Best Of 2015

Best Date Night Dinner for a Vegan and a Carnivore
Photo by Rob Bartlett
629 E. Central Blvd., 407-849-1800,

When you’re in a “mixed marriage” (meat-eater/meat-shunner), it’s the special event meals that are tough: birthdays, anniversaries and the like. Ever on the lookout for an upscale restaurant with a mix of meaty and meatless on the menu, we’ve found in the last year that Soco fills the bill nicely. While one side of the table feasts on crispy oysters and hanger steak, the other can be just as happy with smoked black-eyed pea tortellini and Southern field pea-and- preserved lemon salad. The chef is often happy to improvise as well, shunning the short-sighted anti-vegan bias of some kitchens.

Best Excuse for a Late Lunch
3201 Corrine Drive, 407-571-9947,

Blessed are the cheesemakers, for they provide us with the vital ingredient of Earth’s most comforting sandwich: the grilled cheese. And blessed also is Tonda Corrente, aka La Femme du Fromage, whose cheese stall at East End Market is not only capable of launching a killer cheese plate, but also serves up a dreamy grilled cheese sandwich – we’re talking a serious four-cheese blend on Olde Hearth bread, not some Kraft Singles-on-Wonder mess – and from 3-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, they’re $2 off. Go on, ruin your dinner.

Best Scene-free Dining on Park Avenue
118 S. Park Ave., Winter Park, 407-629-0042,

The Lumas, Pratos and Bocas of Park Avenue offer plenty of space for dolled-up scenesters to dine, but true gastronomes in search of formidable food sans the fuss could always head to Barnie’s CoffeeKitchen on Friday and Saturday nights for a dose of caffeine and a side of chef Camilo Velasco’s inventive fare. Not so anymore: Shortly before press time, the restaurant decided to focus on a Monday-Saturday lunch service along with a Sunday brunch. Not one to shy away from experimenting with flavors and techniques, Velasco pushed the boundaries and challenged our perceptions of what “café food” could be, and still does so – in a kitchen no bigger than a closet.

Best Piggy Twist on Fried Rice
Chinese Cuisine 1901 E. Colonial Drive, 407-896-0093

Although a resourceful dish that can make smart use of scrap ingredients, fried rice has gotten lazy in America, and it’s earned a bad name from things like the char siu séance that we call pork fried rice here. But, locals, break free of that brokedown idea forever with the bacon fried rice at longstanding authentic Chinese resto Chan’s. Elevated with bacon and Chinese greens, it’s a mountain of sustenance hefty enough for a lumberjack but tasty enough for a bon vivant.

Best Savory Cupcake
125 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park, 863-797-4233,

Tangy goat-cheese buttercream tops a white-corn cupcake soaked with figgy simple syrup and adorned with a candied fig slice. It’s the same salty-sweet flavor profile as a salted- caramel pretzel, with added sophistication.

Best Brunch for Adventurers
1805 Deen Still Road, Davenport, 863-424-0070,

Davenport’s Wallaby Ranch serves up a damn fine brunch in its invitingly rustic canteen, but chef Carmen’s eggs, sautéed veggies, and oatmeal taste all the better after an exhilarating glide 2,000 feet up in midair. Wait, what? That’s right, the Wallaby Ranch offers tandem hang-gliding for thrillseekers, and it’s an experience as unforgettable as the convivial meal that follows after touchdown. If you’re thinking Epcot’s Soarin’ is a reasonable facsimile of the real thing, do yourself a favor and make a trip out to the Wallaby Ranch to compare.

Best Workday Hangover Cure
22 E. Pine St., 407-730-7499,

Mom always said that breakfast was the most important meal of the day, but it wasn’t until much later that we realized that’s because it soaks up all of the alcohol from the night before. Luckily, Artisan’s Table serves breakfast to downtown boozehounds until 3 p.m. every day. Whether you can only handle basic oatmeal or you need the protein-packed power of the egg and chorizo strata (that’s pronounced “breakfast lasagna”) or huevos rancheros bowl, a late breakfast here can turn your whole day around if you’re dragging ass at work.

Best Parking Lot Dining
Photo by Rob Bartlett
118 Lake Ave., Maitland, 407-661-1336,

Parking lots are typically bastions for hoodlums and ruffians, yet the paved parcel at 118 Lake Ave. in Maitland attracts a different sort of character after dusk – the intrepid gastronome. They come for Shish.Co’s Turkish delights – and they’ll gladly perch their bottoms on picnic benches situated in the middle of the crammed lot to sample the late-night kebaberie’s magnificent meats.

Best Reimagined Pastry
Photo by Rob Bartlett
Macaron ice cream sandwich at Quickly Boba & Snow 3214 E. Colonial Drive, 407-270-4570,

If the myriad multihued macarons in the glass case at Quickly aren’t enough to blow your Francophile mind, the macaron ice cream sandwich surely will. Think: giant macaron halves stuffed with house-made gelato in up to six flavors every day, including Southeast Asian favorites like matcha and red bean.

Best Mindless Desk Snack
multiple locations,

Dried mango slices are dangerously delicious on their own, but crust them with sugar, salt and chile powder, Mexico City-style, and there’s a snack that’s all at once spicy, sweet, salty, addictive. And for just $2.50 a bag, you won’t feel like stocking up will bust your wallet.