4 Rivers Smokehouse recently issued the following announcement.
It’s well-known that theme parks and Orlando are inextricably linked and, yes, if it wasn’t for Disney, an Eater Essential list for Orlando would be, well, it wouldn’t be. Nearly a quarter century ago, Disney made a conscious effort to offer tourists and Orlandoans alike fare a notch above the middling meals served at Olive Garden and Bennigan’s. They nurtured home-grown chefs and fostered a culture that, in the ensuing years, allowed Orlando’s restaurant scene to thrive and expand beyond the parks. Independent, chef-run boîtes and bistros added a layer of diversity; celeb cooks from Emeril to Morimoto brought a little glam; and Gen Xers and Millennials challenged Orlando’s culinarians to innovate.
This list is a reflection of all that Orlando has to offer – the legacy restaurants that legitimized the food scene, and those that helped give it some distinction. It’s a list across all price ranges, styles and neighborhoods, but one thing these restaurants all have in common is that the food-conscious denizens of Central Florida hold them in high regard.
Looking for the fresh faces on Orlando’s ever-evolving restaurant scene? Find them on the heatmap.
Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
124 N Park Ave Winter Park, FL 32789(407) 262-0050Visit Website
Just up the street from Luma, Brandon McGlamery’s other Park Avenue restaurant spotlights Italy’s dynamic duo of carbs – pizza (fired in imported, wood-burning Acunto ovens) and pasta (rolled and shaped in-house). The menu, naturally, is seasonally directed and combines McGlamery’s love for wood-fired foods and pasta. Oak-roasted duck breast and a whole branzino cooked in the Acunto are rustic dishes of the highest order. Pizzas are some of the best in Winter Park, while pasta offerings (think lamb pansotti and sunchose casarecce) change constantly.
2. Hillstone Restaurant
215 S Orlando Ave Winter Park, FL 32789(407) 740-4005Visit Website
Yes it’s a chain, but Hillstone is perpetually packed and its kitchen consistently delivers with fuss-free classics. On any given night, old-money Winter Park gussies itself up and parades about the moody digs before gorging on Hillstone favorites such as the Hawaiian rib-eye in a pineapple-soy-ginger marinade and the spit-roasted chicken with apricot glaze. Grilled artichokes are a must when in season, typically from February to June. Can’t talk about Hillstone without mentioning the killer views of Lake Killarney, and one of the finest outdoor patios in the city.
3. Luma on Park
290 S Park Ave Winter Park, FL 32789(407) 599-4111Visit Website
Brandon McGlamery, one of the OG chefs that helped establish Orlando’s reputation as a culinary destination, did so after opening Luma on Park Avenue back in 2005. It’s no surprise that after stints at such NoCal mainstays as French Laundry, Delfina and Chez Panisse that McGlamery would forge close relationships with local farmers and purveyors to showcase Florida’s bounty in new American dishes like chestnut-stuffed chicken with purple rice grits and coriander-cured flounder with green strawberries and Florida peaches. The “Jewel Box” – a two-story wine vault stocked with 7,000 bottles of 80 intriguing varieties – is an attention-getter.
4. Hunger Street Tacos
2103 W Fairbanks Ave Winter Park, FL 32789(321) 444-6270Visit Website
As sons of missionaries in Guadalajara, Joe and David Creech appreciated the intricacies and nuances of Mexican cuisine at a very early age – an appreciation that blossomed later in life when they brought a true taste of those calles to Winter Park. Joe’s wife Seydi, a Mexico City native who missed her native cuisine when she moved to the U.S., was the driving force behind Hunger Street Tacos and helped curate a menu that taco fiends can’t get enough of. Suadero (seared brisket), fried avocado, hibiscus and al pastor (yes, it’s shaved off the trompo) can’t be beat.
5. The Ravenous Pig
565 W Fairbanks Ave Winter Park, FL 32789(407) 628-2333Visit Website
With the recent addition of Camilo Velasco (1921 by Norman Van Aken) to the Pig’s all-star roster of chefs (which includes chef de cuisine Nick Sierputowski and chef/owners James and Julie Petrakis), the Winter Park mainstay makes a case for being one of the best restaurants in the state. Why? The creatively unpretentious bill of Southern fare incorporating uniquely Floridian ingredients for one. The team here are passionate about the flora and fauna of the Sunshine State and it’s garnered them a slew of accolades and national recognition. Plus, the Pig is one of the few restaurants gastronomes outside of Orlando have heard about.
6. Lombardi's Seafood
1888 W Fairbanks Ave Winter Park, FL 32789(407) 628-3474Visit Website
Since 1961, Lombardi’s has been the go-to market to buy fish in this town. Grouper, and snapper are caught from Lombardi’s very own boat off the coast of Fort Myers and brought in daily, and since opening a café inside their new market on Fairbanks Avenue in 2015, folks need not make the drive to the coast to enjoy a proper grouper sandwich. Plus, the Lombardis work with other boats on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts to bring in fresh seafood and, best of all, any of the fish in the display cases can be cooked to the hungry diner’s liking by the kitchen.
7. 4 Rivers Smokehouse
1600 W Fairbanks Ave Winter Park, FL 32789(844) 474-8377Visit Website
John Rivers, the man behind this now burgeoning regional barbecue chain, was singlehandedly responsible for this town’s love affair with Texas-style smoked brisket when he opened his original 4 Rivers Smokehouse in Winter Park a decade ago. His 18-hour smoked Angus brisket had Q Nation happily queueing up in a puddle of their own drool for a chance to relish the beautiful barked beef. Patrons find pleasure in pulled pork, chicken and ribs as well, but sides liked fried pickles and bacon-wrapped jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese are what sets 4 Rivers apart from others.
8. Swine & Sons
669 N Orange Ave Orlando, FL 32801(407) 636-7601Visit Website
Partnering up with James and Julie Petrakis of the Ravenous Pig allowed Rhys and Alexia Gawlak to indulge their love and passion for charcuterie and whole-animal butchery at their bright Winter Park eatery. They’ve since purchased the Swine & Sons brand from the Petrakises and will move down the road into the Local Butcher and Market March 2, joining Da Kine Poke in creating a very mini food hall of sorts. Fear not, they’ll continue to serve butcher sandwiches, charcuterie boards and breakfast items, though “exciting menu changes” are also in the works.
1809 Winter Park Rd Orlando, FL 32803Visit Website
The trio of Jennifer Bañagale, Mark Berdin and Lordfer Lalicon are a studied lot with impressive credentials and their minimalist Japanese restaurant offers one of the finest dining experiences in the city. Semi-regular trips to Japan spawn inspiration in their traditional – and impeccably presented – omakases, while the sake program is, unquestionably, second to none.
East End Market, 3201 Corrine Dr Suite 100 Orlando, FL 32803(407) 960-1228Visit Website
Orlando’s ramen movement made a literal splash in 2016 with Domu ladling bowls of creative and classic renditions inside the East End Market. In the years since, chef/owner Sonny Nguyen has expanded noodle operations opening a Domu in Jacksonville, with another slated for Dr. Phillips this summer. His counter-service ramen concept – Domu Chibi – has lines out the door, but it’s the original location that steams. Pork bones boiled down for 18 hours makes for a heady tonkotsu, though a shoyu ramen with fried chicken thighs offers an equally luxuriant slurp with the addition of ajitama brulée and duck fat. Oh, the crispy wings coated in kimchi butter are no joke.
11. The Osprey Tavern
4899 New Broad St Orlando, FL 32814(407) 960-7700Visit Website
Jason and Sue Chin’s restaurant empire has become synonymous with quality, be it their “New Japanese” joint Seito, their NoDo Mexican restaurant Reyes Mezcaleria, or this handsome Baldwin Park stalwart whose wood-burning Josper oven churns out oysters to branzinos to USDA Prime rib-eyes to charred perfection. Pretense, fuss and tweezers are kept to a minimum in chef Elek Kovacs’ kitchen and a greater importance is placed on dishes that comfort (cottage pie with braised short rib) and gratify (squid ink pasta with red shrimp).
12. Orlando Meats
728 Virginia Dr Orlando, FL 32803(407) 598-0700Visit Website
Edgar Massoni’s nose-to-tail butcher house and eatery capitalizes on the relationships he’s forged with farmers and ranchers from Ocala to Ocoee, and only those who adhere to organic practices, raise their animals on pasture, and offer natural diets to their animals. For patrons, that means access to some of the best local meat in the city, be it a Denver steak to grill at home or a medium-rare burger from Cowart Ranch to enjoy in the eatery. Sausages, be they currywurst, chicken, or venison are a must, but don’t get too attached to any of the items – the menu changes daily.
13. Black Rooster Taqueria
1323 N Mills Ave Orlando, FL 32803(407) 601-0994Visit Website
John and Juliana Calloway met in L.A. opening restaurants for renowned chef/restaurateur Richard Sandoval, so when they opened a taqueria in Orlando where Juliana was raised, it took on an unmistakable SoCal vibe. It’s got shades of Trejo’s Tacos and Ray Garcia’s B.S. Taqueria, but everything here from pozole verde to pork fat tacos impresses.
14. Linda's La Cantina
4721 E Colonial Dr Orlando, FL 32803(407) 894-4491Visit Website
For those looking for a place to enjoy steaks in posh digs, this is not it. Linda’s is the commoner’s chophouse where folks can dress the way they want and scarf down a hunk of red meat without any semblance of pretense. It’s loud and rollicking and a popular place to celebrate a special occasion of any kind, or not. It’s also been around since 1947 (in one incarnation or another) affording it the title of oldest restaurant in Orlando. Some love the experience; others are baffled by the restaurant’s popularity, but you can’t deny it’s got soul.
15. The Sanctum Cafe
715 N Fern Creek Ave Orlando, FL 32803(407) 757-0346Visit Website
The plant-based plates Chelsie and husband Jamie Savage conjure inside Sanctum’s kitchen have managed to lure vegans and flesh-weary meat-eaters into their inviting Colonialtown restaurant. Salads, grain bowls and pastas are hardly clichéd renditions, case in point – a beet “bourguignon” paired with lemon-rosemary mashed potatoes, mushrooms and lentils and a potato-artichoke quiche with coconut grits and bok choy. Dishes are aesthetically and technically crafted, and Sanctum’s baristas take a similar approach to latte art.
16. Viet Garden
1237 E Colonial Dr Orlando, FL 32803(407) 896-4154Visit Website
Vietnamese businesses and restaurants have thrived for decades along the 10-block stretch of Colonial Drive in the Mills 50 District and one of the oldest – Viet Garden – will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year. The menu is voluminous with more than 140 items, so go beyond the garden rolls and pho and explore such culinary exotica as fried salted peppercorn squid and sweet-and-sour fish soup.
17. Kabooki Sushi
3122 E Colonial Dr Orlando, FL 32803(407) 228-3839Visit Website
From humble beginnings helping his parents run two restaurants at the age of 15 to opening Kabooki Sushi at the age of 22 and quickly becoming one of Orlando’s most creative sushi chefs says a lot about the drive and passion of Henry Moso. His extravagant, free-for-all omakases are legendary and the ingredients he sources from local waters and those in the Pacific are unparalleled. Now, at the age of 28, Moso is poised to open a second Kabooki Sushi in April, this time in tony Dr. Phillips.
18. Se7en Bites Bake Shop
617 Primrose Dr Orlando, FL 32803(407) 203-0727Visit Website
“Nostalgic Southern comfort foods with a modern twist” won’t garner an endorsement from the American Heart Association, but for the breakfast, brunch and lunch set, Trina Gregory-Probst’s Milk District bakehouse is a sanctuary in which to indulge. Tables fill up quickly and lines often snake out the door, but it’s a small price to pay to enjoy some of finest baked goods and gut-busting Southern plates in the city. Be sure to ask for extra bacon, no matter your order.
19. Beefy King
424 N Bumby Ave Orlando, FL 32803(407) 894-2241Visit Website
When Freeman and Margaret Smith opened Beefy King back in 1968, the plan was to stomp all over Arby’s and Roy Rogers for roast beef sandwich supremacy. That didn’t quite pan out, but the original sandwich joint on Bumby Avenue is still run by the same family and, more than 50 years later, still taking orders by hand, still cutting and preparing roast beef on a steamer table, and still drawing legions of loyal fans to their throwback house of beef.
20. DoveCote Brasserie
Bank of America Center, 390 N Orange Ave #110 Orlando, FL 32801(407) 930-1700Visit Website
Chef/owner Clay Miller’s modern downtown brasserie has been the culmination of years of classical training and working in high-pressure kitchens for such top-flight chefs as Daniel Boulud (Daniel), Floyd Cardoz (Tabla), Thomas Keller (French Laundry) and Norman Van Aken (Norman’s). The space on the ground floor of the Bank of America building is absolutely gorgeous with its mashup of Fauvist, Expressionist and Gilded Age flourishes, but Miller’s creations are just as beautiful. Regulars fall hard for the salad Lyonnaise graced with a slab of bacon and the grilled lemon-thyme chicken is one of the best poultry dishes in the city. Plus the Courtesy Bar’s Gene Zimmerman designed Dovecote’s snazzy cocktail program.
21. Maxine's on Shine
337 North Shine Ave Orlando, FL 32803(407) 674-6841Visit Website
A neighborhood restaurant in every sense, Maxine’s has been entertaining guests since 2012 thanks to the antics of owner/slam poet Kirt Earhart and his animal-print-loving chanteuse of a wife Maxine. Both gleefully work the room (which looks more like a boudoir) making sure each and every one of their guests are having as much fun as they are. The menu is about as eclectic as the clientele too with everything from escargots en croute to cioppino to skillet lasagna offered.
22. The Rusty Spoon
55 W Church St Orlando, FL 32801(407) 401-8811Visit Website
Chef/owner Kathleen Blake was on the vanguard of the city’s farm-to-table movement long before “farm to table” was even a thing. She’d garnered a reputation for her fierce dedication to serving fresh, local, sustainable and seasonal fare prior to the Rusty Spoon opened downtown in 2011. That ethic was instilled by such Bay Area legends as Joyce Goldstein (Square One), Judy Rodgers (Zuni Café) and Barbara Tropp (China Moon). At Melissa Kelly’s Primo, Blake came into her own as a talented culinarian and at the Rusty Spoon, every one of her composed salads, handhelds, pastas and mains are guaranteed to incorporate Floridian flavors and ingredients.
23. Lee & Rick's Oyster Bar
5621 Old Winter Garden Rd Orlando, FL 32811(407) 293-3587Visit Website
The patrons are an interesting lot at Lee & Rick’s – and so are the world-class shuckers behind the 80-foot, concrete bar for that matter – but one thing they all have in common: a passion for Gulf oysters. The nautical theme of this divey bar hasn’t changed much in the 69 years it’s been in business and neither, we imagine, has the camaraderie and engaging conversation. For the full experience, wear a ratty t-shirt, sit at the bar and order a bucket and a pitcher. Then just savor it all.
24. Pizza Bruno
3990 Curry Ford Rd Orlando, FL 32806Visit Website
Bruno Zacchini got this city jacked for neo Neapolitan-style pizzas as pie hounds lost their minds over intriguing topping combos as maple syrup, blueberries and guanciale, or charred peaches, romesco, pickled jalapeños and Volpi soppressata. Zacchini’s starter dough undergoes an in-house ferment for 48 hours before being pulled, tossed, topped and fired at 1000 degrees resulting in a superbly charred and flavorful crust. And Pizza Bruno is no flash in the pizza pan – an expansion plan has been set into motion with PB opening inside Orange County Brewers downtown and Slice by Pizza Bruno slated to open this April in Mills 50.
25. California Grill
4660 World Dr Orlando, FL 32836(407) 939-3463Visit Website
The restaurant that kickstarted the city’s culinary transformation received a much-needed makeover in 2013, but the Cali-inspired fare – Wolfgang Puck-style pizzas, hand-rolled sushi and, naturally, plenty of local and seasonal dishes – is as sweeping as the panoramic views at this 15th-floor restaurant inside Disney’s Contemporary Resort. And the prices are just as lofty.
26. Victoria & Albert's
4401 Floridian Way Orlando, FL 32830(407) 939-3862Visit Website
Arguably the finest restaurant in the state, and certainly one of the finest dining experiences in the Southeast, Victoria & Albert’s inside Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa has been the special-occasion fine dining restaurant for the better part of 30 years under the culinary auspices of Scott Hunnel. Hunnel has since been appointed executive chef of all the resort’s restaurants leaving chef de cuisine Aimée Rivera to dazzle guests with a multi-course degustation menu, and dazzles she does. It’s an elegant throwback experience – tweezers, squeeze bottles, microgreens and all. At $250 per person ($400 with pairings), seats at the chef’s table are the most coveted in the city.
4012 Central Florida Pkwy Orlando, FL 32837(407) 393-4333Visit Website
For 15 years, guests at Norman Van Aken’s fine dining resto inside the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes have savored the celebrated chef’s “New World” cuisine and, with newly appointed executive chef Andres Mendoza, the menu’s Latin-Caribbean DNA is still intact (though he’s been known to dabble with flavors from China and North Africa on occasion). Whatever the influence, Mendoza continues to push the boundaries of fusion cuisine in such dishes as peach-barbecued Rohan duck breast with mole negro or yucca-stuffed crispy shrimp with a sour orange mojo. The wine list is stellar and the doting service unmatched.
28. Capa Steakhouse
10100 Dream Tree Boulevard Orlando, FL 32836(407) 313-7777Visit Website
In a town teeming with high-end chophouses, a sexy Spanish steakhouse on the 17th floor of the Four Seasons Resort offers a more distinct take. The lofty locale makes a fine perch to enjoy a little Siberian sturgeon caviar or jamón ibérico de bellota prior to an indulgence of wagyu beef. Various tapas and raciones keep things interesting, while entrées like duck breast with almond spätzle, fruit and a foie emulsion impress as much as Peter Genetenaar’s ceiling-spanning art installation resembling a matador’s red flowing cape. Rabii Saber, one of the country’s best pastry chefs, ensures a worthy ending will be had.
Original source can be found here.