Orlando

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Once known only as a hub for bland downscale chain restaurants, Orlando has blossomed as a dining destination in the last few years. You’ll still find those familiar signs but they vie for your business with excellent independents – barebones, exclusive, and in between.

Top Restaurants in Orlando

4 Rivers Smokehouse

This restaurant has five outposts in Florida, with another slated to open in Tallahassee, and specializes in tantalizing BBQ dishes. Choose from delectable pulled pork, chicken, ribs, and other delights.

FL, https://4rsmokehouse.com/
Tags: family | budget | editor pick | great value | local favorite | bbq

Christini's

A favorite of visiting deep-pocketed business folk since 1984, Christini's does traditional Italian fare for a well-heeled crowd. From the brocade curtains and satin draping that seal it away from its strip mall location to the tapestry-covered booths and antique accents in the dining room, it screams special-occasion dining. A strolling accordion player and roses handed out to female diners add to the old-school ambiance. Favorite entrees include the sage-seasoned veal chop with Calvados apple sauce and the Chilean sea bass over shrimp risotto with lobster-tarragon sauce.

The Marketplace, 7600 Dr. Phillips Blvd., FL, 407-345-8770, www.christinis.com
Tags: expensive | local favorite | italian | notable wine list

Dandelion CommuniTea Café

In a city prone to clone, Dandelion is an original. Vintage velour couches and local art create a cozy vibe inside this historic bungalow, where the order of the day is always fresh and organic – from loose leaf teas to vegetarian nachos and hemp hummus. It’s artsy, eclectic, delicious, and – best of all – cheap. Gluten-free and vegan eaters will have a vast selection to choose from.

618 N. Thornton Ave., FL, 407-362-1864, www.dandelioncommunitea.com
Tags: budget | editor pick | patio | cafe | organic

Del Frisco's Prime Steak & Lobster

The best place for beef in all of Orlando is this family-owned steakhouse just past Winter Park. It has a tangential connection to the national chain of the same name, but the Christner family has been making the decisions since 1993. The steaks – Midwestern beef cuts from corn-fed cattle – are so tender, no steak knives are even put on the table. Rich burgundy-hued booths and shiny mahogany lend it the air of a 1960s private club.

729 Lee Rd., FL, 407-645-4443, www.delfriscosorlando.com
Tags: romance | business | expensive | smart splurge | steakhouse

Dexter's

Inventive salads, fresh fish, and wacky staples like a pressed duck and brie sandwich combined with a casual, art-lined space make Dexter's worth a jump off the tourist track. This is the closest of the popular chain’s three locations to the tourist area; the others are in Winter Park and Lake Mary (both of which have live music often).

808 E. Washington St., FL, 407-648-2777, www.dexwine.com
Tags: moderate | great value | art | new american

Hawkers Asian Street Fare

Local hipsters convene for cheap eats at Hawkers, a wallet-friendly tribute to the street foods of Asia. Within a warehouse-like space, fill up on generously sized “small plates” of potstickers, curry meatballs, and barbecued pork “char siu” as well as papaya salad, noodle soups, five-spice tofu, and Vietnamese sub “sliders.” You’ll also find an impressive menu of beers – plus annoying TVs dotting the walls.

1103 Mills Ave. N., FL, 407-237-0606 ‎, www.facebook.com/hawkersstreetfare
Tags: family | budget | great value | local favorite | asian

Hue

Leave the kids at home and join the lively crowd at Hue to dine on a "progressive American" menu of creatively enhanced wood-grilled steak (with churrasco vinaigrette and herb-tomato mash) and fish (perhaps with caramelized lemon beurre blanc) in this stylish restaurant. The build-your-own-Bloody-Mary bar is a top draw, luring brunch devotees from 11am-4pm Sundays. Happy Hour is also a good bet after a day downtown.

629 E. Central Blvd., FL, 407-849-1800, www.huerestaurant.com
Tags: moderate | trendy | architecture | bar | new american

Le Coq au Vin

Step off the beaten path for this antidote to chain-restaurant overload, which serves its namesake dish and other authentic French fare in three warm, cozy rooms. Florida-grown ingredients play a key role, and chef-owner Reimund Pitz works them into traditional French recipes with a Floridian twist. Save room for the soufflés. Dinner only.

4800 S. Orange Ave., FL, 407-851-6980, www.lecoqauvinrestaurant.com
Tags: expensive | french

Market Street Café

Comfort-food favorites like meatloaf, roast turkey, and homemade milkshakes will please the pickiest of eaters at this friendly re-creation of an old-fashioned diner. Like the rest of the small town where it's based, the design is about turning back the clock to a simpler time. This is a low-key place to take the kids before or after the parks.

701 Front St., FL, 407-566-1144, www.market-street-cafe.com
Tags: family | budget | comfort food | diner

Norman's

Caribbean, Latin American, Continental, and Asian inspirations all find a place on the menu at this fabulous restaurant inside The Ritz-Carlton. Chef Norman Van Aken's New World cuisine is edible art served in a setting that’s all white linen and curved banquettes. Try the pan-cooked filet of Key West yellowtail or the veal chop with Chinese eggplant.

The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes; 4012 Central Florida Pkwy., FL, 407-393-4333, www.normans.com
Tags: romance | business | expensive | notable chef | editor pick | smart splurge | global fusion

Ocean Prime

Sleek and sophisticated, Ocean Prime is the local outpost of an upscale chain. The elegant steak and seafood enterprise establishes itself with locals and business travelers alike with its enticing happy hour (reduced-price appetizers and handcrafted cocktails using freshly squeezed citrus), first-rate foods, and live music. It’s designed to feel like a “supper club” with snazzy dark woods, blue neon bar accents, an illuminated wine display, and circular cutouts reminiscent of portholes that evoke a luxury liner without going overboard into a nautical theme. Don't miss the melt-in-your-mouth ahi tuna tartare.

Rialto, 7339 W. Sand Lake Rd., FL, 407-781-4880, www.oceanprimeorlando.com
Tags: romance | business | seafood | expensive | bar | steakhouse | happy hour

PR's Taco Palace

Students from Rollins College, along with Winter Park doctors and lawyers, make for an eclectic crew at this favorite Tex-Mex joint. The interior walls are covered with graffiti, and PR’s floors vibrate as the Amtrak rumbles by. The food is equally no frills, but undeniably good (particularly the chimichangas) and the chips and salsa flow freely.

499 W. Fairbanks Ave., FL, 407-645-2225
Tags: budget | local favorite | bar | mexican | tex-mex

Press 101

A trendy spin on a sandwich shop, Press 101 takes things up a notch with an accompanying wine bar and outside covered patio. Go for the namesake warm, pressed sandwiches on a baguette or ciabatta, particularly turkey and brie or grilled cheese with gruyere, fontina, sharp cheddar, and applewood-smoked bacon. The menu expands to include flatbreads and build-your-own bruschetta – and table service replaces counter service – as day turns to night and the wine bar becomes the focal point. Soloists perform live on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings.

The Marketplace, 7600 Dr. Phillips Blvd., FL, 407-351-2101, www.press101.com
Tags: budget | great value | trendy | patio | wine bar

Seasons 52

Conceptually, this chain stands out: The high-ceilinged dining room is warmly appointed with wood and stone, creating a Zen flair; the service is polished; the wine list is exceptional; and, despite the upmarket feel, the prices won't break the bank. Yet every menu item is under 475 calories and reflects a commitment to serving fresh, seasonal ingredients. The mini desserts (key lime pie in a shot glass!) satisfy the sweet tooth without encouraging overindulgence. Orlando's outpost sits on Restaurant Row (there’s another a bit north in Altamonte Springs); its covered back patio overlooks Little Sand Lake. Best bets are items with well-seasoned descriptions, like blackened fish. The buffalo chili appetizer is especially robust.

Plaza Venezia; 7700 Sand Lake Rd., FL, 407-354-5212, www.seasons52.com
Tags: moderate | waterfront | bar | new american | vegetarian | healthy

Shari Sushi Lounge

All shiny metallic surfaces, white leather, and halogen lights, this Thornton Park sushi restaurant is as much about substance as style. The crowd is young, gorgeous, and always imbibing; go for the colorful sake martinis. The sushi offerings range the spectrum – from nigiri and sashimi to exotic rolls furled with toasted coconut, mango sauce, and ceviche flavorings.

621 E. Central Blvd., FL, 407-420-9420, www.sharisushilounge.com
Tags: moderate | editor pick | trendy | lounge | patio | bar | sushi

White Wolf Café

Look for the explosion of flower boxes announcing this quirky eatery, which is overrun with antiques (that are also for sale). Vegetarians have ample choices among the sandwiches, salads, and flatbread pizzas. The staff is relaxed and friendly. Live jazz the first Friday of the month adds to the boho vibe.

1829 N. Orange Ave., FL, 407-895-9911, www.whitewolfcafe.com
Tags: moderate | local favorite | cafe

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