There was many good meals this year, too many to share. So rather than telling you about the heroes that get all the love, I’d prefer to tell you about some favorite spots that don’t always seem to get the attention I think they deserve.
I think finding really exceptional Cuban food in Orlando is really tough, almost impossible. Do we have some decent Cuban food? Yes, but not every spot is a winner. I’ve come to hold just a few in my regular rotation, (Hebers and Zaza) but I think more people should give love to Cuban American Cafe. Not only are their breakfast options size-able for the price, but many are served on or with the best Cuban bread I’ve found in town. Not to mention, a quesito dipped in a fresh cafe con leche is more than a treat, it’s now a morning meeting necessity. It makes me forget I’m in Orlando for a brief glistening moment.
If you aren’t a breakfast person, their classic Cuban sandwich and media noche are both delicious.
135 W Central Blvd, Ste 160, Orlando, FL 32801
Thai food is a cuisine I’ve come to love, especially after being treated to some amazing meals from the mother of a close friend. I won’t pretend to know everything about it, but I appreciate the flavors used and don’t like places where dishes that are simplified for less adventurous palettes.
Even though I live close by, I’ve enjoyed being lazy ordering many dishes from Mee Thai through the Bite Squad app. I’ve gotten to enjoy the Masaman Curry, Yellow Curry, various noodle soups and the mango and sweet sticky rice which is quite decadent. Its modest home on Lee Road fetches rave reviews online, some by those who have access to authentic meals from family members; so I’ll let their love tell you it’s pretty authentic. I just know its delicious.
1200 Lee Road Orlando, FL 32810
I loved to order from Jesse’s back when it was located down near the Citrus Bowl and wait excitedly by the door for my order to arrive. My friend Monica told me about his business after finding him on Instagram and we would watch his videos and drool. My first experience left me a devoted fan. I never used the wet naps that came with my meal because I was content with sucking every last bit of the wing sauce off my fingers.
I’m partial to the combo because his food is so good you need a mix of all the hits. The deep fried shrimp with garlic and butter, the wings and their tangy, addictive sauce, and the juicy ribs. In all honesty, I don’t even need the sides because the food is so satisfying I’d rather double up on a helping of meat and pass on the mac and cheese.
Jesse’s has moved into a bigger dine-in restaurant right off of W. Colonial downtown, so I would strongly advise a visit in 2019.
810 W Colonial Dr, Orlando, FL 3280
In a city brimming with trendy coffee shops (and don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of them all) I gotta say my favorite coffee brand to emerge in 2018 is Piccolo. From my first Vanilla Lavender latte outside of Adjectives Market, to a rich Strawberry Mocha, they are consistently trying new concoctions, all of which I have loved. It’s their variety of drinks that keeps me intrigued and trying my best to visit often even though their new location inside of Eggs & Oats in Winter Garden is a good twenty minutes from my house.
The always satisfying drinks coupled with how welcoming and positive the owners are have made this a favorite that I think more people should know about. You can even summon their mobile cart for events, which I’ve done, which leads to very happy coffee lovers. I hope all good things come to Piccolo in 2019!
126 W. Plant Street, Winter Garden, FL + Farmers Markets
If you love cheese (sorry to the lactose intolerant) and haven’t headed to Winter Garden for a visit to Morthan Cheese yet, I would make this a high foodie priority. Whether you want to watch your cheese melt over a bed of potatoes, pretzel bites, or as an indulgent layer atop meats for a hearty sandwich, it’s an experience you want to enjoy and maybe even capture on your phone. They are quite generous with their cheese portions here. The sandwich I got was loaded with prosciutto an arugula before the cheese melt even began. Paired with a cider from Crooked Can, this meal can definitely fill you up for most of the day.
426 W Plant St, Winter Garden, FL 34787
With so many options for Asian cuisine all around town it’s really about what your preference is. We can all go back and forth arguing who has the best ramen or sushi, but at the end of the day I don’t think any one place reigns supreme. I think each contender has their own amazing dishes we love and hope they never take off the menu. For me, it’s the noodle dishes at Jade in College Park.
Oh, and the bao buns. Ok, I enjoy the ramen as well.
Basically, I think you should give this place a try and find your favorite dish.
It’s actually a beautiful restaurant inside, although I tend to dine outside and watch people walk by on Edgewater Drive. I’m very excited to try their new concept Susuru near Disney soon, but for now I love having a solid spot near home to enjoy.
2425 Edgewater Drive, Orlando, FL 32804
When people eat bad doughnuts it makes me angry. That’s why I believe everyone should know about DG Doughnuts. I don’t care where you live, or how far of a drive it is to visit them in Oakland, it will always be worth it because they are amazing. I’m so proud of what my friends Dave and Amanda have accomplished, although sometimes I do miss getting a beautiful box of twelve delicious doughnuts delivered to my doorstep. They kill the flavor game consistently with offerings like strawberry champagne, lemon meringue, piña colada, or banana pudding; not to mention their ever-changing seasonal favorites. It makes me tear up just thinking about how good each one is.
I can’t wait to see what happens for them in the next few years. They are ones to watch.
16131 W Colonial Dr, Oakland, FL 34787
I’m not much of a seafood girl most of the time, but earlier this year I noticed Mad Crab had five stars on Yelp with over 100 reviews. The people were raving, and I hadn’t ever tried it. After a bountiful serving of garlic shrimp, fried tilapia, saucy wings, seasoned potatoes and corn I could see that the hype was real.
The restaurant itself is small, and often quite busy, so this is a great place to order take-out and enjoy at home if you live nearby.
325 W Kennedy Blvd Orlando, FL 32810
I know it may not seem like a higher profile place like Swine & Sons would fit in a list of underrated places, but I think a lot of people actually sleep on it; especially their breakfast menu. I don’t see a lot of people singing their praises on foodie posts or even mentioning it when it comes to recommendations of places to dine in Orlando and that is a travesty. Their portion sizes are great for the price, and they take special care to produce outstanding dishes like this unforgettable hot chicken pictured below, and for me at least the service has always been wonderful. More S + S in 2019!
595 W Fairbanks Ave Winter Park, FL 32789
If you live closer to the core of downtown, you’ve probably heard of the Strand and eaten there (at least I hope you have). For those in the outlying suburbs who drive into “town” for date nights or special occasions, you may not have heard of the Strand or feel like it’s a place worthy of a rare night out dining option. It’s not lavishly decorated or nestled in the picturesque parts of Park Avenue, but it is by far the restaurant I recommend the most when asked for suggestions.
Their menu is small and focused, while being seasonal and exciting as new items appear. It’s been years since my first meal, and it’s still one of my top places to eat at any time of day. I can’t say the same about that for many places in town. My greatest wish is for breakfast to be served every day. If you haven’t given it a try, please pay them a visit in 2019. You won’t be disappointed, unless your taste buds are broken.
807 Mills Ave N, Orlando, FL 32803
Remember, Insta-worthy doesn’t mean good food or good service. It just means potentially good pictures, which can often be misleading of the actual quality of an establishment. Support the solid small businesses we have so they don’t disappear instead of taking the perfect picture.