These restaurants raise the gastronomic bar and broaden Orlando's culinary landscape.
The Smiling Bison
Let the slightly shabby exterior of this no-frills eatery dissuade you and you’ll miss out on some of the city’s most progressive plates. Located about a mile from Fashion Square Mall, the space was once a craft beer parlor, and while owners Josh Oakley and Ron Thomas pay homage to its past through a bounteous beer list, the kitchen is the new focal point and the genesis of a locally sourced and carnivorously centric menu that’s always changing based on Oakley’s creative impulses. Local bands take to the stage most nights, and local art gives the chocolate-brown walls a vibrancy that lends itself well to savory lunch and dinner plates, like the Bison Carpaccio and the Duck Lovers pizza.
Orlando’s Mills 50 District, a quirky collection of one-off boutiques, grunge bars and independent eateries just north of downtown proper, is the perfect home for this laid-back and retro-esque, diner-meets-bistro concept. Boasting made-from-scratch comfort food bolstered by seasonal fare, the menu doesn’t veer too far from mealtime favorites like burgers, fried chicken and fish ’n’ chips, but chefs add their own culinary caprice to each dish. A nice selection of craft beers and uncommon wines, as well as a handful of tasty desserts, complement the lunch and dinner fare nicely.
Txokos Basque Kitchen
With a nod to the gastronomic societies designed to celebrate the cuisine and culture of Spain’s Basque region, Chef Henry Salgado unfurls a menu of meaty small plates (pintxos) and entrées (platos) that are matchless in Orlando’s dining scene. Navigating the unfamiliar fare can be intimidating, so rely on the recommendations of servers and don’t be afraid to order adventurously. Case in point, the Pulpo De Gallego, a gargantuan cut of grilled octopus, might be passed over hesitantly but it’s one of the menu’s standouts and a shining example of Chef Salgado’s intrepid style.
The chic aesthetic and haughty fare mean you’ll want to forgo the typical jeans and a T-shirt attire at this stylish seafood and steak haunt located along Dr. Phillips’ beloved Restaurant Row. From lofty seafood towers and a dozen fresh catch selections to tender cuts of USDA Prime steaks, Eddie V’s wows with outstandingly attentive service, a novel-esque wine list and nightly live jazz music, which floats through the lakeside locale from the restaurant’s swanky V Lounge. On cool nights, the fire-pit tables overlooking Little Sand Lake are the perfect spot to enjoy a cocktail—and maybe even a serving of Eddie V’s delectable flaming Bananas Foster.
With startling consensus, this Colonial Drive restaurant has risen to the top of Orlando’s list of best sushi spots. While its strip mall digs might indicate otherwise, the small but upscale dining room is quite striking with its white, cushioned booths, black tabletops and round, rattan chandeliers. At its head, a bar with a few chairs overlooks the kitchen where chef and owner Henry Moso blends flavors from many Asian cuisines—including some from his homeland, Laos—to create fusion fare praised for pushing the boundaries of standard sashimi and sushi roll offerings. While the dessert menu in most sushi restaurants is usually unremarkable, that’s not the case here thanks to the artful whimsy of Kabooki’s pastry chef who delivers a sweet finish with made-from-scratch masterpieces like the Drunkey Monkey, a banana bread pudding slathered in bourbon sabayon sauce and accompanied by house-made, banana-bread beer ice cream.