The new Orlando restaurants you need to try in 2018

Clothesline candied bacon from The Edison
Clothesline candied bacon from The Edison Photo by Rob Bartlett

Judging from the spate of new restaurants that have opened, or are set to open, in 2018, we’re about to be fed a healthy dose of tacos, coffee, doughnuts and vegan fare. Unlike 2017, we’ll also see the return of the celebrity chef, with culinary A-listers including Jose Andres, Wolfgang Puck and Tony Mantuano poised to settle into gastronomy’s Olympic Village (aka Disney Springs). Fast-casual restaurants may not be going anywhere, but the rise of the fast-fine eatery is rapidly altering our restaurant landscape.

And if last year was any indication, some of the restaurants listed below may not open at all (Circo recently got the square) and many will experience postponements courtesy of permitting wrangles, construction delays, money shortages and/or the ever-present unforeseen circumstance. Though, for the sake of our collective stomachs, I really hope not.

Agave Azul

The azure-hued taqueria has been somewhat of a favorite in Metrowest, but how will the Winter Park set take to it? Likely pretty well (this is accessible Mexican fare, after all) but, then again, burgers are accessible too and that didn't help the space's predecessor – Square 1 Burgers – all too much.

(Opening March; 900 S. Orlando Ave., Winter Park;

Bem Bom on Corrine

OK, they were supposed to open in February ... of 2017, but we're pretty sure it'll be worth the wait to gorge on chef Francisco "Chico" Mendonça's creations now that he has a full kitchen in which to work. Portuguese fare, with French and Mexican influences, is his specialty and it's what made the Bem Bom food truck a popular draw. The gut-rehab of the old BB&T Bank building on Corrine Drive has taken much longer than expected, but we're almost there, folks.

(Opening February; 3101 Corrine Drive,

Café Linger

A café with European flair and fresh-made pastries in College Park. Sound familiar? Well, Tartine Café & Eatery will have some competition when Johnson & Wales grads Michael Brito and Christina Gribkowsky open their Café Linger in the old NYPD Pizza space this spring. The pair plan on serving weekend brunch, and vegan options won't be mere afterthoughts either. Linger we will.

(Opening spring; 2912 Edgewater Drive;

Calle 3 M3xican Str33t Kitch3n

Never mind the annoying number jumble in the name. What chef-owner Leo Santos and his wife, Shirley, bring to the streets of Apopka is a true taste of the calles of Ciudad de México: elotes and papas fritas; slow-cooked carnitas served with pickled onions on homemade corn tortillas; flautas with potato and chorizo; homemade Mexican flan. Say it with me: road trip!

(Opened January; 1664 S. Orange Blossom Trail, Apopka; 407-703-2569)

Caro-Bama BBQ

Yet another in the line of food trucks going brick-and-mortar, Caro-Bama BBQ by husband-and-wife tandem Lora and Brandon Gantt will feature a hot sandwich bar inside the North Quarter Market, filling the void left by Farmacy. As the name suggests, their offerings fuse the smoking traditions of the Carolinas and Alabama. Yee-haw.

(Opening February; 885 N. Orange Ave.;

click to enlarge Chela Tequila & Tacos - Photo by Rob Bartlett
Photo by Rob Bartlett
Chela Tequila & Tacos

Chela Tequila & Tacos

So the Bento Group (who run Bento Asian Kitchen, Avenue Gastrobar and Sticky Rice) decided their other concept – Kasa – needed a rebrand, and so Chela Tequila & Tacos was born. Chela's Mexican fare is a whole lot less highbrow than the globally inspired small plates coming out of Kasa's kitchen but, hey, who doesn't love a good taco? Knowing the Bento guys, they'll do 'em right.

(Opened January; 183 Orange Ave.;

Choulala Fine Pastries

Here's a no-brainer: a proper patisserie on Park Avenue. Choulala's choux pastries will certainly provide boutique shoppers with a pause délicieuse for sweet choux, salty choux, entremets (think eclairs, mousses, brioches) and pan bagnat. That's plenty of reasons to take a load off your Tory Burch loafers.

(Opening February; 340 N. Park Ave., Winter Park;

Claddagh Cottage

We've all been waiting for Claddagh's grand reopening in the newly minted Hourglass District and, judging from recent social media posts, the Irish pub is looking as cozy as the original, if not more so. I'm relishing the day when I can indulge in cottage pie and a proper pint while trying to beat the regulars at trivia.

(Opening spring; 2421 Curry Ford Road;

Crepeway Caffe

I have fond memories of Konstantinos "Chef Dino" Chilias' La Creperia Cafe in Pointe Orlando, so when word came that he was opening a crepe joint on Park Avenue, my thoughts veered to the numerous crepes Suzette I enjoyed at his crêperie back in the day.

(Opening winter; 513 S. Park Ave., Winter Park)

Delaney's Tavern

Two doctors walk into a bar and decide to open a restaurant. No joke. Dr. Tom Winters and wife Dr. Becky Moroose will open a "Cheers-style restaurant and bar" inside the new Delaney Hotel on the site of the old Doc's on South Orange Avenue. As far as the food, expect "international cuisine" in small plates and shareable portions. Liquid scrips can be enjoyed inside a 360-degree bar.

(Opening May; 1315 S. Orange Ave.;

Digress Wine

The new owners of Cavanaugh's Fine Wines will give the College Park mainstay a thorough rebrand and a concept tweak. After some exterior and interior work, Cavanaugh's will transform into Digress and, praise Dionysus, offer wines by the glass.

(Opening March; 1215 Edgewater Drive)

District Gastrobar & Social Eating House

An upscale restaurant opening in the Parramore District is just a sign of how much the downtown neighborhood has changed. Come spring, the District Gastrobar & Social Eating House will serve dishes like panko-crusted jalapeño oysters, mussels in saffron broth and, be still your millennial hearts, okonomiyaki. A top-flight whiskey program is being developed as well.

(Opening spring; 532 W. Church St.)

click to enlarge The Edison - Photo by Rob Bartlett
Photo by Rob Bartlett
The Edison

The Edison

Another in a line of restaurants that was supposed to have opened last year, the Edison finally did this January and Disneyphiles have been relishing the post-industrial, steampunk-themed surroundings of the Disney Springs eatery. And also that 28-day dry-aged prime rib.

(Opened January; Disney Springs;

click to enlarge El Buda - Photo by Rob Bartlett
Photo by Rob Bartlett
El Buda

El Buda

Roberto Treviño, the man who battled Mario Batali on Iron Chef America, opened his Nuevo Latino restaurant inside the Bumby Arcade on Church Street in December and his Latin-Asian fusion creations are simply stunning. The man has some serious kitchen cred, and two of his fusion creations – pork and sweet plantain dumplings and duck breast with honey-miso potatoes – are instant classics.

(Opened December; 116 W. Church St.;

Ford's Garage

In their relentless, ahem, drive to expand across the state, the self-described "neighborhood burger and beer joint" is poised to put it into park at the Hamlin Town Center in the Windermere/Winter Garden corridor this summer. In addition to the pricey burgers (their standard burger will run you close to $11), there's plenty of classic comfort fare to be had amid a Prohibition-era, service station motif.

(Opening summer; Hamlin Town Center, Winter Garden;

Foxtail's Farmhouse

Sure, Foxtail Coffee Co.'s next-door offspring will bring more seats to the popular Winter Park beanery – but more than that, coffee obsessives will really get to tap into their inner Juan Valdez. A siphon bar will gurgle out delicate cups of brew, and classes will be held to help increase your arabica IQ.

(Opening February; 1282 N. Orange Ave., Winter Park;

Framework Craft Coffee House

While slightly behind schedule, owner Danny Alvarez hopes to commence brewing inside the way-cool building that once housed the Just Drive car repair shop sometime between now and March. Until then, sample his coffee at one of the many pop-ups Alvarez stages in the Mills 50 District.

(Opening March; 1050 N. Mills Ave.;

Garp & Fuss

One of the finest dining spaces in the city is now home to Garp & Fuss, a quaint resto off Park Avenue serving "American fusion cuisine" in a vintage industrial setting. The menu is still being tweaked, but you'll find a focused selection of salads, flatbreads, handhelds and meatless options like Buffalo cauliflower, boiled peanuts, and butternut squash and apple soup.

(Opened January; 348 N. Park Ave., Winter Park;

Grills Lakeside

The third restaurant in the "Grills" family is also the first not to be situated on the ocean. Grills Lakeside is, yes, on a lake (Lake Fairview, to be exact) in College Park, but the ambience is as laid-back and tiki-tastic as the others. Notable fact: They have a separate lionfish menu.

(Opened January; 4301 N. Orange Blossom Trail;

Heirloom Deli

The location for the all-vegan eatery by former Blink-182 road chef Mary Mattern and A Day to Remember guitarist Neil Westfall has yet to be determined, but we do know Heirloom Deli will be styled after the Jewish delis Mattern frequented as a child in Suffern, New York, as well as the now-closed Cermak's Subs in Leesburg, a personal favorite of Westfall's.

(Opening April;

Iron Cow

From the owner who brought you the Sandwich Bar comes this recently opened Milk District hotspot that's equal parts music venue, cocktail bar and restaurant. The menu is limited, but items are being added, including vegan options.

(Opened December; 2438A E. Robinson St.;


The celeb chef carousel at Disney Springs continues to go 'round and 'round with Jose Andres now joining the fray. Jaleo's extensive menu of traditional and contemporary Spanish fare (yes, jamón Ibérico de bellota will be offered) will reflect Spain's regional diversity. There are four other Jaleos, but the Disney Springs outpost will be the "biggest and most spectacular Jaleo yet."

(Opening spring; Disney Springs;

Jinya Ramen Bar

Thornton Park will be home to the first Florida locale of the popular ramen bar chain known for their tonkotsu. The menu also promises rice bowls, Japanese curries, mini tacos and a host of small plates.

(Opening spring; 8 N. Summerlin Ave.;


After a dispute ended Leguminati's foray into the Milk District, the trio behind the vegan operation have teamed up with Foxtail Coffee Co. and will open inside the beanery's new space in the Hourglass District. Breakfast, lunch and dinner options will be served seven days a week and will include everything from their CrunchMacs to breakfast sandwiches.

(Opening April; 2401 Curry Ford Road;

Little Blue Donut Co.

We all shed a tear when Scratch shuttered last summer, but those frowns turned upside down when Little Blue Donut Co. announced they were rolling into the Fairbanks Avenue space. Yes, we just can't seem to get enough of doughnuts. It's yet another example of a popular food truck setting up a permanent shop.

(Opening March; 223 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park;

Manzano's Deli

Permitting delays (what else is new?) prevented this New Smyrna Beach fixture from opening late last year on Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park, but we'll be gorging on their notoriously big sandwiches and subs – made with bread flown in from artisan bakers Tribeca Oven in New Jersey – in a matter of weeks.

(Opening March; 221 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park;

Maria & Enzo's

The Patina Restaurant Group continues to add to their Disney restaurant portfolio (Morimoto Asia, Via Napoli, Tutto Italia) and their latest, a Deco-styled behemoth complete with faux aviation backstory, proffers a taste of Southern Italy.

(Opened January; Disney Springs;

Meza Mediterranean Grill

Another restaurant that should've been open by now is this Baldwin Park Middle Eastern boîte by Nazih Sebaali (the man who gave us the venerable Café Annie). The kebab house with full bar will sit next door to Seito Sushi and offer the gamut of Lebanese-leaning staples, including labneh.

(Opening spring; 1780 Jake St.;


The California-based Neapolitan pizza chain has been on a nationwide expansion tear but, unlike the others, their Maitland City Centre location will offer table service in addition to quick service. Plus full liquor may be offered in the future at the 3,000-square-foot pizzeria.

(Opening late summer; 145 S. Orlando Ave., Maitland;

Peter's Kitchen

Peter Leung, who used to own Tasty Wok and developed the menu at Ming Bistro, opened his latest venture on East Colonial Drive and gastronomes flocked in droves for two dishes – the orange chicken and the butter lobster. Both are worthy. Dim sum, BTW, is offered daily – served from carts on weekends only.

(Opened December; 3922 E. Colonial Drive;


It was to be a lobster roll joint, but the King Bao owners decided to switch concepts and offer trendy Hawaiian poke bowls instead. They've experienced numerous delays, but a marquee is up so, hey, that's progress.

(Opening winter; 1225A E. Colonial Drive;

Shiraz House of Grill

The old Topp N' Pie on Alafaya Trail will soon give way to a Persian restaurant and, frankly, we couldn't be happier. Kebabs, stews, soups, Iranian-style pastas, and even desserts will be offered. If you're thinking saffron and rosewater doughnuts, you'd be spot on.

(Opening March; 688 N. Alafaya Trail;

Spice Indian Grill

Delays have plagued this UCF-area restaurant, but when Suresh Subedi's tandoori joint finally opens in the strip mall that also houses Valkyrie Doughnuts, East Orlando will be treated to haute Indian cuisine.

(Opening March; 4498 N. Alafaya Trail;

Stasio's Italian Deli & Market

Giovanni Fernandez and Elise Sabatino are the power couple behind the Hourglass District project, but they also own the building on the corner of Bumby Avenue and Robinson Street where Stasio's Italian Deli & Market will open. Grab-and-go items like sandwiches and pizza will be offered, as will espresso. The market component will hawk sundry imported Italian goodies.

(Opening April; 2320 E. Robinson St.)

click to enlarge Sticky Rice - Photo by Rob Bartlett
Photo by Rob Bartlett
Sticky Rice

Sticky Rice Lao Street Food

You can order the entire menu of Laotian delicacies for about $60 at this Mills 50 newcomer, but you'll do well to settle for just the standouts – lemongrass pork sausages, sesame beef jerky, street wings, papaya salad and oh yes, those pork tapioca dumplings.

(Opened December; 1915 E. Colonial Drive;

The Sugar Sow Bacon & BBQ

The bacon confectioners known for such gems as chocolate-praline bacon brownies and bourbon brown-sugar bacon roses will add barbecue to the mix when they move into the wee space next to Tamale & Co. Take-Out in Altamonte Springs. Yeah, you read right – bacon and barbecue.

(Opening spring; 1006 E. Altamonte Drive, Altamonte Springs;

Terralina Crafted Italian

Top Chef Master and James Beard Award winner Tony Mantuano will have a heavier hand in the goings-on at Disney Springs' Terralina than he did with the space's predecessor, Portobello Country Italian Trattoria. The fare, however, will be somewhat similar (we're told it's inspired by Italy's Lake District) with the wood-fired oven front and center.

(Opening spring; Disney Springs;

Tin & Taco

The SoDo outpost of Tin & Taco will be much larger than the downtown original and offer more menu items like chorizo, carnitas, grilled sirloin, empanadas and churros. To wash all that food down, the taqueria will incorporate a beer package store on site.

(Opening April; 419 E. Michigan St.;

Tori Tori

The traditional Japanese pub (izakaya) is the "missing piece" to our city's culinary scene, says owner Sonny Nguyen, who also runs Domu at East End Market. The name is a play off "yakitori" (so, yes, expect to see grilled chicken over charcoal). Nguyen says it will "stick to true Japanese roots, but incorporate modern takes."

(Opening summer; 720 N. Mills Ave.;

Tutto Caffe

Yeah, this high-end Italian coffeehouse was supposed to have opened in Baldwin Park this time last year, so we'll just hold out hope that Tutto Caffe starts caffeinating in February of this year (the new target date). We're itching to see that coffee printer allowing baristas to print images and artwork on milk foam in action.

(Opening February; 4833 New Broad St.;

Voodoo Doughnut

"The Magic Is in the Hole" is Voodoo Doughnut's credo, and the pair behind the cult fave – Kenneth "Cat Daddy" Pogson and Tres Shannon – are set to penetrate the very penetrable market of Orlando. They'll set up shop in family-friendly Universal CityWalk so expect to see their less risqué-named, yet still thoroughly sinful, creations such as the "Dirt Doughnut" and "Bacon Maple Bar."

(Opening spring; Universal CityWalk;

Walk-On's Bistreaux & Bar

His playoff run may have ended, but his restaurant run is just beginning. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees goes deep into the I-Drive fray with his popular multistory sports bar chain. Naturally, the place will serve bar fare with Cajun twists – think fried gator, Cajundillas, and, umm, crawfish etou-ways.

(Opening winter; 8100 block of International Drive;

Wine Bar George

Sure, it's six months behind schedule, but when master sommelier George Miliotes' namesake wine bar finally opens in Disney Springs, it'll take on the look of a "winemaker's home estate" and offer more than 100 selections by the bottle and glass in a range of varietals, vintages and prices. A menu of small plates will be offered to complement the wine list.

(Opening spring; Disney Springs;

Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill

A taste of Spago at Disney Springs? You ain't champagne-wishing or caviar-dreaming! Wolfgang Puck, one of the OG celebrity chefs, will open his bar and grill in the new "Town Center" area of Disney Springs. Cali cuisine with Med influences is what's touted, as is the restaurant's interior, designed by the famed Tony Chi, who's also worked with Alain Ducasse and Michael Mina.

(Opening summer; Disney Springs;

2017 openings:

Our top tables of last year
AJ’s Press
Bad As’s Sandwiches
BBB Tofu House
Hunger Street Tacos
Joyful Garden Seafoods Restaurant
Luke’s Kitchen & Bar
Millenia 106
Muddy Waters
New General
Orange County Brewers
Orlando Meats
Peter’s Kitchen
Pizzeria Roberti
Reel Fish Coastal Kitchen + Bar
Reyes Mezcaleria
Shiraz Market
Turkish Bar & Grill
Valkyrie Doughnuts
Zeytin Turkish Cuisine

2017 closings:

A few Places we’ll miss
Baoery Asian Gastropub
Bavaro’s Pizza Neapolitana & Pastaria
Citrus Restaurant
Colibri Mexican Restaurant SoDo
Millenia 106
Mucho Tequila and Tacos
North Quarter Tavern
Nova Restaurant
PR’s Taco Palace Winter Park
Paramount Fine Foods
Park Plaza Gardens
Paris Bistro
The Peppy Bistro
Pincho Factory
Polonia Polish Restaurant
Red Mug Diner
Rossi’s Pizza & Pasta
Scratch Tapas & Craft
Square 1 Burgers
Tchoup Chop
Two Chefs Seafood Oyster Bar
Zona Fresca
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