Best Of 2008

Painting by Morgan Steele

Best tiki bar

Lake Minneola Inn and Tiki Bar
508 Main Ave., Minneola

Nestled in a grove of sprawling live oak trees on the shore of a tea-colored lake, the Lake Minneola Inn and Tiki Bar feels like your rich friend’s lakeside property from a pre-Disney era. Take a swim, play some horseshoes, have a picnic on the lawn, or pull up a stool at the U-shaped tiki bar and toss back a few drafts with the locals. The menu is basic ­– burgers, hot dogs, wings, and so on ­– but the lack of pretense only adds to the charm. If only life was like this every day.

Best way to get local organic food

Homegrown Co-op
604 N. Thornton Ave.

Total no-brainer. It costs, like, $3 a month for an individual membership, and every week there’s an extensive list to choose from – like Japanese shiitake and Sonora hot peppers, or less exotic veggies such as Yukon Gold potatoes, kale and eggplant. About half of the produce is locally grown and organic, which kinda makes Whole Foods look … dare we say … evil.

Best hookah bar

Meridian Hookah Lounge
3050 N. Alafaya Trail, Oviedo

A dark, smoke-filled room overflowing with college kids, Meridian looks like the place you’d head for a late-night, caffeine-fueled gropefest, though a few Internet addicts with laptops litter the joint, sucking down hookah specialty blends such as the Baby Maker (lime and mint tobacco) or Smoke on the Beach (a mix of cherry, rose and mint). There’s no alcohol sold here, so drink at one of the cheap nearby college bars before you arrive.

Best reincarnation of a bar we loved

Scruffy Murphy’s
2625 Edgewater Drive

When Scruffy Murphy’s closed a few years back, we were heartbroken. This was our watering hole, our home away from home, our refuge from nagging spouses and hard-assed bosses. But then it was gone, and there was a void in our lives. So how happy were we when we heard Scruffy’s was going to reopen, albeit in College Park rather than downtown? Then we went and found that our favorite bar had undergone a yuppie transformation, and we didn’t like it. Still, it will have to suffice for now, at least until the new Will’s Pub opens up.

Best steaming sensation

Indie coffeehouse openings

It’s been a strong year for coffee in Orlando, with wonderful independent coffeehouses opening up and giving more choices than Stardust or Palmano’s, and each place has its own flair and fare. Special recognition goes to Drunken Monkey Coffee Bar (they roast beans from Brazil), Volcano’s (a local company that continues to expand and specializes in African roasts) and Cup O’ Soul (they stock Blessed Bean Coffee, a local roaster).

Best samosas

Bikkuri Sushi
1915 E. Colonial Drive

Tapping a sushi joint for best samosa is swimming against the current, but the light, unctuous puffs served at Bikkuri not only rock the house on their own merits, they beat down the heavy mashed-potato softballs served in the Indian joints south of downtown. (Not having to drive all the way down Orange Blossom Trail for them is good, too.) They seem too expensive and look too small, but after the first bite you’re hooked: the subtle curry filling; the deliciously flaky phyllo wrapper, the piquant duo of spicy mayo and barbecued-eel sauces on the side …. Just eat them as soon as they hit the table; they don’t travel well.

Best dining trend

Veg/non-veg integration
Drunken Monkey Coffee Bar, O’Naturals, Stardust Video & Coffee, Z-Coffee Café

Time was, vegetarians had to eat at health-food restaurants: grim, depressing abodes serving nut loaf and alfalfa sprouts and plates of mashed yeast – the kind of food that made you feel like you were atoning for something. But time has passed, attitudes have lightened and Orlando has seen the flowering of a new age of inclusiveness. Veggie love, not vegetarian segregation, is the rule of the day at new (and newish) restaurants like Drunken Monkey (444 N. Bumby Ave., 407-893-4994,, O’Naturals (44 E. Central Blvd., 407-872-7422,, Stardust Video & Coffee (1842 E. Winter Park Road, 407-623-3393) and Z-Coffee Café (Orlando Public Library, 1st floor, 101 E. Central Blvd., 407-648-6300). Not only is the mood a lot groovier, these restaurants don’t draw boundaries – they offer substantial vegan and vegetarian choices, and they serve meat and dairy too (can’t we all just get along?). As Marvell had it, “My vegetable love should grow/Vaster than empires and more slow.” We’re getting there.

Best argument for bulimia

The Dessert Lady Café
120 W. Church St.

A sort of brothel boudoir for those with sweaty diabetic brows and/or toothbrushes in their purses, the Dessert Lady heightens the aesthetics of sugar on top of sugar to pricey new levels, while making sure judgment rests somewhere beneath your last consumed bottle of wine. Plus, it’s bound to taste just as good coming back up!

Best vegan restaurant

Ethos Vegan Kitchen
1235 N. Orange Ave.

Local vegans are still pinching themselves in disbelief that this place ever opened – the fact that the restaurant is thriving in its lovely Ivanhoe Row setting is just the non-dairy icing on the eggless cake. Finally, a place where vegans can do all those things everyone else does: go out for brunch, order a takeout pizza – hell, ordering off a menu with more than a couple of choices is a treat. And Kelly, Laina and Kim Shockley and their dedicated staff are nourishing souls as well as stomachs by fostering community: Beyond the expected art openings and DJ sets, they host a monthly Freecycle meeting and a variety of events supporting local organizations. Kudos.

Best Restaurant for a Shouting Match

Taverna Opa
9101 International Drive

With the music thumping like a gay Mykonos discotheque, the raucous ambience at Taverna Opa may not be the place to bring your date for quiet conversation, but it's a great place to have it out with your spouse. And given the waitstaff's predilection to toss napkins toward the rafters, if you chuck keftedes (Greek meatballs) or hurl a skewer of souvlaki in the direction of your significant other, it will likely be viewed as a Hellenic culinary rite by other, less culturally astute diners.

Best Start to a Vietnamese Meal

Tay Do
2101 E. Colonial Drive

Yes, the pho is a fab first dish, but pass on the grilled quail at Tay Do and you'll fly in the face of regret. You won't believe the flavor these wee, bony birds pack. To dip their dark meat into a tangy mixture of lime juice, white pepper and salt and then rip into their crisp, succulent flesh is to experience the truest taste (and smell)
of victory.

Best Milkshake

Udipi Café
1275 S. Highway 17-92, Longwood

You won't find falooda offered at your average Steak 'n Shake, but then again falooda isn't your average milkshake. Think of it more as Shangri-La in a glass — an ambrosial, and weighty, beverage worthy of being served to the most finicky of gods and goddesses. The floral-scented Indian delicacy of vanilla ice cream and condensed milk is textured with vermicelli noodles and basil seeds,
then drizzled with sweet rosewater, and makes our Bombay-like summers just a little more bearable.

Best Fish and Chips

617 E. Central Blvd.

Grouper & More and Best of British come close, but as far as fish goes, you'll be hard-pressed to find better golden-fried fillets than the New England cod served up at Cityfish — they're good enough to make Maritimers and limeys alike swoon with nostalgia. The chips, though? Why, they're positively poncy. In fact, we haven't come across a chip, that thicker British variant of the french fry, worth singling out. So to all you ex-pat restaurateurs from across the pond: Never mind the pollock; make us some chips that aren't rubbish!

Best Upscale Burger

The Capital Grille
9101 International Drive

If you find yourself feeling a tad gluttonous and just happen to have an extra $13 in your crocodile-skin wallet, you might consider splurging on the boffo burger at the Capital Grille. A blend of smoked bacon and sweet onions mixed into the hefty sirloin patty adds a rich flavor to the meat, but the secret to the sandwich's beefy goodness is the bun. The flaky, buttered kaiser roll baked fresh in-house is a famished fancy-lad's dream and elevates the burger to the highest echelons of fast-food finery.


Best Bakery

1st: Charlie’s Gourmet Pastries, 3213 Curry Ford Road; 407-898-9561; (
2nd: Publix Bakery, multiple locations; (
3rd: Dessert Lady, 4900 S. Kirkman Road, 407-822-8881; also 120 W. Church St., 407-999-5696; (

Best Barbecue

1st: Bubbalou’s Bodacious BBQ, multiple locations; (
2nd: Sonny’s Real Pit Bar-B-Q, multiple locations; (
3rd: O’Boys Bar-B-Q, multiple locations; (

Best Breakfast/Brunch

1st: First Watch Restaurant, multiple locations; (
2nd: Dexter’s, multiple locations; (
3rd: Ethos Vegan Kitchen, 1235 N. Orange Ave.; 407-228-3899; (

Best Burger

1st: Five Guys Burgers and Fries, multiple locations; (
2nd: Johnny’s Fillin’ Station, 2631 S. Ferncreek Ave.; 407-894-6900; (
3rd: Back Yard Burgers, multiple locations; (

Best Caribbean

1st: Bahama Breeze, multiple locations; (
2nd: Caribbean Sunshine, multiple locations; (
3rd: Millie’s Jamaican Café, 12273 University Blvd.; 407-382-3570

Best Chinese

1st: P.F. Chang’s, 436 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park, 407-622-0188; also 4200 Conroy Road, 407-345-2888; (
2nd: Pei Wei Asian Diner, 3011 E. Colonial Drive; 407-563-8777; (
3rd, tie: Ming’s Bistro, 1212 Woodward St.; 407-898-9672
3rd, tie: Empire Szechuan, 341 N. Orange Ave.; 407-839-1236; (

Best Coffeehouse

1st: Austin’s Coffee, 929 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park; 407-975-3364; (
2nd: Stardust Video & Coffee, 1842 E. Winter Park Road; 407-623-3393
3rd: Drunken Monkey Coffee Bar, 444 N. Bumby Ave.; 407-893-4994; (

Best Cuban

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: Vega’s Café, 1835 E. Colonial Drive; 407-898-5196

Best Diner

1st: Junior’s Diner, 2920 Corrine Drive; 407-894-8871
2nd: Christo’s Café, 1815 Edgewater Drive; 407-425-8136; (
3rd: Patsio’s Diner, 1419 S. Semoran Blvd., Winter Park; 407-677-8073

Best Doughnuts

1st: Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, multiple locations; (
2nd: Dunkin Donuts, multiple locations; (
3rd: The Fat Vegan Dougnuts (

Best French restaurant

1st: Le Coq au Vin, 4800 S. Orange Ave.; 407-851-6980; (
2nd: Chez Vincent, 533 W. New England Ave., Winter Park; 407-599-2929; (
3rd: Café de France, 526 S. Park Ave., Winter Park; 407-647-1869; (

Best Greek

1st: The Greek Corner, 1600 N. Orange Ave.; 407-228-0303; (
2nd: Taverna Opa, 9101 International Drive; 407-351-8660; (
3rd: Olympia Greek Restaurant, 8505 E. Colonial Drive; 407-273-2731; (

Best Ice Cream

1st: Coldstone Creamery, multiple locations; (
2nd: Jeremiah’s Italian Ice, multiple locations; (
3rd: Marble Slab Creamery, multiple locations; (

Best Indian

1st: Woodlands Indian Cuisine, 6040 S. Orange Blossom Trail; 407-854-3330; (
2nd: Memories of India, 7625 Turkey Lake Road; 407-370-3277
3rd, tie: Kohinoor, 249 W. State Road 436, Altamonte Springs; 407-788-6004
3rd, tie: Udipi Café, 1275 S. Highway 17-92, Longwood; 407-696-7775

Best Irish

1st: Fiddler’s Green, 544 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park; 407-645-2050; (
2nd: The Harp and Celt Restaurant and Irish Pub, 25 S. Magnolia Ave.; 407-481-2928; (
3rd: Raglan Road Irish Pub, 1640 E. Buena Vista Drive, Lake Buena Vista; 407-938-0300; (

Best Italian

1st: Bravissimo Italian Café, 337 N. Shine Ave.; 407-898-7333; (
2nd, tie: Antonio’s Ristorante, multiple locations; (
2nd, tie: Il Pescatore, 651 N. Primrose Drive; 407-896-6763; (
3rd: Olive Garden, multiple locations ; (

Best Late-Night Restaurant

1st: Denny’s Restaurant, multiple locations; (
2nd: Pita Pit, multiple locations; (
3rd: Crooked Bayou, 50 E. Central Blvd.; 407-839-5852; (

Best Mexican

1st: Garibaldi, 848 Sand Lake Road; 407-888-2869; (
2nd: Tijuana Flats, multiple locations; (
3rd: P.R.’s Taco Palace, 499 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park; 407-645-2225

Best Middle Eastern

1st: Tony’s Deli, 1323 N. Mills Ave,; 407-898-6689
2nd: Cedar’s of Orlando, 7732 W. Sand Lake Road; 407-351-6000; (
3rd: Ali Baba, 1155 West State Road 434, Longwood; 407-331-8680; (

Best Pizza

1st, tie: Anthony’s Pizzeria and Restaurant, 100 N. Summerlin Ave.; 407-648-0999; (
1st, tie: Mellow Mushroom, 2015 Aloma Ave., Winter Park; 407-657-7755; (
2nd: Lazy Moon, 12269 University Blvd.; 407-658-2396; (
3rd: Planet Pizza, 14 W. Washington St.; 407-650-8859

Best Puerto Rican

1st: La Lechonera, 9850 E. Colonial Drive, 407-249-0207; also 11229 E. Colonial Drive, 407-207-6903
2nd, tie: Caribe, 1351 N. Goldenrod Road; 407-273-4172
2nd, tie: Guavate, 6096 E. Colonial Drive; 407-281-4700
2nd, tie: Piñones en Orlando (mobile restaurant), southwest corner of Conway Road and Curry Ford Road; 321-438-0910

Best Smoothies

1st: Planet Smoothie, multiple locations; (
2nd: Tropical Smoothie Café, multiple locations; (
3rd: Smoothie King, multiple locations; (

Best Southern/Soul Food

1st: Johnson’s Diner, 595 W. Church St.; 407-841-0717; (
2nd: Mama Nems’, 805 S. Kirkman Road; 407-253-7744; (
3rd, tie: House of Blues, 1490 E. Buena Vista Drive, Lake Buena Vista; 407-934-2583; (
3rd, tie: Uncle Jones Bar-B-Que, 1370 E. Altamonte Drive, Altamonte Springs; 407-260-2425

Best Spanish

1st: Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant, 125 W. Church St.; 321-281-8140; (
2nd: Pio Pio Restaurant, multiple locations; (
3rd: El Bodegon, 400 S. Orlando Ave., Winter Park; 407-628-1078

Best Steakhouse

1st: Del Frisco’s, 729 Lee Road; 407-645-4443; (
2nd: Ruth’s Chris, multiple locations; (
3rd: Linda’s La Cantina, 4721 E. Colonial Drive; 407-894-4491; (

Best Sub Shop

1st: Firehouse Subs, multiple locations; (
2nd, tie: Gabriel’s Submarine Sandwich, 3006 Edgewater Drive; 407-425-9926
2nd, tie: Publix Deli, multiple locations; (
3rd: Subway, multiple locations; (

Best Sushi

1st: Amura, multiple locations; (
2nd: Fuji Sushi, multiple locations; (
3rd: Bikkuri, 1915 E. Colonial Drive; 407-894-4494; (

Best Thai

1st: Sea Thai, 3812 E. Colonial Drive; 407-895-0985; (
2nd: Thai House, 2117 E. Colonial Drive; 407-898-0820; (
3rd: Royal Thai, 1202 N. Semoran Blvd.; 407-275-0776; (

Best Vegetarian

1st: Ethos Vegan Kitchen, 1235 N. Orange Ave.; 407-228-3899; (
2nd: Dandelion Communitea Café, 618 N. Thornton Ave.; 407-362-1864; (
3rd, tie: Drunken Monkey, 444 N. Bumby Ave.; 407-893-4994; (
3rd, tie: Garden Café, 810 W Colonial Drive; 407-999-9799; (

Best Vietnamese

1st: Little Saigon, 1106 E. Colonial Drive; 407-423-8539; (
2nd: Viet Garden, 1237 E. Colonial Drive; 407-896-4154; (
3rd: Pho 88 Noodle, 730 N. Mills Ave.; 407-897-3488; (

Best Wings

1st: Gator’s Dockside, 5142 Dr. Phillips Blvd.; 407-770-6049; (
2nd: Wing House, multiple locations; (
3rd: Buffalo Wild Wings, multiple locations; (

Best Happy Hour

1st: Antigua, 46 W. Church St.; 407-649-4270; (
2nd, tie: Peacock Room, 1321 N. Mills Ave.; 407-228-0048; (
2nd, tie: Globe, 27 Wall St.; 407-849-9904; (
3rd, tie: Scoop, 11726 E. Colonial Drive; 407-249-2526; (
3rd, tie: Chili’s, multiple locations; (

Best Gay Bar

1st: Parliament House, 410 N. Orange Blossom Trail; 407-425-7571; (
2nd: Pulse, 1912 S. Orange Ave.; 407-649-3888; (
3rd: Revolution Nightclub, 375 S. Bumby Ave.; 407-228-9900; (

Best Lesbian Bar

1st: Revolution Nightclub, 375 S. Bumby Ave.; 407-228-9900; (
2nd: Faces, 4910 Edgewater Drive; 407-532-8442
3rd: Parliament House, 410 N. Orange Blossom Trail; 407-425-7571; (

Best Dive Bar

1st: Wally’s Mills Avenue Liquors, 1001 N. Mills Ave.; 407-896-6975
2nd: Bar-BQ-Bar, 64 N. Orange Ave.; 407-648-5441
3rd: Lou’s Lounge, 121 N. Bumby Ave.; 407-896-2593

Best Pub

1st: O’Shucks Billiards and Pub, 7467 International Drive; 407-352-7892; (
2nd: Fiddler’s Green, 544 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park; 407-645-2050; (
3rd: Lizzy McCormack’s, 55 N. Orange Ave.; 407-426-8007

Best Sports Bar

1st: The Clubhouse, 100 E. Pine St.; 407-447-5225; (
2nd: Orlando Ale House, multiple locations; (
3rd: Sportstown Billiards, 2414 E. Robinson St.; 407-894-6258; (

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