Eat Around the World in Orlando
The time is nearing in Orlando when we all start hitting up our friends who work at Disney for tickets so we can go to the Food & Wine Festival. Or maybe you're an annual pass holder who can finally go to Epcot with good reason. No matter how you get your tickets, people seem to love to flock there as soon as the festival hits, and to be honest, I was once one of those people.
One year I was even an Epcot pass holder (yes, only Epcot cause that was the cheapest possible option) just so that I could join other friends as we glided from country to country basking in the rich culture of foods and expensive "Disney magic".
The reality set in pretty quickly that I was walking around in disgusting temperatures, with what felt like hundreds of thousands of extremely intoxicated people, only to be charged for each tiny morsel that I ate. Yes, a trip around the world at Epcot can easily leave you out of cash, and potentially still hungry as you watch Boyz II Men's third performance, asking yourself "Do I have enough change in my purse for a simple Mickey Mouse ice cream pop, or is this truly the End of the Road?"
So Epcot passes were not renewed, and I decided to find a better way to eat around the world, while giving my money to local businesses and not the Mouse.
Located on International Drive is a delicious spot for Ethiopian food that really shouldn't be a hidden gem anymore. If you are one to be trepidatious about new foods that you aren't familiar with I would recommend the Chef's Special Combination platter ($29.95). It's a large mixture of chicken Doro Wat, Doro Alicha, beef alicha, beef tibs, cabbage, collard greens, lentils, and split peas. It easily serves two people and has rich flavors that you can grab by the literal handful by tearing pieces of Injera (Ethiopian bread) and taking a mixture of meats and vegetables bit by bit. Pair it with their honey wine or take part in their coffee ceremony to add to the overall experience.
Epcot's representation of Cuban food is almost as bad as Orlando's as a whole; but we can still find a few gems if we look hard enough. Hebers is a solid spot for platters. One of my favorites is the Palomilla Steak platter ($9.99) that comes with yellow rice, tostones and a small salad. Make a mental note before you go that Hebers does not serve pork, so this is not the spot for a Cuban sandwich.
Speaking of Cuban Sandwiches, this is hands down one of my favorite spots for a freshly pressed, bursting-with-meat, excellent pickle ratio, Cuban sandwich. It's so large, you can easily split it or save half for dinner. Their Cuban coffee is also delicious. If you find yourself hungry by the Florida Mall, skip the chains and go here.
I'm not gonna lie, sometimes it's wildly uncomfortable to roll up in a Chinese restaurant and not know what is going on. Staring at the menu for far too long and being afraid to ask questions is a common feeling I deal with, but nothing is gonna stop me from chowing down on good grub. Tasty Wok on E. Colonial, in my experience has been pretty chill, and well... tasty! I love their sesame chicken and broccoli and that will probably stay a favorite until I get more comfortable venturing into unknown dishes.
I'm not sure if King Bao technically belongs under "Chinese" or more of an Asian fusion category. Regardless, if you want something more casual it's a great spot to dive into a beloved ethnic dish that shouldn't be too intimidating. Some of my favorite baos are the Kimchi Fried Chicken, and the OMG "Oh My Grouper". The baos individually will run you between $3 - $3.75.
I'm not going to pretend that I know anything deep about Korean food, but I will tell you that I love Bibimbap. If you haven't had it, it's a Korean dish that combines rice, seasoned vegetables, meat, egg, and a variety of other toppings. There are a few places around town you can get it, but right now Korea House on E. Colonial has my favorite until further notice.
Some other Poke Bowls have opened in town, and while I will give them all a chance in due time, I have a feeling my heart and mouth will stay pretty loyal to Da Kine. I love that you can customize your own bowl and really go crazy with the toppings. My go-to bowl is salmon with mango, kimchi, scallions, wonton crisps, edamame, sprouts, cilantro, and masago. Da Kine is located inside the Meat House on Orange Avenue, they have a food truck that travels around Orlando, and they can also be found on UberEats.
OverRice is one of Orlando's more popular food trucks because the food is worthy of the following. I rotate between the Kalua Pig (Hawaiian pulled pork) and the Pork Adobo. It's a great portion size for the price, always juicy and flavorful, and Joel is one pretty rad local business owner.
While I love a good hearty bowl of Pho, sometimes it's just too hot for soup. Lac Viet has a great alternative on blisteringly swamplike Florida days. The #70 (Bún Lạc Việt) which is a filling bowl of vermicelli noodles, grilled pork, grilled ground shrimp on sugar cane, grilled beef and egg roll. All the great flavors with no hot broth to make you add to your pit stains.
Orange Blossom Trail is my mecca of hood tacos, and sometimes it can be hard to choose which one to love the most. Tortas El Rey has authentic tacos, flavorful meats, and wonderfully sweet ladies working behind the old Checkers windows. You can't beat these hood prices either. Note that there is no inside seating here, so eat outside or use the drive-thru and take it to-go.
There are two locations, Orange Avenue South of Downtown and Orange Blossom Trail. Here lies a platter of four different meats, Asada, Barbacoa, Carnitas, and Chorizo. Each one better than the last. Tacos were $1.25 each and took less than five minutes to get to my table.
While this is a fancier spot for Mexican fare, I will say it's worth the extra cheddar. First of all the chips are addictive. The tacos , while not always hood level, are good. I'm a big fan of their elote, and I am not mad at their braised lamb shank! It doesn't hurt that the restaurant itself is beautiful.
Zeytin is a newer spot in College Park with some great reviews. It's pretty impressive when you find out that the kitchen is run soley by the owner. Being solo in the kitchen didn't stop him from serving up our group of 7 seamlessly, although not at lightning speed. The lavas bread was heartier than some other places I've had Turkish cuisine. My main entree was the pide, which was almost like a pizza, and after munching on lavas bread and dips I could barely finish it. You could definitely get away with sharing items here. I wouldn't recommend coming here if you are under any time constraints, but when you want to casually dine on a new cuisine I'd give it a try.
I love an unassuming hole-in-the-wall spot with delicious, affordable food. That's exactly what you'll find at Mediterranean Deli located on Fairbanks Avenue. I opted for the open faced gyro platter and added tabouli to it. It's more than enough food for two meals and for under $10 you really can't go wrong here.
Over in Ivanhoe Village, on a perfect Florida day, you can sit outside on the patio overlooking Lake Ivanhoe and get some really great Greek food. My favorite dish is the simple Gryo Salad. Marinated Greek-style gyro over fresh garden greens, tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, onions, feta cheese, topped with house dressing ($9.95). Of course I add a side of Greek fries with feta cheese, because anytime you eat a salad it is required you balance that decision with fries.
For something a little more fast casual Hubbly Bubbly is another spot to feel like you are making better like choices then eating Shake Shack for the 5th consecutive week. My go-to item is the salad bowl ($9.49). I normally stick with lamb & steak as my protein, add lots of veggies, tabloui, and of course a heaping scoop of hummus. They have a location in Downtown, and you can find them on UberEats.
I don't care if you disqualify this as real Italian. I've never been to Italy because a magical money unicorn hasn't paid for it yet, but I'm going to pretend every time I eat at Pizza Bruno that I'm getting that much closer to my villa next to George and Amal in Lake Como. Also as a side note: Bruno does grilled octopus right. You need to try it, even if you are scared of Octopus.
Another potentially debatable "authentic" Italian spot for some of you, but the charcuterie board, pastas, and meatballs seem pretty legit to me and my half Italian roots. Prato is, and has been one of my favorite spots in town for awhile now. They make me feel #blessed.
While there are are many countries not represented here, don't worry - I'm working on Morocco, India, Puerto Rico, Germany, and a few others. My stomach however has to take it's time traveling the globe.
As always, all pictures are mine, all food was paid for by me, no freebies here. Support your local businesses.