Best tiki bar
Lake Minneola Inn and Tiki Bar
508 Main Ave., Minneola
Nestled in a grove of sprawling live oak trees on the shore of a tea-colored lake, the Lake Minneola Inn and Tiki Bar feels like your rich friend’s lakeside property from a pre-Disney era. Take a swim, play some horseshoes, have a picnic on the lawn, or pull up a stool at the U-shaped tiki bar and toss back a few drafts with the locals. The menu is basic – burgers, hot dogs, wings, and so on – but the lack of pretense only adds to the charm. If only life was like this every day.
Best way to get local organic food
604 N. Thornton Ave.
Total no-brainer. It costs, like, $3 a month for an individual membership, and every week there’s an extensive list to choose from – like Japanese shiitake and Sonora hot peppers, or less exotic veggies such as Yukon Gold potatoes, kale and eggplant. About half of the produce is locally grown and organic, which kinda makes Whole Foods look … dare we say … evil.
Best hookah bar
Meridian Hookah Lounge
3050 N. Alafaya Trail, Oviedo
A dark, smoke-filled room overflowing with college kids, Meridian looks like the place you’d head for a late-night, caffeine-fueled gropefest, though a few Internet addicts with laptops litter the joint, sucking down hookah specialty blends such as the Baby Maker (lime and mint tobacco) or Smoke on the Beach (a mix of cherry, rose and mint). There’s no alcohol sold here, so drink at one of the cheap nearby college bars before you arrive.
Best reincarnation of a bar we loved
2625 Edgewater Drive
When Scruffy Murphy’s closed a few years back, we were heartbroken. This was our watering hole, our home away from home, our refuge from nagging spouses and hard-assed bosses. But then it was gone, and there was a void in our lives. So how happy were we when we heard Scruffy’s was going to reopen, albeit in College Park rather than downtown? Then we went and found that our favorite bar had undergone a yuppie transformation, and we didn’t like it. Still, it will have to suffice for now, at least until the new Will’s Pub opens up.
Best steaming sensation
Indie coffeehouse openings
It’s been a strong year for coffee in Orlando, with wonderful independent coffeehouses opening up and giving more choices than Stardust or Palmano’s, and each place has its own flair and fare. Special recognition goes to Drunken Monkey Coffee Bar (they roast beans from Brazil), Volcano’s (a local company that continues to expand and specializes in African roasts) and Cup O’ Soul (they stock Blessed Bean Coffee, a local roaster).
1915 E. Colonial Drive
Tapping a sushi joint for best samosa is swimming against the current, but the light, unctuous puffs served at Bikkuri not only rock the house on their own merits, they beat down the heavy mashed-potato softballs served in the Indian joints south of downtown. (Not having to drive all the way down Orange Blossom Trail for them is good, too.) They seem too expensive and look too small, but after the first bite you’re hooked: the subtle curry filling; the deliciously flaky phyllo wrapper, the piquant duo of spicy mayo and barbecued-eel sauces on the side …. Just eat them as soon as they hit the table; they don’t travel well.
Best dining trend
Drunken Monkey Coffee Bar, O’Naturals, Stardust Video & Coffee, Z-Coffee Café
Time was, vegetarians had to eat at health-food restaurants: grim, depressing abodes serving nut loaf and alfalfa sprouts and plates of mashed yeast – the kind of food that made you feel like you were atoning for something. But time has passed, attitudes have lightened and Orlando has seen the flowering of a new age of inclusiveness. Veggie love, not vegetarian segregation, is the rule of the day at new (and newish) restaurants like Drunken Monkey (444 N. Bumby Ave., 407-893-4994, www.drunkenmonkeycoffee.com), O’Naturals (44 E. Central Blvd., 407-872-7422, www.onaturals.com), Stardust Video & Coffee (1842 E. Winter Park Road, 407-623-3393) and Z-Coffee Café (Orlando Public Library, 1st floor, 101 E. Central Blvd., 407-648-6300). Not only is the mood a lot groovier, these restaurants don’t draw boundaries – they offer substantial vegan and vegetarian choices, and they serve meat and dairy too (can’t we all just get along?). As Marvell had it, “My vegetable love should grow/Vaster than empires and more slow.” We’re getting there.
Best argument for bulimia
The Dessert Lady Café
120 W. Church St.
A sort of brothel boudoir for those with sweaty diabetic brows and/or toothbrushes in their purses, the Dessert Lady heightens the aesthetics of sugar on top of sugar to pricey new levels, while making sure judgment rests somewhere beneath your last consumed bottle of wine. Plus, it’s bound to taste just as good coming back up!
Best vegan restaurant
Ethos Vegan Kitchen
1235 N. Orange Ave.
Local vegans are still pinching themselves in disbelief that this place ever opened – the fact that the restaurant is thriving in its lovely Ivanhoe Row setting is just the non-dairy icing on the eggless cake. Finally, a place where vegans can do all those things everyone else does: go out for brunch, order a takeout pizza – hell, ordering off a menu with more than a couple of choices is a treat. And Kelly, Laina and Kim Shockley and their dedicated staff are nourishing souls as well as stomachs by fostering community: Beyond the expected art openings and DJ sets, they host a monthly Freecycle meeting and a variety of events supporting local organizations. Kudos.
Best Restaurant for a Shouting Match
9101 International Drive
With the music thumping like a gay Mykonos discotheque, the raucous ambience at Taverna Opa may not be the place to bring your date for quiet conversation, but it's a great place to have it out with your spouse. And given the waitstaff's predilection to toss napkins toward the rafters, if you chuck keftedes (Greek meatballs) or hurl a skewer of souvlaki in the direction of your significant other, it will likely be viewed as a Hellenic culinary rite by other, less culturally astute diners.
Best Start to a Vietnamese Meal
2101 E. Colonial Drive
Yes, the pho is a fab first dish, but pass on the grilled quail at Tay Do and you'll fly in the face of regret. You won't believe the flavor these wee, bony birds pack. To dip their dark meat into a tangy mixture of lime juice, white pepper and salt and then rip into their crisp, succulent flesh is to experience the truest taste (and smell)
1275 S. Highway 17-92, Longwood
You won't find falooda offered at your average Steak 'n Shake, but then again falooda isn't your average milkshake. Think of it more as Shangri-La in a glass — an ambrosial, and weighty, beverage worthy of being served to the most finicky of gods and goddesses. The floral-scented Indian delicacy of vanilla ice cream and condensed milk is textured with vermicelli noodles and basil seeds,
then drizzled with sweet rosewater, and makes our Bombay-like summers just a little more bearable.
Best Fish and Chips
617 E. Central Blvd.
Grouper & More and Best of British come close, but as far as fish goes, you'll be hard-pressed to find better golden-fried fillets than the New England cod served up at Cityfish — they're good enough to make Maritimers and limeys alike swoon with nostalgia. The chips, though? Why, they're positively poncy. In fact, we haven't come across a chip, that thicker British variant of the french fry, worth singling out. So to all you ex-pat restaurateurs from across the pond: Never mind the pollock; make us some chips that aren't rubbish!
Best Upscale Burger
The Capital Grille
9101 International Drive
If you find yourself feeling a tad gluttonous and just happen to have an extra $13 in your crocodile-skin wallet, you might consider splurging on the boffo burger at the Capital Grille. A blend of smoked bacon and sweet onions mixed into the hefty sirloin patty adds a rich flavor to the meat, but the secret to the sandwich's beefy goodness is the bun. The flaky, buttered kaiser roll baked fresh in-house is a famished fancy-lad's dream and elevates the burger to the highest echelons of fast-food finery.
FOOD & DRINK READERS' POLL
Best Bakery1st: Charlie’s Gourmet Pastries, 3213 Curry Ford Road; 407-898-9561; (www.charliesgourmetpastries.com)
Best Barbecue1st: Bubbalou’s Bodacious BBQ, multiple locations; (www.bubbalous.com)
Best Breakfast/Brunch1st: First Watch Restaurant, multiple locations; (www.firstwatch.com)
Best Burger1st: Five Guys Burgers and Fries, multiple locations; (www.fiveguys.com)
Best Caribbean1st: Bahama Breeze, multiple locations; (www.bahamabreeze.com)
Best Chinese1st: P.F. Chang’s, 436 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park, 407-622-0188; also 4200 Conroy Road, 407-345-2888; (www.pfchangs.com)
Best Coffeehouse1st: Austin’s Coffee, 929 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park; 407-975-3364; (www.austinscoffee.com)
Best Cuban1st: Black Bean Deli, 325 S. Orlando Ave., Winter Park; 407-628-0294
Best Diner1st: Junior’s Diner, 2920 Corrine Drive; 407-894-8871
Best Doughnuts1st: Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, multiple locations; (www.krispykreme.com)
Best French restaurant1st: Le Coq au Vin, 4800 S. Orange Ave.; 407-851-6980; (www.lecoqauvinrestaurant.com)
Best Greek1st: The Greek Corner, 1600 N. Orange Ave.; 407-228-0303; (www.thegreekcorner.net)
Best Ice Cream1st: Coldstone Creamery, multiple locations; (www.coldstonecreamery.com)
Best Indian1st: Woodlands Indian Cuisine, 6040 S. Orange Blossom Trail; 407-854-3330; (www.woodlands-usa.com)
Best Irish1st: Fiddler’s Green, 544 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park; 407-645-2050; (www.fiddlersgreenorlando.com)
Best Italian1st: Bravissimo Italian Café, 337 N. Shine Ave.; 407-898-7333; (www.cafebravissimo.com)
Best Late-Night Restaurant1st: Denny’s Restaurant, multiple locations; (www.dennys.com)
Best Mexican1st: Garibaldi, 848 Sand Lake Road; 407-888-2869; (www.garibaldimexicancuisine.com)
Best Middle Eastern1st: Tony’s Deli, 1323 N. Mills Ave,; 407-898-6689
Best Pizza1st, tie: Anthony’s Pizzeria and Restaurant, 100 N. Summerlin Ave.; 407-648-0999; (www.anthonyspizza.com)
Best Puerto Rican1st: La Lechonera, 9850 E. Colonial Drive, 407-249-0207; also 11229 E. Colonial Drive, 407-207-6903
Best Smoothies1st: Planet Smoothie, multiple locations; (www.planetsmoothie.com)
Best Southern/Soul Food1st: Johnson’s Diner, 595 W. Church St.; 407-841-0717; (www.johnsonsdiner.com)
Best Spanish1st: Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant, 125 W. Church St.; 321-281-8140; (www.ceviche.com)
Best Steakhouse1st: Del Frisco’s, 729 Lee Road; 407-645-4443; (www.delfriscos.com)
Best Sub Shop1st: Firehouse Subs, multiple locations; (www.firehousesubs.com)
Best Sushi1st: Amura, multiple locations; (www.amura.com)
Best Thai1st: Sea Thai, 3812 E. Colonial Drive; 407-895-0985; (www.seaorlando.com)
Best Vegetarian1st: Ethos Vegan Kitchen, 1235 N. Orange Ave.; 407-228-3899; (www.ethosvegankitchen.com)
Best Vietnamese1st: Little Saigon, 1106 E. Colonial Drive; 407-423-8539; (www.littlesaigonrestaurant.com)
1st: Gator’s Dockside, 5142 Dr. Phillips Blvd.; 407-770-6049; (www.gatorsdockside.com)
2nd: Wing House, multiple locations; (www.winghouse.com)
3rd: Buffalo Wild Wings, multiple locations; (www.buffalowildwings.com)
Best Happy Hour1st: Antigua, 46 W. Church St.; 407-649-4270; (www.antiguaorlando.com)
Best Gay Bar1st: Parliament House, 410 N. Orange Blossom Trail; 407-425-7571; (www.parliamenthouse.com)
Best Lesbian Bar1st: Revolution Nightclub, 375 S. Bumby Ave.; 407-228-9900; (www.revolutionorlando.com)
Best Dive Bar1st: Wally’s Mills Avenue Liquors, 1001 N. Mills Ave.; 407-896-6975
Best Pub1st: O’Shucks Billiards and Pub, 7467 International Drive; 407-352-7892; (www.oshuckspub.com)
Best Sports Bar1st: The Clubhouse, 100 E. Pine St.; 407-447-5225; (www.orlandoclubhouse.com)