Restaurants in Orlando

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    Trendy Hannibal Square hotspot lures  diverse crowd for primo Italian standbys and wonderfully blistered pizzas, care of a custom-built brick oven. The egg-topped San Giovanni pizza is a crowd fave and ideal for sharing, but don't overlook carpaccio with shaved Parmesan and pear slices. Pastas and secondi are simply presented, and shine because of it. Reservations are strongly recommended.

    Every once in a while, a restaurant comes along that is so special, it causes a seismic shift on the restaurant scene. The whole staff performed such a dazzling job at our dinner at Citricos that it earned my highest recommendation even though dinner for two easily runs more than $100, and from some areas of town, a visit could involve a 45-minute drive. But Citricos is worth the travel and expense.

    Part of Citricos' intrigue is the setting – on the second floor of Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, a Victorian luxury hotel that evokes Old Florida. While the restaurant's menu upon opening late last year called for a Mediterranean-Florida fusion, the current fare is more southern French, with international influences. The atmosphere has modern sensibilities, with earthy tiles and rich decor. The kitchen is "onstage," so you can watch chefs whip up gourmet creations.

    Our waiter guided us through the menu, offering suggestions and tempting descriptions of meats sizzled over oak-mesquite log fires and dishes cooked in the hand-made, iron Chandler oven, acclaimed for bread-baking and slow-roasting excellence. The bread basket got our dinner off to a sensational start. It would be hard to exaggerate how moist and exquisite these breads were. The best were flecked with seaweed and pecans.

    Among the entrees, roasted loin of lamb ($36) is arranged around an incredible Maine lobster ratatouille, with quarters of buerre blanc and spicy cabernet sauce. Another winner is the pork tenderloin ($25), roasted on a rotisserie, served with basil pesto, a spiral cut log of scalloped potatoes, and mixed Mediterranean vegetables.

    Desserts include Key lime cheesecake and citrus crè'me brûlée, but we favored the bittersweet chocolate ravioli – a crescent of sheer escapism, cradled around a divine scoop of licorice ice cream.

    Citricos is worthy of the most special of occasions, or if you're just in the mood for an epicurean indulgence.

    Haute-Texican cuisine with Portuguese flourishes gives cause to visit this industrial-chic Park Avenue-area resto. From shrimp piri-piri to pollo pibil to duck confit tacos, chef Chico employs traditional and contemporary methods to skillfully render his dishes. If ordering Mexican doughnuts, it's possible you may get lemony Portuguese malassadas instead, sans cinnamon.

    My friend had a theory: The walls were bugged at the Flying Fish Cafe. We couldn't figure out how else the waiters seemed to read our minds when we had dinner at the restaurant at Disney's Boardwalk. As the wait staff roamed through the dining area, stopping by this or that table to bring food or answer questions, they always seemed to wind up at our table at the precise moment when we were thinking of asking for more (and more) of the moist, rich and chewy sourdough bread or wondering, "What's in this sauce?"

    It's rare to find a restaurant staff that anticipates your needs without becoming a distraction or invading your space. But Flying Fish Cafe has this one down. And the menu – new American cuisine with a seafood spin – is creatively and attentively prepared, though most of the entrees are in the $20 range. This is luxury dining that becomes affordable by virtue of the quality and value. Cooking guru Julia Child had visited two days before we were there, and she proclaimed it the best restaurant in Florida, our waiter told us.

    Located along the waterfront collection of clubs, shops and restaurants, Flying Fish has a whimsical atmosphere inspired by the golden age of rollercoasters, the 1920s. There is a faux ferris wheel and a collection of fish sculptures parachuting from the ceiling. The colors throughout the dining area are watery blues and oceanic greens.

    The menu changes daily to reflect what's indigenous and in season in the United States, which amounts to a constant logistics challenge for head chef John State. He consistently and successfully pulls off his synchronized fresh selections.

    For appetizers, we chose the "Flying Fish sampler" ($11) and had "snapper escabeche," which was cured in a spicy vinaigrette of olives and capers. There also was a chilled "rock shrimp roll" of sushi rolled up with wasabi, scallions and mayonnaise. But our favorite was the "peeky toe crab cake." It was so packed with premium crab meat, and just enough peppers, onions and parsley to bind it, that we wished we'd ordered this one as a full appetizer ($10-$20). Meanwhile, we stayed busy with a delicious bread basket that was so alluring we couldn't stop dipping in.

    The evening's entrees included pan-roasted golden tilefish ($23), a Florida fish that takes its sweetness from swimming deep and living on shrimp and lobster. Teamed with a subtle chervil créme fraèche, which had anise undertones, it was a real treat. Another entree, the red snapper ($24), is so popular that it has become one of several standard items on the menu. It was gorgeous in its presentation: The moist, flaky fillet was delicately wrapped in a crisp potato casing and served with leek fondue and cabernet sauvignon reduction.

    Desserts were equally impressive. We took the waiter's advice and had "banana Napoleon" ($7), a concoction of cinnamon crème brûlee, caramel sauce and whipped cream. Also delicious was a warm crepe filled with hazelnut praline and Granny apples, topped with vanilla-bean ice cream ($7).

    A tall crystal mug of Spanish coffee warmed our bones, thanks to a shot of Tia Maria. It was a perfect end to a perfect dinner.

    The sheer variety and low price point of the assorted dishes makes this hub of pan-Asian small plates a popular draw, but it's better for snacking and drinking beer with a group than sitting down to a trad meal. The menu attempts to replicate the feel of a Singaporean street-food market with an array of tiny, tasty Chinese, Malay, Viet and Indian dishes. The place packs ’em in, so call ahead or risk waiting.

    Sometimes having unlimited resources is a good thing. Where else but at Disney can you stay in a hotel overlooking 33 acres of savannah filled with 200 African animals? The Animal Kingdom Lodge is an impressive feat of design, and within it is an equally impressive new culinary treat: Jiko-The Cooking Place.

    Walking through the front door means emerging from a low-ceilinged entryway into the hotel's grand, six-story main lobby. The thatched, arched expanse above you is like a beautiful ancient grass cathedral. You can spend an hour appreciating details -- the giant mud chimney of the fireplace, the immense ostrich lamp framed by a wall-length picture window, the Zulu shield chandeliers -- and still miss things. Designer Peter Dominick calls it "an architecture of emotion," and he is quite correct.

    In the restaurant, mosaic-covered columns are accented by large copper-colored rings echoing Yoruba neck rings. Suspended from the midnight-blue ceiling are metal-mesh "birds of fortune" flying toward a distant sunset (the sun sets every 20 minutes; watch the back wall change).

    The staff, which comes from many African countries, is both courteous and gracious, wearing beautiful jalabas and kitenge dresses, clothing originally from Kenya and the berbers of Morocco. That Pan-African mix shows up on the menu in most delightful and surprising ways.

    Breads come from the red, open ovens in the center of the room (the "jiko") and are superb, particularly flatbread with yogurt and onions ($6.25). The maize tamale appetizer ($5.50) may look like Mexican food, but unwrapping the corn husk reveals creamy corn-custard cubes spiced with caraway and truffle oil. You will sit in wonder at the flavors. Try the "One Soup," a sweet and spicy mixture of black beans, apples and celery ($6.50). The South African wine list may be unfamiliar but, according to Wine Spectator, can challenge any in the world.

    Accompanying a generous beef tenderloin ($27.50) is what's listed as "macaroni and cheese." I heard every other table ask about it, which may be the idea, but to call oven-baked fusilli with three cheeses "mac and cheese" is grand understatement. "Baked chicken and mashed potatoes" is another misleading description for a slow-cooked Moroccan "tagine" (a stew of meat, fruit, vegetables and spices) that's presented in a mini enameled oven, crisp and delicious with a sauce of olives, grapefruit juice and garlic that's tart and sweet. The salmon ($20.50) comes perfectly seared on a bed of purple rice and orange dressing. It's one of the best fish dishes in town.

    Mamak Asian Street Food
    Mamak brings a semblance of Malaysia’s food-stall culture to Mills 50 with plenty of pan-Asian noodle soups, wok-fired delicacies and small plates. From beef bulgogi and seasoned cod in black bean sauce to char kway teow and kari mee, the dishes here are exemplary and thoroughly gratifying. Get a plate of stir-fried green beans to nosh on throughout your meal. To end, sweet ice kacang is a cold comfort.
    Editor's note: This story has been changed to clarify the fact that although Theo's Kitchen no longer operates at this location, it did not go out of business; it relocated to Curry Ford Road.

    Theo's Kitchen may be gone from this familiar location, but the space is being kept Greek by Mediterranean Blue, who also did us the favor of sprucing the joint up a bit, stocking eco-friendly wares, and adding a little flair to the menu (read: more cheese for everyone!). 

    Said menu is deceptively simple, populated with just a handful of sandwiches and salads, but nearly everything is a winner. The Provence sandwich with ham, brie, herbes de Provence-infused butter and Dijon mustard ($6.50, comes with a side) may be just a Greek Cuban, but it's a delicious trip across the salty-savory spectrum. The more traditional falafel ($6.50 with a side) gets extra points for fresh, soft pita and the choice house-made tzatziki sauce. If doing dinner, a side of olive oil and oregano-garnished Greek fries helps fill you, but it'd be a ' what else ' tragedy not to order it smothered with feta cheese for $2. 

    Orlando’s lone Ethiopian restaurant is a blessing for foodies with an appetite for the exotic. Utensils come in the form of pancake-like sourdough bread called injera, used to scoop intensely spiced dishes from a large communal platter. Be sure to sample traditional honey wine as well as Ethiopian coffee, brewed in a clay pot.
    Want interesting sandwiches (yellow curry chicken salad with toasted almonds, red apple and onion), unusual tea (raspberry-rose), killer desserts (lavender-peppercorn creme brulee), and a cheery atmosphere? Find it all here. Open 24 hours Friday and Saturday.
    Ra Sushi
    Trendy sushi joint is a magnet for the uninitiated, so those looking for a slightly more authentic sushi experience need look elsewhere. While flavor fizzles in such dishes as “Ra”-ckin Shrimp and “Ra”-llipops, striped-bass nigiri and octopus sashimi shine. The cocktail crowd can feast on sushi and drink specials weekdays from 4-7 p.m.

    Cupcake competition is fierce these days. Even narrowing the field to the dairy-free, Orlando has a surprising surfeit of places to get your pastry rocks off; it would take a big bite out of this space to name all the challengers this new bakery/coffeehouse/music and art space faces, so I won't. But few can boast such a convenient ' and charming ' location as Raphsodic, nestled on Mills Avenue near the intersection with Colonial Drive. 

    Luckily, they have enough Chinese five-spice brownies and sticky cinnamon buns and dense, moist carrot-ginger spice cake (and of course, the omnipresent red velvet cupcakes) to shut down your critical faculties, so any vicarious worries you may have as to whether owners Katherine Mosher and Charles Elliott can survive and thrive will be drowned in sweet, animal-friendly baked goodness. 

    The old-fashioned tile floor, glass-fronted display cases, exposed ductwork and high ceilings give the room a pleasingly industrial-cum-apothecary feel ' just right for a fix of healthy decadence. My only quibble is the weekday hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (9 p.m. Friday and Saturday), not quite early enough for a morning coffee and scone nor late enough for an after-dinner sweet.

    Top-shelf tequila and thumping music makes this Dr. Phillips taqueria more bar than restaurant, but there are pockets of goodness to be found on the mostly Tex-Mex menu. Tableside-prepared guac is tasty (though overpriced); chorizo, spicy beef and mushroom tacos and chomp-worthy; cheesy corn on the cob and pulled pork enchiladas warrant a try. You'll relish every bite of the freshly fried churros.

    Boho coffeehouse perks up the Aloma/Semoran corridor with bold brews, live music and a colorful aesthetic. Soups, salads and sandwiches comprise the menu offerings; butternut squash and tomato-lentil soups are spot-on, while sandwiches can be hit ("roast beef yum") or miss ("Tofurkey Day"). To end, the chocolate trilogy provides another caffeine fix. Closed Sundays.

    Greg Richie’s imaginative take on Southern classics has made Soco one of downtown’s premier dining destinations, thanks to such renditions as cassoulet of duck confit with boiled peanuts, molasses-glazed hanger steak with smoked brisket hash browns, and hot-smoked cobia with buttermilk potato cakes. Bourbon hounds will appreciate the extensive selection, while those with a penchant for indulgent endings will appreciate oatmeal spice cake with a pink peppercorn whiskey syrup or house-made moon pies served with a vanilla RC Cola float.

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