Needless to say, we have quite a few friends and family visit Orlando every year. People know that Tammy and I enjoy finding places to eat in areas of Orlando that are far, far away from the tourist attractions. (We also love a number of places in and around the tourist attractions, but that’s another post for another time.) Orlando has come a long way since being a tourist mecca of chain restaurants like Chili’s, Olive Garden, and T.G.I. Fridays.
Today Orlando boasts its own James Beard semi-finalists. Our city also has quaint areas filled with nice shops, eateries, and walking areas. If you come to Orlando and spend all of your time at Disney or Universal, you’re really missing part of the charm of our city. And if you leave here having only eaten at a chain restaurant you have missed some culinary delights.
So here are five places you won’t want to miss if you ever find yourself in Orlando:
- Prato This may just be our favorite place to eat not only in Orlando, but almost anywhere. Prato is a modern, Italian, farm-to-table restaurant. A rectangular bar sits right in the middle of the room. The reclaimed wood walls are covered with simple art and green plants. But it’s the food that’s the star. Some of the best pasta I’ve ever eaten has come out of this kitchen. The Campagna Salad is not to be missed. And don’t pass over the appetizer meatballs to start your meal. The fact that this restaurant is on swanky Park Avenue in Winter Park makes for fabulous people watching, as well.
- Armando’s Many of our family’s recent significant events have taken place at this other Winter Park Italian eatery. Our daughter and son-in-law’s rehearsal dinner for their wedding was here. We first met our son’s (now) fiancé here. After they got engaged we celebrated at Armando’s. This also happens to be my wife, Tammy’s, “happy place.” This corner restaurant has outdoor seating that perfectly fits our pleasant Florida evenings. The food is Italian “comfort food.” There are pizzas and pastas, as well as chicken, steak, and seafood entrees. We have never had a bad meal here. If you want a great place for an Orlando date night this is it.
- Osprey Tavern Baldwin Park is the site of a former Naval Training Center that has now been transformed into housing and retail development. Right in the middle of this development is a nice downtown where Osprey Tavern recently opened. They have a fantastic happy hour that includes some of their spectacular food at ridiculously low prices. The food is unique and innovative. Though some of the menu is a bit pricey, you can have a fantastic grilled peach pizza for $16. If I owned a restaurant I would want the interior to look just like this place.
- Canvas Out in the burgeoning eastern suburb of Lake Nona is this brand new, modern looking restaurant with an open kitchen and outdoor dining on a beautiful lake. As you sit there you can watch the jets landing at nearby Orlando International Airport. The menu is very limited, but in this case it means most anything you order is prepared well and watched over closely by the chef. Here you can have one of the best burgers in Orlando made of short rib and brisket. I have also, on occasion, enjoyed a perfectly done pork chop topped with mushroom ragu.
- Rocco’s Tacos I’m cheating a little bit on this one because it encroaches on the tourist side of town. Rocco’s sits on Orlando’s Restaurant Row (Sand Lake Road) and has a hyperactive atmosphere. But the opportunity to eat delicious Mexican food sitting on another one of Orlando’s gorgeous lakes is an opportunity I cannot pass by very often. If you go here, don’t miss the guacamole made right at your table side. You might want to avoid this place at prime time on Friday or Saturday night, or you’ll be waiting a long time. Be sure to request an outside table. You’ll be glad you did.
What’s your favorite place to eat in your home town?