over-priced and unmemorable. Just make sure you don't judge Orlando's cuisine by our theme park area food - it would be like judging NYC based on Times Square restaurants :)

                                BTW, do you mean the taco place near Universal (Border Grill)? Just had some delicious tacos their at 11:30 PM last night - maybe someone was sick the night you went - it's a mom and pop place so it only has 2 employees at any given time

                                1. re: YosemiteSam

                                  yes, border grill..we were looking forward to a late night taco run, but I called and they said they closed up at 9pm, and then another night it was 10pm ,and I asked if they would be open any later any other nights we were there, and tues,wed, thurs, fri and they said no..no later than 10pm at most...but we did try (it was a woman I spoke with each time)..and yes, I definitely got that feeling--and you are right many tourists like the cheesecake factory type places, or themed restuarants..not us, we're used to more ethnic nyc type places in the outer boro's....next time we'll get to that bbq spot though!! Anthony's is great, we eat there a lot in ny in long island, and we actually went when we were in miami....

                              2. Thanks so much for the list - based on it I tried Cask & Larder when in Orlando on Saturday and was blown away...I can't wait to go back and try more things off their terrific menu. Looking forward to trying more places from your list this year.

                                1. Sam, Sister, and BBVL - you all make my annual trip to the Orlando area so much more enjoyable. Thank You!!!! I look forward to finding the annual recommendations and seeing what's new each year, or what's left over from the previous year that I wasn't able to get to. I just dicovered this year's edition so I'll be checking it out for the next week or so preceeding my trip south. Can't wait to try some of the new places and get back to a few from prior years - Pio Pio, K, Ravenous Pig and Red Bamboo, to name a few favorites.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: RAGHOUND

                                    Raghound, Red Bamboo is now Thai Silk by Red Bamboo. I haven't been since the name change but the menu looks very similar, if not the same.

                                    I always look forward to you visits, you make it so much fun for us.

                                    1. re: Sandwich_Sister

                                      SS, is the ownership/staff of Thai Silk the same? That was a great "change of pace" place for me.

                                      Don't know why I make it "so much fun for us", but I sure enjoy all the recommendations you folks make to us visitors. It makes it a whole lot easier to decide where to go once we've tried a couple of your recommendations and understand that we like what you like!!!

                                      The one thing I still haven't gotten a good find for is pizza. I really don't like coal-fired pizza, so Anthony's is not the answer for me.

                                      My "have-to" place this year is Yellow Dog Eats.

                                      1. re: RAGHOUND

                                        My favorite non-Anthony's Coal Fired pizzerias in town are:

                                        Bistro 436 in Casselberry (especially their eggplant parmesan pizza with thin, crispy breaded eggplant slices and ricotta cheese)

                                        Mellow Mushroom in Winter Park

                                        Neither one would be terribly convenient for tourists on the south side of town, though.

                                  2. Awesome list!!

                                    I am heading to Orlando next week for 6 days. I will be busy during most dinner services while I'm there, but would LOVE some recommendations for lunch spots and/or late night dining spots (still serving after 10 or 11 pm). That being said, if there's a can't miss meal during a dinner service, I can make it happen.

                                    I'm staying at the Ritz and will definitely be eating at Norman's again (love that place!). I don't mind a 20-30 drive for great food. And even though I'm staying at the Ritz, I love dives. I'll go anywhere for good food!

                                    Since I live in Costa Rica, I have a lot of cravings I can't get in down here, so any additional recommendations to satisfy my craving for the following would be awesome:
                                    1) Dim sum
                                    2) Killer Mexican (I grew up in SoCal so I'm a Mexi food snob--a dirty taco stand is great as long as the food is really, really good)
                                    3) Great steak (on the level of Mastro's or Peter Luger's)
                                    4) Thai
                                    (sorry if I sound like a pain in the ass)

                                    My last trip I did it all wrong except for Norman's. Emeril's sucked (I'd had tasty meals at the original and Delmonico in Vegas). And Cat Cora's and Todd English's restaurants were both mediocre.

                                    I need help to make sure I don't make the same mistakes!

                                    If anyone wants to meet up for a meal, please let me know!!


                                    Costa Rica Mike

                                    18 Replies
                                    1. re: VanCosta

                                      If I'm not mistaken, Ming Court serves dim sum; I'd check their website to find out if the timing works for you. My co-worker is still talking about the food we had there...

                                      1. re: VanCosta

                                        Hey Mike!
                                        Stayed at the Ritz/JW Marriott in July for a week..from San Diego, so the FL board was extremely helpful and so nice in food finds.
                                        Norman's was fantastic at the Ritz...Citron at the JW for French bistro was quite good.

                                        Miller's Ale House about a mile from the resort was really good for late night eats with their Zingers which are boneless chicken wings of all white meat with great sauces.

                                        Great beer selections and a ton of tv's for all things sports.

                                        Padrino's for Cuban is in the same center.

                                        I was looking for a taco shop since that is our 'fast food' in So. Cal..didn't find any but I'm sure their out there.

                                        Wish we hit up Cask & Larder..place and menu looks fab.

                                        1. re: VanCosta


                                          It's like you made a list of things Orlando is most disappointing at delivering. I'll list a few things that might get at what we do better than most in a sec, but let me address your requests with the best that we have:

                                          Dim sum - Ming BISTRO (that is downtown - don't screw up and go to Ming Court on International Drive - it's not a bad place but it isn't a dim sum place like Ming Bistro is)
                                          Killer Mexican - if you are after authenticity then we're not the best place, but a recent hole in the wall opened near Universal called Border Grill that serves basic authentic tacos. The other good option IMO are on West Colonial including Taco Palenque and the original Taquitos Jalisco
                                          3) Great steak - we're mostly a sea of high end chains, but our best local options are Christner's in Winter Park (has that old school vibe and corn fed beef) and Bull & Bear at the Waldorf. Since you came all the way to Florida you might consider an hour drive to Bern's in Tampa as that's an American classic. For what it's worth a recent steakhouse afficiando came here and raved about Christner's so that's likely your best bet.
                                          4) Thai - nothing special, just workman like options. My place was always Red Bamboo but that was recently replaced by a new place called Thai Silk which I haven't been to yet

                                          Now, if I were to recommend where you should go outside of your categories, I'd recommend eating at one of our Vietnamese places (I like Pho 88 and Lac Viet), if you like Indian we do that well (I like Memories of India) and a few other ethnic places of note are Nile Ethiopian and Hanamizuki - definitely menus there that are different than most of what you find elsewhere. As for our best places that feature local and seasonal products, I recommend Ravenous Pig, K, Luma on Park, Prato and Cask & Larder. Finally, for a few good lunch options besides the few mentioned above consider Yellow Dog Eats, 4 Rivers, Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza and finally Pio Pio if you are open to good Colombian food (not sure if you already get it in Costa Rica)

                                          Please share feedback when you return home - helps us make recommendations to others going forward. And try to avoid the chains and tourist trap places - we want to support our local food scene and pointing outsiders to those is better for everyone!

                                          1. re: YosemiteSam

                                            Thanks again!

                                            Ravenous Pig and Prato were both on my hit list. I've been reading good things about Lee & Ricks and and that picture of the brisket on 4 Rivers' web site has me drooling!

                                            I'm going to be with a chef buddy that's celebrating his bday and was thinking of taking him to Victoria & Albert's.

                                            Cask & Larder looks like a great brunch option.

                                            Is Pho 88 a national chain? I've seen place in Cali (and Vietnam) with that name.

                                            Any preference between Amura, Nagoya & Dragonfly?

                                            Citron sounds worth a try since I'll be dining alone a couple nights and it should be easy for me.

                                            I will definitely be reporting back! Thanks!

                                            1. re: VanCosta

                                              Hmmm, Lee & Rick's. It's a classic so I hate to speak badly, but I can't go there as 2 years ago they got shut down by the health inspectors and the list of violations was disgusting. They've re-opened and I'm sure they are now extra careful as they are on watch from the city, but I can't bring myself to return because if owner's would let that happen once then I worry about their ethics and where else they might be cutting corners. If you go, understand they serve Gulf oysters which are fat and salty - a different feel than the cold water oysters most are used to.

                                              I think it is a Vietnamese convention to name a restaurant Pho and some number - I used to eat at Pho 79 in Miami. Not sure what the numbers mean, but perhaps 88 has some symbolism. I can say it isn't a chain but has local owners and is full of Vietnamese eating there (same with Hanamizuki - full of Japanese).

                                              As for the Japanese restaurants you named, I'd go with Nagoya if you want sushi, especially simpler preps that rely on skilled knife work and really fresh fish. Dragonfly is best for a great hipper experience with an excellent robata grill and unique interesting rolls - very non-traditional. It has more of a hip izakaya vibe. Amura is ok but it is too full of conventioneers and always seems harried and rushed.

                                              I don't know Citron at all - will need to look that one up.

                                              Finally, with you chef buddy, if you are town on a Friday or Saturday consider going to The Table - it's a single sitting per night with only 20 seats at one large table and the menu changes daily based on what the local purveyors bring the chef. The chef is a former F&W Best New Chef who "retired" to teach at Orlando's Le Cordon Bleu and has decided to cook twice a week at this place. It's a great experience, hyper-local and hyper-seasonal, and I think one of the best experiences we offer here. It's prix fixe with wine courses and tip included. I love V&A, but this is cheaper and I think a better "foodie" experience.

                                              Finally, we are smack dab in the middle of stone crab season, but restaurants way overcharge for them, so consider dropping into Lombard's seafood market, have them prep and crack them for you, get their mustard sauce (same as Joe's sauce in Miami) and take them to your hotel and eat them with a bottle of beer. A can't miss Florida treat

                                              1. re: YosemiteSam

                                                Awesome tip on the stone crabs!! I'm definitely going to follow your advice on that one!

                                                1. re: YosemiteSam

                                                  Any thoughts on Johnny's Hideaway? It was recommended by a friend of a friend. He also recommended Seasons 52.

                                                  1. re: VanCosta

                                                    Seasons 52 is one of the few chains I recommend...

                                                    1. re: VanCosta

                                                      Johnny's is the best restaurant option for stone crabs but they are very pricey. It's an ok experience but I'd go to Big Fin for seafood and Christner's for steaks personally.

                                                      Seasons 52 is fine for what ti is - but I find it emphasizes health over flavor, and I don't care about health when I'm on a trip :) Your priorities might be different and Seasons is a solid choice for tasty and healthy.

                                                      1. re: YosemiteSam

                                                        I may be the only person in Orlando who didn't like Seasons 52. In fact, I hated it, and my wife did too. Tiny portions focused on "artful presentation" and healthfulness, with little to no taste. It reminded me of that old joke about the two little old Jewish ladies on the cruise: One of them says "The food is really terrible here," and her friend replies "I know! And such small portions!"

                                                        1. re: YosemiteSam

                                                          I'm not into healthy eating when I travel. Bring on the foie gras and pork belly!! And maybe some of that fried chicken and funnel cake I saw on the brunch menu at Cask & Larder!

                                                  2. re: YosemiteSam

                                                    Oh... and Beefy King sounds pretty damn good too!

                                                  3. re: VanCosta

                                                    There are some great ideas from the chowhounders that have responded. Great people.

                                                    To address your list.
                                                    1. Ming Bistro is better than Ming Court - Ming Court is okay and close to you but Ming Bistro is further away but better.

                                                    2. Killer Mexican - Agree we don't have anything that matches what you would find in Cali but Borders Grill off of Kirkman is awesome.

                                                    3. Great Steak - I don't know if there is much in the area of you staying. Unless you want to do the Brazilian churisco route with Fogo the chao or Texas De Brazil. But Kres Chophouse downtown is wonderful - http://www.kresrestaurant.com/menu.php

                                                    4. In your area of stay you have Thai Thani which the decor is great, and even the lady who owns it is awesome and great for groups, however it's not the best I've had. There is Thai Silk by Red Bamboo on I-drive and Kirkman. I haven't been there since the name change though.

                                                    Other options

                                                    Head down John young. In the villiages of Hunters creek there are some noteworthy places.
                                                    Mikado Sushi

                                                    Padrinos Cuban

                                                    Beach Chick mentioned The Ale House which is good old sports bar type food but if you didn't want to drive to Lee and Ricks they have Gulf Oysters on the menu.

                                                    If you head down Town City Blvd You'll see a place in a little plaza called Orlando Snack Cafe - It's Venezuelan food. It's a great lunch spot - http://www.orlandosnackcafe.com/home/

                                                    1. re: Sandwich_Sister

                                                      Hi sista..
                                                      Forgot to add that we went to Thai Thani and it was pretty decent..
                                                      This was after dining at Vegas's Lotus of Siam which is considered to be one of the best in the US..
                                                      Loved the decor with all the Thai motif.
                                                      Service was great and close to Grande Lakes resort.

                                                      1. re: Beach Chick

                                                        The decor is beautiful and I do go there perhaps it's not as spicy as I would like it, or something.

                                                        Or maybe it's just the setting being so close to the tourist section. It's worth a try though and I'd be interested in hearing what everyone has to say about it.

                                                        another fun lunch might be Cafe Tu Tu Tango. Fun atmosphere and tapas style.

                                                    2. re: VanCosta

                                                      Hey Mike! Enjoy your stay!

                                                      1) Dim sum
                                                      Check out Golden Lotus, they have dim sum till 4pm every day just a little north of the Ritz on John Young Parkway

                                                      2) Killer Mexican (I grew up in SoCal so I'm a Mexi food snob--a dirty taco stand is great as long as the food is really, really good)
                                                      - Border Grill on 5695 Vineland Rd Orlando, FL 32819

                                                      3) Great steak (on the level of Mastro's or Peter Luger's
                                                      )A Land Remembered - Rosen Shingle Creek - Ribeye steak (Go to Restaurant.com for a gift certificate)
                                                      also try Christener's Del Frisco's steakhouse

                                                      4) Thai
                                                      Sea Thai (it's a bit further away though)

                                                      Good luck!!

                                                      1. re: pdpredtide

                                                        >>- Border Grill on 5695 Vineland Rd Orlando, FL 32819<<

                                                        Does anyone know how it is that Mary Sue Milliken & Susan Feniger haven't sued this place? Anything in local papers?

                                                        Orlando seems like a natural place for the two hot tamales to open a restaurant, so it shocks me that there is a place there using that name.

                                                        1. re: scottca075

                                                          The one here in Orlando is a small hole in the wall place and I doubt they even know of Mary Sue and Susan.

                                                          I'm sorry to say but the name itself doesn't seem very original. Border and Mexican food even taco bell's slogan of "run for the border".

                                                          Sure they could lawyer up and get them to change the name if they wanted to.

                                                    3. OK, knocked another one off my to do list.

                                                      Went to celebrate Fat Tuesday a couple days early at Hot n Juicy Crawfish. Shared 2 lbs of mild spiced crawfish in their special hot n juicy seasoning and 1 lb of the garlic butter shrimp. Also got 6 pieces of the andoullie sausage, fried green beans and corn fritters. If that seems like a lot of food you haven't had crawfish - lot of work - little "meat"

                                                      The serving style is just weird - they bring everything in tied-up plastic bags with your food soaking in the seasoning juice - including potatoes and corn on the cob. You simply open up the bag and reach in and get to work. Everything is eaten with your hands including the potatoes! Table is covered in plastic and they provide a roll of paper towels, plastic bibs and a bucket for shells. Not a good first date night spot :)

                                                      I'm not a crawfish expert but we loved everything. The crawfish and the shrimp are both served head on, and the mild spice level is still pretty hot - be careful as I can't imagine what medium and hot are like. If you want not spicy at all they do have a version called "baby spice". The sausage was a bit odd soaking in the juice but it tasted awesome. The sides were both fantastic, especially the fried green beans - I could eat a pound of those.

                                                      Decor and mood were fine - it's a great place to bring kids as it's naturally loud and messy so you won't feel bad if they act up for a sec or two as kids do. That said they don't have a kids menu so we fed them before we went and kept them busy with stuff while we ate.

                                                      So if you are in the mood for a good messy meal with a bottle of beer and spicy shellfish, Hot n Juicy is a good bet

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: YosemiteSam

                                                        King Cajun Crawfish on Mills (just north of Colonial) is almost the same exact setup, including the plastic bags, paper towels, and bibs. Messy food, but AWESOME food. In the past, we've ordered the boiled seafood combo with shell-on shrimp (no heads on these), crawfish, and snow crab legs, plus sausage pieces, corn on the cob, and potatoes, all combined in the sauce. They also have incredible French bread and beignets for dessert.

                                                        I think that crawfish are way too much effort for too little payoff, but at the same time, those tiny tails are delicious.

                                                      2. Thanks again for the list - I was in Orlando yesterday and tried Hawkers for the first time. I loved the small plates concept and the beer list is absolutely extraordinary. The crispy pork belly was outstanding - not greasy or fatty, just perfectly cooked with crackling skin to die for. The green beans with pickled vegetables were also very good - layers of flavor that kept you coming back for more. The one item that I wasn't crazy about was the malaysian chicken bahn mi "sliders" - the chicken was dry and flavorless and the bread was either so stale or so overly toasted as to be inedible. However, the service was spot on - very attentive and knowledgeable about the many items on the menu. This is a great casual place and I look forward to going back again to try some of their great looking soups and noodle dishes.

                                                        1. Hey Yosemite,

                                                          I know you are a huge fan of the table. Have you heard of the Pharmacy yet? It sounds really cool. Created by the table Owners.

                                                          Ricky has a blog write up about it. I don't see that they have a website though. But I am intrigued.


                                                          5 Replies
                                                          1. re: Sandwich_Sister

                                                            I'm told the website will be up by the end of the week.


                                                              1. re: Sandwich_Sister

                                                                The Pharmacy website is now live. I'm told it's a work in progress, but the basics are there. http://thepharmacyorlando.com/


                                                            1. re: Sandwich_Sister

                                                              I knew they were planning it (I had it in my to do list in my original post) - first I heard the name though. If they can deliver a la carte what they do in their prix fixe meals then we'll have another great local option on Restaurant Row to compete with all the high-end chains

                                                              1. re: Sandwich_Sister

                                                                Im going to head there soon to check it out...will report back soon on here! Let me know what you think too if you go!


                                                              2. I have another category worth mentioning: BEST BAKERIES. I feel like in the last few years, we've had a variety of wonderful bakeries open in Orlando, whereas before that, we only had Publix and Panera to choose from. Some cities like New York, San Francisco, and even Miami have their own "bakery culture" (for lack of a better term), but we're starting to get our own, thanks to the following places -- and others, I'm sure. Feel free to comment and/or add your own choices.

                                                                Benjamin French Bakery in scenic Thornton Park is a quaint and relaxing patisserie with the best croissants I've ever had (and I've heard people who have been to Paris say the same):

                                                                Sister Honey's on Michigan Avenue near Orange (south of downtown) has some of the best pies and cakes I've ever had. They don't always have everything available and ready to go, and they open at 11, making it impossible for me to get there aside from making a special trip on weekends, but if you can catch their vanilla bean pound cake, blueberry cheese pie, or key lime pie tarts, you're in for a real treat:

                                                                Yalaha Bakery on "Antiques Row" in the shadow of downtown Orlando has wonderful German-style breads, cookies, and tarts:

                                                                My favorite fresh breads in town actually come from Polonia, the Polish restaurant in Longwood that bakes its own fluffy challah and rye bread:

                                                                Blue Bird Bake Shop in the hip Audobon Park neighborhood has the best cupcakes I've had in town, as well as killer scones:

                                                                I've already mentioned Chef Trina Gregory's incredible mini-pies from Se7en Bites in another posting. They are only available at Pom Pom's Teahouse and Sandwicheria on Wednesdays and Fridays, but I strongly recommend everyone make a special trip just to try them. The sandwiches are great too (and on excellent bread... I wonder who bakes theirs), and they also have Blue Bird cupcakes!

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

                                                                  Great list!!

                                                                  Lou you gotta check out Croissant Gourmet in Winter Park!

                                                                  I was not the biggest fan of Benjamin French Bakery when I went...

                                                                  1. re: pdpredtide

                                                                    I tried Croissant Gourmet years ago, but didn't care for it at all at the time. I don't remember what I ordered, or if I even tried their croissants.

                                                                    The croissants I was most familiar with were from the Publix bakery, Burger King "Croissandwiches," or Pillsbury crescent rolls from the can, but the ones at Benjamin are truly sublime. Went there again this morning and had a buttery, flaky friand, baked with prosciutto, goat cheese, and confit onions inside, as well as an incredible plain croissant.

                                                                    I also love the machine they have at Benjamin that squeezes oranges and lemons through a variety of gears and chutes, to produce a glass of the most refreshing orange-lemon juice.

                                                                2. Thanks for the excellent list...just to clarify one thing that I am sure most Orlando people, and many visitors already know...Christner's is Christner's Del Frisco's Prime Steak & Lobster.

                                                                  The recent name-change has thrown a few people off, but this is the "Del Frisco's" that was always there. Thanks again.

                                                                  1. Just want to thank you all for this list, coming from Chicago as a minor foodie lol, don't do chains, and Orlando has always been a challenge. Went to Pio Pio tonight and it was really good (if a bit challenging to find since it has an I-Drive address but faces the cross street), reasonable and fast.

                                                                    I'm jonesing for grits for breakfast and have been googling that, hope ill have something to report. Again, thanks to this group.

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: SueFH

                                                                      Since losing Johnson's Diner I have noticed a place named Chef Eddies that has opened up that is getting great reviews.

                                                                      I personally haven't been but it might be what you are looking for Grits wise. http://www.chefeddies.com/

                                                                      Also Cask and Larder has grits on their menu - http://www.caskandlarder.com

                                                                    2. After our dinner at Pio Pio we had brunch Sunday at White Wolf Cafe, in downtown Orlando. It was really easy to get to, a very nice casual fun atmosphere and extremely reasonably priced. They said it is mostly locals and regulars and it did NOT have a tourist vibe whatsoever. While you wait for seating they direct you next door to a bar area that serves $5 mimosas (assorted juices) and Bloody Marys. The action at that bar was non stop. Great cinnamon rolls, though I still,Ike our Ann Sather more..I'm biased! Pancakes with raspberries were delicious, light fluffy and tasty. Eggs over medium weren't cooked great, too done on one side and watery on the other. Service (we ate at the bar counter) wasn't great...they were nice but not real attentive. We waited too long to get setups after our food was delivered. That said, I enjoyed it a lot, would go with a Benedict next time, but would definitely go back.

                                                                      1. Just a note that my number 5 cheap eats place Press 101 has closed

                                                                        1. Had my first meal at Pharmacy by the owner and chef of The Table - amazing.

                                                                          The cocktail list is a key focus and the drinks are unique and delicious. Our waitress was also very knowledgable of the drinks which is important as they have a number of specialties that you are unlikely to have tried before unless you frequent Brooklyn, New Orleans or Portland - punches, fizzes, smashes etc. The drinks also heavily feature fresh and seasonal ingredients

                                                                          The food was great - mostly small plates with fresh, seasonal and local ingredients. We had a great foie dish with balsamic grapes, a wonderful, generous bone marrow dish with figs, a solid gruyere fondue, a fantastic and messy rock shrimp dish and we split a delicious Wagyu burger. The menu also had several good looking mains and large simple pizzas but we were going out after and didn't want too much food.

                                                                          The other thing to mention is the atmosphere, as they seem really committed to the speakeasy vibe, with the secret entrance (through a fake elevator) and no signs anywhere. I guess I respect their creativity, but in the end it comes off as gimmicky as you are still in a brand new shopping plaza around a sea of chains and bank outlets. You never lose the feel of the clean and antiseptic typical Florida strip mall construction so the speakeasy vibe never really feels authentic. Since to stick with this there is a trade off in a lack of promotion and foot traffic I worry for their continued viability in a market like Orlando - especially in this part of town dominated by tourists and hoity-toity Bay Hill types. It's hard enough to build a successful restaurant without making it harder on yourself with a theme that limits your ability to market yourself. And the thing is it is so great in its content (food/drink/service) that it doesn't really need the gimmick.

                                                                          So I'd defintiely add this to the must-do list - especially if you're a fan of Ravenous Pig, Cask & Larder, Luma, Prato or K. Please go soon so they stay open - and tell your friends!!!!! :)

                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                            1. re: YosemiteSam

                                                                              hi sam, one meal in the orlando area for 4 guys in town to play golf. pig? cask n larder? pharm?

                                                                              1. re: stevenpol

                                                                                I'm no sam but what area are you in and do you have renta-car or no?

                                                                                Ravenous Pig is great
                                                                                Pharmacy is great for cocktails and food just be warned that its small in there with little sitting.

                                                                                but keep in mind there is driving distance. Orlando is wide. To go from South Orlando to East, West or North can be a 45 minute to an hour drive.

                                                                            2. Just had to mention this place. ISpice Indian Cuisine in, yes, a food court in the Altamonte Springs mall. Now I have never recomended a food court place in my life. However, this is a "one of" as in one location. Locally owned and operated. And the food is absolutely amazing. On par with some of the sit down places. Enjoy.