1. The Italian Stallion burgerat Se7enbites, 617 N. Primrose Drive, 407-203-0727, se7enbites.com
Chef-owner Trina Gregory-Propst runs a brilliant bakery-restaurant and bakes the best pies in Orlando, but this burger special, topped with savory-sweet tomato jam, pesto aioli and a crispy fried mozzarella plank, was my favorite burger in a year with many great new burger joints opening around town. (She had me at "mozzarella plank.") It also comes with the best fries in Orlando: crispy, crinkle-cut, and coated with ranch seasoning. Se7enbites was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives earlier this year, and chef Trina and her crew deserve every bit of popularity and praise.
2. Korean fried chicken wingsat Hawkers, 1103 N. Mills Ave., 407-237-0606, eathawkers.com
I'm not a big wing fan – especially greasy, crunchy, dry sports-bar wings, slathered in oily hot sauce to make you feel something, anything. But the Korean fried wings at Hawkers are the best wings in Orlando, juicy and meaty, with a thick, crispy breading that stays on, coated in a spicy, sweet, sticky sauce that ties everything together. The flavors and textures are so good together, I've never tasted their equal.
3. The Caponeat Bad As's Sandwiches, 207 N. Primrose Drive, 407-757-7191, badasssandwiches.com
I consider myself a connoisseur of salted, cured meats, and I'm always on a quest for the best Italian hoagie. While I've been a fan of LaSpada's Famous Hoagies on Lee Road for many years, this year I was introduced to the Capone, a weekly special at the new, aptly-named Bad As's Sandwiches. It features chorizo, capocollo, mortadella, ham, fontina cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickled onions and basil-manchego aioli on a perfectly soft French roll, not those hard "artisanal" rolls that shatter and cut up your mouth when you bite into them. Every one of chef John Collazo's creative sandwiches includes an ideal complement of crunchy house-made potato chips.
4. Beef chow fun noodlesat Peter's Kitchen, 3922 E. Colonial Drive, 407-895-8174
This new Chinese restaurant on East Colonial Drive is less than a month old, and they're already off to a great start. In addition to all-day dim sum and wonderful orange chicken (no, really!), the beef chow fun is a true highlight of their huge menu. The wide, flat noodles have the perfect "al dente" consistency; the beef is flavorful, tender and not greasy at all; and bean sprouts lend a nice fresh crunch.
5. Burrito al pastorat Francisco's Taco Madness, 6735 S. U.S. Highway 17-92, Fern Park, 407-865-4697
You can get some of the best Mexican food around from this humble food cart that sets up a few afternoons a week in front of the Lowe's in Fern Park. The tacos are excellent, but make sure you get a big burrito, stuffed with marinated al pastor pork (hard to find on local menus), rice, beans, cheese, onions, peppers and sauce, rolled in a huge flour tortilla and grilled until the soft surface is slightly crispy. So much more flavorful than any chain!