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Insider Guide to Orlando Restaurants

“There’s plenty beyond Disney here, you just need to know where to look,” says Norman Van Aken, the Florida star chef behind Miami’s Tuyo, and Norman’s Restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes. With a large population of immigrants from Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia, Van Aken describes Orlando as a “tropical paradise for vibrant flavors.” Here, he names his favorite spots for local seafood, ethnic food and a mammoth sandwich (or two).

Best Local Seafood: Goodrich Seafood Restaurant and Oyster House

“Goodrich is right by the Canaveral National Seashore, and they change the seafood menu depending on what’s local and fresh. They carry things like Florida mullet and Apalachicola oysters, which aren’t too popular outside Florida and Alabama. People love their gator po’boys, but I like the crunchy fish po’boy myself, with whatever fish is fresh that day.” goodrichseafoodandoysterhouse.com

Orlando Restaurants: Prato
Photo courtesy of Prato.

Popular Trattoria: Prato

“Prato is kind of a hot spot right now in Winter Park. I’d call it Modern Italian, with an emphasis on locally sourced meats, handmade noodles and flatbreads.” prato-wp.com

Old-School Breakfast: The Old Spanish Sugar Mill

“This old-timey country inn inside DeLeon Springs State Park has been around forever; it’s got a totally old-school Americana vibe. You can get a ton of different kinds of pancakes there. There’s a gift shop selling trinkets and knickknacks, but you can escape it all and go canoeing in a little lake that’s right there.” planetdeland.com/sugarmill

Favorite Tex-Mex: Cocina 214

“This restaurant is run by a Texas-transplant couple. They have amazing tamales, tortillas made on-site and they do hand-crushed guacamole right in front of you. They even have a little garden outside the back door, where they grow their own tomatoes, peppers and herbs.” cocina214.com

Orlando Restaurants: 4 Rivers Smokehouse
Photo courtesy of 4 Rivers Smokehouse

Barbecue Worth the Wait: 4 Rivers Smokehouse

“You’re always gonna wait in line to get John Rivers’s spareribs and brisket. But people don’t mind. They wait. Their ribs aren’t really wet or dry—they’re somewhere in between. They’re just classic.” 4rsmokehouse.com

Gut-Busting Sandwiches: Martin’s BBQ

“I don’t really think of this place for barbecue, I think of it for a sandwich called the tripleta. It’s a giant Puerto Rican construction with three different meats: pork, sausage and sometimes chicken. There’s basically a cafeteria setup—I went with some of my chefs, and they steered me past the display and right to the tripleta.” facebook.com/MARTINS-BBQ

Gut-Busting Sandwiches, Part II: Yellow Dog Eats

“The chef here, Fish Morgan, used to work for me back in Key West. He makes something called a White Trash Sandwich: pulled pork, Gouda cheese, spiced-up coleslaw, bacon and a classic mojo sauce that he secretly got from me.” yellowdogeats.com

Orlando Restaurants: Cask & Larder
Photo courtesy of Cask & Larder

Busy Gastropub: Cask & Larder

“The young couple who run the very popular Ravenous Pig opened this gastropub with their own brewing facility on-site. It’s a great place to hang out for farm-to-table food and, of course, plenty of fresh beer.” caskandlarder.com

Best Sweet-Salty Snack: Dolce Bakery & Cafe

“This Venezuelan bakery has an interesting backstory—the owner’s family came from Italy to Venezuela, so there’s influence from both cuisines. One of my favorites here is the pan de jamon—a cylindrical bread stuffed with ham, bacon, olives and raisins—that makes an amazing sweet and salty combo.” dolce-usa.com

Overachieving Food Truck: Big Wheel Provisions

“The guy who runs this truck, Tony Adams, mixes up the menu a lot. I’ve had sea bass crudo that’s sublime. He also does great pork cracklings, and I’ve been known to crush them up with my fingers to season the sea bass.” bigwheelprovisions.com

Delicious Vietnamese Crêpes: Viet Garden

“There’s a whole Chinese-Vietnamese enclave around Colonial Drive. A lot of people like Viet Garden for its pho, but I usually go after what they call golden pancakes. Their Vietnamese name is banh xèo—they’re kind of like crepes combined with a thin omelet, and they come loaded up with bean sprouts, herbs and shrimp or pork.” vietgardenorlando.com

Go-To Chinese: Chan’s Chinese Cuisine

“This is another pick in the Colonial area. You need to ask for the real Chinese menu because they probably won’t offer it. I like the roast duck, and if I’m feeling more adventurous, the crispy fried pork intestines. It comes with a few different sauces: soy, hoisin, and one that has a honey-chile base.”

Orlando Restaurants: Grand Bohemian Hotel Bar
Photo courtesy of Grand Bohemian Hotel

Best Hotel Bar: The Grand Bohemian Hotel

“The Grand Bohemian is part of the boutique Kessler collection, and they have an amazing art collection. Their bar, Bösendorfer Lounge, serves absolutely killer martinis.” grandbohemianhotel.com

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