Best Of 2021

Best of Orlando® 2021: Food and Drink

Best of Orlando® 2021: Food and Drink
Best of Orlando® 2021: Faiyaz Kara's Picks
Faiyaz Kara

Faiyaz Kara has served as Orlando Weekly's restaurant critic since June 2006. He's one of the last local food critics to stay incognito (or at least he tries to), reflecting our mission of giving readers reviews that closely reflect the experience they might have, as opposed to a recognizable "foodie" celebrity. That said, no average reader could take in the amount of red meat, foie gras, croissants and cream cheese mousse that he does on a weekly basis. When he's not eating for us, he's eating in Miami for, recording his Canada-centric "Bag of Milk" podcast, or playing hockey or tennis to work it all off.

When the good people of this city ask me about restaurants I like to frequent, my response invariably boils down to moods. That's right, moods. Mine happen to be a fickle and incalculable bunch, but they hold sway over my gut and are the primary influencers on my appetite. So when a particular mood strikes, these restaurants never let me down. Here are my picks for Orlando's best.

• When I'm in a wacky mood, I know I can get a zany dish (doughnuts topped with duck confit) with a zany name ("For Faiyaz") at Orlando Meats.

• Sometimes, I want to enjoy a high-end omakase while feeling a complete disconnect with everyone else around me and not give a shit. The busty partygoers and DSquared2 set at Kabooki Sushi give me just that.

• Then there are times where I miss being in my favorite food city in the world, but after a platter of kebabs at Cafe 34 Istanbul, followed by a few shots of raki and a toke from the hookah, I feel like I'm right back in Galata. It's open 24 hours, too.

• Favorite burger? I get asked this one a lot. My favorite burger in the city is the heavily spiced chapli kebab burger at Charcoal Zyka. It's crackled with pomegranate seeds and slathered in their "inferno" sauce. When I want my favorite no-fuss burger, I head to Kappy's Subs in Maitland for their quarter-pound cheeseburger. They've been around since the Leafs last won the Stanley Cup (1967), so they're doing something right.

• That said, I'll often crave a burger from West Coast institution In-N-Out, and the all-vegan version at Winter Park Biscuit Co. comes pretty damn close — burger diaper and all.

• When I'm mooding for beef on the opposite end of the cost spectrum, I lose myself in the $70,000 meat humidor at Knife & Spoon. Well, not literally, but I can stare at those dry-aged wonders until the cows come home (the 500-day aged steak on the top shelf in particular). Eating one these hefty, funk-filled slabs is an indulgence at its absolute beefiest.

• But there are times that call for simple pleasures, and the noodly bowls of tonkotsu at Ramen Takagi offer just that in a simple and serene setting.

• For donburi (rice bowls), no one does it better than Takanao and Yasue Nakashima at Sushi Kichi.

• Rarely am I not in the mood for cheese mousse tea or matcha, and Matcha Cafe Maiko's cheese matcha latte gives me both in a cup.

• The mood for pho strikes about as often as lightning in the summer and, when it does, I head straight for Z Asian Vietnamese Kitchen for a hearty bowl. Granted, sometimes I'll forgo the beef noodle soup in favor of fermented anchovy-based seafood soup or marinated duck noodle soup.

• Then there are times when I want to lovingly give my GI tract the finger by diving into a hellish plate of Mee Thai's waterfall beef salad bathed in an electrified juice spiked with Thai red-hots.

• For a general Thai and Laotian hankering, Dali's in Sanford is so worth the drive.

• I'm almost always in the mood for Indian food, and for pani puri and other street snacks, Bombay Street Kitchen is the best. For high-end sophistication, Tabla Orlando and Tabla Winter Park never let me down.

• For jamón Ibérico and all my Spanish cravings, Jaleo at Disney Springs gets the nod.

• For tajines and couscous, Moroccan Breeze more than gratifies.

• If you're wondering what takeout joint I frequent the most? It's Shiraz Market in Longwood.

• For pastries and baked goods, I love Bread & Co.

• There are times to connect with Orlando's past, however painful, and Nikki's Place plates a ladleful of history with its meat-and-threes. After enduring more than 70 years of systematic segregation, neighborhood razings and interstate incursions, its brand of Southern cuisine has remained true to the words embossed on the restaurant's marquee — "the way it used to be."

Staff Pick — Best New Carbs: Deli Desires
Photo by Rob Bartlett

Most of Orlando learned what a bialy is last year, when Hannah Jaffe and Nathan Sloan schooled us deliciously. This non-boiled, malt-free cousin of the bagel has a dimple, not a hole, and Jaffe and Sloan fill theirs with either caramelized onions or a smoked jalapeño-and-Muenster mix.

They also deal in — and we do mean deal; this stuff is borderline addictive — an unkosher and undaunted menu of labneh and gravlax, latkes and scrapple, challah and gribiche-style egg salad, all of it embellished with lashings of Manischewitz-shallot butter and Duke's mayo. (And that's just the regular menu — specials tend toward the baroque, like a matzo brei tortilla española or a Campari-grapefruit chess pie.)

This fearless mix of Jewish deli, Southern comfort, and L.A. edgy makes sense when you dig into the pair's past: Jaffe cooked with Sqirl's Jessica Koslow and Top Chef Michael Voltaggio, while Sloan worked with Beard Award winners Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo at their Los Angeles seafood joint, Son of a Gun. Despite those West Coast pedigrees, Jaffe and Sloan met at the Hideaway Bar and got married at Redlight Redlight, which is, just about the most Orlando thing ever. And now their food is too, and we're delighted to eat it all up. (

Staff Pick — Best Dining Trend: Normalizing takeout
Photo by Rob Bartlett

As your grandma may have said to you, it's an ill wind that blows no good at all. And while a global pandemic may be the illest wind of any of our lives, it has led to a few small adjustments to the norm that are welcome. For instance, the widespread necessity of working from home means far fewer cars doing the daily commute, leading to cleaner air. Another unintended but overdue change to our everyday situation has been the rapid expansion of restaurants' delivery, takeout and drive-through services. While none of these are new options, never before has there been such panoply of dishes available to enjoy at home — from ramen to cocktails to ice cream, even fine dining. We were even able to get proper wine with a to-go meal, which is oh so civilized. Menus have been optimized, employees have been trained, and pickup, delivery and drive-through are no longer dirty words, no matter the price tag. It's a welcome development, not just in pandemic lockdown times, but for anyone who might not be able to sit in a restaurant due to disability or illness. Here's hoping it sticks around.

Readers Poll Winner Highlight — Best Pizza: Lazy Moon
Photo by Hannah Glogower

They say you can only have two of the three attributes everyone wants, but Lazy Moon is the exception: It's fast, cheap, and good. But most of all, it's huuuuuge, in a way that people struggle to express — in the past, we've said holding one of their slices will make you feel like a 5-year-old in the land of giants, and suggested you could wear a slice as a festive cape. Whole pies are akin to tablecloths or Conestoga wagon wheels — a certain viral photo shows a 6-month-old baby next to a full Lazy Moon and ... the pie is bigger. But it's not just about the stunting size. The wide variety of toppings make for endless flavor combinations, and the thin, crispy crust allows one to devour an absurdly mammoth slice without exploding. And topping it off, a long-revered special, the Boxcar Willy, nets you a cheese slice and a pint of PBR for just $6.50, a public good that has surely provided many a broke Orlandoan enough calories to live another day. (

First: Henry Moso, Kabooki Sushi,

Second: Wendy Lopez, Reyes Mezcaleria,

Third: Jason Campbell, Luke's Kitchen and Bar,

First: 4 Rivers Smokehouse,

Second: Tijuana Flats,

Third: Hawkers,

First: Se7en Bites,

Second: The Briarpatch,

Third: First Watch,

Best Brunch

First: Santiago's Bodega,

Second: Maxine's on Shine,

Third: Briarpatch,

Best Lunch

First: Yellow Dog Eats,

Second: Beefy King,

Third: Black Bean Deli,

Best Cheap Eats

First: Gringos Locos,

Second: Beefy King,

Third: Lazy Moon,

Best Date Restaurant

First: Hillstone,

Second: Better Than Sex,

Third: Prato,

Best Outdoor Dining

First: Hillstone,

Second: Grills Lakeside,

Third: Ravenous Pig,

Best Late-Night Restaurant

(serving after 11 p.m.)

First: Gringos Locos,

Second: Pom Pom's Teahouse & Sandwicheria,

Third: Lazy Moon,

Best Splurge


First: Hillstone,

Second: Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster,

Third: Kabooki Sushi,

Best Place to Buy Meat

First: Petty's Meats,

Second: Orlando Meats,

Third: Freshfields Farm,

Best Place to

Buy Produce

First: Freshfields Farm,

Second: Winter Garden Farmers Market,

Third: Winter Park Farmers Market,

Best Place to

Eat Gluten-free

First: Ethos Vegan Kitchen,

Second: Hungry Pants,

Third: Bolay,

Best Bakery

First: Gideon's Bakehouse,

Second: The Glass Knife,

Third: Se7en Bites,

Best Barbecue


First: 4 Rivers Smokehouse,

Second: Pig Floyd's Urban Barbakoa,

Third: Yellow Dog Eats,

Best Caribbean


First: Black Bean Deli,

Second: Bahama Breeze,

Third: DaJen Eats,

Best Chinese Restaurant

First: Hawkers Asian Street Food,

Second: Peter's Kitchen China Bistro,

Third: Chuan Lu Garden,

Best Coffee Bar

First: Foxtail Coffee Co.,

Second: Drunken Monkey,

Third: Lineage Coffee Roasting,

Best Diner

First: Metro Diner,

Second: Christo's Café,

Third: Linda's Winter Park Diner,

Best Food Truck

First: Chicken Fire,

Second: Korean BBQ Taco Box,

Third: Smoke & Donuts,

Best French Restaurant

First: Le Coq Au Vin,

Second: Chez Vincent,

Third: DoveCote,

Best Greek Restaurant

First: Little Greek Fresh Grill,

Second: The Greek Corner,

Third: Mediterranean Blue,

Best Indian Restaurant

First: Tamarind Indian Cuisine,

Second: Mynt Fine Indian Cuisine,

Third: Saffron Indian Cuisine,

Best Italian Restaurant

First: Prato,

Second: Antonio's,

Third: Enzo's on the Lake,

Best Korean Restaurant

First: Izziban Sushi & BBQ,

Second: Korea House,

Third: Chi-Kin,

Best Latin Restaurant

First: Black Bean Deli,

Second: Agave Azul,

Third: Zaza New Cuban Diner,

Best Local Brewery

First: Hourglass Brewing,

Second: Crooked Can Brewing Co.,

Third: Sideward Brewing,

Best Mexican Restaurant

First: Agave Azul,

Second: Black Rooster Taqueria,

Third: Don Julio Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar,

Best Middle Eastern


First: Bosphorous Turkish Cuisine,

Second: Mediterranean Deli

Third: Habibi,

Best Seafood


First: Winter Park Fish Co.,

Second: High Tide Harry's,

Third (tie): The Osprey,

Third (tie): Boston's Fish House,

Best Steakhouse

First: Linda's La Cantina,

Second: Ruth's Chris Steak House,

Third: Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster,

Best Teahouse

First: Pom Pom's Teahouse & Sandwicheria,

Second: Infusion Tea,

Third: Royaltea,

Best Thai Restaurant

First: SEA Thai,

Second: Thai House,

Third: Thai Blossom,

Best Theme Park


First: The Boathouse,

Second: Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen,

Third: Be Our Guest,

Best Vegan or

Vegetarian Restaurant

First: Ethos Vegan Kitchen,

Second: Winter Park Biscuit Co.,

Third: Hungry Pants,

Best Vietnamese


First: Pho 88,

Second: Little Saigon,

Third: Viet-Nomz,

Best Bloody Mary

First: The Hammered Lamb,

Second: Maxine's on Shine,

Third: Ravenous Pig,

Best Burger

First: Teak Neighborhood Grill,

Second: The Ravenous Pig,

Third: Hamburger Mary's,

Best Cheesesteak

First: LaSpada's Original Cheese Steaks & Hoagies,

Second: Kappy's Subs,

Third: Cavo's Bar and Kitchen,

Best Cuban Sandwich

First: Black Bean Deli,

Second: Zaza New Cuban Diner,

Third: Cubans on the Run,

Best Desserts

First: The Glass Knife,

Second: Kelly's Homemade Ice Cream,

Third: Gideon's Bakehouse,

Best Doughnut

First: Donut King,

Second: The Salty Donut,

Third: Voodoo Doughnut,

Best Fried Chicken

First: Publix,

Second: The Coop,

Third: Chicken Fire,

Best Ice Cream

First: Kelly's Homemade Ice Cream,

Second: Jeremiah's Italian Ice,

Third: The Greenery Creamery,

Best Juice/Smoothies

First: Tropical Smoothie Cafe,

Second: Soho Juice Company,

Third: Juice Bar,

Best Locally Made

Hot Sauce

First: Tijuana Flats,

Second: Jason's Mom's Sauce,

Third: MX Taco,

Best Nachos

First: Gringos Locos,

Second: Tijuana Flats,

Third: Miller's Ale House,

Best Pho

First: Pho 88,

Second: Viet-Nomz,

Third: Little Saigon,

Best Pizza

First: Lazy Moon,

Second: Pizza Bruno,

Third: Mellow Mushroom,

Best Poke

First: Poke Hana,

Second: Da Kine Poke,

Third: Bento,

Best Pub Grub/Bar Food

First: The Porch,

Second: Tori Tori,

Third: Graffiti Junktion,

Best Ramen

First: Domu,

Second: Jinya Ramen Bar,

Third: Soupa Saiyan,

Best Sandwiches/Subs

First: Publix Deli Subs,

Second: Pom Pom's,

Third: Stasio's Italian Deli & Market,

Best Sushi

First: Kabooki Sushi,

Second: Seito Sushi,

Third: Sushi Pop,

Best Tacos

First: Gringos Locos,

Second: Tin and Taco,

Third: Black Rooster Taqueria,

Best Thing to Eat at a Theme Park

First: Anything from Epcot Food & Wine

Second: Dole Whip

Third: Butterbeer

Best Wings

First: Domu,

Second: Gator's Dockside,

Third: Papa Bees,

First: Santiago's Bodega,

Second: Maxine's on Shine,

Third: Briarpatch,

First: Yellow Dog Eats,

Second: Beefy King,

Third: Black Bean Deli,