It’s an ambitious move, making a list of 20 things in Orlando that we think everyone needs to eat at least once. So first, let’s talk about what this list isn’t. It’s not a restaurant guide – we’re focusing in on the plate, not looking at the whole experience. It’s not a list of the “best” dishes in Orlando – we’ll give you our take on those (and you’ll give us yours!) in Orlando Weekly’s upcoming Best of Orlando issue, out July 29. And it’s not a comprehensive inventory, either – we couldn’t possibly confine all the great tastes Orlando has to offer to just 20 plates. Think of this as a punch card, a bucket list, a map of flavors that will take you around the city and around the world. Gotta catch ’em all!
Japanese Breakfast Bowl Artisan's Table, 22 E. Pine St., 407-730-7499; artisanstableorlando.com Two eggs any way (we recommend poached) over Japanese sticky rice studded with bacon lardons and sliced scallion, drizzled with sweet chili sauce and sprinkled with black sesame seeds and spicy togarashi.
Jamon Iberico de Bellota Capa, Four Seasons Resort Orlando, 10100 Dream Tree Blvd., Lake Buena Vista, 407-313-7777; fourseasons.com/orlando A plate lavishly draped with shavings of sweet, nutty jamón de bellota, a pure Iberico acorn-fed ham, carved from the haunch that perches on the ledge near the kitchen.
Nashville Hot Chicken Cask & Larder, 565 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park, 321-280-4200; caskandlarder.com The Southern-fried chicken with a fiery bite and a telltale red hue pops up at C&L's dinner sided with cornbread and mac & cheese and at brunch perched atop a waffle.
Chongqing Lazi Chicken Chuan Lu Garden, 1101 E. Colonial Drive, 407-896-8966; chuanluyuan.com Sugar-and-salt-dusted nuggets of super-crunchy chicken nestle in a heap of delicately crisp red tientsin chilies, laced with the intense citrusy blast of Sichuan peppercorns.
Southern Poutine The Coop, 610 W. Morse Blvd., Winter Park, 407-843-2667; asouthernaffair.com It's not a traditional poutine, nor a traditional breakfast, but it's a humdinger of a plate: seasoned crinkle-cut fries smothered with sausage gravy and spicy cheese sauce, then topped with a fried egg and a delicate sprinkle of parsley. (Don't spare the hot sauce.)
Foie Gras Nigiri Kabooki Sushi, 3122 E. Colonial Drive, 407-228-3839; kabookisushi.com A tender, umami-rich slab of seared foie gras over sushi rice (tied up with a ribbon of red sorrel) over a generous lake of sweet unagi foam, touched with snappy shallot jam and dusted with black sesame-seed powder.
Roasted Bone Marrow The Pharmacy, 8060 Via Dellagio Way, 407-985-2972; thepharmacyorlando.com An unctuous scoop of "God's butter" (aka bone marrow) served on crisp 100-year-old-sourdough crostini, embellished with pulled oxtail and sweet-hot ghost chili-and-strawberry preserves.
Butter Chicken Tacos Pig Floyd's Urban Barbakoa, 1326 N. Mills. Ave., 407-203-0866; facebook.com/pigfloyds Juicy chopped chicken and jasmine rice topped with creamy orange tikka masala sauce, pickled jalapeños, roasted pumpkin seeds and cilantro, drizzled with yogurt "crema" and served on a flour tortilla.
Fu Man Chu Sandwich Pom Pom's Teahouse & Sandwicheria, 67 N. Bumby Ave., 407-894-0865; pompomsteahouse.com Spicy Asian pulled pork, peppery watercress, tangy goat cheese and sweet red onions spread with ginger-cranberry chutney, slapped between two slices and pressed.
The Ravenous Pig Old Fashioned The Ravenous Pig, 1234 N. Orange Ave., Winter Park, 407-628-2333; theravenouspig.com Breakfast in a glass: bacon-infused Old Forester bourbon stirred up with vanilla and maple, dashed with bitters, and garnished with a candied bacon slice.
Tonkotsu Ramen Sapporo Ramen, 5080 W. Colonial Drive, 407-203-6777; Sapporo Ramen on Facebook Rich, pork-bone-based broth swimming with thin slices of cha-siu pork, mushrooms, ginger, sesame seeds, bamboo shoots, green onions and fishcake; add corn and a soft-boiled egg for the full experience.
Bavarian Soft Pretzel with Pilsner Fondue Schumann's Jäger Haus, 25 W. Church St., 407-985-1950; schumannsjagerhaus.com Schumann's hand-twisted pretzel is big (but not comedically so) and poofy, strewn with salt crystals and served with a generous portion of beer-infused cheese sauce dabbed with whole-grain mustard.
Pork Belly Adobo Scratch, 223 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park, 407-325-5165; scratchtapas.com Small plate, big flavors: lush pork belly cooked sous-vide for 12 hours, then crisped up and plated with micro cilantro, nutty-chewy forbidden rice, a salty shoyu-based sauce and a perfectly acidic zing of calamansi lime juice.
Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate Pecan Pie Se7enbites, 207 N. Primrose Drive, 407-203-0727; facebook.com/se7enbites The absurdly decadent sweet filling is balanced flawlessly with a piecrust so savory, so pumped with butter and salt, that it almost tastes like bacon.
Duck Lovers Pizza The Smiling Bison, 745 Bennett Road, 407-898-8580; thesmilingbison.com A garlic puree-dressed crust quacks under the weight of duck confit, duck ham and duck sausage, topped with Monterey Jack, scattered with pea tendrils, drizzled with 10-year balsamic and crowned with a fried duck egg.
Chicken and Dumplings Soco, 629 E. Central Blvd., 407-849-1800; socothorntonpark.com A witty dish that resembles the Southern classic in name only: delicate Asian lobster dumplings paired with shreds of the tenderest chicken breast, dotted with local mushrooms, edamame and a soy-butter emulsion.
Squid-Ink Pappardelle with Mushroom Cream Sauce Trevi Pasta, 2120 Edgewater Drive, 407-985-2577; facebook.com/trevipastallc This soft, toothsome fresh-rolled black pasta (choose your cut; we like wide ribbons of pappardelle), with its faint briny aroma, is best topped with Trevi's funghi bianca: a light, wholesome cream sauce seasoned with white wine and lightly studded with chopped portobellos and porcini.
Pulpo de Gallego Txokos Basque Kitchen, 3201 Corrine Drive, 321-972-8852; txokoskitchen.com Bar snack deluxe: A chewy squiggle of lightly charred, ocean-sweet octopus tentacle balances on a solid slab of grilled potato, adorned with slippery golden caramelized onions and kissed with sharply sour-sweet salsa vizcaina.
Banh Cuon Vietnam Cuisine, 1224 E. Colonial Drive, 407-228-7053; ttranvista.wix.com/vietnamcuisineorlando Silky-smooth fresh rice crepes (think elastic Vietnamese rice wrapper, not traditional French pancake) enclose a savory mix of crisp-fried ground pork and chewy wood ear mushrooms, scattered with a crunch of fried onion and sided with a nuoc cham dipping sauce.
Butter Masala Dosa Woodlands, 6040 S. Orange Blossom Trail, 407-854-3330; woodlandsusa.com The thinnest, crunchiest rice-flour crepe wraps around a soft, complexly spicy filling of potatoes and onions cooked in butter. Slather liberally with green-chili-hot coconut chutney.