Faiyaz Kara's 55 best restaurants in Orlando

Explore the Orlando Weekly restaurant critic’s essential places to eat in 2018

Faiyaz Kara's 55 best restaurants in Orlando
Photo by Rob Bartlett

“So what’s your favorite place to eat in town?” It’s a question I get asked about as often as the James Beard Foundation snubs Orlando’s chefs and restaurants for its annual awards – that is to say, a lot. My usual response – “Arby’s” – is typically met with a grimace, an empty stare, or a look that says Jeez, what a dick. When I first started reviewing restaurants for this fine publication back in 2006, coming up with a list of the 55 best restaurants in Orlando would’ve been – well, it just wouldn’t have been. Ten? Maybe. Fifty-five? Oh hell no. But that was long before our culinary age of enlightenment, when the unfamiliar tested the establishment; when genre-bending became the norm; when chefs wittingly tested our palates; and when restaurants of renown began gracing our city’s neighborhoods, hotels and, yep, theme parks.

I’ve had the honor, and the pleasure, of ingesting it all and it’s been nothing but fun. We’ve seen a bevy of Best Of lists released by various publications, including our very own, but this list makes an earnest effort to answer the question, “Mr. Kara, in your well-informed and battle-tested opinion, what are the best places to eat in town?” For each of the 55 restaurants ranked and listed below, I can state unreservedly that they’ve granted me some mighty fine meals, and memories.

Photo by Rob Bartlett

1. Kadence

The city's omakase game has gone banzai over the past couple of years, and the artistes at this Audubon Park nine-seater – Jennifer Bañagale, Mark Berdin and Lordfer Lalicon – work the white-oak slab, slicing, dicing and plating with such extreme care and precision you might not notice the sexagenarian next to you cringing at the piped-in lyrics of "The Next Episode." You wouldn't think it, but watching A5 Miyazaki beef being chopsticked onto a giant Pacific oyster shell, or seeing rinds of kaffir lime knifed into bowls for ... wait for it ... cod sperm soup, can be downright mesmerizing. Oh, there's a fair amount of flair, but pizzazz often takes a back seat to minimalist aesthetics, quality ingredients (fish is flown in from Japan twice, sometimes thrice, weekly) and an adherence to longstanding methods and rituals. I swooned over the trio's East End Market effort Kappo but, behind the dark, shadowy exterior of Kadence, I've tripped the light fantastic. (kadenceorlando.com)

click to enlarge Duck breast with mole negro, Norman's - PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
Photo by Rob Bartlett
Duck breast with mole negro, Norman's

2. Norman's

Fine dining is indeed alive and well, and at this perennial stalwart within the gilded walls of the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes, so is fusion cuisine – thanks to celebrated chef Norman Van Aken, who leaves the execution of his "New World" fare in the capable hands of executive chef Andres Mendoza. The menu's Latin-Caribbean DNA has seen little mutation through the past 15 years, though influences from China and North Africa make the occasional foray. Mendoza's tasting menu is the most accomplished in the city – a hickory-smoked tenderloin of American bison with Okinawa potato, Brussels sprouts, chimichurri verde, carrot tuiles and a black fig jus; or peach-barbecued Rohan duck breast with mole negro should give you an idea as to what to expect – and the doting service is unparalleled. (normans.com)

click to enlarge Lamb loin chops, the Ravenous Pig - PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
Photo by Rob Bartlett
Lamb loin chops, the Ravenous Pig

3. The Ravenous Pig

The "American gastropub" appellation may have been nixed, but it's never been more apropos for the Ravenous Pig since James and Julie Petrakis moved the restaurant to the Cask & Larder's old digs and inherited an in-house brewery. But the Pig is far more than your average gastropub – for one, the Petrakises have always adhered to a strict ethic of sourcing local, seasonal and sustainable ingredients. Couple that with CIA-trained techniques and a creatively unpretentious bill of Southern fare and it's no wonder they've brought their Winter Park restaurant national acclaim and multiple James Beard Foundation Award noms. Plus, it's one of the few restaurants embedded in the consciousness of the food intelligentsia outside our city. (theravenouspig.com)

Photo by Rob Bartlett
Kabooki Sushi

4. Kabooki Sushi

I'll just say it: Henry Moso is Orlando's most creative sushi chef and if you've dropped a pretty penny to experience one of his extravagant, multicourse omakase free-for-alls, you already know that. If you haven't, prepare to be floored. No, it may not summon memories of the traditionalist experience you had in the Ginza but, at Kabooki, Moso fuses imagination and fresh ingredients in a balancing act that's worthy of an encore. Watch what he does with live Boston scallops, or New Zealand steelhead trout, or Japanese red sea bream and rejoice in the flavors he conjures. Only ingredients of the highest order are good enough for Moso, and while the dining room itself could use a bit of a refresh, those patrolling the confined quarters are as knowledgeable as they come. (kabookisushi.com)

5. Victoria & Albert's

The grande dame of Disney's restaurant empire may have lost relevancy amongst the city's attention-deprived foodie contingents with its dated interior and pricey degustation of fussy fare, but tweezers, squeeze bottles, microgreens or not, executive chef Scott Hunnel still dazzles, incorporating foie, truffles, caviar and other haute standbys into his carefully curated tasting menu. It makes for refined dining in the vein of Jöel Robuchon (R.I.P.), Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud et al. even if Hunnel never quite attains their rarefied heights. Still, it's a unique throwback experience (servers are called "maids" and "butlers" here) of a slowly disappearing type. Not to mention the people-watching – Vic & Al's likely has the highest percentage of "special occasion" diners of any restaurant in the city. (victoria-alberts.com)

Jenneffer and Hari Pulapaka, Cress Restaurant - PHOTO COURTESY CRESS RESTAURANT
Photo courtesy Cress Restaurant
Jenneffer and Hari Pulapaka, Cress Restaurant

6. Cress Restaurant

Sure, there have been a few concept changes in the decade-long life of this DeLand charmer, but in its current state as a "ticketed events-based restaurant," chef/owner Hari Pulapaka not only probes and examines the cuisines of the world in his "global kitchen" but, more so than any other chef in Central Florida, does so while raising awareness of socio-political issues and championing causes related to food waste and sustainability. Whatever the cause, Pulapaka's menu creations are always interesting – Libyan camel-duck kebabs, Moroccan quail bisteeya, tempeh kofte etoufée – and their preparation indicative of his methodical and exacting nature (Pulapaka is also a mathematician, after all). Wife Jenneffer curates a dynamic wine list and, together, the duo bestow the sleepy hamlet with a semblance of cosmopolitan gentility. (cressrestaurant.com)

7. Capa Steakhouse

High-end chophouses are a dime a dozen in this town, but the sexy Spanish steakhouse on the 17th floor of the Four Seasons Resort Orlando is the only one worth braving the infuriating hordes of driving-challenged tourists for. A gin and tonic graced with juniper, Key lime and botanicals proves pacifying, but by the time you commence indulging in modern takes on Basque and Spanish staples, as well as USDA Prime cuts of beef, all is forgotten. The menu, conceived by the resort's executive chef Fabrizio Schenardi and executed by chef Gabriel Massip, comprises tapas (I can't get enough of the celtuce with chipotle and romesco), raciones and beefy cuts ranging from 30-day dry aged bone-in ribeyes to A5 Miyazaki wagyu. There are entrées (the duck breast with almond spätzle, seasonal fruit and a foie emulsion, for one) that wow as much as the ceiling-spanning art installation resembling a matador's red flowing cape by Peter Genetenaar. Cap your meal with sweets by Rabii Saber, one of the country's best pastry chefs, and a superlative meal will be had. (fourseasons.com/orlando/dining/restaurants/capa)

1921 by Norman Van Aken - PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
Photo by Rob Bartlett
1921 by Norman Van Aken

8. 1921 by Norman Van Aken

Luring the state's most acclaimed chef to Mount Dora – far from the burgeoning Olympic Village of celebrity chefs that is Disney Springs, where throngs flock for a rare glimpse of a TV hotshot and then settle in for a meal as fulfilling as an M. Night Shyamalan flick – was nothing short of a coup for this sleepy little town. At 1921 by Norman Van Aken, modernism supplants the mouse ear as the prevailing motif, with borrowed works and furnishings from the Modernism Museum next door taking eye candy to a whole new level. More importantly, 1921's menu reflects a genuine attentiveness to the flora and fauna of the Sunshine State. Here, Van Aken acts as our very own Michel Bras, conceptualizing a multiculti menu inspired by the restaurant's immediate surroundings, with talented chef Camilo Velasco realizing the vision. (1921nva.com)

9. Pizza Bruno

I know what you're thinking: A pizza joint in the top 10? Really? If you've sunk your pearlies into one of Bruno Zacchini's neo-Neapolitan pies, then you know it's justified. Fermented dough is scorched in a wood-fired, Ferrari-red Pavesi oven at about 900 degrees Fahrenheit until properly leopard-spotted, but the toppings, comprising new, at times seasonal, flavor combinations are where Zacchini gets creative. There's enough mod to entice tattooed millennials to shred a pizza topped with maple syrup, blueberries and guanciale, or one with charred peaches, romesco, pickled jalapeños and Volpi soppressata. Pizza is one of those foods that can divide households, but Zacchini is happy to straddle the line between purist and progressive. (pizzabrunofl.com)

10. Sushi Pop

Having three Japanese restaurants appear in the top 10 is reflective of the culinary one-upmanship taking place among local chefs and restaurateurs of the genre. And any conversation about the finest sushi restaurants in town will inevitably turn to the innovative cuts at Chau Trinh's spirited anime-themed eatery in Oviedo. Staging at Eric Ripert's Le Bernardin and Ronny Emborg's Atera in New York City, among others, has helped fuel Sushi Pop's progression and innovation, which starts with the prized cuts of seafood Trinh uses in his dazzling moriawases and omakases. Cocktails can get experimentally fun, but don't let the whimsical libations, hot-pink hues, manga art and anime on the TVs fool you – Sushi Pop takes its fun very seriously. (sushipoprestaurant.com)

Photo by Rob Bartlett
The Osprey Tavern

11. Osprey Tavern

Jason Chin and his wife, Sue, the local restaurant impresarios who've also given us Seito Sushi and Reyes Mezcaleria (both made this list, BTW), certainly aren't short on passion for all things culinary. Their handsome Baldwin Park boîte doesn't break new ground, as far as upmarket Americana is concerned, but who needs innovation when it's the perfect burger, a whole grilled branzino, or a bottle of Muscadet and fresh oysters you crave? (ospreytavern.com)

Photo by Rob Bartlett

12. Domu

"I want to put Orlando on the map with Domu," says Sean Nguyen, the sanguine owner of the East End Market ramen-ya and pan-Asian hotspot. Given the numerous national TV appearances his restaurant has made, I'd say he's done just that. Domu has established its ramen street cred among the city's noodle cognoscenti, but the black truffle burrata, wings glazed in a kimchi butter sauce and signature cocktails designed by Rene Nguyen (Hanson's Shoe Repair) are more than worthy of mention. (domufl.com)

13. Seito Sushi & New Japanese

From-scratch ramen bowls, izakaya faves (okonomiyaki, uni pasta) and sushi of the highest order lend Seito elite restaurant status in Baldwin Park. Its sister resto on Sand Lake Road (run by Jason Chin's sister Jennifer and husband, Eric Springer) is just as dedicated to creativity and sourcing quality ingredients. Sibling rivalry? I'd say so. (seitosushi.com)

14. Hunger Street Tacos

Not content with merely churning out some of the best tacos in town, Joe and David Creech, along with Bruno Fonseca of now-closed Millenia 106, turn up the heat with various specialty items like vegan tlacoyos, pescado a la talla smoked over binchotan coals and (gasp!) tacos al pastor flown in from Mexico City and shaved off the trompo. Oh, did I mention they're doing pop-up Mexican omakases all over town? (hungerstreettacos.com)

15. Chef's Table at the Edgewater Hotel

Skip the Tasting Room and enjoy a more intimate affair with the chef's table experience (which is actually 16 separate tables) within the historically quaint walls of the Winter Garden hotel. Don't expect any cozy confabs with chef/owner Kevin Tarter, but do expect superb, and confidently executed, continental fare. (chefstableattheedgewater.com)

16. Luma on Park

The "Jewel Box" – a two-story wine vault stocked with 7,000 bottles of 80 intriguing varieties – is quite the attention-grabbing lure for bon vivants, but it's James Beard Award-nominated chef Brandon McGlamery's flawless renditions of "casual American" cuisine that makes wining and dining at Luma an unparalleled experience on Park Avenue. (lumaonpark.com)

Kathleen Blake, chef-owner of the Rusty Spoon - PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
Photo by Rob Bartlett
Kathleen Blake, chef-owner of the Rusty Spoon

17. The Rusty Spoon

Forging alliances with local farmers and food purveyors since her chef de cuisine days at Primo paid dividends for chef/owner Kathleen Blake when she opened Rusty Spoon. Her self-described gastropub is just as down-to-earth as the Iowa native. Her Florida-only seafood policy means local wild clams and octopus grace her menu, though you'll find that the beef (Deep Creek Ranch), pork (Palmetto Creek Farms) and chicken (Lake Meadow Naturals) are also locally sourced. (therustyspoon.com)

Photo by Rob Bartlett
Urbain 40

18. Urbain 40

The brasserie is bit more American after four-time James Beard Award nominee Tim Keating replaced executive chef Jean-Stephane Poinard at this Dr. Phillips haunt. Steaks, flatbreads and burgers aside, there's still plenty to keep Paris on your mind – the crepe urbain, mussels à la flamande and bouillabaisse Provençal are standouts. Plus, the French Colonial room with a Swing-era vibe is still one of the most beautiful restaurant spaces in the city. (urbain40.com)

19. Highball & Harvest

The Ritz-Carlton's farm-to-table restaurant (they literally have a 7,000-square-foot farm on property) caters to well-heeled vacationers and food-conscious millennials with Southern-inspired dishes employing local, sometimes hyperlocal, ingredients. You'll mostly find competently executed plates of comfort food being issued from Scott Pizzo's kitchen. (facebook.com/highballharvest)

20. Antonio's Maitland

Executive chef Patrick Tramontana's gorgeous, slickly staged Instagram posts of soft-core gastronomica have singlehandedly brought a whole new audience to this erstwhile bastion of the blue-haired. But his dishes aren't just photogenic – long-stem Italian artichokes wrapped in crispy prosciutto and stuffed with goat cheese, and braised lamb shank with a Parmesan-sweet pea risotto, are as magnificent to ingest as they are to behold. (antoniosonline.com)

Elliot Hillis and Seth Parker of Orlando Meats - PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
Photo by Rob Bartlett
Elliot Hillis and Seth Parker of Orlando Meats

21. Orlando Meats

At Edgar Massoni's gleaming butchery-eatery, a bevy of meats, offal, broths and fats can be had thanks to the relationships he's formed with farmers and ranchers from Weirsdale to Avon Park. Head butcher Raul Rubero is big on spotlighting lesser-known and interesting cuts of carne – they look enticing in the display case, but they're real lookers when cooked and plated. The burger is can't-miss, but the in-house sausages are irresistible. (orlandomeats.com)

22. Prato

If the crowd amassed on both sides of the restaurant's entrance is any indication, Brandon McGlamery's legion of fans appears to be ballooning like Tom Colicchio's political conscience. They come to feast on Italy's dynamic duo of carbs: pizza (wood-fired in Acunto ovens imported from Naples, Italy) and pasta (crafted in-house from scratch). (prato-wp.com)

DoveCote Brasserie - PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
Photo by Rob Bartlett
DoveCote Brasserie

23. DoveCote Brasserie

Having worked with such names as Boulud (Daniel), Cardoz (Tabla), Keller (French Laundry) and Van Aken (Norman's), and being named one of Food & Wine's Best New Chefs of 2010, it's no surprise chef Clay Miller's French and French-Colonial creations at this modern brasserie are as inspired as those of his mentors. (dovecoteorlando.com)

24. Sanctum Café

Chelsie Savage and her culinary conjurers have managed the rare feat of luring not just dedicated vegans to her inviting little Colonialtown eatery, but flesh-weary meat-eaters as well. It's, hands down, the finest vegan/veg restaurant in the city, though we'll see if it holds that standing after the Savages' Proper & Wild opens in Winter Park. (thesanctumcafe.com)

25. Se7en Bites

On any given day, the tables inside Se7en Bites will be occupied and the line to get into Trina Gregory-Propst's homey Milk District bakery will be out the door. Accept it; embrace it; ain't nothing you can do about it. Once you've come to terms with that inevitability, you can go about enjoying some of the finest baked goods and gut-busting Southern brekkies in the city. (se7enbites.com)

Soco Thornton Park - PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
Photo by Rob Bartlett
Soco Thornton Park

26. Soco

A fave among the city's brunch crowd, Greg Richie's stylish Southern boîte draws Thornton Parkers in with its impressive beverage program. The restaurant embodies a sort of rustic elegance, much like the deluxe Dixie dishes Richie offers. (socothorntonpark.com)

27. Reyes Mezcaleria

Sue Chin's design approach to her and husband Jason's NoDo Mexican joint appears to mirror the kitchen's – regionally inspired, with an impressively festive and folksy pastiche of elements you'll eye longingly, just as you will the carefully constructed Oaxacan-leaning dishes. (reyesmex.com)

28. Nile Ethiopian

To sample the cuisine from the "Cradle of Humanity" is to sample the cuisine of our past. At Ermias Hailab and Abeba Gonetse's Ethiopian restaurant, it amounts to scooping gently stewed and spiced dishes from communal plates with spongy, tangy injera. It's the one eatery worth braving the stupid I-Drive traffic for, plus the post-meal coffee ceremony can't be beat. (nileorlando.com)

29. The Pharmacy

The throwback speakeasy disguised as an apothecary is as fun a restaurant as it is food-focused and, for Dr. Phillippians looking for a change of pace from the slew of pedestrian offerings along Sand Lake Road, there's really no better choice. Like chef/owner Loren Falsone's modern American plates, the stiff hand-crafted poisons designed by Dominick Tardugno are an unquestionable draw. (thepharmacyorlando.com)

Black Rooster Taqueria - PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
Photo by Rob Bartlett
Black Rooster Taqueria

30. Black Rooster Taqueria

Black Rooster Taqueria isn't your average taqueria, esé. It kickstarted our better taco movement, and theirs are as corpulent as they are carefully and authentically constructed – bracing epazote in the vegetarian taco and earthy achiote in a pork shoulder slow-roasted in a banana leaf are poca madre. The pork fat taco will make you cream, while comforting bowls of pozole verde and beef achiote are two of the most pleasurable slurps in Mills 50. (blackroostertaqueria.com)

Lombardi's Seafood - PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
Photo by Rob Bartlett
Lombardi's Seafood

31. Lombardi's Seafood

While Lombardi's Seafood has been around for 57 years, they're a relative newcomer to the city's restaurant scene. Their café, in fact, opened just three years ago serving fresh, sustainable, simply prepared seafood, much of it snagged from the market under the same roof. It's the place to go for a proper Florida grouper sandwich sans gators and airboats. (lombardis.com)

32. California Grill

An array of Cali-inspired dishes as sweeping as the panoramic views greets guests at the Disney restaurant that kick-started the city's culinary transformation back in 1995. Spago this is not, and you'll pay through the nose ($37 for chicken breast?), but you can't knock the execution and (did I mention?) the view. (disneyworld.disney.go.com)

33. Smiling Bison

A better beef on weck you won't enjoy this side of Western New York, and enjoy it you will inside a 1910 building with throwback fixtures – you won't tire of gazing up at the tiered crystal chandeliers and original tiled ceiling. We'll have to see how the recent news of chef Josh Oakley selling his stake and leaving the restaurant will affect the quality of the dishes – Oakley and his team were as adept at making a bison (what else?) burger on Texas toast as they were a ducky duck-lovers pizza and bloody fine house-made sausages. (smilingbison.com)

Photo by Rob Bartlett
WA Sushi

34. Wa Sushi

Chef-owners Hong Wong (a Hong Kong-trained sushi chef) and Jeff Hunter have been at it here in Casselberry for more than three years now, and they're in fine form. Weekly deliveries from Tsukiji Fish Market have become de rigueur among the better sushi joints in town, but the manner in which Wong and Hunter slice, dice, fold, curl and plate that fine catch rouses me into a feeding frenzy. (facebook.com/wasushicasselberry)

35. Maraya Restaurant

With Violette Haddad in the kitchen of this Florida Mall resto, Maraya is simply the best Middle Eastern restaurant in town. Her veggie sampler holds the city's best falafel and labneh, bar none, and grape leaves, tabbouleh, hummus, kibbeh and tahini also grace the plate. Heavenly. (marayarestaurant.com)

Taste of Chengdu - PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
Photo by Rob Bartlett
Taste of Chengdu

36. Taste of Chengdu

We've had a bevy of top-notch Sichuan restaurants open in the city of late, but Taste of Chengdu is the best of the lot. Chef Xiong "Tiger" Tang, a graduate of the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine and former chef at Zen Restaurant inside the Omni Orlando Resort, fires up blazing dishes such as pompano with triple chili pepper, five-spice sauce and peanuts, and sautéed lamb with hot pepper sauce wrapped in foil. (facebook.com/tasteofchengdu)

Photo by Rob Bartlett
Swine and Sons

37. Swine & Sons

Rhys and Alexia Gawlak take charcuterie and whole-animal butchery very seriously at their bright Winter Park eatery – a nibble of the spicy Calabrese and nutmeg-and-clove Varzi from the charcuterie board is proof positive. Should you require further evidence, I'll just point you to one of their butcher sandwiches and, ohh, that Nashville hot chicken. (swineandsons.com)

38. Ravello

Four Seasons Orlando executive chef Fabrizio Schenardi oversees Ravello's kitchen, shunning trends in favor of fresh, simple fare like perfectly blistered pizzas fired in the restaurant's wood stone oven. But the house-made pastas (and a drink at the beautiful bar) can neutralize the sounds of wailing tots. Schenardi likes importing ingredients from his native land so, naturally, a trip here during white truffle season (October) is a must. (fourseasons.com/orlando/dining/restaurants/ravello)

39. Wine Bar George

The only master sommelier-led wine bar in town may feature 130 wines by the glass (and ounce!), but there are also some mighty fine small plates (porchetta-spiced pork cheeks), as well as family-style platters (Greek sea bass), to be had at George Miliotes' lively two-story space. (winebargeorge.com)

Soondubu at BBB Tofu House - PHOTO BY JOEY ROULETTE
Photo by Joey Roulette
Soondubu at BBB Tofu House

40. BBB Tofu House

The Korean fare is more than commendable, but at BBB Tofu House in the 1st Oriental Supermarket Plaza, soondubu – the fiery, bubbling soup of silken tofu – is their raison d'etre, and a sexier broth you never will see, reddened and rippling with the fumes of gochugaru and gochujang. (bbbtofuhouse.eatintakeout.net)

41. Jade Sushi & New Asian

Since an ownership change and interior revamp, the College Park mainstay has improved by leaps and bounds with a strong focus on quality ingredients and preparations. After sushi, I inevitably drown myself in the shoyu duck ramen, and, arguably, the best K.F.C. in town. (jadenewasian.com)

Chef Nat Russell of the Tennessee Truffle - PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
Photo by Rob Bartlett
Chef Nat Russell of the Tennessee Truffle

42. The Tennessee Truffle

The culinary hot pocket of Sanford lured CIA graduate (and former Café de France executive chef) Nat Russell to historic First Street, and Russell has devised a menu of Southern staples crafted with advanced techniques. The result? Dishes that delight and charm like a Southern dandy. (thetennesseetruffle.com)

43. Ararat Euro Food & Bistro

I take great pleasure in finding a restaurant serving exceptional fare from dark, uninviting recesses in the city. In this case, it's Russian and Eastern European fare – pelmeni dumplings, stuffed pirozhki buns, butterflied tapaka (Cornish hen) and stuffed peppers – from a modest retail center on the corner of Universal Boulevard and Carrier Drive. (ararateuro.com)

44. Peperoncino

If you've just come back from a gastronomic tour of Italy's "toe" and are already lamenting the lack of quality Southern Italian fare in this city, do yourself a favor and go sample the Calabrian eats at Dr. Phillips' Peperoncino. Chefs Barbara Alfano and husband Danilo Martorano's clear, brilliant flavors proffer enough new ideas to give the Old World-inspired menu a refreshing breath of life (and spice). (peperoncinocucina.com)

Chef Wang's Kitchen - PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
Photo by Rob Bartlett
Chef Wang's Kitchen

45. Chef Wang's Kitchen

At one point earlier this year, chef Jian Hua Wang manned the finest Chinese restaurant in town, until Taste of Chengdu knocked it off its perch. Still, Wang's noodle-pulling and plating skills are undeniable, while dishes like Japanese eggplant with peppers and potatoes and fish boiled in an infernal broth of Sichuan peppercorns, tien tsin peppers, and jalapeños keep the dining room full and happy. Just like us. (no website)

Photo by Rob Bartlett
Florida and Co.

46. Florida & Co.

The relationships Emily Rankin built with farmers, producers and purveyors helped her create a superb seasonal menu at this East End Market restaurant comprising all those Florida-grown and -raised ingredients. The edible arrangements she serves here – fresh, colorful and vibrant – are absolute pictures of health (as well as great fodder for our smartphone cameras). (florida-co.com)

Spanish charcuterie at Tapa Toro - PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
Photo by Rob Bartlett
Spanish charcuterie at Tapa Toro

47. Tapa Toro

With executive chef Wendy Lopez's recent departure, Francisco Galeano now helms the kitchen at the I-Drive Spanish restaurant, and he's keen on maintaining the high standards Lopez set. So long as he doesn't tinker with that paella teeming with chicken, chorizo, lobster tail and lamb chops, all should be fine. (tapatoro.restaurant)

48. Jiko

One of the more serene restaurants you'll find inside the Animal Kingdom Lodge, Jiko presents an African continent's worth of dishes in what's easily the most interesting menu on Disney property. Feast on Ethiopian ingudai tibs stuffed inside Tunisian brik pastry, a sweet/salty mrouzia-style lamb tagine, and Egyptian kushari. (disneyworld.disney.go.com)

Polpo at Bulla Gastrobar - PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
Photo by Rob Bartlett
Polpo at Bulla Gastrobar

49. Bulla Gastrobar

The raucous and lively atmo is intentional – this is a tapas joint, after all – but patrons are just as dazzled by the fine Spanish cuisine issuing forth from this gastrobar's cocina. At the helm is chef/partner Felix Plasencia, who serves fare that's pleasantly traditional and free of unnecessary frills. (bullagastrobar.com)

50. Pig Floyd's Urban Barbakoa

Thomas "The Tank Engine" Ward's Puerto Rican heritage infuses a slight Latin influence into his quality 'cue: Sweet plantains, fried yuca, and rice and beans go along faultlessly with everything from luscious brisket to succulent St. Louis-style ribs to flavorful pulled pork. Even the moist spiced-rubbed chicken is worth coming back for. (pigfloyds.com)

Photo by Rob Bartlett
Canvas Lake Nona

51. Canvas

The views through Canvas's floor-to-ceiling windows really do wonders in helping you forget the hellish drive to Lake Nona, but it's the menu of Southern and Latin fare (what could be more Florida?) that really steal the scene. (canvaslakenona.com)

click to enlarge Chef Laurent Hollaender of the Boheme - PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
Photo by Rob Bartlett
Chef Laurent Hollaender of the Boheme

52. The Boheme

The sultry downtown dining room is made all the sexier by executive chef Laurent Hollaender's French-leaning menu. His even-handed temperance yields escargots de Bourgogne that are rich, but not overly so, while seasonal dishes like roasted lamb loin noisette with a fat cap crusted with oregano fleur de sel, or duck breast with poached carambola, put Hollaender's creative skills on display. (kesslercollection.com/boheme-restaurant)

53. Hawkers Asian Street Fare

Slinging Singaporean-style Hawkers fare in this town seven years ago was a risk that paid off for this now-budding chain. The original on Mills, with its raucous atmo and tight dining quarters, is still an intergenerational pleaser, hawking everything from char siu and Filipino-style crispy chicken skin in jerk sauce to mei fun noodles and, of course, Malaysian roti canai. (eathawkers.com)

click to enlarge Giant macaron dessert at Market 2 Table - PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
Photo by Rob Bartlett
Giant macaron dessert at Market 2 Table

54. Market 2 Table

Ryan Freelove, an accomplished chef who solidified his cred under Scott Hunnel at Victoria & Albert's, presents dishes that are at once precise, seasonal and, for the most part, classically American. His fare is all very alluring, and the moody digs only amp up the seductive qualities of such sexy dishes as lamb shank with truffle gnocchi and stacked fillets of seared golden tilefish with a cascade of succotash and steamed Romanesco. (market2table.com)

Maxine's on Shine - PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
Photo by Rob Bartlett
Maxine's on Shine

55. Maxine's on Shine

The most neighborhoody of neighborhood restaurants deserves inclusion on this list for the unmatched camaraderie the cozy joint elicits among its patrons. Proprietors Maxine and Kirk Earhart work the room in their own whimsical, inimitable style, and the menu is no different: escargots, meatloaf, cioppino and lobster ravioli can all be had. (maxinesonshine.com)

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