Orlando, Florida is nicknamed “Theme Park Capital of the World”. 60 million visitors a year enjoy over a dozen amazing theme parks and attractions. In the parks, the restaurants offer delicious cuisine and typical dishes. But did you know that Orlando has a phenomenal food scene in the city’s eclectic neighborhoods?
Orlando is 85 miles northeast of Tampa. At over 110 square miles, it is the third largest city in Florida. Assuming you’re not there for the sights, or if you’re there, visit the “other” Orlando when you’re there. Play world-class golf, unwind in luxurious spas, indulge in cultural experiences or shop at fabulous malls. If you are hungry, you can taste excellent dishes from the United States and around the world. Here are nine suggestions for some of the best, from fast-casual to five-star, dining experiences in this incredible foodie destination.
I was a Visit Orlando guest for this article, but all opinions are my own.
Best Eastern Cuisine – Mills 50 District
The Mills 50 neighborhood is one of Orlando’s oldest neighborhoods and is part of the Orlando Main Streets program. Its name comes from the intersection of Mills Avenue and State Road 50. Vibrant murals adorn buildings in this neighborhood, and an Asian American and Pacific Islander culture is proudly represented in various restaurants. Most restaurants are casual, so dine in one place or create a food tour where you eat at multiple venues. However, the food is some of the most authentic I’ve tasted. Here you can taste dishes from Vietnam, Korea, Laos, China, Japan and Thailand (among other nationalities).
1. Paris Banh Wed
Paris Bánh Mì has many locations, but the first store opened in Orlando. This Franco-Vietnamese restaurant and bakery makes the original Saigon sandwich and decadent French patisserie. The French baguette was introduced to Vietnam in the mid-19th centuryth Century when it was part of French Indochina. In the 1950s it evolved into a unique sandwich known as bánh mì. The fillings are delicious and the breads filled with fillings range from grilled pork to cold cuts, pie, veggie or chicken. Each sandwich is served with pickled daikon radish, cilantro, and jalapeño slices. I chose the grilled pork covered in a sweet grilled glaze. The pork paired with the crusty bread and toppings was amazing, and the portion is big enough to share. There are specialty teas and baked goods like chocolate croissants and fruit filled pastries that are so delicious.
2. King Bao
King Bao serves bao, a yeast-filled bun associated with Chinese cuisine. The buns are fluffy and soft and traditionally filled with a pork mixture. You can order a vegan version from King Bao, filled with crispy tofu. Or choose other fillings like firecracker shrimp, fried kimchi chicken, a Maryland-style crab cake, or marinated Korean beef. The handhelds are small, so be sure to order a few if you’re hungry. Don’t forget a side of tots, crispy potato nuggets that you can garnish with truffle oil (so good) or braised pork, cheddar cheese sauce, jalapeños, and green onions, much like smothered nachos. Yummy.
3. Sticky Rice
Sticky Rice is street food from Laos and Orlando’s first fast-casual restaurant. The spot reflects the items street grocers sell – but in a fun and stylish venue. I opted for the crispy rice salad wraps filled with nam khao salt beef, peanuts, grated coconut and spring onions. The cold lettuce wrapped around the flavorful pork for a tasty bite. I also tried the Lemongrass Beef Jerky. The skirt steak has a marinade – a mix of sauces and lemongrass. Then it is fried until crispy. It caused a taste explosion and a completely new taste experience. If you want a heartier selection, they also have rice bowls and ramens (noodle soups).
Best Mexican cuisine
4. Reyes Mezcaleria
Reyes Mezcaleria offers regionally inspired cuisine by Michoacán native chef Wendy Lopez. The food is authentic and the bar specializes in over 140 types of agave brandies, including mezcals. Try the flautas — chorizo and potatoes rolled in a crispy corn tortilla, topped with salsa verde with a side of rice and beans, paired with a margarita infused with one of the signature spirits.
Best Italian Food – The Milk District
The Milk District is based at TG Lee Dairy Farm, which opened in 1925 with 20 acres and one cow. It’s another exciting neighborhood to explore for fabulous food. The Milk District is also part of the Main Streets program. “A hive of creativity and culture in the heart of Orlando.”
5. The Milk House
The Milkhouse is an Italian “small plate” restaurant, craft beer and cocktail bar, and ice cream shop. The Cicchetti kitchen serves modern Italian bar food, with an emphasis on sharing plates and even bigger “piatti” when you’re hungry or want to share. It’s all the good things rolled up in one dynamic place.
I shared a cicchetti (small plate) of fresh ricotta and marinara on toast that tasted like a creamy cloud. Then onto the piatti (the larger plates) Mozzarella En Carozza, a fried mozzarella sandwich with an incredible marinara dipping sauce that was cheesy and addictive. Other favorites were the Salami Tower. It’s an antipasti with a selection of mixed Italian cured meats, cheese, olives and nuts. Or giant beef balls in that outrageous marinara sauce. Then I dug into the best fish sandwich served on crunchy ciabatta toast. The red snapper was lightly coated in blackened spices and cooked to perfection with a side of homemade potato chips. For dessert, try Kelly’s Homemade Ice Cream or a craft cocktail or beer from Ravenous Pig Brewing Co. from the bar.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking for fresh pasta, try Mia’s Italian Kitchen, a traditional Italian restaurant using recipes from the owner’s Sicilian Nonna’s Cucina.
Best Southern Cuisine – The Milk District
6. Se7en bites
Se7en Bites serves southern comfort food with a modern twist. Chef Trina Gregory-Propst and her partner VA designed this popular spot for breakfast, lunch and brunch (the top three meals of the day). The duo recently appeared on an episode of Guy Fieri’s on the Food Network Diners, drive-ins and dives. Everything is homemade, from the sweet treats to the savory biscuits, using the finest local ingredients. I felt the love of the south with the “Minnie Pearl”. It’s two pearl sugar waffles with a huge buttermilk fried chicken breast, drizzled with hot buffalo sauce and honey, and topped with a fried egg. The vanilla bean butter syrup and cheddar chive semolina side took it over the top. Wash it down with the signature orange blossom mimosa and you’re in southern dining heaven.
Best five star restaurant
7. Four flamingos
Four Flamingos, a Richard Blais Florida Kitchen is reminiscent of mid-century modern Florida with its decor and style. Food and fruit are fresh from Florida and the Caribbean, complete with signature Blais flair of deconstructing cuisine and turning ingredients into grand surprises.
I sipped on a craft cocktail called “Key Lime In the Coconut” topped with pineapple coconut foam, and it tasted like a juicy, delicious key lime pie. Next I had the tuna tostada with a passion fruit yolk that resembled an egg. When punctured, it exploded with an incredible flavor (to my delight) that added a nice element of acidity. For my main course, I chose the Neptune Cut of swordfish, topped with black lime, black pepper and garlic, floating on a buttery sauce. The cut was huge and I have never tasted such delicious swordfish in my life. The final course was a work of art: a Key Lime Blossom, a mousse over a graham cracker sable with vanilla bean whipped cream that made me swoon. The menu features an array of proteins, but the seafood and shellfish are the absolute stars here. I loved every item and the service was impeccable.
8. Ava MediterrAegean
Ava MediterrAegean is “a celebration of splendour, freedom, escapism and joy”; I would highly recommend an evening here. The town of Winter Park, adjacent to Orlando, is a short drive away but worth the experience. The restaurant is beautiful and the service matches the ambiance. I explored the AVA Discovery menu with multiple courses. It’s one of the tastiest and most surprising meals I’ve ever enjoyed.
A mixologist created the signature gin and tonic cocktail that started my journey. The first courses of traditional Greek dips and a tuna tartare were not only stunning and fresh, but the food took me back to the Cyclades. The second course Greek salad with barrel aged feta and grilled haloumi was delicious. The latter presents itself with classic flair. The haloumi was first doused with ouzo (a Greek spirit) and then lit. A whole branzino came for my main course, covered in a salt crust. It is prepared at the table, first flambéed with mastiha (a Greek spirit) and expertly filleted. The dish comes with the crispiest potato millefeuille “Pommes Frites” and a delicious ratatouille. The dessert was life changing with a millefeuille tart and chocolate fudge cake made from molten lava. It was all amazing.
Pro Tips: I stayed at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin to explore the neighborhoods around Orlando and it’s nice to have the best of both worlds. I tried a delicious breakfast at the new boutique hotel Walt Disney Swan Reserve, Amare. I ate Eggs Cheval, eggs with beef tenderloin medallions, Béarnaise sauce, leeks, mushrooms, and potatoes. This Mediterranean style restaurant was the perfect way to end a foodie holiday.
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