Restaurants In Orlando

Orlando is a unique destination bringing together pockets of local activity and a world class visitor and resort area. As such, the restaurants in Orlando are many.

Both small restauranteurs and national chains do their best to get their piece of the year round tourism and convention industry business that fills restaurants in Southwest Orlando. For residents that are good at timing the tourism cycle or are willing to deal with some out-of-towners, there's always new restaurants to try out near Sand Lake Road, International Drive and around Disney.

In other areas such as downtown and in Winter Park, you can find local, world class dining destinations to satisfy every craving. When it comes to eating out, Orlando has it all.

Best Oysters In Orlando

Best Oysters In Orlando

Fewer cuisines are as polarizing as eating oysters. It seems like someone either hates eating the slimy food from the ocean or they’re obsessed with it. If you haven’t yet had a great experience eating oysters, it is possible that you just haven’t had the right type or had them from the right venue. If you’re obsessed with them, well, there’s no need to convince you of how fun it can be to eat oysters, but maybe we’ll provide you with some new restaurants to check out here in Orlando. Here is our oyster eating guide along with our list of restaurants to find the best oysters in Orlando.

Before we point you in the direction of finding the best oysters in town, here are a few tips

The R-Month Rule

In oyster eating circles, there has been a long standing rule for eating oysters. The rule says that you shouldn’t eat raw oysters in months that do not have an “r” in them. For example, May, June, July, August. In other words, don’t eat oysters during the summer, when it is hot.  This is especially the case in Florida as water temperatures are higher in this region than the other parts of the country. Many oyster fans disregard this rule and eat them at will, but if you’re cautious or new, eat your oysters in the cold months.

How Oysters Are Prepared

Oysters are prepared a few different ways typically. First, it’s important to discard oysters that are already opened or cracked as it maens the oyster is likely dead and won’t be good for eating. Wash them right before preparing them (rather than washing them ahead of time) as this will ensure they stay alive the longest which means the freshest oyster possible.

Many enjoy oysters steamed. Steaming the oysters for 5-10 minutes will result in most of the oysters opening. Typically, you discard the ones that did not open.

Roasting oysters means cooking them on the grill. You can roast them either on the half shell or whole. Typically 5 to 6 minutes is all that is needed.

Some also fry oysters, and of course, eating them raw is very popular.

Shucking Oysters

Typically, if you’re shucking oysters, it means you’re eating them raw. To shuck the oyster, you’ll need a short knife  or something with a thin edge that you can work in between the oyster shells to pry them open. Need more help on learning how to shuck? Try this instructional video:

Now that you’ve learned more about eating oysters, let’s discuss where we can eat the best oysters in Orlando.

Lee and Rick’s – 5621 Old Winter Garden Rd

This longstanding local joint is simply the best if you’re looking for Oysters in Orlando. Located on the intersection of Kirkman Rd and Old Winter Garden, Lee and Rick’s is ideal for those looking for excellent oysters, inexpensive drinks and a great local atmosphere. Lee and Rick’s is about impressing you with their oysters and that’s it. There’s no pretense at this local place. Go there, hand over some cash and get some buckets of oysters in return. If you’re an oyster enthusiast, you will not be disappointed.

Big Fin Seafood Kitchen – 8046 Via Dellagio Way

Big Fin is located on Sand Lake’s “Restaurant Row” which is known for its higher end restaurants. Big Fin has the feel of a more casual seafood kitchen and the selection of oysters to eat is fantastic. Their experienced staff will explain the different types of oysters that they offer and the areas they come from. Examples include Blue Point, CT, Cape Spear, NB, East Bch Blonde, RI, Fanny Bay, BC and more. They offer Chef’s Choice dozens which include a variety of the various oysters which allows you to try different kinds and find the best oysters that fit your tastes. Big Fin Seafood Kitchen also has great outdoor seating with a fun outdoor bar area.

Johnnie’s Hideaway – 12551 State Road 535

Johnnie’s is a great restaurant offering much more than oysters, however, if you’re an oyster fan, head into this spot for happy hour between 4:30 and 6:30pm. Their happy hour offers some great oyster options for great prices. Johnnie’s has a fantastic deck with a bar and seating overlooking a pond which is great for happy hour.

Other Honorable Mentions

Cityfish Restaurant – 617 E Central Blvd

King Cajun Crawfish – 914 N. Mills Ave

The 4Rivers Creator’s New Restaurant: The Coop

John Rivers and his 4Rivers brand of Central Florida BBQ restaurants has become one of the most successful local dining stories in recent years. Patrons have become accustomed to the long lines reaching out the door at the various 4Rivers locations whether it be Winter Park, Winter Garden, Longwood or now out by UCF.

4Rivers New Restaurant

When it became known that Rivers was working on a new restaurant concept, the buzz was immediate. After conquering the BBQ scene, Rivers is now turning his attention to southern comfort foods, and the excitement is building for the opening of “The Coop” in Winter Park this month.

Fried chicken will be a focal point of the menu. Chicken dinners coupled with sides, buckets of chicken or chicken tenders are all options on the menu. An item that has many talking is the Chicken N’ Biscuits w/ Bourbon Maple Drizzle appetizer. Is your mouth watering yet?

Other items include Shrimp Po Boy, Chicken and Waffles, and Shrimp and Grits. If you enjoy the selection of sides at 4Rivers, the “fixins” at The Coop might be enough to bring you in alone. Pimento Cheese Grits, Hush Puppies, Skillet Cornbread and Fried Chicken Crispies are some of the offerings. Moreover, if you’re concerned about calorie consumption, there are a couple salad options on the menu. You can view the entire menu here.

As you might expect, the restaurant will follow a similar flow and format of the well tested 4Rivers concept where guests will order at the counter rather than offer full table service. With the buzz of this concept and the history of 4Rivers, you can expect exceedingly long lines especially in the months immediately after opening.

Also, similar to some 4Rivers location, desserts and sweets will be an offering and will include items tailored to the Southern concept of The Coop. Cinnamon Roll Bread Pudding, Old School Banana Pudding, Coop moon pies and “Sweetie Pies” make up the dessert section of the menu.

It appears that John Rivers will once again debut a successful restaurant to local Orlando residents. As the 4Rivers brand expands in Central Florida and into cities like Gainesville and Jacksonville, it’s not hard to imagine The Coop following a similar growth trajectory if the concept shares similar success with the BBQ sister brand.

The Coop is located at 610 West Morse Blvd. Winter Park, FL 32789. You can call the restaurant at 407-THE-COOP.

Sweet Frog on Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway

When my fiancé and I first moved to Orlando back in May, we made a lot of trips to the Target near this Sweet Frog to buy small furniture, storage buckets, food and the like. I was always curious about the place – who doesn’t love some frozen yogurt after a stressful day of putting Ikea furniture together? – but the parking lot was always empty. In Florida summer there’s no way this place would be deserted, so we figured they must not have been open yet.

A few months later we were in the neighborhood again, and the friendly sign piqued my curiosity again. I suggested we stop by and explore; my fiancé noticed that, again, the parking lot was fairly deserted, save for two cars, and was uneasy. “We’ll drive by it,” he appeased. 

We drove around the building in the slowest, most obvious stake-out fashion known to man. On the drive-thru side of the building – most likely a remnant from the previous restaurant housed there – there was a sign on printer paper apologizing that the drive-thru was not open, but encouraging customers to come inside. From what we could gather peering in to the store, no one was there. Tables and chairs were left inside, and we could just barely make out the frozen yogurt dispensers in the corner of the store. Sweet Frog seemed completely deserted, looking exactly as it had when we first moved to town.

It made me a little sad; I was looking forward to trying local places, and it seemed like this business had packed up and shipped out long ago. Maybe plaza employees preferred to park their cars in a parking lot where they knew no one would go? But it seemed as if my curiosity about this place would go unsatisfied.

Until a few days ago.

We were driving to Target to buy some Christmas cards when the unthinkable happened – we saw someone inside the shop. An employee, sweeping. It seemed so Twilight Zone-esque: the lobby still looked deserted, there were still only a few cars in the parking lot, but there was a person inside. Working. It caught us so off guard my fiancé finally agreed to come explore with me, despite his initial feelings about the place.

We hatched a quick escape plan if the exploration turned south, parked, bounded to the door, and my fiancé shoved me inside first. As soon as he stepped through behind me, the employee, a teen with a wide grin, turned to us.

“Hey guys, welcome to Sweet Frog! Wow man, I dig your look!” he said to my fiancé, referring to his polo and jacket. “You look like you came out of an 80s movie!”

I dissolved into giggles. My fiancé, who has never even seen The Breakfast Club, stared at him open-mouthed for a few seconds before sputtering, “That’s a good thing, right?”

The kid assured him it was, and proceeded to explain how their frozen yogurt worked: sample cups were over by the toppings – “You can try as much as you want, we don’t care,” he assured us – and you could even try the toppings if you wished. The Styrofoam cups were practically weightless, so it’d be 45 cents per ounce of everything you threw together. He made sure we didn’t have any questions, and let us go with this last little quip – “If you love it, tell everyone you know. If you hate it, don’t tell anyone!” – and returned to his sweeping.

My fiancé is a creature of habit, so he didn’t bother taking any samples before he made his choice of cookies & cream and coconut. I, with curiosity over brimming, tried the three that most immediately intrigued me: Pumpkin Pie, Mango Tango, and Red Velvet.

Before visiting Sweet Frog, my favorite frozen yogurt was from a place back home called Orange Leaf – at other places I’ve tried, the frozen yogurt seems to taste more like ice than whatever flavor you should be having. I was aware that this could be the case as I dispensed my Pumpkin Pie. But when I brought the cup to my lips, I was delighted. It was the best mixed fro-yo I’ve ever had, hands down, and it tasted wonderful – just like home-made pumpkin pie. Mango Tango, my favorite flavor, was even better. Red Velvet was alright, but I’m not really a fan of it to begin with, so I can’t really judge.

We brought our cups to the toppings bar, and I was once more pleasantly surprised – at my hometown frozen yogurt place, the toppings bar is usually a disaster, Oreos and M&M’s mixed without a care to the havoc they’re wreaking, and the “fresh fruits” usually look more saggy and sad than perky. At Sweet Frog, everything was neat and orderly, adequately filled, and the fruits seemed as if they’d only been cut moments ago. I loaded up on strawberries, blackberries, and pineapples, and my fiancé got the standard peanut butter chips and gummy worms.

When we placed our cups on the scale, the kid asked us how we liked everything, whether we were locals – general small talk. We confessed to him that we’ve been passing by the building for months, but never came in because we thought they were closed.

“Yeah,” he admitted with a laugh, “it’s usually just my sister and I.” He offered us a punch card for subsequent visits – 10 punches and your 11th was free – but couldn’t seem to find them, so he punched our receipt a few times instead. He was also kind enough to draw us a Ninja Turtle.

All in all, I can’t wait to go back. The place was pristine – I honestly don’t know what the kid was finding to sweep up – the frozen yogurt was incredible, and he and his sister (whom we met just before leaving) were incredibly sweet and funny and wonderful to talk to. For whatever reason Sweet Frog isn’t all that well-known in Orlando, but I’ve been raving about them to anyone who will listen for even half a second, so I hope that changes soon.

After all, how can you not love a place who has the cast of Doug taped to their register

Guide to Orlando Brew Pubs

According to Wikipedia, a brew pub (sometimes spelled brewpub) is typically defined as a pub or restaurant that brews beer on the premises. Orlando brew pubs have increased in numbers as locals continue to flock to quality eateries with unique offerings for eating… and drinking. In this guide, we’re going to look at some of the best brew pubs in Orlando and other places to, well, get great beer.

Orlando Brew Pubs

Orlando Brewing

One of the older microbreweries in town, Orlando Brewing has a tasting room great for enjoying some new beers. They have some staple beer offerings along with a number of seasonals that will rotate through.

Cask & Larder Southern Public House

C&L is a newer restaurant in Winter Park, owned by the folks who own the popular Ravenous Pig. The craft beers brewed onsite are tasty, and the menu is extremely unique. Ravenous Pig and C&L both have a goal to offer great food and great beer together. Try them both.

BJ’s Brewery

While this is a chain and they don’t brew the beer onsite at the Millena Mall location, they do have their own craft beers and they’re very decent. They have a large menu with inexpensive food and lots of TVs for you sports fans. They offer a good sampler of their own beers and it won’t empty your wallet.

World of Beer

Another chain, but it’s tough to beat the beer selection at the World of Beer venues. With several locations in Orlando such as Dr. Phillips and Lake Mary, World of Beer has hundreds of beers. Note that they do not serve food at WOB.

Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour

Probably one of the most well known places to get craft beer in Orlando, Redlight Redlight has an enormous selection. The crowd can be a bit on the hipster side, but if you’re a lover of beer, you’ll fit right in. It can also be loud. It’s not for everybody, but if you haven’t been, you should definitely give it a try. Great local spot.

Prato

Another trendy spot mixing good eats and a unique beer selection is Prato on Park Ave in Winter Park. They typically have a very nice selection of beers brewed locally with a very vibrant bar area.

Red Eye Bar & Grill

This little BBQ joint is located next to the Publix off Maguire Rd. in Windermere and has good pork sandwiches, but also a great draft beer selection. The owner loves his BBQ and meats, but it’s clear from the selection that he also loves his beer. The restaurant also has a “beer garden” out back for those days where you just have to drink a beer outside.

The Pub

This British themed restaurant at Pointe Orlando is just that, a huge British pub. Not only is the food and beer selection immense, but they even have “Pour your own beer” walls where you can get a mug and try a myriad of beers and pay by the ounce or pint.

Ollie’s

Formerly known as Jax, Ollie’s is a staple to College Park residents. They have a nice selection of draft beers along with some good bottled beers as well.

Fiddler’s Green

Fiddler’s in Winter Park is a staple of the community. They have a number of beers on tap including many Irish favorites. You can do a draft sampler here where you get four small glasses of your choice for $5.00. If you’re looking for Irish food, it’s one of the best in town as well.

Marlow’s Tavern

A newcomer to the Pointe Orlando complex, Marlow’s Tavern is American cuisine with craft beers. They have a nice selection of beer and bring in many local favorites. It’s a quiet and comfortable venue on International Drive, much different from the more noisy Taverna Opa and Cuba Libre venues at Pointe Orlando.

Bloodhound Brew Pub & Eatery

With two unusual locations in town (Kirkman Rd. in the old Pizza Hut building and the Whirly Dome venue on International Drive), the Bloodhound Brew Pub & Eatery is yet another newcomer to the scene with good eats and craft beers. They have over 100 beers including 40 craft beers on tap and 70+ options on bottled beer. If you’re looking for something new, check out Whirly Ball then stay and eat and drink at Bloodhound. It’ll be a unique evening, I assure you.

Raglan Road

If you’re looking to mingle with some tourists, Raglan Road at Downtown Disney is actually a fantastic venue. The prices will be a little high considering it is Disney, but Raglan Road is a great spot. They have good options of import draught beers and American crafts. You can also do some great flights of beer if you want to taste a variety of options.

Like many cities, Orlando’s beer pub scene is diverse and expanding. Orlando residents are always on the look out for a local place to get good food at a good price and have a wide variety of beverage options. Orlando brew pubs are the answer for many. While not all of these options brew their own beer, you’re sure to find many favorites on the above list. Give them each a try in the months ahead.

Review: The Sleeping Moon Cafe

It seems as if the one spot in Orlando that eludes me is the perfect place to relax. Ironically, we are a city of tourists. Most people come here to relax. But amid the bustle of my family and niece at home and the throngs of children at work every day, it’s tricky to find a spot to just sit quietly and pensively considering an appropriate topic for my next article. In college I would sit in the library or the on campus Starbucks, plug my soul into the wall, and sit facing my screen for hours with no interruptions apart from the occasional text. The luxury is no longer afforded to me, and it’s tricky to muster up the energy to go to a spot that isn’t a walk away when I could just sit at home and attempt to tune out the familial responsibilities.

I was off work yesterday and feeling slightly overwhelmed with the plans that needed to be executed before the weekend was over. I decided to take a break from the day and have a low-key lunch with a friend before starting on the litany of activities facing me. Just writing my to-do list was daunting. Wanting to try something new, I suggested The Sleeping Moon Café. I had never been but it was about 5 minutes from my house and 1 minute from his. The exact amount of ease I was willing to expend for lunch. Upon walking in I was surprised to find a coordinating mish-mosh of chairs, tables, and art decorating the small interior of the location on the corner of Aloma and Semoran.

A mix of soft music you swear you’ve heard before serenaded us as we walked up to the counter featuring a Hello Kitty water cooler. The chalkboard menu behind the cash register itemized a number of appetizers (more like side items), salads, and sandwiches to appeal to a variety of palates. My companion ordered a BBQ chicken sandwich and I, feeling adventurous, went with their New Zealand Turkey which included a kiwi chutney spread I had to try. I paired it with the tea of the day and my friend purchased a latte. All together we spent $24—a little more than Chipotle, my go-to weekday meal. We took the time as we waited for our food to take a closer look at our surroundings.

My favorite aspect of the interior was a large, branch filled tree in the middle of the small café with hanging foliage. The tables, chairs, and two small couches are all arranged around a stage stocked with musical instruments and microphones against a wall spotted with varying art pieces incorporating a moon theme. I chatted with the staff and asked what sort of entertainment could be expected on which nights. They informed me that the first and third Wednesday of every night hosted an Open Mic Poetry night, a weekly Tuesday general Open Mike, and a Saturday Stand Up Showcase. They mentioned a variety of other events they are often hosting, including an occasional guided art class for beginners and varying music events. Apart from being an eatery, The Sleeping Moon Café is a veritable art gallery. Local artists showcase their work and should you be interested in any of the pieces you can just ask for it and pay there.

Our sandwiches were brought out and they were positively delectable. My tea was sweetened, a decision I normally like to make myself, and my friend’s latte was as tasty as lattes usually are to those that enjoy them. What should have been a quick lunch escalated into a long-winded discussion about the café, the art of conversation, and the curiously addictive nature of television. The Sleeping Moon Café lends itself to meet the individual needs of those who enter. With plugs along the wall and complimentary Wi-Fi, the interior volume on a regular afternoon is perfect for sitting and studying without the line out the door of Starbucks, but the light chatter of the staff behind the register and coffee machine allows for a soft conversation without that awful feeling that you’re disturbing someone.

I was thrilled with The Sleeping Moon Café and instantly decided it will be my Sunday morning destination as I write out articles, plan my weekly schedule, and in general engage in all the other activities I normally crave solitude for such as passing that impossible level in Candy Crush. Or, should I want to impress a friend with my knowledge of off the beaten path haunts, I would be proud to bring them here. I highly recommend this small, unassuming corner café for whatever your needs, and will soon check out their special event nights but I do not expect them to disappoint.

Review of Relax Grill at Lake Eola

liquor

Summer heat, though a relief from the frigid climate of winter, can often leave one feeling lethargic and unwilling to do anything other then languidly entomb oneself in a chair under a fan. Yet it appears that despite the pull to AC and reruns of The Walking Dead, Orlando dwellers continue to seek the outdoors and the company of others. It’s tricky to find the best locations to engage in social interaction, but this past week I found a solid option.

One of my new coworkers is moving to Hawaii. She’s a wanderer and her time in Orlando is up. Though we will certainly miss her, we are ecstatic over her success and thrilled at the opportunity to go out and celebrate with drinks. She decided to have us all commune at Relax Grill on Lake Eola. I had seen it in passing on my occasional walks around the lake but had never bothered to take a closer look. We went on Wednesday, her last day, to bid her adieu.

Relax Grill is located on the edge of Lake Eola right in the middle of Downtown Orlando. It’s an open air bar with a large seating area filled with outdoor furniture. Foliage surrounds the main area, and the vibe is generally tropical, though not outwardly. Over the summer they are having Relax Summer with a variety of daily specials. All day everyday you can purchase $3 Smirnoffs and Margaritas (that’s where I indulged), $5 pitchers and appetizers until 6, $10 wine bottles, and there are a variety of weekly specials. Thursdays are $5 burger nights and $10 for all you can drink from 6-8, and Friday is all you can drink for $10 from 6-8. We were all crossing our fingers for rain and even moved to spots under cover since we all definitely felt drops. Shots are $2 off in the case of rain.

The name is certainly an accurate moniker. Service was very casual, it wasn’t actually an issue as it normally is for me. I went to sit and chat with friends for a few hours, not to be hounded for my order or for another round of drinks. We stumbled on to a trivia night, which apparently occurs every Wednesday night. 5 of us stuck around finding the questions not only doable but downright fun. We started off in third place and after 4 rounds ended in 5th. It was a blast.

The scenery is certainly lovely. Our dinner show consisted of silly swan antics, counting how many laps we saw runners do, and as the light dimmed the fountain in the lake was lit up with a variety of colors. I had never been late enough to notice. This was actually my first outing with the coworkers in my new job and I was admittedly apprehensive about spending even more hours with them after an 8 hour day. I was unprepared for the realization that a few pitchers of Bud Light and some tangy margaritas are the ideal table setting to bond over something other than our jobs.

Relax Grill ended up being a fun spot to go for after work drinks, and the unexpected trivia gave us all a chance to test our brains merit. If you’re near the city and looking for a place to, well, relax, this might be your place!

Visit RelaxGrill.com for menus and more information about Relax Grill

Photo Credit: RelaxGrill.com

Top Orlando Restaurant Bars

prato

Looking for a great place to have drinks then have dinner? Several Orlando venues were named to the Top 100 Restaurant bars done by Open Table. They performed these rankings based on restaurant reviews on the Open Table system.

The three Orlando restaurants that made the list were Prato (Winter Park), Rocco’s Tacos (Sand Lake Rd.) and Vines Grille and Wine Bar (Sand Lake Rd.).

None of the three are surprising choices. Prato has had immense success in its few years of being open on Park Avenue. Their bar is a focal point of the venue and they do some excellent drinks. Their beer selection features a number of local brews. You can read more about Prato here.

Rocco’s Tacos and Vines Wine Bar are both located on Sand Lake Road – Orlando’s Restaurant Row. Vines is a local joint that moved into bigger space after a previous restaurant closed. They developed a small, but strong following of regulars and parlayed that into a larger presence.

Rocco’s Tacos is the new hot spot on Sand Lake Rd. Taking the place of the old Samba Room, they re-did the interior layout to feature a massive bar in the back – combined with opening up the space to have more of a lake front view, it’s a vast improvement on Samba Room. The food is reasonable, and the place has a very festive atmosphere. On weekend’s, the wait can be a couple hours for a table. Interestingly, the other Rocco’s Tacos locations made the Open Table top 100 list as well, so 4 of the top 100 are all Rocco’s Tacos locations. Not bad!

What did Open Table miss? Some other great drinking spots in Winter Park include Ravenous Pig and Cask & Larder (same owners). On International Drive, Cuba Libre is a great spot for having drinks. On Sand Lake Rd, also consider Ocean Prime and Seasons 52.

You really can’t miss with any of these top Orlando restaurant bars, and now you have some hard data from Open Table to back it up! Enjoy!

 

Orlando Pinkberry Stores Closing

Orlando Pinkberry

Despite making some waves locally when they opened a few years ago, several Pinkberry stores in Orlando have already closed and are closing in the near future.

The original Orlando Pinkberry store at the Dr. Phillips Marketplace is closing this week (July 2013). A nearby store at Mall at Millenia already has closed.

Pinkberry at the Florida Mall remains open for now.

The Dr. Phillips Marketplace location of course is the old TCBY Yogurt spot adjacent to the Starbucks. TCBY owned the location for years and years until a Coldstone moved in across the parking lot. The competition essentially put both stores out of business. Then, Pinkberry moved in.

Pinkberry has many fans, but with the yogurt craze peaking not too long ago and the high prices that Pinkberry continually charges, it appears that the business could not stay afloat. Pinkberry was known for tasty flavors like Green Tea and Pomegranate; however, larger sizes with toppings and the prices approached ten bucks. In an economy where discretionary income is stagnant, it’s not surprising that this is an expensive treat for many families.

Interestingly, Pinkberry locations have closed in other markets (such as Nashville). Some speculate that the franchise fee and setup makes profitability difficult. It’s been reported that initial franchise fee is in the $45,000 range, but that doesn’t include equipment & build out costs and royalty fees. It’s been rumored that the all-in launch costs for a location can reach $300,000, but that is just speculation.

Other Orlando frozen yogurt players might be happy to see Pinkberry go as it decreases local competition, but it’s likely indicative of a larger trend that the frozen yogurt market has peaked both locally in Orlando and around the country. We love Pinkberry and frozen yogurt treats as much as the next person, but do we need a store on every corner throughout Orlando? It’s likely not sustainable.

We’ll be watching to see if the Pinkberry at Florida Mall will stay in business…if you’re a Dr Phillips resident, be sure to grab the Pinkberry while it lasts for a few more days…

Eat Healthy: Orlando Vegetarian Restaurants

Vegetarians are increasing in numbers at a rapid rate. As such, Orlando vegetarian restaurants are increasing as well.

It is rare for me to attend any party or outing and not find at least one person in the group encouraging us to try the vegan appetizer they brought to share. Before you carnivores deprecate the following statement finish reading; this is one of the best things that could have happened to our food culture.

Here comes the part where non-vegetarians need to contain their burgeoning glower and vegetarians will have trouble hiding their growing smile (by hiding I mean blatantly grinning smugly); meat can be boring. More importantly, meat and potatoes and the accompanying vegetable that is always pushed to the side and left on the plate at the end of the meal can eventually cause a crippling food ennui leading to a pitfall into lazy eating and, God forbid, a spiral into fast food for lunch.

I love a juicy steak, but greatness is usually dictated by cut, rub, and cooking method. There are only so many cow variations and the same holds true for poultry, pork, and even fish. I love food and I love, most importantly, a variety of food and flavor combinations. It is my opinion that the growing vegetarian culture has provided us with insight into new, tasty options I would have never considered had it not been for the creative flora eaters tired of PB&J’s and rice with veggies. From radishes to tofu, my foray into the eating habits of herbivores has made me a happier omnivore with a far more experienced palate than before.

With this in mind, the following are some of the best vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Orlando that any type of eater could easily enjoy.

Dandelion Communitea Café

My absolute favorite place for lunch, regular or vegetarian, Dandelion has a fresh taste that can’t be beat. I have been countless times to this small house on the outskirts of the city off Colonial.

dandeilion

Part restaurant, part tea-house, and part art exhibit, this locally owned restaurant is nestled in a quaint green domicile surrounded by a large outdoor yard filled with tables and chairs and great conversation.  The interior is bright and colorful; their menu is plain and brown but brimming with unique choices. Their most popular menu item, the Giddy-Up can be consumed as a wrap or a bowl with spring mix and quinoa and has an assortment of veggies with their absolutely delicious and satisfying tempeh based Chile drenching everything and vegan queso or dairy cheese to top it all off. If you go on Mondays it’s only $5. They have drink specials often and an afternoon special where all starters are $5. The Summer of Love Rolls with the peanut dressing; just go try it, now if you can. My favorite is the fakin’ bacon BLT or the portabella sandwich. Walk in and be ready for a super friendly staff and delicious fresh food for your repast.

Ethos Vegan Kitchen

Ethos in Winter Park is one of my favorite Orlando vegetarian restaurants and focuses more on providing you a meal that satisfies the want for the typical meals you may have grown up eating, but with a vegan twist. It uses many meat substitutes apart from the usual tempeh and tofu, such a soy based seitan. The meals are often exactly what you might find in a regular restaurant, Shepherd’s Pie for example or Rosemary Chikin’, but with the aforementioned substitutes. My absolute favorite has to be the tofu curry wrap. I enjoy the food every time I go but if you are a meat eater do not expect to be fooled. I am personally not a fan of the processed soy imitation products apart from tofu, and usually shy away from those options. However my vegetarian friends absolutely love it. This feels a little more like a restaurant than Dandelion and is more appropriate for a formal outing.

There are far more restaurants catering to vegetarians that I have not tried but will do so very soon. The following are some of those options. I’ll be sure to let you know what I think once I take a stab at them.

My musings in Winter Park have led me to discover the unassuming Café 118 on a side street of Park Avenue. Research tells me this restaurant is dedicated to the raw food movement, and nothing is cooked at over 118o degrees. I love food adventures but the tricky cooking causes a hike in prices. I am planning on visiting in December when my vegetarian best friend visits from her home in South Korea and will be sure to let you know how it goes. Another more regular vegan restaurant I am excited to try out is the Loving Hut also off Colonial. I see it on often on my drive to and from work. It has mixed reviews but seems to be a true vegan kitchen I am eager to try.

I am not a foodie, but I love trying new things. Vegetarian cuisine is a daring approach to expanding your source of flavors no matter your preferences.  Vegan acquaintances laud these places not just for their service but also for the ideas they take home and use in their own kitchens. Don’t be afraid to try these new places, I am positive you won’t be disappointed.

Photo courtesy of Amanda Whittemore

A Review of Food Fun Adventure Orlando

I have two great vices in life: food and shopping. The cultural variation thanks to tourism and general amazingness that is Orlando make it incredibly hard to control those particular addictions. Not to mention having a full time job greatly restricts the time I have to try out all the new Orlando restaurants around the city. Nonetheless I am always on the search for a dilly adventure that exposes me to more of my fabulous city. For this reason I am a Living Social and Groupon addict.

I love the option to try new places at a discounted price and have rarely had a bad experience when using my vouchers as can often occur according to the online community. A few months ago I came across an Orlando Foodie Fun Adventure tour on one of these websites, and temptation won over. I called my college buddy, Jordan, and together we purchased the voucher to see what it was all about.

The Foodie tour is distributed by Food Fun Adventure, a company that focuses on the gourmandizing undertaking through child and adult cooking classes and food tours in a variety of cities across the country. The premise involves a walking tour (no fear of trachle as it’s less than 8 blocks guaranteed) with stops at 4 to 5 restaurants in the area to try small portions of their offerings. The particular tour we purchased was a little over two hours long and did not include any drinks, though there is a Food and Wine tour available at the website.

To be perfectly honest, the scheduling was tricky. It was via email with one of their correspondents and although they promptly responded they could use a more automated method for booking. Apart from that, we finalized the date a little less than a week before when they had a convenient cancellation and Jordan and I were off on our adventure!

We were told to arrive at Jade Bistro in College Park to start our tour. I had never been to College Park before. It’s wonderful. The area in which we found ourselves consisted of a series of streets filled with a wide array of restaurants and shopping locales. I was instantly excited and ready to start the tour. There were three tour guides ready to usher us in to a long table in the center of the mostly empty restaurant. There was one other couple when we arrived, but within 10 minutes 6 more couples showed up, totaling our count to 16 plus the guides. This, as we soon found out was a great number of people to mingle and share the experience with. We did not wait long before the waitress in Jade Bistro brought us our first course (after a slightly pushy attempt to have us purchase drinks and other food from the menu). We had an appetizer portion of dumplings and krab rangoons. There were enough for each person to try one of each, and then a few extra that we all politely offered to each other until some of us (me included) took the plunge and ate them. They were tasty morsels but I was certainly ready for more.

rangoons

Once we were finished, the Food Fun Adventure Orlando tour guides led us to our next destination right down the street, Delights of Benezit, a French bakery. This was my favorite spot due to my obsession with how French cooking mixes flavors. I could not resist purchasing a chocolate croissant before we received our tasting. The café provided us with a sandwich that had goat cheese, apples, red onions, and bacon known as “The Sweet.” I loved it! Nowadays, I would compare it the quality and flavorful tendency of 100 Montaditos in Winter Park, having never been when I went on the tour it was just a fantastic tapas sized morsel. From my fellow foodie’s, this spot seemed to have the most disparate view. Some loved the sandwich, some hated it, but almost everyone decided, like myself, to purchase a baked good from the appetizing display behind the glass. The next stop was probably the favorite amongst the group, King Fish Grill.  Ironically, despite it’s name we had Mediterranean Pizza with tomatoes and plenty of cheese. It was tasty, as pizza often is, but I was disappointed we did not try something more iconic from the menu. Once finished, and now feeling much more full than when we began, we trudged along to our last stop, excited but wishing it wasn’t over. We went to Cookie Cousins for dessert, a fun bakery that designs cookies for all occasions. They brought out a tray of quite a few plain sugar cookies with their vanilla frosting and we all ate plenty while saying our thank you’s and goodbyes.

I enjoyed the tour but upon finishing was not left totally satisfied. The entire tour felt slightly cobbled together haphazardly and despite it being around 2 hours, it felt short and not totally satisfying. Probably what I found most disappointing was that despite the food being tasty, I would have preferred to try more iconic menu items. Jade Bistro is known for its sushi, the appetizers we had are typical to any Asian restaurant. The biggest disappointment for me was King Fish Grill. We were served something from the safety menu. It’s the pizza your friend who you dragged to the restaurant eats because they hate fish, not what sets the restaurant apart. The tour guides were all very sweet and generous but generally soft spoken and not as informative as I would have liked. I also thought the price, $69.99 for Jordan and I, was a little much considering we probably could have recreated the whole tour with a few friends and paid less for all of us.

Would I recommend Food Fun Adventure Orlando? I’m not one to vilify after only one exposure, so yes. I for one know that given the chance and a better price I would give them another chance as I do appreciate the exposure to College Park and some fun eateries in the area. If you have the expendable income, you will have a good time and engage in some interesting conversation with the couples on the trip (all couples by the way, we were the only set of friends), if you don’t, you might want to consider just going to a new restaurant on your own.

Photo courtesy of Jordan Almazan