1. Santiago's Bodega, santiagosbodega.com
2. Se7en Bites, se7enbites.com
3. (tie) Maxine's on Shine, maxinesonshine.com
3. (tie) Briarpatch Restaurant, thebriarpatchrestaurant.com
Photo illustration by Adam McCabe
La Kuma Coffee
840 E. State Road 434, Longwood, facebook.com/lakumacoffee
The fastidious baristas behind the bean counter at this relaxing Japanese coffee house in Longwood aren't much for pouring you a quick cup of mud in a to-go cup. But if you're the sort to enjoy watching coffee geeks hand-grind beans, calculate their gram weight, and pour water of a very specific temperature in a very particular pattern over the grounds in a carefully curated vessel, then this is the place for you. And La Kuma's austere, light-wood interior goes beyond aesthetic intent – owner Justin Xiong keeps visual distractions to a minimum so attention can focus on perfectly crafted brews.
Royal Tea's cheese tea
714 N. Mills Ave., facebook.com/royalteaorlando
It's a beverage worthy of delectation by Wallace & Gromit, and we can't seem to get enough of it ourselves. It's cheeeeeeese tea, a combination of cold black (or green) tea topped with a moussey foam fashioned from milk, cream cheese and whipping cream. Tilt the cup back 45 degrees to enjoy it in all its sweet, salty and utterly luscious glory. Oh, and enjoy flaunting your new #MousseStache.
Bem Bom on Corrine
3101 Corrine Drive, bembomfood.com
It took a little while to open its doors, but Bem Bom's transformation from mobile Brazilian eatery to Audubon Park hotspot is complete. We love sitting outside on the spacious patio with a beer and pasteis de bacalao – salt cod fritters – and lingering over fish tacos and bife a portuguesa (filet mignon with fried egg, prosciutto, garlic, mustard and a beer demi-glace). The line that used to steadily queue outside the truck window has transferred to the host stand, but we're still happy to stand in it all the same.
The Robinson Cocktail Room
63 E. Pine St., therobinsonroom.com
Nightspots come and go downtown, but this latest romper room from the Team Market Group (also behind Celine and Mathers Social Gathering) – let's just say it lives fast, and if it dies young, it'll leave a very pretty corpse.
A pre-opening Instagram mood board dished out plenty of Irving Penn, Helmut Newton and that Jean-Paul Goude photo, so the OTT design flourishes were no surprise when doors were finally unlocked. What was a surprise was the intense attention paid to the ingredients used to build the drinks on the delightful menu: the clarified strawberry and lime in the Just to Be Clear, the sous-vide Fresno chiles in the Mr. Fresident, the grapefruit oil and peppercorn tincture in the Fever Dream; all are produced in-house in "the lab." Foodies not inclined to party with the beautiful people would do well to hit the cocktail hour between 5 and 8 p.m. and savor the flavors.
8548 Palm Parkway, susuruorl.com
Stomp one foot inside Susuru and you'll come to realize that there's really no eatery quite like it anywhere in the city. The movie-set decor is steeped in postwar/midcentury Japanese nostalgia, and it's hard not to be dazzled by it all. It's a manga comic book come to life, so much so that witnessing giant scaly soles wreaking havoc on the restaurant would hardly seem unexpected. That said, sightings of the tetchy reptilian seem to spike whenever a Godzilla cocktail is ordered.
The ill-fated oven in the back corner of Orange County Brewers chewed up and spat out more than a couple of munchie-vending contenders, but the last one standing barely had time to get its feet under it before the brewery closed and moved to Lake Mary. Recess Pizza was a venture by Eliot Hillis of Orlando Meats with a brawny and bravura menu to match our meaty expectations. In fact, pies like the Kya (pork belly, Greek cheese, corn, chimichurri, crema), the Hayley (Flamin' Hot Cheetos sausage, cheddar, lime relish, blue cheese) and the Brekkie Za (red sauce, mozzarella, sausage, bacon, pickled onion, egg) didn't just meet expectations, high as they were – they smashed any kind of beliefs we had about pizza. If there's any justice (and there is), they'll be back (and they will).
Corner of Bumby and Curry Ford
Cilantro's Taqueria, 1427 S. Bumby Ave.; La Fiesta Mexican Grill, 3000 Curry Ford Road; Los Generales Mexican Restaurant, 2901 Curry Ford Road; Tamale Co., 2411 Curry Ford Road
Of the many worthy developments in the budding Hourglass District on Curry Ford, one of the most delicious is the pileup of Mexican dining: Tamale Co., La Fiesta, Los Generales and Cilantro's Taqueria all withn feet of each other. Having a concentration of restaurants that aren't just good but each distinctive, with their own qualities and specialties, has been a boon to the 'hood. Beyond the well-known Mexican and Tex-Mex fare at neighborhood blockbuster La Fiesta, the very underrated Los Generales offers authentic country Mexican cuisine with Mayan flair – while Cilantro's serves up bright, street-style Mexican specialties and Tamale Co. slings some of the best stuffed masa in the city. All this within steps of each other makes this intersection our best high-value destination for Mexican satisfaction.
Little-known Mee Thai named one of Yelp's "Best 100 Places to Eat in the U.S."
Mee Thai, 1200 Lee Road, facebook.com/meethaiorlando
The internet is weird. Sometimes it gives us snort-laugh-inducing memes like those 30-50 feral hogs running into our yard within 3-5 minutes while our small kids play; sometimes it gives us the alt-right and incels. But sometimes its algorithms open our eyes to things we've missed, like the hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant Mee Thai on Lee Road. Despite being overlooked by most foodies in the area – we get it; Lee Road is not exactly known for being a culinary hotspot (especially now that the Taco Bell is no longer partnered with Long John Silver's) – enough people had enough good things to say about the place on Yelp that it earned the No. 24 spot on the website's national list of the best places to eat in 2019. We've since taken their advice, and we can tell you that the laab and papaya salad are no joke.
Cress Restaurant returns to regular service
103 W. Indiana Ave., DeLand, cressrestaurant.com
But don't call it a comeback! Like LL Cool J, Hari and Jenneffer Pulapaka have been there for years, rocking their peers. But now (after 24 long months) their DeLand boîte Cress has moved away from ticketed event-based dinners and back to full-time dinner service as of mid-August. Hari is one of the best chefs on the local scene and his wife's wine program is just as inventive and bold; we're glad to know they're back.