Orlando’s neighborhoods are not only ripe for exploration, they’re packed with genuinely delicious dining options that are sure to satisfy your cravings.
In recent years, the city has been receiving all kinds of foodie accolades, from write-ups in The New York Times, to being voted one of the Best Foodie Cities in America by WalletHub.com, to multiple visits by various Food Network stars — Alton Brown and Guy Fieri, to name a couple — looking for great places to profile.
And independent food artisans know that Orlando’s local ’hoods are where it’s at. So if you’re looking to forego your FastPasses for a day in order to get to know the city on a more personal level, here are a few districts (and dishes) to check out.
Audubon Park Garden District Takes the Cake
This eco-minded community is home to East End Market, a collection of local merchants offering fine foods, phenomenal home goods and loads of knowledge for those seeking to adopt a more farm-to-table lifestyle. Coming for dinner? Domu serves up some of the best ramen in the city, along with Asian small plates and exceptional cocktails in a modern and inviting atmosphere.
The Olde Hearth Bread Co. and Gideon’s Bakehouse also are located at East End Market. The former is a purveyor of all manner of breads, rolls, tarts and granola; the latter is a cookie-lover’s mecca. Gideon’s cookies (and cakes), inspired by recipes that date back to the late 1800s, are truly timeless — and delightfully chocolate chip encrusted.
Across the street, the Blue Bird Bake Shop beckons with its award-winning cupcakes in eight everyday flavors and a host of varieties that branch out. Way out. On any given visit, you might find options in Kahlúa and cream, coffee toffee or strawberry balsamic. A few doors over, you’ll find P is for Pie Bake Shop, where from-scratch pies come in traditional tins, hand pies, glass jars and even pie pops.
Mills50: Art and Asian Cuisine
Art abounds in Mills50. So much so that, aside from the many beautiful murals gracing the building facades, you’ll find it on the electrical boxes, on the sewer drains, and yes — even on the dumpsters. The neighborhood’s various urban art projects have made the scenery around Mills50 — which bills itself as “the intersection of creativity and culture” — as colorful as the dishes served at its many independent eateries.
But let’s start with the name: Mills50. That’s actually the intersection where Mills Avenue meets Colonial Drive (also known as State Road 50). It’s about a mile north of downtown and just south of the city’s museum zone, where various hubs of science and art draw culture-seekers in droves.
It’s also an intersection of Asian influences. Orlando has a large Vietnamese community, and visitors would be remiss not to try one or more of the authentic restaurants concentrated here. Pho 88 and Anh Hong are no-lose propositions, but they’re hardly the only games in town. There are Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai eateries, too.
Only have time for one? Consider Hawkers Asian Street Fare. True to its name, the small plates are inspired by the street hawkers found in Malaysia, China, Korea, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand. And if you’re headed to the Orlando Science Center — or any of its adjacent museums — wet your whistle after a day of enlightenment with an expertly poured cocktail at The Guesthouse.
Small Town Charm and Suds in Sanford
Northeast of Orlando lies the city of Sanford. Its brick-lined streets and buildings are authentic, and the phenomenal residential architecture that surrounds it only bolsters the sleepy — but increasingly hip — vibe.
Right in the heart of Sanford, The District restaurant opened in spring 2017. Its scratch-made, American-inspired fare has been winning over diners ever since, with hearty dishes such as bourbon bone-in pork chops and classic shrimp and grits. The bar does well, too; locals amble in and wash the day away with their choice of more than a dozen beers on tap — including a few brewed in the area — and six signature cocktails.
As for shopping, Sanford has long been known as an antiquing town (and to some degree, it still is), but these days, shoppers have far more to peruse than dusty racks. Washburn Imports features breathtaking home furnishings from exotic, far-flung corners (plus, there’s a cool wine and cocktail bar inside). Magpies Modern General Store sells gifts of all sorts, from jewelry to home goods to delicious artisan popsicles that’ll keep you cool while strolling about. And an abundance of little galleries offer one-of-a-kind items unlike anything you’ll find in the resort zone.
Speaking of one of a kind, how about some gourmet marshmallows? You’ll find them at Wondermade, where friendly workers will fire ’em up special for fresh s’mores. Buy a box for later — maybe the birthday cake or gold Champagne flavors — while you enjoy the homemade ice cream.
Get a taste of local craft beers by following the Central Florida Ale Trail, which features breweries in Audubon Park, Mills50 and Sanford. For details, visit CentralFloridaAleTrail.com.
Marriott’s Grande Vista
This article originally appeared in Issue 1, 2018, of the North America edition of Interval World magazine, published by Interval International, Inc., an indirect subsidiary of Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corporation. Any re-use of this content, or any portion of this content, is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved.