Orange County officials decided last year that we needed an official dish – like Philly cheesesteak, Nashville hot chicken or Chicago's casserole-like deep-dish pizza – and in their infinite wisdom, they decided on ... honey. (You'd think citrus would be the obvious choice in Orange County, but apparently that was too on-the-nose.) The 116 million tourists who visit the area every year to leave money at our theme parks and attractions probably think of Orlando's official dish as either a turkey leg or a big cup of butterbeer. But we're here to tell you, there are some dishes that are integral to Orlando, and you're just not a local until you've tried them at least once. Here's a list of old faves and new classics:
Roast beef sandwich and "Beefy Spuds"
424 N. Bumby Ave., 407-894-2241, beefyking.com
Family-owned and operated for 50 years, Beefy King's classic kaiser-roll sammiches and "Beefy Spuds" (tater tots cooked extra crispy) are part of Orlando's culinary DNA.
Pho and banh mi
Mills 50, all over the neighborhood
You can't throw a rock around the intersection of Mills Avenue and Colonial Drive without hitting a Vietnamese restaurant, and they are pretty much all good. (But stop throwing rocks, please.) When it comes to the iconic Viet noodle soup and French/Viet fusion sandwich, everyone has a favorite and an argument to back up their choice, so we're gonna punt here and recommend you try any of them – they're all good. (OK, our favorites are Pho 88 for pho and Anh Hong for banh mi. But YMMV!)
"Too much garlic" knots
3990 Curry Ford Road, pizzabrunofl.com
If you manage to get an order (they sell out fast), you are assured of two things: crispy, buttery, cheesy, fistfuls-of-chopped-garlic goodness; and absolute safety around vampires for at least 48 hours.
If you're truly a newcomer, you might not know that Darden Restaurants, parent company of the Olive Garden and until recently, Red Lobster, is based in Orlando. It's useless for anyone to deny their love of the chain's Cheddar Bay Biscuits (developed in the '90s to replace their underselling hushpuppies). However, if you're too fancy to go to Red Lobster, the Winter Park gastropub Ravenous Pig developed their own savory Gruyère biscuits as a wink-and-a-nod to Darden.
Linda's La Cantina, 4721 E. Colonial Drive, 407-894-4491, lindaslacantina.com
Since 1947, Orlandoans have been enjoying steaks at this checkered-tablecloth, old-school steakhouse – the walls of the lobby are like a history lesson. Might as well go for it and get the thick-as-a-brick 2-pound T-bone. While you're there and in the vintage mode, enjoy an after-dinner crème de menthe Grasshoppper in the groovy Fire Fountain Lounge.
Parmesan truffle popcorn
Luma on Park, 290 S. Park Ave., Winter Park, 407-599-4111, lumaonpark.com
It's on the "secret menu," but it's a pretty open secret these days. Just ask your server, and you too can get your paws on this salty, buttery, truffly snack.
Tortas El Rey
6151 S. Orange Blossom Trail, 407-850-6980
Operating out of a remodeled Checkers drive-thru, Tortas El Rey is perhaps best known for their heavenly carnitas torta, but don't sleep on their carne asada tacos either. Add salsa roja to the marinated steak taco with chopped cilantro and onion for an added kick in the throat.
Mama Ling Ling's Thanksgiving
Pom Pom's Teahouse & Sandwicheria, 67 N. Bumby Ave., 407-894-0865, pompomsteahouse.com
What can we say about this instant classic? It's a whole Thanksgiving dinner pressed between two slices of bread: turkey, stuffing, cranberry chutney, mashed potatoes and a side of gravy.
Buttermilk Bakery, 1198 N. Orange Ave., Winter Park, 321-422-4015
Buttermilk has only been around for a couple of years, but they crashed into instant popularity shortly after opening their doors, and you can find a limited selection of their widely varied pastries at coffeehouses all over town. But take it from us, their croissants are the thing. They offer filled varieties from chocolate to almond to tomato confit to a turkey-pickle-and-provolone stunner.
Chicken tender Pub sub
Publix, pretty much everywhere, publix.com
If you know one thing about eating in Orlando, it's that Floridians are fiercely, almost weirdly devoted to Publix Deli subs, and of all the varieties, it's the chicken tender sub they love best. Can't beat them, might as well join them.
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