The City Gritty-ful
We've got some incredible spots to eat in this city. To add to our bountiful selection, a lot of these places have some gorgeous design and ambiance for us to enjoy. After all, who doesn't love sitting in a beautifully designed space while eating a thoughtfully crafted meal?
Certainly not me; I'm a sucker for a great vibe while I dine, and being "in the business" I know that now more than ever, a pleasing aesthetic is pretty important. People are doing more research when they choose a place to eat like never before. Whether you are scanning images on Yelp, Instagram or other social media platforms it's not just reviews that people are looking at. It's what the restaurant looks likes that could be a determining factor.
But I recently saw an article posted on Design Spongelisting the places to go during 24 hours spent in Orlando and couldn't help but notice a trend.
While the places listed are undoubtedly great, it was mainly all the beautiful places, where the beautiful people gather. With a few exceptions, these were not cheap places and many of us that live here wouldn't be able to shop and eat at these establishments without dropping some serious dough.
While I love these eye pleasing food palaces and the local people behind them that have brought them to my backyard, not every outing worth mentioning needs to be an instagram worthy space of trendy lighting, wood beams, patterned tile floors and as I've seen it described the oh-so important "LA Vibe". (cue the eye roll)
Maybe it's the old Winter Garden youth in me that use to go shopping for groceries with my mother at Sak's where the floors were dirty and the cans were dented; but sometimes something special can be found in the less glamorous of packages that no one is paying attention too.
I believe it was Fergie who once said:
I still go to Taco Bell, drive thru....."
So where do we go in the City Beautiful for a great meal, with less of the flossy flossy coming out of our pockets?
I drive the same small strip of OBT between the I-4 ramp and Sandlake road during my daily commute, and a mural of a pepper wearing a sombrero has always caught my eye. I mean, why wouldn't it? After doing a little Yelp research and consulting a co-worker who herself is Mexican, I grabbed her for a lunch adventure.
We all know Orange Blossom Trail doesn't have a sterling reputation when it comes to cuisine, or much else, but maybe that's due in part to us not going to these mom & pop establishments because they might look a little sketchy on the outside or perhaps because they just don't have that cool factor.
You know what Taqueria el Mexicano does have? The DELICIOUS factor.
This is a family run operation complete with someone's kids milling about when school is out for summer.
I wanted to keep my first trip simple so I opted for three tacos at $1.50 each. One barbacoa, one asada, and one chorizo. As authentic Mexican tacos should come, these were given to me with meat only and I used the nearby topping bar to add onions, cilantro and fresh lime. Each one was better than the next. I think my favorite was the chorizo for the sheer flavor of the meat. It packed a nice little kick and my simple additions really let that flavor shine.
I'm not exaggerating when I say these are the best tacos I've ever had in O-town. The service was a little slow during a crowded lunch, but for the price and quality, you can't go wrong. Fiesta in my mouth party of one please!
The first time I went to ZaZa at the recommendation of a few friends, I had no idea their first location was over on Curry Ford Road. While the Altamonte location might be new and sparkling, the older location should not be ignored while they are still serving up some great food in a modest location.
The platters are plentiful and affordable, the Cuban Coffee is on point, and the Quesitos will keep you coming back on a regular basis.
I was recently at the aiport and was so excited to see a small Zaza in my terminal. You better believe I got a quesito to calm my pre-flight nerves! I ate it during take off and thought, there's no better way to die then while stuffing my face with a quesito.
Word on the street is that a new location is opening in Waterford Lakes, so hopefully the Zaza love will spread through the city.
You could easily say Orlando is not the place to find great Chinese food, and you would be mostly right. Until you walk through the doors of Chuan Lu Garden off E. Colonial. If you are wondering how I can talk about amazing, authentic Chinese cuisine with any authority, you'd be right in thinking that I have none. All I can tell you is this food is good, and in my experience with some really sad Chinese food, this is your best bet.
Dan Dan Noodles that bare no resemblance to what you will find at Pei Wei, some perfectly pan-friend dumplings, and Spicy Beef Noodle Soup is what we chowed down on during a rainy dinner the other week. Friendly, prompt service and a menu that I need to go back and study because the offerings are plentiful. In my opinion this place is legit, but try it out for yourself.
The space itself is clean, inviting and spacious. Bring a large group of friends, and even better grab the food late since they are open until 2 a.m.!
The hunt for good Cuban food doesn't end just because you find one decent place around town. Never give up the search! On a lunch break recently I found myself bored with the same old options in the 1 mile radius around the office so it was time to explore. I discovered a new (at least to me) Cuban restaurant in the shopping center past the Florida Mall. It had a steady lunch crowd, and some very friendly staff, so I decided to go with the standby order, a Cuban Sandwich.
First off, it was huge. Half of it could easily fill you up. Secondly, the bread was amazing. So soft, with crispy edges, perfectly pressed and glistening. Thirdly, it was jam packed with your standard Cuban Sandwich meats, but the flavors of the meat were far more intense than most bland sandwiches I had gotten used to.
Sorry Black Bean Deli, but I this is the only place I will be getting a Cuban sandwich at until further notice. I've had the sandwich three times since my first experience, and this was no fluke. Cafe Pinar knows what's up. Add a Cordadito and make plans to do no work after this lunch.
These are just a few places for you to check out that you probably won't see any glamorous photos of, or trendy blogs writing about, but I'm telling you to give them a try. Your stomach will thank you. If you don't like them, too bad. I do!