Eleven great places to eat and drink equally well 

click to enlarge Highball & Harvest

Rob Bartlett

Highball & Harvest

As we bask in the glow of our city's culinary renaissance, it's inevitable that more and more restaurants muscle their way into the limelight. This was a year when high-end resorts raised their game to match – and in some cases surpass – our lofty gastronomic expectations. Cocktails and craft brews became a necessary offering to stave off the dreaded fate of quick closure that plagues every restaurant owner's nightmares, while wine programs are increasingly recognized as being as important as food menus. It was a stellar year, and one that we as a food-centric city should take pride in. So here, in order, are 2014's best places to eat and drink in Orlando.

1. Ravello/Capa

If you really want to eat and drink equally well in this city, it wouldn't hurt you to pop into the Four Seasons and sample the fare coming from these two restaurants. The modern-yet-rustic Med-Italio Ravello has a sleek and spacious bar upstairs serving up creative, albeit pricey, cocktails. Connoisseurs will appreciate sipping on wee drams of Macallan 25 or a barolo offered by the glass. At Basque-inspired Capa, the resort's stunning rooftop steakhouse, guests can sample traditional tapas and raciones as well as grilled cuts like a 40-day dry-aged prime bone-in ribeye. The bar pours a steady stream of Spanish favorites like gin-tonics and almond sours, best enjoyed outside on the terrace.

2. Soco Thornton Park

Greg's Richie's stylish Southern boîte made our list of the top tables of 2014, but Soco's impressive beverage program sets the bar high in Thornton Park. House cocktails like the Royal Palm and the White Julep further underscore the restaurant's commitment to deluxe Dixie dining and drinking.

3. Highball & Harvest

Inside the Ritz-Carlton's down-to-earth farm-to-table resto, libations are treated as seriously as the food coming out of chef Mark Jeffers' kitchen. Drinks infused with seasonal fruits and herbs are at once creative, stiff and delectably gratifying. A focused selection of craft beers highlights the best from Florida and the Deep South.

4. American Q

It's a welcome concept: good ol' fashioned barbecue served in Brazilian rodizio style. What sets Jeffrey Chodorow's American Q apart from the others, however, is its experienced bartenders. They're as adept at mixing signature drinks like the intriguing Dragonfruit Smash as they are with cocktails of the bespoke variety.

5. Wine Barn

Sure, this Fairbanks Avenue wine shop lures in-the-know oenophiles for their great selection of vintages, but when they fired up two wood-burning ovens earlier this year, gastronomes got in on the action too. In addition to properly blistered pizzas, exotically spiced chicken wings and Angus meatballs draw praise.

6. The Courtesy Bar

Inside the intimate confines of this atmospheric downtown spot, cocktails for the connoisseur undoubtedly rule, but aside from serving some of the finest intoxicants in town, the Courtesy also serves a "Bar-B-Q Brunch" on Sundays courtesy of Yellow Dog Eats. (Best of all, it's on the house.) In addition, monthly "pop-ups" at K Restaurant ensure a proper mix of top-notch eats and potent potables.

7. American Gymkhana

Recently opened by the same folks who run Michelin-starred Junoon in New York City, American Gymkhana's fare is expectedly, thanks to Mumbai-born and Junoon-trained chef Aarthi Sampath, several notches above the space's predecessor, Raga. A sommelier patrols the room, while cocktails crafted by Junoon's award-winning mixologist Hemant Pathak guarantee luxe and liver-testing libations will be had.

8. Txokos Basque Kitchen

Henry Salgado's much-lauded Basque grill also made our top tables of 2014 list, but recognition is deserved for Txokos' exemplary selection of Spanish beers, ciders and wines as well. A dedicated gin-tonic menu keeps the highball cocktail crowd pleasantly piqued.

9. The Porch

OK, so the food isn't fussy or highfalutin, but when you want to watch the game while enjoying a decent burger (the meat is brought in from the Meat House next door) along with a seasonal draft, the Porch in Winter Park does a fine job of satisfying all three cravings. Cocktails and wells help celebrate your team's win, or help soften your sorrows if they don't.

10. RusTeak at College Park

This Orlando gastropub brings the same level of dedication to food and drink as its sister resto in Ocoee – hardly surprising, given they're owned and operated by two CIA graduates. As far as their beverage program is concerned, the numbers don't lie: Guests can choose from 150 wines, 45 craft beers and 12 signature cocktails.

Honorable Mention: Extract Juice & Tapas Bar

No, the drinks here aren't of the alcoholic variety, but we all need an invigorating and wholesome elixir to set us straight from time to time, and Extract is just the place for it. A full tapas menu features intriguing items (chicken-salad-stuffed cucumbers topped with walnuts and red grapes) that complement a healthy selection of generously poured juices, smoothies and tonics. If you must imbibe, they do serve house-made sangria, along with a small but interesting selection of wine and beer.

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