Orlando Dining That's Worth the Drive

Central Florida boasts an incredible array of restaurants off the tourists' beaten path. We share some of our favorites.

Sure, you know the big restaurants within the attractions and along International Drive, the spots that are frequented by visitors, with nary a local to be found. But you might be asking: are there restaurants in Orlando worth the Uber ride? You bet. We share some picks for destination dining, spots that are worth venturing outside of the tourism corridor to experience. All of our picks also offer vegetarian options.

Reyes Mezcaleria. The chic décor in the spacious Reyes Mezcaleria dining room is a first indication that Mexican cuisine receives thoughtful preparation and presentation throughout the bar and food menu. Always on my list to order is the Veracruz Snapper, featuring line caught snapper topped with roasted tomatoes, olives, and capers. Belly up to the bar for a premium selection of tequila, mezcal, and crafted cocktails. Don’t miss this delicious brunch, offered on both Saturday and Sunday. 

Food and Drink at Reyes Mezcaleria in Orlando Florida

DoveCote. Find the French-inspired brasserie experience in the heart of downtown Orlando. Think of DoveCote for a romantic dinner, a power lunch or a lingering, rosé-all-day Sunday brunch. There is an inspired craft cocktail program along with a comprehensive craft beer list and extensive wine list. The DoveCote happy hour is a must visit for uniquely crafted cocktails and gourmet bites, including freshly shucked oysters. Topping my list for dinner: the Steak-Frites, available with either hanger steak or a New York strip, or the succulent Braised Beef Short Rib. 

Cocktail at Dovecote Orlando

The Tennessee Truffle. Chef Nat Russell has been causing a stir since opening his pop-up restaurant turned full-time restaurant in the historic district of downtown Sanford. Grab a quick breakfast or lunch on house-made biscuits, or make reservations to settle in for his refined execution on Southern supper. The dinner menu focuses on seasonally fresh ingredients and highlights produce and livestock from area farms along with local, sustainable seafood. Finish your meal with a Chocolate Gravy Biscuit. Better yet, try my favorite, the Popcorn Brûlée: a trio that is a dessert play on buttery popcorn and includes crème brûlée, spiced popcorn powder, and buttered popcorn ice cream.

Soco Restaurant. Chef Greg Richie creates elevated, contemporary Southern cuisine in historic Thornton Park located in the heart of downtown Orlando. For a starter, I recommend the Slow-Roasted Barbecue-Glazed Pork Belly Biscuits with jalapeño jelly and chow-chow which are magical. The scratch made biscuits are tender and buttery, and reason enough to keep Soco at the top of your list. The Chicken-fried Cauliflower “Steak” with tomato gravy is a wonderful example of Chef Richie’s ability to present a taste of the South with a refreshed, modern spin. Enjoy a leisurely weekend brunch where Soco will tempt you with delightful brunch cocktails and entrees. The Lobster Eggs Benedict with Benton’s country ham on biscuits is a show stopper! 

Biscuits at Soco Restaurant in Orlando

K Restaurant. It is time to discover, or rediscover, K Restaurant in the charming neighborhood of College Park. New owner and Executive Chef Chad Phelps brings a refreshed vision to the critically acclaimed restaurant with a full bar and craft cocktail program, expanded private dining, and weekly Sunday brunch. The seasonally-driven menu is constantly changing, but in the past, we've enjoyed Fried Green Tomato with roasted corn and crab salad, one of my favorite way to start. A new favorite of mine is the herbed deviled eggs topped with savory tomato jam and lardons. For dinner, try the 1855 New York strip or the chef’s featured fish, which is locally sourced. Save room for dessert as expertly prepared cakes, cobblers and ice creams are a decadent finale to your meal.

Domu. Ramen lovers regularly flock to Domu in East End Market. Arrive early to get your name on the list for dining, as reservations are not accepted. Fans of the popular eatery will rejoice as Domu is opening a second Orlando location off Sand Lake Road in summer 2019. Tuck into the artfully composed bowls of ramen with hand-pulled noodles which are made in-house. The ramen broths range from traditional tonkotsu, a rich pork bone broth, to Miso Shoyu, a flavorful vegan shio broth. Before ordering ramen, start with the Domu Wings- crispy and juicy chicken wings coated in a luscious Kimchi flavored butter sauce. Cocktails are crafted with precision and nicely balanced. Two of my favorites include the Toki Old Fashioned made with Suntory Toki Japanese whiskey and the Smoked Old Fashioned made with Mars Iwai Japanese whiskey. 

Ramen at Domu Orlando

Kabooki Sushi. Orlando offers many casual and fine dining options for delicious sushi and Japanese cuisine. Topping my list is Kabooki Sushi. Cold or cooked, Chef Henry Moso and his team regularly dazzle with their expansive menu and chef’s daily creations. The compact restaurant is regularly at capacity; reservations are a must or expect a wait. Start your meal with a chef’s crudo, made with a rotating selection of fresh fish and seasonal ingredients, which will delight your taste buds. The blistered shishito peppers are bathed in an addictive umami soy emulsion, a mouth-watering cooked starter. From there, order any of the maki rolls or nigiri for an elevated sushi experience. I highly recommend the Chef’s Omakase, a chef’s creation coursed meal, which is available with a three-day advanced reservation. 

Hemingway's. On your brief stroll through the lushly landscaped property to the airy restaurant, your mood will be transformed to island time. The main dining room offers expansive views of the tropical resort property, including pools and waterfalls. Order Hemingway’s favorite cocktail, the Papa Doble, made with white rum and fresh fruit juices. For dinner, consider the Cayo Hueso Crab Cakes made with all lump blue crab meat, served on top of local sweet corn coconut grits. The menu offers a delicious variety of entrees including fish, seafood, duck, chicken, and steak, which means there is something for everyone. An authentic Key Lime Tart for dessert is a nice finish to your brief Key West escape, located steps from the Orlando attractions. 

Crabcakes at Hemingway's in Orlando

Canvas Restaurant and Market. Canvas located in Lake Nona offers lakeside dining in a hip, contemporary atmosphere. Chef Jason Bergeron presents an inventive menu with a Southern and Latin flair, both reflective of the Orlando community.  Expect seasonal and local ingredients throughout the menu showcased in flatbreads, small plates, salads, and entrees. Dine with friends over tapas-style small plates or plan a quiet meal over a salad and entrée while enjoying the beautiful lakeside view. From the small plates menu, you should try the sherry braised, charred octopus, the habanero chicken wings, or the house salad of heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers and feta on romaine. Make time (and reservations) for Sunday brunch; it is a crowd pleaser!

 

Lisa Wilk
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