Orlando might be the world’s theme park capital, but it’s quickly emerging as Florida’s culinary capital too. You’ll find everything from gastro-pubs specialising in farm-to-table produce, to fine dining restaurants founded by America’s best chefs. Here are ten amazing eateries guaranteed to get those taste buds tingling.
Slate, Sand Lake Road
Head to Slate for classic American cuisine which is also wonderfully fresh – there’s a real passion for local ingredients. Beyond the welcoming gaslights by the front door, it’s all fantastically modern, with a sleek open kitchen and a quirky cocktail menu. One of the most popular tipples is the Thyme Traveller, a thyme-infused concoction made with citrus vodka, Matcha Green Tea and plum bitters. “My favourite dish is the hearth-roasted snapper with lemongrass emulsion,” says manager Leslie Johnson. “Ideally paired with a glass of our La Cana Albarino – it really brings out the pure flavours of the snapper.” If you’re going to indulge on this wonderful selection of cocktails, make sure you plan ahead to get that all important transport home.
Luma On Park, Winter Park
The food served at Luma on Park – a brightly-lit fine dining restaurant in chic Winter Park – is referred to as “progressive American,” and a love of fresh, local produce means the menu changes from day to day. Chestnut agnolotti with lobster is one of the latest additions, along with tilefish with tangerine-fennel broth and duck breast with kale, toasted pine nuts and parsnip puree. Diners will also find one of Orlando’s most extensive wine lists – there are over 7,000 bottles to choose from.
Soco, Downtown Orlando
Downtown Orlando has recently emerged as Orlando’s culinary heart and Soco is one of the restaurants behind this area’s new-found fame. Food has a distinctly southern twist – expect dishes such as cornmeal crisped oysters and tomato bisque – and it’s a great people-watching spot, thanks to the large windows looking out onto lively Thornton Park. “Soco stands for Southern Contemporary,” explains executive chef Greg Richie. But comfort food reigns supreme here, and while Richie won’t be drawn on a favourite dish, he’s happy to reveal the most popular. “It’s the grilled meatloaf on lobster mashed potatoes,” he says.
The Rusty Spoon, Downtown Orlando
William and Kathleen Blake are the owners of this restaurant, and Kathleen is also head chef. The restaurant is regarded as one of Orlando’s best – it won seven highly sought-after Silver Spoon awards within three years of opening. Located on lively West Church Street, it feels homely and welcoming, with large windows, beautiful wooden flooring and walls heaving with black and white photos. Carnivores are well catered for – there are delicious chicken hearts and super-sized lamb shanks – but it’s not all about the meat. Other must-try dishes include handmade farfalle pasta with local mushrooms and charred squid served with pickled peppers. Kathleen’s favourite dish? “It’s got to be the Jamison Farm lamb shank with couscous and chermoula,” she reveals.
Morimoto Asia, Disney Springs
This fantastic restaurant specialises in authentic food from all over Asia – from Japan, Singapore, China, South Korea and Thailand. The founder is Masaharu Morimoto – a Japanese chef whose restaurants can be found in Mumbai, New Delhi, Philadelphia, New York and Mexico City. One of the most popular spots is the 14-seat sushi bar, but the view is breathtaking wherever you sit – the two-storey dining room has enormous chandeliers and there are wonderfully snug circular booths carved out of dark wood.
K Restaurant, College Park
Don’t be fooled by the name of this neighbourhood – the food served up here is anything but student grub. K Restaurant was one of Orlando’s first chef-owned and operated establishments, and it’s all about seasonal cuisine here, with herbs and vegetables freshly-picked by the staff every morning. “My favourite dish is the wild mushroom dusted filet with potato gratin, black truffle, cabernet sauvignon sauce and bone marrow butter,” reveals founder and head chef Kevin Fonzo. Keep an eye out for the regular events, which include wine tasting evenings and opportunities to dine at the chef’s table.
4 Rivers Smokehouse, Winter Park
John Rivers, the founder of this restaurant, set out to create Florida’s most successful barbecue chain and the general consensus is that he’s succeeded. He described brisket as the biggest love of his life and today, it’s the restaurant’s bestseller. The concept is simple – food is eaten at long, communal tables after being ordered at the counter, where you can also choose your side order – whether it’s the restaurant’s famous fried okra or sweet potato casserole. When it’s time for something sweet, head to the dessert bar to sample one of the delicious cakes – if you’ve got room.
CowFish, Universal CityWalk
Burgers and sushi might sound like an odd combination but that’s exactly what you’ll find at CowFish Orlando. Dine at this colourful restaurant on Universal CityWalk and you can chow down on burgers served with everything from fries to seaweed salad, and there are beef, vegetable or turkey options. The sushi-related offerings include nigiri and makimono rolls alongside less predictable fare: sushi made with tuna, coconut shrimp, shiitake mushrooms and crabmeat. Can’t decide? Opt for a bento box, which includes a slider burger and sushi roll. “The items I love the most are the burgushi rolls – a fusion of burgers and sushi,” reveals Steve Jayson, corporate executive chef at Universal Parks and Resorts. “My favourite is the barbecue-inspired High Class Hillbilly – it’s just so unique!”
The Ravenous Pig, Winter Park
The multiple award-winning Ravenous Pig gastro-pub is run by husband-and-wife chefs James and Julie Petrakis, who met while studying at New York’s Culinary Institute of America. The menu changes every day but favourite delicacies include pork porterhouse with mustard glaze and pear relish, and speckle trout with romesco sauce. All of the meat is prepared in-house – from the spiced orange salami to the game-bird terrine – and even the dessert menu has a porcine theme. One of the most popular dishes is Pig Tails – pig tail–shaped doughnuts with a chocolate-espresso dipping sauce.
Taverna Opa, International Drive
Expect conga lines, plate-smashing and table dancing at this huge – and very lively – Greek taverna, where the motto is: “the night isn’t over until the ouzo runs out.” Come here for dinner and it’s highly likely you’ll be dragged up to dance by one of the roaming belly dancers. And although it’s all fantastic fun, the food is anything but an afterthought. You’ll be treated to lovingly-prepared traditional staples like saganaki (a cheese appetizer), avgolemono (a lemon-infused chicken soup) and huge plates of baklava.
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