Since Orlando is home to massive theme parks and a host of other kid-friendly attractions, some foodies keep away–not realising that the city has an extraordinary dining scene. The reality is that this Central Florida region has plenty of hidden gems, though many of the top restaurants aren’t always found in travel brochures. Put away the coupon book, take off your mouse ears, and dive into one of these Orlando foodie favourites:
Squeal with Delight at the Ravenous Pig
For most foodies, the best restaurants have all of the following attributes: local ingredients, seasonal menus, and prices that can still fit into the budget. At The Ravenous Pig–located in Orlando’s Winter Park District–you’ll get all that plus some pretty amazing bacon. Run by chefs and owners James and Julie Petrakis, The Ravenous Pig has made a name for itself by upgrading the traditional Southern classics and using Floridian ingredients whenever possible. Top picks on the menu include the gulf shrimp and grits, followed by the strawberry-rhubarb crisp with its fresh fruit from nearby Plant City. The only problem with dining at The Ravenous Pig is that you’ll want to hog all the food!
Can You Handle the Heat at 4 Rivers?
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the chefs at 4 Rivers are fired up. Each week, the cooks smoke up to 6,800 kg of meat! Serving up Texas-style barbecue, the 4 Rivers Smokehouse has two locations, although purists may want to stick to the original mechanic-shop-turned-restaurant location in Winter Park. On the menu you’ll find Angus brisket, pulled chicken, spicy sausages, ribs, and smoked chicken wings. Plus, you can walk right next door to the attached Sweet Shop and pick up a cupcake or a milkshake for dessert. Where there is smoke, there’s fire. Where there is a 4 Rivers Smokehouse, be prepared to line up in the heat thanks to their incredible popularity!
Turkish Delight at the Bosphorous
You might not think that Turkish food is what Florida’s dining scene is best known for, but many Turkish immigrants have flocked to the sand and sea, making the Sunshine State home to a number of Istanbul-inspired eateries. One of the best is the Bosphorous Restaurant, an eatery that only uses local ingredients. Try popular menu items like sautéed eggplant in a homemade tomato sauce, stuffed grape leaves, spiced chicken meatballs, or grilled lamb kebabs. Of course, no meal would be complete without a piece of the delicious pistachio baklava. This traditional pastry is so tasty, it would be impossible to give up cold turkey!
A Pointless Dining Experience at the Rusty Spoon
A spoon may be a “pointless” utensil, but a meal at the Rusty Spoon is anything but! A European-style gastropub, the Rusty Spoon has a downtown Orlando location but a countryside-inspired menu. The emphasis is on farm-to-table cooking, which means that most ingredients come from within a 160-km radius of the kitchen. Whether you happen to be dining for lunch or dinner, make room for one of their specialty cocktails featuring unusual ingredients like pink sea salt or sweet rhubarb syrup. Then, try out favourites like the butter-poached wild clams, whole roasted chickens served with a green tomato jam, or a slightly boozy grown-up s’more for dessert. This gastropub is a recent addition to Orlando’s dining scene, but the chefs are anything but rusty in the kitchen!
The Wurst Food at Willow Tree Cafe
If you have a hankering for all things German, don’t miss the Willow Tree Cafe. This is one of those places where fiercely loyal regulars come back year after year. Lunch and dinner is always an occasion in this eatery run by German immigrants, and on Friday and Saturday nights an authentic German band creates a festive atmosphere. You never sausage a sight: tubas, horns, giant pretzels made for a dozen people, and even glass boots filled with pints of beer.
Orlando is a lot more than just a place to stand in line for mouse-themed rides, or buy expensive souvenirs. Skip the tourist attraction “don’ts” and head straight for the “Orlan-dos” like the Rusty Spoon, 4 Rivers Smokehouse, and The Ravenous Pig.
What are your favourite foodie hidden gems in Orlando?