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click to enlarge Tonkotsu ramen from Ramen Takagi

Photo by Louis Rosen

Tonkotsu ramen from Ramen Takagi

Top Tastes 2020: The 10 best dishes we tried in Orlando this year 

2020 was a hell year for many of us. I haven’t sat down to eat in a restaurant since March 7, but I’ve ordered lots of delicious takeout throughout the year, to help support the local restaurants I love. These are some of my favorites among the dishes I’ve enjoyed this year, including several from new restaurants that opened in 2020. They could use your business now more than ever, and you deserve to eat something delicious, now more than ever.

Tonkotsu ramen from Ramen Takagi:
Yoko Takagi and her Japanese-Venezuelan family moved to Orlando last year, and they just opened their first restaurant, a small, casual ramen shop in Oviedo. They serve multiple kinds of noodle soups, but their version of tonkotsu ramen, with slices of rich, fatty chashu pork, pickled ginger, scallions, a marinated ajitamago egg, and springy noodles in a creamy pork bone broth, is my favorite tonkotsu in the Orlando area.

Lahmacun from Beyti Mediterranean Grill:
This wonderful Turkish restaurant just opened recently in the old Rolando’s Cuban space in Casselberry. Everything I tried was amazing, from the sautéed eggplant to the fluffy, puffy lavash bread to the namesake Beyti dish, but lahmacun is one of my go-to Turkish dishes: soft, thin flatbread covered with beef or lamb, seasoned with tomatoes, onions, peppers, and parsley – kind of like a Turkish personal pizza, minus the cheese. You can slice it like a pizza, rip off chunks, or do what I do and roll it up to eat it. I tried recreating lahmacun at home as part of a Thanksgiving feast, but quickly realized it is best left to the professionals. And nobody around here bakes it better than Beyti.


click to enlarge Slow-roasted pork sandwich from Uncommon Catering and Eatery - PHOTO BY LOUIS ROSEN
  • Photo by Louis Rosen
  • Slow-roasted pork sandwich from Uncommon Catering and Eatery

Slow-roasted pork sandwich from Uncommon Catering and Eatery:
J. Travis Smith and Tara Vernau-Smith expanded their vaunted catering business into this beautiful, quaint restaurant on Curry Ford Road right before the pandemic hit big in March, but they have been holding on with an eclectic everyday menu and a number of specially curated pop-up curbside dinner services throughout the year. I've loved everything I tried there so far, but my favorite was this roast pork sandwich, topped with sharp provolone, broccoli rabe, and banana peppers. It is their recreation of the famous classic from DiNic’s in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market – the sandwich that deserves to be Philly’s iconic No .1 sandwich.

click to enlarge Double-decker pizza from Brad’s Underground Pizza - PHOTO BY LOUIS ROSEN
  • Photo by Louis Rosen
  • Double-decker pizza from Brad’s Underground Pizza

Double-decker pizza from Brad’s Underground Pizza:
Plan your order a day or more in advance, because Brad Czerkies’ business is blowing up, and he gets slammed. Slide into his Instagram DMs and request a Chicago-style deep dish pizza or the gorgeous double-decker pizza I ordered – two thin-crust pizzas connected by this beautiful braided crust. Czerkies personally delivers within 25 minutes or 15 miles of Maitland. Get ready to be blown away by Orlando’s newest and most mysterious pizza paladin.

click to enlarge Salt and pepper softshell crabs from Mei’s Kitchen - PHOTO BY LOUIS ROSEN
  • Photo by Louis Rosen
  • Salt and pepper softshell crabs from Mei’s Kitchen
Salt and pepper softshell crabs from Mei’s Kitchen:
You get two whole soft-shell crabs, golden-fried to perfection, for $8.95 at this new Taiwanese restaurant that opened earlier this year, and they come with a generous dipping cup of spicy mayo for an ideal combination of flavors, textures, and colors. Don’t miss the Taiwanese beef noodle soup here either, topped with finely chopped cilantro and pickled mustard greens. If we get any more chilly days, you’ll be happy we had this talk.

Collard melt sandwich from Mason Jar Provisions:
This tiny new restaurant located next door to Burton’s Bar in Thornton Park is already winning hearts and blowing minds with scratch-made pasta, smash-style burgers, and other Southern-accented standards. The most unique thing I tried was their vegetarian-friendly collard melt sandwich, combining multiple things I love: braised collard greens, pimento cheese, chow chow relish, and balsamic reduction on grilled sourdough bread. It’s a true Southern comfort.

Veal biryani from Oh My Gyro:
Not only is this small Longwood restaurant recreating the beloved New York City street food platters of halal gyro, chicken, and falafel served with rice, salad, pita, creamy white sauce, and dangerous hot sauce, but they regularly run limited-time specials combining Middle Eastern, Indian, and East African flavors. I’m glad I didn’t miss this tender, medium-spicy, bone-in veal biryani, served over basmati rice with raita yogurt sauce, pickled onions and other vegetables, and two sweet ladoo balls on the side. Follow them on social media and if they ever bring it back, don’t miss it!

Southern poutine from Git-N-Messy BBQ:
By now, meat maven Chuck Cobb’s legend has grown as his barbecue operation has grown from a convenience store in Sanford to another one in Winter Park, and most recently into Red-Eye Sports Tavern in Winter Springs. Throughout the pandemic, I probably ordered more takeout food from him than from anywhere else, especially as his limited-time specials kept luring me back. But as amazing as his giant beef rib, jalapeño cheddar smoked sausage, and Nashville hot chicken are, my favorite item might be his Southern poutine, a mountain of Sidewinder fries (the best kind of fries, IMO) topped with pulled pork, cheese sauce, cheese curds, coleslaw, and his own barbecue sauce. You can’t eat like this all the time, which makes it that much more of a special treat when you do. 

Burger special from Alex’s Fresh Kitchen:
This Casselberry restaurant opened in 2019 and has become a local favorite, but people should be traveling here from far and wide. Chef Alex Diaz crafted the best burger I’ve eaten this year: one of his weekly specials, cooked to a perfect medium rare, served on a lightly griddled brioche bun, and topped with fried onion strings, barbecue sauce, pulled bacon, and the most delicious roasted tomato aioli. His aioli game is strong, so order some home fries and multiple aiolis for dipping! Diaz always has interesting specials on the menu, and his mom, Deborah McDowell, bakes their delicious, decadent desserts (which are all gluten-free).

Lobster roll from Something Fishy: 
Terence and Patrice Phillips, the nicest couple, run this casual seafood restaurant in Apopka, making it a true mom-and-pop operation. They serve the most unusual lobster roll sandwich I’ve had in Central Florida, with the meat warm and sautéed in butter, instead of the usual preparation, served cold and tossed in mayo. The Phillips’ roll is served on a soft bun with plenty of buttery sautéed cabbage. I could easily eat two of three of these, but because it was “market price,” I stuck to one. However, I also ordered some delicious fried oysters and some of the better onion rings I’ve had around town. Ring the alarm!

Orlando food enthusiast Louis Rosen blogs about restaurants and cooking at Saboscrivner.com.



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