Exploring Orlando's Food Scene Like a Local

Author Kendra Lott shares her secrets to learning more about Central Florida's diverse culinary offerings

After living in both Upstate New York and New York City, Orlando native Kendra Lott decided to move her young family back to her hometown of Orlando. The biggest reason? Central Florida’s burgeoning food scene. Encouraged by blossoming farm to table trends and an artisan food movement, she decided to launch the quarterly magazine Edible Orlando to celebrate the chefs, farmers and restaurants that were putting Orlando on the culinary map. Recently, we sat down for a chat about her new book, “Unique Eats and Eateries of Orlando,” and asked her best advice for visitors looking for their next great meal. 

Cover of Unique Eats and Eateries of Orlando Book

Her Background: I moved to New York City right after graduating from college. In terms of food, even when I wasn’t working with it professionally, it was always something I was exploring for fun. At that time, I was working at Brooklyn Academy of Music and I coordinated a gala celebrating French cuisine by French chefs in New York. I was blown away by them. Here were people who worked far harder than I did, and seemed to love what they were doing.That really resonated with me. And that was about the same time that New York University launched their Masters in Food Studies program, which I pursued. I was among the first graduates.

Why Writing About Orlando’s Food Scene Was Important to Her: I think that we get short shrift. I still lived in New York for a year while I was planning to return and launch Edible Orlando magazine. I would talk to people and they asked, “Is there a food scene there?” and I would answer absolutely. I had done my due diligence. During family visits, we did recon. All the things we were enjoying in New York, like names of farms of menus, were just starting to take hold here. That was enough. I think it’s important to document both where that came from, as well as where it is. 

Kendra Lott

A Spot That’s Worth the Uber: I would say pick and area, and do a progressive dining experience. My first thought is Colonial Drive. Aaron [the book’s photographer] and I took our daughters and spent the day exploring the area, and we had so much fun. There are different ways to engage with Colonial. You can go out to Chinatown Plaza and try several things there. Ditto Mills/50. I think that makes it kind of adventurous and fun.

Black Bean Deli in Mills/50

Fantastic Food in the Tourism Corridor: Disney Springs has a wealth of choices, and I focused on the Florida-based chefs and businesses. If you’re not leaving the parks area, that’s a really good way to go local. You might not make it to Winter Park to visit the Ravenous Pig, but you can get a sense of it by going to The Polite Pig.  Or if you want to dabble in wine, head to Wine Bar George. I’m blown away by their one-ounce pours. You don’t have to spend $40 on a glass of wine, but you can get a really amazing ounce of wine, just to say that you did it. Disney Springs, in general, is amazing. Jaleo is such an opportunity to go and get authentic Spanish food. I mean, jamon. C’mon!

One of my greatest experiences after I moved back to Orlando was La Luce. I loved it for so many reasons. First, it was one of the quietest restaurants that I’d ever been to in that area. My daughter, a picky eater at the time, had a tomato and eggplant soup, and she loved it. It was the sort of place where the adults could have a great meal, and the children could sort of rise to the occasion. The menu was approachable, but just original enough to keep it interesting, and there was a lot of love for local ingredients.

La Luce

One Night in Orlando: I absolutely love Ararat. Depending on your cultural heritage, some aspect of the menu will probably resonate. I think cabbage is like the lingua franca of all cuisines. It’s hearty, it’s cheap, it’s delicious. You can do 5 million things with it. And at Ararat, it’s in a cabbage roll, along with delicious stuffed dumplings. And I’m really enamored with the hearty salads there. None of these things are things you haven’t had, but they’re in combinations that you probably haven’t experienced. And it’s simple and good, and it’s not big. People are warm and friendly and happy to explain things, and you can see the ICON Wheel from there.

Best Sweets for Treats: I do think desserts should be either indulgent or fun—ideally, both. And not necessarily Instagrammable. To begin, go to P is for Pie in Audubon Park. Every single thing is delicious there. Also, I think cheese is a great dessert, and Tonda at Femme du Fromage does a great job of educating people and making recommendations based upon likes.

P is for Pie

On What Would Surprise Visitors to Learn About Orlando: That Florida is the South. There is a lot of southern tradition here, culinarily speaking. And I think it is reflected in the generosity of our food, and the kinds of ingredients that we use. On the other hand, we’re far more international than most people realize. So we get great southern ingredients and amazing international flavors. I mean, how lucky are we?

Brooke Fehr
About the author

As group editor for WhereTraveler publications in Orlando, Daytona Beach, Tampa and So...