Orlando is no longer the ‘chain capital’ of the world, it has grown into a serious dining destination | New Arrivals Guide | Orlando

Orlando has been a place long before the restaurant’s reputation itself. If you visited the “chain capital of the world” in the ’80s, ’90s, and early 2000s, chances are you’ve indulged in Ponderosa buffets, dipped in Bob Evans’ peanut butter pie or gone to town on chicken-fried chicken in black-eyed peas. Olive garden and red lobster? Both were born here in Central Florida. But over the past 20 years, Orlando hasn’t freed itself from the shackles of the “Chain Capital” label, it has reformed and reshaped its culinary image.

Disney, of course, had something to do with it. To this day, Mouse continues to roar, attracting newcomers and residents alike to high-end gastronomy strongholds such as Victoria and Albert’s, Citricos, and Jiko. Nearby, Disney Springs has been transformed into an Olympic village with restaurants run by celebrity chefs, Gallio (José Andres), Morimoto Asia (Masaharu Morimoto), Frontera Cucina (Rick Bayless), Chef Art Smith Homecomen, and Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill & Chicken Young! (Guy Fieri) They’re all vying for tourism dollars.

Most importantly, all of this corporate investment has benefited Orlando’s independent restaurant industry. Sponsored by media conglomerates and hospitality giants, local chefs have opened their own establishments, and the city’s restaurant scene has changed for the better.

Drive around Mills 50, which is arguably the most diverse neighborhood in Orlando, and the change is noticeable. Established Vietnamese restaurants such as Pho Vinh, Pho Hoa, Pho 88, Nha Trang Subs, and Anh Hong are now sitting next to a new generation of restaurants such as Z Asian, GA 2 To and Paris Banh Mi. A slew of Asian restaurants have opened in Hood as well, serving Malaysian (Mamak, Hawkers), Laotian (Sticky Rice), Chinese (Chuan Lu, Ming’s Bistro, Tasty Wok, King Bao), Japanese (Tori Tori) and Korean fare. (Shin Jung, Bb.q Chicken). But East meets West at 50 Mills, with Strand, Black Rooster Takeria, Taco China, Deli’s Deli’s and Pig Floyd’s Urban Barbakoa being mainstays. In many ways, Mills 50 is the new face of Orlando restaurant, and the city is gaining ground in a new rep as a culinary force with its wildly diverse cuisine. The common denominator between them all is a very relaxed atmosphere – nothing stifling is allowed.

In Audubon Park, East End Market presents a microcosm of this variety at both its food stalls and at Domu, a ramen-ya that anchors a popular food hub. Close by, on Winter Park Drive, Omakase House Cadens has established itself as one of the city’s finest restaurants. Like Michelin-starred Kadence, Kabuki Sushi in Colonialtown, Seto Sushi in Baldwin Park, Sōseki in Winter Park, and Sushipop in Oviedo and Winter Park occupy the area’s upper levels of restaurants, attracting beautiful people who crave beautiful chunks of fish. In fact, Orlando is brimming with fine sushi options, from high-end to casual, in just about every neighborhood.

Winter Park is also home to the Ravenous Pig, the gastropub that put Orlando on the culinary map and paved the way for other chef-run boats focused on local sources to follow – Luke’s Kitchen in Maitland and Osprey in Baldwin Park, 1921 Mount Dora, until Maxine’s eclectic film in Shine in Colonialtown, to name a few. But Park Avenue is home to Winter Park’s largest concentration of restaurants, many of which tout the stature of their brick-and-mortar locations. Prato, Tabla, Financier Bistro and Ava Mediterraneo add a lively dining scene along Qixi Road. If you’re looking to impress a buddy while you’re out of Turistan – the luxurious dining rooms of big resort hotels and the corporate-backed chubby cats along West Sand Lake Road on Dr. Phillips – Park Ave is the place to be.

To be fair, both West Sand Lake Road hosts in Dr.

OK with the drive? There is no shortage of international flavors along West Colonial Drive and the South Orange Blossom Trail. Both are pretty spoiled strips, but great meals can be had nonetheless. The Taste of Chengdu offers some of the best Sichuan cuisine in the state, while Orlando’s Chinatown, in the far west, has many Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean restaurants. Same goes for OBT: The tacos and tortillas at Tortas El Rey are well worth the long wait in the driving lane; A few blocks south, Moroccan, Southern and Pakistani dishes await inside Abna Bazaar; And Bombay Street Kitchen highlights street fare in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore and beyond.

In this city, high-end hotels offer their fair share of dining destinations, too. The Spanish-influenced Capa Steakhouse and Northern Italian-inspired Ravello at the Four Seasons Resort are venues for special occasions, as are the Four Flamingo at Hyatt Regency, Pull and Bear at Waldorf Astoria, and Hamilton’s Kitchen at Alfond Inn, Primo within the JW Marriott Grand Lakes & Knife and Spoon at the Ritz-Carlton.

The Ritz is also home to the Knife Burger, serving one of the best burgers in town (Ozersky). It costs $17, but there’s an equally satisfying version (and a spiced South Asian version) that can be just a few miles away at Charcoal Zyka for half the price. Of course, traditional homesteads like Swine & Sons and Orlando Meats in Winter Park grill their own signature burgers. Hunger Street Tacos, Quesa Loco, Pizza Bruno, SoDough Square, Ziggie’s Pizza and Lazy Moon Pizza are mobile game connoisseurs as well.

Not to mention the old restaurants in Orlando that would be detrimental to any newcomer. Nikki Bliss has provided meat and triples to the Paramore community for nearly 75 years through social and economic turmoil. Linda La Cantina, Lee & Rick’s Oyster Bar, Beefy King, and Lam’s Garden are notable for their survival skills as well as their historical connections to the city.

The restaurant mix may seem like a lot for a modern transplant, but it creates a mouth-watering variety for food geeks—a mosaic that stretches beyond the heart of the city and into the remote communities of Kissimmee, Winter Garden, Longwood, Lake Mary, Sanford and eastern Orlando. Consider this a snapshot or photo of the city’s restaurant scene… hopefully one worth a thousand words.

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