Best Of 2013

Chuan Lu Garden

1101 E. Colonial Drive

It’s simple, it’s comforting, and it’ll leave you wanting more even as it tears a hole in your intestine. The wee nuggets of ridiculously fiery chicken make the chongqing lazi a must on any visit to downtown’s Chuan Lu Garden. The intense blast of Sichuan peppercorns is reason enough to order the dish, but the heap (and we mean heap) of delicately crisp red chilies in the mix is so insanely addictive that the chicken morsels eventually act as chasers.

Best Adorable Brunch Dish

Mini biscuits & gravy at Cask & Larder

565 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park

The Ravenous Pig chef-owners Julie and James Petrakis opened sister restaurant Cask & Larder right down the street in Winter Park last year, to rapturous foodie acclaim. We heard tons of positives about the “Southern Public House”: tasty locally sourced plates, diverse house-brewed beer and so on. So it was no surprise when a Sunday-morning brunch order of biscuits and gravy ($9) landed us with a charming plate of fluffy, buttery miniature black-pepper biscuits and a small-yet-satisfying bowl of country gravy – for spoonful pouring, if you have manners. They were almost too cute to eat. Almost.

1. Blue Bird Bake Shop, 3122 Corrine Drive, 407-228-3822,
2. Charlie’s Gourmet Pastries, 3213 Curry Ford Road, 407-898-9561,
3. Raphsodic Bakery, 710 N. Mills Ave., 407-704-8615,

1. 4 Rivers Smokehouse, multiple locations,
2. Bubbalou’s Bodacious Barbecue, multiple locations,
3. Cecil’s Texas Style Bar-B-Q, 2800 S. Orange Ave., 407-423-9871,

German-American Society of Central Florida’s annual Oktoberfest

381 Orange Lane, Casselberry

So you heard there was this authentic Oktoberfest thing happening in Casselberry, and you had nothing to do that night anyway. You didn’t expect much, until you drove up Orange Lane and saw the German Alps-style lodge down this middle-of-nowhere road. Whoa. You paid your entrance fee and were directed into some kind of awesome party in the woods where people were eating wursts, drinking authentic dunkel and dancing, singing, cheering … in the woods in Casselberry. It’s as surreal and beautiful as it sounds, and words can hardly do it justice.

1. Keke’s Breakfast Café, multiple locations,
2. First Watch, multiple locations,
3. Matilda’s on Park, 358 N. Park Ave., Winter Park, 407-951-5790,

1. Graffiti Junktion, multiple locations,
2. Matilda’s on Park, 358 N. Park Ave., Winter Park, 407-951-5790,
3. Beth’s Burger Bar, 24 E. Washington St., 407-650-4950,

1. Bahama Breeze, multiple locations,
2. Mark’s Caribbean Cuisine, 10034 University Blvd., 407-699-8800, (tie)
2. Caribbean Sunshine Bakery, multiple locations, (tie)
3. Singh’s Roti Shop, 5244 Old Winter Garden Road, 407-253-2900,

1. Tako Cheena, 932 N. Mills Ave., 321-236-7457,
2. Gringos Locos, 20 E. Washington St., 407-841-5626,
3. Tijuana Flats, multiple locations,

1. Hawkers, 1103 N. Mills Ave., 407-237-0606,
2. Imperial Dynasty Chinese Restaurant, 2045 W. State Road 434, Longwood, 407-786-2266,
3. Lam’s Garden, 2505 E. Colonial Drive, 407-896-0370

Best Cocktail That Looks Like a Science Experiment

Berries & Bubbles at Ocean Prime

7339 W. Sand Lake Road

Restaurant Row’s Ocean Prime specializes in seafood, but the swanky restaurant’s “all-time best selling cocktail,” the Berries & Bubbles ($14), packs a little something not found underwater. The ingredients don’t sound so unusual – Belvedere Citrus vodka, marinated blackberries, house-made sour mix and Domaine Chandon brut champagne –­ but the cube of dry ice plunked in at the end adds over-the-top pizazz. The recipe can be found on Ocean Prime’s website in case you want to try mixing up one at home, but we suggest caution when playing around with dry ice – those fingertips come in handy for other things.