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 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 Eater.com, 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

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. (delidesires.com)

Staff Pick — Best Dining Trend: Normalizing takeout

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

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. (lazymoonpizza.com)

First: Henry Moso, Kabooki Sushi, kabookisushi.com

Second: Wendy Lopez, Reyes Mezcaleria, reyesmex.com

Third: Jason Campbell, Luke's Kitchen and Bar, eatatlukes.com

First: 4 Rivers Smokehouse, 4rsmokehouse.com

Second: Tijuana Flats, tijuanaflats.com

Third: Hawkers, eathawkers.com

First: Se7en Bites, se7enbites.com

Second: The Briarpatch, thebriarpatchrestaurant.com

Third: First Watch, firstwatch.com

Best Brunch

First: Santiago's Bodega, santiagosbodega.com

Second: Maxine's on Shine, maxinesonshine.com

Third: Briarpatch, thebriarpatchrestaurant.com

Best Lunch

First: Yellow Dog Eats, yellowdogeats.com

Second: Beefy King, beefyking.com

Third: Black Bean Deli, blackbeandeli.com

Best Cheap Eats

First: Gringos Locos, gringoslocos.com

Second: Beefy King, beefyking.com

Third: Lazy Moon, lazymoonpizza.com

Best Date Restaurant

First: Hillstone, hillstonerestaurant.com

Second: Better Than Sex, betterthansexdesserts.com

Third: Prato, prato-wp.com

Best Outdoor Dining

First: Hillstone, hillstonerestaurant.com

Second: Grills Lakeside, grillsseafood.com

Third: Ravenous Pig, theravenouspig.com

Best Late-Night Restaurant

(serving after 11 p.m.)

First: Gringos Locos, gringoslocos.com

Second: Pom Pom's Teahouse & Sandwicheria, pompomsteahouse.com

Third: Lazy Moon, lazymoonpizza.com

Best Splurge

Restaurant

First: Hillstone, hillstonerestaurant.com

Second: Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster, christnersprimesteakandlobster.com

Third: Kabooki Sushi, kabookisushi.com

Best Place to Buy Meat

First: Petty's Meats, pettysmeats.com

Second: Orlando Meats, orlandomeats.com

Third: Freshfields Farm, freshfieldsfarm.com

Best Place to

Buy Produce

First: Freshfields Farm, freshfieldsfarm.com

Second: Winter Garden Farmers Market, wintergardenfarmersmarket.com

Third: Winter Park Farmers Market, cityofwinterpark.org

Best Place to

Eat Gluten-free

First: Ethos Vegan Kitchen, ethosvegankitchen.com

Second: Hungry Pants, eathungrypants.com

Third: Bolay, bolay.com

Best Bakery

First: Gideon's Bakehouse, gideonsbakehouse.com

Second: The Glass Knife, theglassknife.com

Third: Se7en Bites, se7enbites.com

Best Barbecue

Restaurant

First: 4 Rivers Smokehouse, 4rsmokehouse.com

Second: Pig Floyd's Urban Barbakoa, pigfloyds.com

Third: Yellow Dog Eats, yellowdogeats.com

Best Caribbean

Restaurant

First: Black Bean Deli, blackbeandeli.com

Second: Bahama Breeze, bahamabreeze.com

Third: DaJen Eats, dajeneats.com

Best Chinese Restaurant

First: Hawkers Asian Street Food, eathawkers.com

Second: Peter's Kitchen China Bistro, peterskitchencb.business.site

Third: Chuan Lu Garden, chuanlugardenfl.com

Best Coffee Bar

First: Foxtail Coffee Co., foxtailcoffee.com

Second: Drunken Monkey, drunkenmonkeycoffee.com

Third: Lineage Coffee Roasting, lineageroasting.com

Best Diner

First: Metro Diner, metrodiner.com

Second: Christo's Café, facebook.com/christoscafeorlando

Third: Linda's Winter Park Diner, winterparkdiner.com

Best Food Truck

First: Chicken Fire, facebook.com/eatchickenfire

Second: Korean BBQ Taco Box, facebook.com/kbbqbox

Third: Smoke & Donuts, smokeanddonuts.com

Best French Restaurant

First: Le Coq Au Vin, lecoqauvinrestaurant.com

Second: Chez Vincent, chezvincent.com

Third: DoveCote, dovecoteorlando.com

Best Greek Restaurant

First: Little Greek Fresh Grill, littlegreekfreshgrill.com

Second: The Greek Corner, thegreekcorner.net

Third: Mediterranean Blue, mediterraneanblue.net

Best Indian Restaurant

First: Tamarind Indian Cuisine, tamarindfl.com

Second: Mynt Fine Indian Cuisine, myntorlando.com

Third: Saffron Indian Cuisine, saffronorlando.com

Best Italian Restaurant

First: Prato, prato-wp.com

Second: Antonio's, antoniosonline.com

Third: Enzo's on the Lake, enzos.com

Best Korean Restaurant

First: Izziban Sushi & BBQ, izzibansushibbq.com

Second: Korea House, koreahouseorlando.com

Third: Chi-Kin, chi-kin.com

Best Latin Restaurant

First: Black Bean Deli, blackbeandeli.com

Second: Agave Azul, agaveazulcocinamex.com

Third: Zaza New Cuban Diner, zazacubandiner.com

Best Local Brewery

First: Hourglass Brewing, hourglassbrewing.com

Second: Crooked Can Brewing Co., crookedcan.com

Third: Sideward Brewing, sidewardbrewing.com

Best Mexican Restaurant

First: Agave Azul, agaveazulcocinamex.com

Second: Black Rooster Taqueria, blackroostertaqueria.com

Third: Don Julio Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar, donjuliomexicankitchen.com

Best Middle Eastern

Restaurant

First: Bosphorous Turkish Cuisine, bosphorousrestaurant.com

Second: Mediterranean Deli

Third: Habibi, habibilg.com

Best Seafood

Restaurant

First: Winter Park Fish Co., wpfishco.com

Second: High Tide Harry's, hightideharrys.com

Third (tie): The Osprey, theospreyorlando.com

Third (tie): Boston's Fish House, bostonsfishhouse.com

Best Steakhouse

First: Linda's La Cantina, lindaslacantina.com

Second: Ruth's Chris Steak House, ruthschris.com

Third: Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster, christnersprimesteakandlobster.com

Best Teahouse

First: Pom Pom's Teahouse & Sandwicheria, pompomsteahouse.com

Second: Infusion Tea, infusionorlando.com

Third: Royaltea, royalteaus.com

Best Thai Restaurant

First: SEA Thai, seathaiatorlando.com

Second: Thai House, thaihouseoforlando.net

Third: Thai Blossom, mythaiblossom.com

Best Theme Park

Restaurant

First: The Boathouse, theboathouseorlando.com

Second: Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen, universalorlando.com

Third: Be Our Guest, disneyworld.disney.go.com

Best Vegan or

Vegetarian Restaurant

First: Ethos Vegan Kitchen, ethosvegankitchen.com

Second: Winter Park Biscuit Co., winterparkbiscuitco.com

Third: Hungry Pants, eathungrypants.com

Best Vietnamese

Restaurant

First: Pho 88, pho88orlando.com

Second: Little Saigon, littlesaigonfl.com

Third: Viet-Nomz, vietnomzfl.com

Best Bloody Mary

First: The Hammered Lamb, thehammeredlamb.com

Second: Maxine's on Shine, maxinesonshine.com

Third: Ravenous Pig, theravenouspig.com

Best Burger

First: Teak Neighborhood Grill, teakorlando.com

Second: The Ravenous Pig, theravenouspig.com

Third: Hamburger Mary's, hamburgermarys.com

Best Cheesesteak

First: LaSpada's Original Cheese Steaks & Hoagies, laspadas.com

Second: Kappy's Subs, kappyssubsfl.com

Third: Cavo's Bar and Kitchen, cavosbar.com

Best Cuban Sandwich

First: Black Bean Deli, blackbeandeli.com

Second: Zaza New Cuban Diner, zazacubandiner.com

Third: Cubans on the Run, cubansontherun.com

Best Desserts

First: The Glass Knife, theglassknife.com

Second: Kelly's Homemade Ice Cream, kellyshomemadeicecream.com

Third: Gideon's Bakehouse, gideonsbakehouse.com

Best Doughnut

First: Donut King, thedonutking.com

Second: The Salty Donut, saltydonut.com

Third: Voodoo Doughnut, universalorlando.com

Best Fried Chicken

First: Publix, publix.com

Second: The Coop, asouthernaffair.com

Third: Chicken Fire, facebook.com/eatchickenfire

Best Ice Cream

First: Kelly's Homemade Ice Cream, kellyshomemadeicecream.com

Second: Jeremiah's Italian Ice, jeremiahsice.com

Third: The Greenery Creamery, thegreenerycreamery.com

Best Juice/Smoothies

First: Tropical Smoothie Cafe, tropicalsmoothiecafe.com

Second: Soho Juice Company, sohojuiceco.com

Third: Juice Bar, juicebarorlando.com

Best Locally Made

Hot Sauce

First: Tijuana Flats, tijuanaflats.com

Second: Jason's Mom's Sauce, jasonsmomssauce.com

Third: MX Taco, mxtacorestaurant.com

Best Nachos

First: Gringos Locos, gringoslocos.com

Second: Tijuana Flats, tijuanaflats.com

Third: Miller's Ale House, millersalehouse.com

Best Pho

First: Pho 88, pho88orlando.com

Second: Viet-Nomz, vietnomzfl.com

Third: Little Saigon, littlesaigonfl.com

Best Pizza

First: Lazy Moon, lazymoonpizza.com

Second: Pizza Bruno, pizzabrunofl.com

Third: Mellow Mushroom, mellowmushroom.com

Best Poke

First: Poke Hana, poke-hana.com

Second: Da Kine Poke, dakinepoke.com

Third: Bento, eatatbento.com

Best Pub Grub/Bar Food

First: The Porch, theporchwinterpark.com

Second: Tori Tori, toritoripub.com

Third: Graffiti Junktion, graffitijunktion.com

Best Ramen

First: Domu, domufl.com

Second: Jinya Ramen Bar, jinyaramenbar.com

Third: Soupa Saiyan, soupasaiyan.com

Best Sandwiches/Subs

First: Publix Deli Subs, publix.com

Second: Pom Pom's, pompomsteahouse.com

Third: Stasio's Italian Deli & Market, instagram.com/stasiositaliandeli

Best Sushi

First: Kabooki Sushi, kabookisushi.com

Second: Seito Sushi, seitosushi.com

Third: Sushi Pop, sushipoprestaurant.com

Best Tacos

First: Gringos Locos, gringoslocos.com

Second: Tin and Taco, tinandtaco.com

Third: Black Rooster Taqueria, blackroostertaqueria.com

Best Thing to Eat at a Theme Park

First: Anything from Epcot Food & Wine

Second: Dole Whip

Third: Butterbeer

Best Wings

First: Domu, domufl.com

Second: Gator's Dockside, gatorsdockside.com

Third: Papa Bees, papabeeswings.com

First: Santiago's Bodega, santiagosbodega.com

Second: Maxine's on Shine, maxinesonshine.com

Third: Briarpatch, thebriarpatchrestaurant.com

First: Yellow Dog Eats, yellowdogeats.com

Second: Beefy King, beefyking.com

Third: Black Bean Deli, blackbeandeli.com