/Taste it all at Orlandos top-tier tables and lauded local hangs

Taste it all at Orlandos top-tier tables and lauded local hangs

Yes. Orlando has theme parks. Lots of ‘em. The best in the world, some might say (we certainly would). But we’re also a city of real-live people who might spend some of our date nights drinking around the world at Epcot… but not all of them. In recent years, our foodie scene has exploded. We’ve got James Beard nominees among our elite. We’ve got fancy eats and food trucks and quite frankly, we like them all. And so do our record-breaking numbers of visitors. Sure, they love Dole Whip as much as we do. Who wouldn’t?! But we also think they’ll love the bleu cheese-laden pub burger at the Ravenous Pig or the incredibly fresh and creative offerings at Kabooki Sushi as much as the rest of us. On this list, you’ll find Asian soup in spades, from silky Japanese ramen at Domu to mouthwatering Malaysian Kari mee at Mamak Asian Street Food. You’ll find phenomenal high-rent steaks and snappy, spicy, house-made currywurst at a neighborhood butcher shop. We’ve got spectacular Spanish and sublime internationally-infused fare the shadow of a grand, gorgeous fountain. So, step away from the kiosk chicken tenders, tourists. Our impressive culinary scene awaits….

The Sanctum

The Sanctum really does feel a little sacred in the way they do things; its beautiful plant-based plates are colorful and fresh and alluring. And while there are loads of options for the vegan members of the populace, this place isn’t that strict – you’ll also find eggs and cheese on the menu in places. Grain bowls and salads, sammies and pasta populate a menu that holistic practitioners would likely tout. Delicious juices and smoothies tempt those looking for goodness by the glass. Breakfast/brunch is exceptional, whether you like your avocado toast animal-free or feel like topping it off with a couple of organic eggs.

Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Plant-based goes prime time; the Sanctum’s color, crunch and creaminess (all the textures!) seduce carnivores on the regular.

A.D.’s expert tip: Love that No. 7 smoothie, which pairs black pepper with its turmeric for maximum absorption. They know their stuff.

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Se7en Bites

This quaint working Milk District bakery is open for breakfast and lunch with a manageable, fresh-made menu that changes near daily and makes choosing easy. Okay, that’s arguable, since how one chooses between creative, handcrafted moon pies and fresh, local fruit-infused cobblers. is subjective. Easiest method? Bring a friend and share everything! Cakes, cookies, cupcakes, pies – the smells emanating from the Se7en Bites kitchen are wrong in all the best ways possible. Be thoroughly prepared for a sweet-related impulse buy to take home. Eggs and biscuits, scones and soups, Southern comfort classics and lots of surprising modern twists. If this place sounds familiar, it’s because you probably saw them on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Drives.”

Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Se7en Bites’ buttery, down-homey, deliciousness will not be ignored. Your best low-cal intentions, however, will be.

A.D.’s expert tip: Se7en Bites is cozy. Keep your dining party small for best results or simply go the takeout route.

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Bulla Gastrobar

Clean, modern lines meld with Spanish sensibility, colorful tiles and a convivial, festive vibe, at this fountain-bedecked enclave in Winter Park, where deliciousness comes in many flavors, spanning salty meats to sugary churros and a range of succulent in-betweens. Diners here most often go tapas-style, choosing myriad plates from which all can partake, enjoy, discuss. That’s not to say for a moment, however, that the large plates, from steamy, seafood-laden paellas to succulent short ribs to Spanish-influenced pub burgers. Good stuff. Bulla, by the way, is pronounced “boo-ya,” which is precisely what you might say when your teeth sink into its delicious, little cod fritters, or you take your first sip of Rioja on its airy, open patio.

Recommended for Best Restaurants because: You’re looking for the best, right? If Ritz-Carlton can rely on Norman Van Aken to represent its interests, it’s safe to say you probably can, too.

A.D.’s expert tip: Larger tables can be set inside but Bulla also offers big groups private options, both on its patio (up to 40) and in two private rooms that host up to 24. AV is available for presentations, as well. Check their website for sample menus.

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Orlando Meats

MEAT. It’s what’s for dinner (and breakfast, brunch and lunch) at this Mills 50 mecca of all things carnivorous. Grass-fed beef, pastured pork, goat, lamb, eggs, you name it – all of it locally sourced – is what goes into dishes like the Sloppy Jehosephat (loose beef and cheddar on a French roll), the arugula-and-cheddar-laden Crushinator breakfast sammich (“No, Pa! I love him!”) and a medium-rare burger that the whole of Orlando’s meat-eating community has unanimously raved about. Orlando Meats is open for all three squares; the breakfast menu features some creative spins on traditional offerings, but serious carnivores can order up that signature burger at 8 am if their lovingly clogged hearts so desire. Other delights, including sippable beef or chicken bone broth and house-made doughnuts, are also worth the visit.

Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Housemade… well, just about everything makes this dine-in or take-out haven ideal for decadent breakfast, lunch, brunch… Perusing the case is a foodie’s delight.

A.D.’s expert tip: Orlando Meats also is a working butcher shop with experts on hand to find you the perfect cut.

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Mamak Asian Street Food

Its air-conditioned confines may be miles away from the sultry Southeast Asian climes in which one would enjoy the layered flavors of the Malaysian food stalls for which it is named, but Mamak Asian Street Food’s plates, small and large, are an exotic journey without the plane fare. From the familiar (spring rolls, street tacos) to items the less adventurous might deem out-there (fish balls, curry gravies) its menu culls from various Asian nations creating a mix of flavors that beg to be sampled. A central location in Mills 50 makes exploration of the neighborhood a pleasant to-do, pre-dinner or post-lunch.

Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Malaysian food isn’t a regular on many dining rosters and if you’re new to it, Mamak is a great place for firsts.

A.D.’s expert tip: Can’t find on-street parking? Circle around to a lot in back.

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Prato is an upscale enough venue in which to celebrate a landmark anniversary or well-deserved promotion but also casual enough to bring the (well-behaved, please) kids for some wonderfully crispy pizza from the wood-burning oven and sandwiches like the BLT panini or the excellent heirloom eggplant version. Exposed brick, twinkly lights and some patio seating on Park Avenue give the place a cosmopolitan feel. Prato’s menu pulls on classic Italian for inspiration but pays due diligence to culinary evolution, allowing for creativity and some turns that might surprise you. Half-portions on most of the pastas allow for a more authentic Italian experience (pastas are often served in small portions before entrees in the Old Country) and offer more opportunities to share and sample.

Recommended for Best Restaurants because: You can’t go wrong with pizza, but Prato ticks so many more boxes. It’s an almost certain universal pick that’s virtually guaranteed to please everyone.

A.D.’s expert tip: The Cetriolo cocktail, a refreshing amalgam of cucumber-infused vodka, lime, white cranberry and basil, imbues one’s happy hour with spa-like Zen.

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Kabooki Sushi

A sleek and intimate interior belies a strip-mall exterior on busy Colonial Drive near the Fashion Square Mall. It’s a relatively new Orlando favorite for sushi and Asian fusion, with artful and generous presentation and a soothing, cosmopolitan vibe. Creative rolls – many of them tempura, watch the calories! – are a big draw but before you go completely roll-overboard (who doesn’t?!) consider Kabooki’s delicate, nigiri and sashimi selections, as well. Plump, fresh cuts of melt-in-your-mouth fish are served like culinary fine art that is, in fact, too lovely to gaze upon too long. Take a picture before you scarf. I mean, savor.

Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Kabooki levels up sushi night with wonderful service, delicious fare and unexpected house-made desserts.

A.D.’s expert tip: I know this is going to be tough but SAVE ROOM. Kabooki’s rich, elegant desserts will make you forget the county-fair tempura cheesecake you often find in Japanese restaurants (even the good ones)!

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Urbain 40

This beautiful venue, which bills itself as an American brasserie, was new on the scene at the close of 2015 and has been delighting guests with its 1940s panache and versatile continental menu. Groups here are well taken care of and larger parties are welcome to book separate spaces that allow for as much privacy or visibility as is desired. In fact you may want to leave the doors open to hear the live music, which plays nightly and pulls material from a host of beloved genres, from instrumental jazz to Sinatra favorites. Buyouts are available here, as well, and your guests will no doubt be wowed by the place, from the gorgeous fountain out front where they can set up for outside service to the inviting warm interiors.

Recommended for Best Restaurants because: An upscale but wholly unpretentious vibe pairs beautifully with Chef Tim Keating’s flair for the phenomenal. Expert wine pairings don’t hurt.

A.D.’s expert tip: Oh, the mussels! Whether iron skillet roasted or floating amid a ladle of Billi Bi Soup in the form of a tender-crispy beignet, they come highly recommended.

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There’s a word we want to use about Domu’s phenomenal curry ramen (the other varieties are palate stunners, as well) but we’re not sure how to spell that noise Homer Simpson makes when he is particularly food-enthralled. Ramen, the bowls are definitely shareable, and an array of beautifully plated pan-Asian offerings are what all the fuss is about at Domu, and the fare is definitely fuss-worthy. You can level-up your bowl with adds on including fried chicken thighs and braised pork belly, or skip the soup and go for some crispy wings or the “cheezus,” a gloopy-wonderful cheesy bowl comprised, in part, of melted mozzarella, mayo, fresh roasted corn and Japanese spices. Take note: Domu does not do take out or reservations.

Recommended for Best Restaurants because: This East End Market gem is as ideal for a classy-but-casual happy hour as for dinner. The cocktails here are superb.

A.D.’s expert tip: Heat seekers who’d rather not do curry might consider the spicy tonkotsu ramen as their steamy (and fiery) bowl of choice.

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The Ravenous Pig

Photo courtesy of The Ravenous Pig

The Ravenous Pig was pretty much the first to bring the term “gastropub” into the Orlando foodie lexicon. Since it opened its doors, the city’s dining scene has swelled to epic buzzworthy proportions (and the restaurant has swelled past its original location and moved into bigger digs on Fairbanks). Local is king here; a rotating food and craft cocktail menu features ingredients grown, raised and made by Florida purveyors. A few dishes are mainstays, but the rest change up with regularity, leaving diners to wonder what delights they may find when they venture in. Oxtail stroganoff over tagliatelle? Pot-au-feu? Could be. If not, another fresh-made creation is sure to please. Come thirsty, as well. Rotating taps feature phenomenal craft beers including those of its own in-house brewing operation, Cask + Larder.

Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Its empire now sees off tourists at MCO and fills bellies with BBQ at Disney. Visit the flagship where it all started and you’ll understand why.

A.D.’s expert tip: Reservations recommended. Bar seating is first-come, first served. And if there’s a tiny milkshake on the dessert menu? Order it. Happy hour: 3-6 p.m. weekdays.

Read more about The Ravenous Pig →

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