Best Of 2006


A bar with grit

Soldiers, be brave. Reinforcements are here. The Sisyphean task of keeping central Orlando from turning into an enormous condominium complex has found another ally. The stylish schizophrenia of Mills Avenue is ripe for yuppification, and word of a new bar on the strip sent $12-martini chills down the spines of many. Heroically defying the gentrification trend, Uncle Lou's Entertainment Hall has relocated from its original East Michigan Street location to bring the friendly and inviting atmosphere that comes naturally with tall cans of Schlitz Malt Liquor. The welcoming sight of the proprietor's gold-toothed grill and his relaxed Jamaican patois is a comforting complement to the Janet Jackson posters on the wall, the booming music on the stereo and the occasional live band. Uncle Lou's: a bar for the rest of us.

(Uncle Lou's Entertainment Hall, 1016 N. Mills Ave., Orlando; 407-898-0009)

It's a crock

Serving its constituency, the Jr Food Store is a friendly corner shop in the urban dregs of Parramore that features a fragrant specialty bubbling in a Crock-Pot: boiled peanuts. Mind you, these are not the plain old salty 'nuts found by the side of the road as you make your way north to the land of fried mullet (Tallahassee). This finely spiced infusion swims in a peppery juice that leaves a satisfying burn — or blister, if you overdo it — on the lips. The legume resting inside could be mistaken for a perfectly cooked red bean, were one to be mushed in the mouth while blindfolded. But keep those eyes open when visiting here to trade your buck for a cupful. It is Parramore, after all.

(Jr Food Store, 503 1/2 W. South St., Orlando; 407-648-4410)


Best happy hour

1st — Chili’s

(multiple locations;

2nd — Antigua

(41 W. Church St., Orlando; 407-649-4270;

3rd, tie:

Redlight Redlight

(535 W. New England Ave., Winter Park; 407-539-1711;

Big Daddy’s Roadhouse

(3001 Corrine Drive, Orlando; 407-644-2844;

Best dive bar

1st — Wally’s — Mills Avenue Liquors

(1001 N. Mills Ave., Orlando; 407-896-6975)

2nd — Will’s Pub

(1850 N. Mills Ave., Orlando; 407-898-5070;

3rd — Bar-BQ-Bar

(64 N. Orange Ave., Orlando; 407-648-5441)

Best sports bar

1st — Orlando Ale House

(multiple locations;

2nd — Sportstown Billiards

(2414 E. Robinson St., Orlando; 407-894-6258;

3rd — Friendly Confines

(435 N. Alafaya Trail, Orlando; 407-736-9182;

Best gay/lesbian bar

1st — Southern Nights

(375 S. Bumby Ave., Orlando; 407-898-0424;

2nd — The Parliament House

(410 N. Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando; 407-425-7571;

3rd — Pulse

(1912 S. Orange Ave., Orlando; 407-649-3888;

Best pub

1st — Will’s Pub

(1850 N. Mills Ave., Orlando; 407-898-5070;

2nd — Fiddler’s Green

(544 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park; 407-645-2050;

3rd — Copper Rocket Pub

(106 Lake Ave., Maitland; 407-645-0069;

Best breakfast/brunch

1st — First Watch

(multiple locations;

2nd — Dexter’s

(multiple locations;

3rd — Gleason’s Grille

(4270 Aloma Ave., Winter Park; 407-673-2342;

Best late night restaurant

1st — Denny’s

(multiple locations;

2nd — Steak ’n Shake

(multiple locations;

3rd — IHOP

(multiple locations;

Best doughnuts

1st — Krispy Kreme

(multiple locations;

2nd — Dunkin’ Donuts

(multiple locations;

3rd — Hotties

(8580 Palm Parkway, Orlando; 407-662-0430;

Best bakery

1st — Charlie’s Gourmet Pastries

(3213 Curry Ford Road, Orlando; 407-898-9561;

2nd — Publix

(multiple locations;

3rd — Panera Bread

(multiple locations;

Best ice cream shop

1st — Cold Stone Creamery

(multiple locations;

2nd — Marble Slab Creamery

(multiple locations;

3rd — il Gelatone

(8 N. Summerlin Ave., Orlando; 407-839-8825;

Best sub shop

1st — Firehouse Subs

(multiple locations;

2nd — Publix

(multiple locations;

3rd — Subway

(multiple locations;

Best coffeehouse

1st — Austins Coffee

(929 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park; 407-975-3364;

2nd — Starbucks

(multiple locations;

3rd — Stardust Video & Coffee

(1842 E. Winter Park Road, Orlando; 407-623-3393)

Best smoothies

1st — Planet Smoothie

(multiple locations;

2nd — Power House Café

(111 E. Lyman Ave., Winter Park; 407-645-3616;

3rd — Tropical Smoothie Café

(multiple locations;

Best barbecue

1st — Bubbalou’s Bodacious Bar-B-Que

(multiple locations;

2nd — Sonny’s Bar-B-Q

(multiple locations;

3rd — O’Boys Real Smoked Bar-B-Q

(multiple locations;

Best burger

1st — Johnny’s Fillin’ Station

(2631 S. Ferncreek Ave., Orlando; 407-894-6900;

2nd — Back Yard Burgers

(multiple locations;

3rd — Houston’s

(215 S. Orlando Ave., Winter Park; 407-740-4005;

Best Caribbean

1st — Bahama Breeze

(multiple locations;

2nd — Caribbean Sunshine Bakery

(multiple locations; www.caribbeansunshine

3rd — Calypso Grille

(1891 W. State Road 434, Longwood; 407-332-0176)

Best Chinese

1st — P.F. Chang’s China Bistro

(Mall at Millenia, 4200 Conroy Road, Orlando, 407-345-2888; Winter Park Village, 436 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park, 407-622-0188;

2nd — Garden Café

(810 W. Colonial Drive, Orlando; 407-999-9799)

3rd — Pei Wei Asian Diner

(3011 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando; 407-563-8777;

Best Cuban/Puerto Rican

1st — Black Bean Deli

(325 S. Orlando Ave., Winter Park; 407-628-0294)

2nd — Rolando’s Cuban Restaurant

(870 Semoran Blvd., Casselberry; 407-767-9677)

3rd, tie:

Don Pepe’s Cuban Café

(937 W. State Road 436, Altamonte Springs; 407-682-6834;

Don Pepe’s Habana Grill

(2516 Aloma Ave., Winter Park; 407-678-7001;

Numero Uno Restaurant

(2499 S. Orange Ave., Orlando; 407-841-3840)

Best diner

1st — Rogers Diner

(out of business)

2nd — 5 & Diner

(12286 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando; 407-207-1952;

3rd — Brian’s Restaurant

(1409 N. Orange Ave., Orlando; 407-896-9912)

Best French

1st — Le Coq Au Vin

(4800 S. Orange Ave., Orlando; 407-851-6980;

2nd — Chez Vincent

(533 W. New England Ave., Winter Park; 407-599-2929;

3rd — Maison & Jardin

(430 S. Wymore Road, Altamonte Springs; 407-862-4410;

Best Greek

1st — The Greek Corner

(1600 N. Orange Ave., Orlando; 407-228-0303)

2nd — Cypriana Restaurant

(505 Semoran Blvd., Casselberry; 407-834-8088)

3rd, tie:

Athena Café

(1140 E. Altamonte Drive, Altamonte Springs; 407-830-0707)

Olympia Restaurant

(8505 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando; 407-273-7836)

Greek Flame Taverna

(1560 N. Semoran Blvd., Winter Park; 407-678-2388)

Best Indian

1st — Woodlands

(6040 S. Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando; 407-854-3330;

2nd — Memories of India

(7625 Turkey Lake Road, Orlando; 407-370-3277)

3rd — Clay Oven

(1275 Highway 17-92, Longwood; 407-696-7775)

Best Italian

1st — Bravissimo

(337 N. Shine Ave., Orlando; 407-898-7333)

2nd, tie:

Il Pescatore

(651 N. Primrose Drive, Orlando; 407-896-6763)


(multiple locations;

3rd — Olive Garden

(multiple locations;

Best pizza

1st — Anthony’s Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant

(100 N. Summerlin Ave., Orlando; 407-648-0009;

2nd — N.Y.P.D. Pizza & Delicatessen

(multiple locations;

3rd — Alfonso’s Pizza

(3231 Edgewater Drive, Orlando; 407-872-7324)

Best sushi

1st — Amura

(55 W. Church St., Orlando, 407-316-8500; 7786 W. Sand Lake Road, Orlando, 407-370-0007)

2nd — Fuji Sushi

(multiple locations; 407-645-1299)

3rd — Seito Sushi

(510 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park; 407-644-5050;

Best Mexican

1st — Tijuana Flats Burrito Company

(multiple locations;

2nd — Garibaldi’s Mexican Restaurant

(929 N. Semoran Blvd., Orlando; 407-275-5035)

3rd — Amigo’s Original Tex Mex

(multiple locations)

Best Middle Eastern

1st — Tony’s Deli

(1323 N. Mills Ave., Orlando; 407-898-6689)

2nd — Cedar’s Restaurant

(7732 W. Sand Lake Road; Orlando; 407-351-6000;

3rd — Ali Baba

(1155 W. State Road 434, Longwood; 407-331-8680;

Best steakhouse

1st —Charley’s Steak House

(multiple locations;

2nd — Del Frisco’s

(729 Lee Road, Orlando; 407-645-4443;

3rd, tie:

Outback Steakhouse

(multiple locations;

Ruth’s Chris Steak House

(7501 Sand Lake Road, Orlando, 407-226-3900; Winter Park Village, 610 N. Orlando Ave, Winter Park; 407-622-2444;

Best Southern/soul food

1st —Johnson’s Diner

(595 W. Church St., Orlando; 407-841-0717)

2nd — Uncle Jones Bar-B-Que

(1370 E. Altamonte Drive, Altamonte Springs; 407-260-2425)

3rd, tie:

Cracker Barrel

(multiple locations;

House of Blues

(Downtown Disney West Side, Lake Buena Vista; 407-934-2583;

Best Spanish

1st — Olé Olé International Cuisine

(601 S. New York Ave., Winter Park; 407-673-1653;

2nd — Columbia Restaurant

(649 Front St., Celebration; 407-566-1505;

3rd — Oh! Que Bueno

(1125 S. Semoran Blvd., Orlando; 407-447-5026)

Best Thai

1st — Thai House

(2117 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando; 407-898-0820;

2nd — Thai Place

(501 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park; 407-644-8449)

3rd — Royal Thai

(1202 N. Semoran Blvd., Orlando; 407-275-0776;

Best wings

1st — WingHouse

(multiple locations;

2nd — Gator’s Dockside

(multiple locations;

3rd — Hooters

(multiple locations;

Best vegetarian

1st — Dandelion Communitea Cafe

(618 N. Thornton Ave., Orlando; 407-362-1864;

2nd — Infusion Tea

(1520 Edgewater Drive, Orlando; 407-378-4675;

3rd — Garden Cafe

(810 W. Colonial Drive, Orlando; 407-999-9799)

Best Vietnamese

1st — Lac-Viet Bistro

(2021 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando; 407-228-4000)

2nd — Little Saigon Restaurant

(1106 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando; 407-423-8539)

3rd — Viet Garden

(1237 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando; 407-896-4154;

Drink like a king

Be not dissatisfied. Stare no longer at the average package outlet's beer cooler, settling for macrobrewed mediocrity. You're better than that. You deserve the royal treatment. Behold the beautiful thing that is the "beer wall" at Knightly Spirits, a collection of some 800 different types of beer made by people who care about beer. A dizzying assortment of Belgians awaits you; the products of the Guerrilla Brewers Association will tempt you; and, most importantly, the wise and friendly manager, Jason Rawles, will guide you, Merlin-like, through the array of fermented goodness. A brilliant wine selection? Of course. Fine imported liquors? Indeed! Cigars? Top-shelf cigarettes? Oh, if you need a way to make your doctor angry, but your soul soar, Knightly Spirits has it.

(Knightly Spirits, 2603 S. Hiawassee Road, Orlando; 407-298-1515)

Super dim sum!

China might be the world's up-and-coming superpower, but it's tough to find authentic Chinese grub in this town. Got a craving for cart-delivered dim sum? Get it at Chan's Chinese Cuisine. Dumplings. Baked goodies. Maybe even chicken feet or tripe for adventurous souls! Wusses can chow down on sweet-and-sour pork, if they don't desire to broaden their horizons. Besides, it's not a bad idea to become acquainted with true Chinese food because someday, chopsticks might become our national culinary tool.

(Chan's Chinese Cuisine, 1901 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando; 407-896-0093)

Tea up

Iced tea — it's a Southern tradition. But who wouldn't agree that tooth-twangingly sugary Nestea is a drink of the past? Infusion Tea has achieved a sorely overdue update of the old standard with its iced mint mate, a naturally sweet brew that peps you up without those pesky caffeine side effects. Another Infusion twist on a hot-climate classic: lavender lemonade, a pearly-hued quencher with an herbal kick.

(Infusion Tea, 1520 Edgewater Drive, Orlando; 407-999-5255;

Meet your neighbors

It's a sad fact of life in our busy, modern age: We don't know much about the people living next door anymore, let alone those on the next block. If your block is part of the Lake Davis Heights neighborhood in Orlando, though, you're lucky. Go mingle at 903 Mills Market and meet some nice folks. Have a seat at the outdoor café, grab a tap beer or a glass of wine, and strike up a conversation with the woman training to be a firefighter, the student who works at Disney or the guy who races cars. There're all the people in the neighborhood; the people that you'd never meet while driving down the street.

(903 Mills Market, 903 Mills Ave., Orlando; 407-898-4392;

Cheap and cheesy date

Not ready to commit $50 to a possible one-night-only coupling? Past the stage of trying to impress? Treat that special someone to a $16.03 night on the town: dinner at Cici's Pizza followed by a movie at Colonial Promenade 6 Theater. The all-you-can-eat pizza buffet at Cici's Pizza and $2 month-old movies could be considered a cheap and trashy option, but a more positive spin is to throw out the term "old school." Where else can you eat a whole pizza, show off your X-Men vs. Street Fighter skills and enjoy a virtually empty movie theater (also a dating plus)?

(Cici's Pizza, 4632 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando, 407-228-0900; Colonial Promenade 6, 4672 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando, 407-888-8224)

Fish frenzy

Feel grabbed by the gills at most sushi joints when it comes to prices? So what if the fish is fine, the rolls pretty, the atmosphere just right, if consideration of a second mortgage comes to mind when the bill arrives? Quality raw fish doesn't need to be outrageously expensive, at least not the way the folks at Bikkuri Sushi feed their hungry. The small but spotless to-go storefront on Colonial sports only a few tables, but behind that pedestrian-looking counter are fish-cutting powerhouses. The 99-cent miso soup is chock-full of wholesome seaweed and bean curd, and the cost of the rolls is frugal enough that you can jump in for a light dinner or a stomach-steadying snack and save your money for more important things, like booze.

(Bikkuri Sushi, 1915 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando; 407-894-4494)

Belt 'em down and out with Brits

When woes need to be quenched by drinkables and boredom with the same old watering holes brings you down, drink those blues away with British tourists at Murphy's Arms Pub. Listen to funny-accented drunk people belt out their favorite tunes, full of ale and cider that's cheap and delicious. The men are loose, the women are looser, and the sweet music of life rings true in the background. Some may say Murphy's is a smoke-filled dive bar, but that's the charm! When you tire of singing "Paradise City" to warmed-over elevator music, strike up a discussion about imperialism or dental hygiene or how America dragged England's ass out of WWII. The laughs are nonstop, and who couldn't use a few more chums across the pond?

(Murphy's Arms Pub, 6582 International Drive, Orlando; 407-352-0734)

Great beers! And pirates too!

Does your beer conscience balk at the thought of ingesting bland corporate brew? Are all your friends indie rockers who prefer PBR? Does your uncle talk like a pirate? Have a hard time finding a place for all of the above to convene for a night of mead-drenched mayhem? Redlight Redlight in west Winter Park is the solution. Though they celebrate National Talk Like a Pirate Day only once a year, for the remaining 364, the bar is a splendid and cozy conclave of underground music and people even cooler than you. But don't let that love of Journey or Dockers-centric fashion sense prevent you from venturing inside. Redlight Redlight welcomes all, with a wide and varying selection of hard-to-find European beers (Belgians seem to get a lot of play), American microbrews and nary a light beer in sight. Feel at home among people who understand that it's not the clothes you wear, the music you listen to or the way you say "Arrrrr" that defines your coolness. It's the beer you drink.

(Redlight Redlight, 535 W. New England Ave., Winter Park;

Taste the rainbow

No wink, wink, nudge, nudge necessary. The "rainbow" in Rainbow Sno-Cones simply refers to the spectrum of colors in its 55 flavors of sweet syrups. A couple of different owners have kept the sliding-glass window opening and closing for the past 12 years, heedless of the appropriation of the multicolored band of light by a group with a certain sexual preference. Bob Homer's well-oiled ice crushing machine is as wholesome as Little League baseball, all-beef hot dogs and the Baldwin Park development down the road. Actually, it's a lot more pure than any of those things, coming down to the alchemy of sugar and ice, which is still really nice for cooling down a hot body. Kiddie cups run a dollar, and it's two bucks for the extra-large, plus 25 cents for toppings of cream, condensed milk or marshmallow. A cherry runs cheap at 10 cents a pop.

(Rainbow Sno-Cones, 3116 Corrine Drive, Orlando; 407-896-9105)

Miso hungry

At Wazzabi Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar, you can drop a C-note for dinner for two without batting an eyelash. It's not necessary to spend that much money, but you'll want to, because it's worth every penny. The friendly, attentive staff keeps the green tea and plum wine flowing while delivering rolls and sashimi, teppanyaki and a host of other inventive fare in four distinct dining atmospheres: the sushi bar, the central dining area, the glassed-off teppanyaki room and the patio with tables made from slices of cypress trees cut in Vietnam. The teppanyaki experience is a show in itself, as chefs slice, dice and fashion flaming onion volcanoes, making the evening worthwhile before the food is even served. Owned by the creative force behind the former Ohashi Sushi, Wazzabi puts on a colorful display of all that's worthy about independently owned restaurants. It's the best newcomer of the year.

(Wazzabi Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar, 1408 Gay Road, Winter Park; 407-647-8744;

Brotherly cheese steak love

The best Philly cheese steak you've never had is cooked at Earthstone Grill. The small downtown establishment does no advertising, has bland-as-can-be decorating, is virtually empty most days and has Armenian owners who, despite never residing in Philly, know how to cook up a cheese steak sandwich like their blood runs thick with it.

(Earthstone Grill, 20 S. Orange Ave., Orlando; 407-426-1212)

More than a mouthful

Find it difficult to wrap your mouth around the names of troublesomely titled Indian dishes? That shouldn't stop you from wrapping said mouth around the food on the menu at Spice Cafe. Your turn to host Bollywood night? Drop in and pick up the best malai kofta in town. Need a midday pick-me-up that will transport you to the sidewalks of Bombay? This is the only place in town with bhel puri on the menu. Quick, tasty and inexpensive, just point to the menu, nod and be on your way.

(Spice Café, 7536 Dr. Phillips Blvd., Orlando; 407-264-0205)

'80s idols

Lots of clubs have a night dedicated to the '80s, but what sets Independent Bar's "Sunday Night Vinyl" apart from the rest are 50-cent well drinks and a midget DJ playing goth and industrial in the club's second room. Erik Dennison, one of the hosts of Real Rock 104.1's Real Music Weekends show, spins the Cure and Billy Idol in the main room, along with DJ Smilin' Dan. Together, the crew gets guys who are too cool to dance shaking it on the floor while their (sometimes corseted) girlfriends flock to the booth.

(Independent Bar, 70 N. Orange Ave., Orlando; 407-839-0457;


Witness a "honky-tonk badonkadonk" in action up close at Jesse Black Saloon, aka the Most Bizarre Conflation Known to Man. Booties shake to country twangs! Line dances are neatly delivered to hip-hop beats! Bikini-clad babies compete in bull-riding contests, cheered by city-roaming rednecks who are impressively bombed on the "$10 All You Can Drink" nights! This venue is dedicated to making sure that the five or so remaining cattlemen in Central Florida have a place to drink, while equally ensuring that those same cattlemen are sufficiently shocked by the glittery, sexually charged urbanism of what can best be described as Coyote Ugly meets Gilley's meets Tabu.

(Jesse Black Saloon, 333 E. Oak Ridge Road, Orlando; 407-852-9711;

Crusty situation

Tenacity is the American way. So is handcrafted quality. And melting pot-ness. And freedom, too. Thus, Rossi's is the most American establishment in Orlando, if not the planet! Find exotic Italian dishes like "pizza" and "pasta" on the same menu as red-white-and-blue dishes like Buffalo wings and submarine sandwiches! Rossi's further exemplifies its powers of cultural appropriation with something called "Mexican pizza," which — with its jalapeños, spicy ground beef and "salsa" — is truly global in scope. Tenacity? Try surviving two decades on Orange Blossom Trail. Freedom? Rossi's lets customers choose which toppings will land on their pizza! Combine the best pizza in Orlando with a profoundly excellent beer selection. (This is where Orlando's beer geeks meet, so there are standards to uphold.) Here's an establishment more patriotic than freedom fries!

(Rossi's, 5919 S. Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando; 407-855-5755)

Beer mensch

Heroes are hard to find, but Tom Moench is truly a hero to Orlando. As president of Unique Beers — and a self-described "beer geek" — Moench's single-minded mission is to pour tasty beer down the gullets of Orlandoans. Short of pulling a baby from the mouth of a flaming pit bull, there's nothing more heroic. Distributing Shipyard, Dogfish Head, Sea Dog, a long line of European imports and, best of all, his own Orange Blossom Pilsner, Moench battles the deep-pocketed, well-marketed purveyors of big-batch swill on his mission to educate people's palates and make them very, very happy.


Watch girls get felt up!

Voyeurs and the like will love the sight of a scuzzy old man's hands caressing the backside of a pretty, drunk 20-something. It happens nightly at Howl at the Moon, the International Drive piano bar where performers slap bumper stickers on the bumpers of just about anyone who wants one. Then they sing songs. Then everyone gets drunk. Then another young lady gets her rear molested, and the fun starts all over again.

(Howl at the Moon, 8815 International Drive, Orlando; 407-354-5999;