El Buda Latin Asian Restaurant

Exterior

Interior

Interior

Smoked salmon poke with pineapple

Teriyaki tots

Pork sweet plantain dumplings

Scallion pancake quesadilla

Chimichanga eggroll

Edamame frito

Ropa Viejo Bibimbap a Gaballo

***** (5 stars)

Many restaurants call themselves “fusion” cuisine when all they’re really doing is serving two different cuisines. So I was delighted to discover that El Buda is serving a true blending of Latin and Asian cuisines, and some of the most creative food in Central Florida.

We tried a broad range of their small plates, and the combination of flavors in each was superb. I particularly liked the eggroll and the quesadilla. The only slight disappointment was I thought the ropa vieja was too salty.

Service was friendly but obviously inexperienced. This didn’t interfere with our enjoyment of the meal, though. It was great to find someplace still fully staffed and serving great food late on a Sunday night after a show.

This space has been many, many restaurants, probably because it doesn’t open directly onto Church Street, but instead faces the railroad tracks. This is by far the best restaurant that’s been here, and I hope it prospers, as it truly is among the most creative in Orlando.

El Buda Latin Asian Restaurant
116 W Church St
Orlando, FL 32801
(407) 203-8171
https://www.yelp.com/biz/el-buda-latin-asian-restaurant-orlando

STK Orlando

Exterior

Dining room

Pull apart bread

Small seafood platter

Truffle fries

Mini burgers

Crispy rock shrimp

Carmelito Bar

*** (3 stars)

If you’re looking for a steakhouse experience in Disney Springs, this is it. It’s not going to change your life, but it is fine.

You’ll find all the usual offerings, and not much outside the box.

We started with the seafood tower, which is expensive (well, everything is expensive) but included a generous portion of fresh, giant shrimp, the best thing we had. The most interesting component was the two jars, one of smoked mussels and the other ceviche, although I wasn’t wild about the marinade on either.

Complimentary “pull apart sourdough” is included, but you’ll find that it is more like Parkerhouse rolls with blue cheese butter on top.

We skipped the steak and tried a couple of other appetizers. My companion liked the mini burgers, but I couldn’t really deal with the uncooked center of the patty. Truffle fries were good, and a serving forĀ four to six people. Crispy rock shrimp was essentially the same dish as the bang bang shrimp at Bonefish. It was fine, but I’d actually ordered the crispy rock shrimp salad (repeating the word salad twice to our waiter, who wasn’t very good at listening).

Our waiter was good at talking, though. He was one of those people who have to tell you everything they’re going to do: “I’m going to bring you fresh silverware”, “I’ll go get your bread” and even “I’m moving the candle to make room for your next course.” I wish he’d spent some time on refilling water glasses or pouring more wine, two things that didn’t seem to be on his list.

Speaking of wine, it’s expensive, especially by the glass. You’re looking at $16-$28 per glass. We opted for an $82 bottle of Chardonnay instead. If you can deal with the pricing, the selections are excellent.

The carmelito bar was an excellent dessert, with several layers of different flavors and an excellent caramel sauce.

I’m not sure Orlando needed another steakhouse rather than a truly interesting fine dining restaurant, but that seems to be the trend, and I guess Disney Springs didn’t have one. Now it does.

STK Orlando
1580 E Buena Vista Dr
Orlando, FL 32821
(407) 917-7440
https://www.yelp.com/biz/stk-orlando-orlando

Reyes Mezcaleria

Exterior

Lounge

Interior

Chips, salsa and guacamole

Ceviche

Tuna tostada

Carnitas taco

***** (5 stars)

It’s about time Orlando got a gourmet Mexican restaurant! When we travel I always enjoy trying Mexican places that are doing fusion cuisine, or thinking outside the box, like fine dining restaurants do in Mexico. The chef at Reyes is drawing upon Baja and other seacoast cusines, and says he was influenced by Rick Bayless’ (Frontera, Topolobompo) cooking, but I actually thought it was better than those places.

We started with chips and salsa, and guacamole, just to compare the old standards. The chips are obviously house-made, thick and sturdy, with a good corn flavor. The guacamole was good, enhanced by pickled onions on top. The salsas were outstanding: a fairly typical red, excellent green, and amazing chipotle. I’m not even a big fan of chipotle peppers, but I couldn’t stop eating that one!

The other appetizer we tried was the ceviche. My companion enjoyed it, but I felt like the fish was overcooked, either by the lime juice or perhaps actual cooking, I couldn’t tell.

For our mains we shared the tuna tostada and 12-hour carnitas tacos. Both were excellent. The tostada featured thin slices of tuna on a thin, flat fried tortilla, and the delicate fish wasn’t overwhelmed by the toppings. The carnitas are a house specialty, and I can see why, They are incredibly succulent and tender, and just needed a squeeze of lime to make a perfect soft taco.

The space is a remodel of the old Citrus restaurant, and has benefitted from being lightened up.

Service was attentive, except for an unexplained disappearing act when we were ready for the check.

The place is all hard surfaces, so I’m sure it can get noisy, but the back room seems quieter, and there wasn’t anyone else in there at brunch, so we enjoyed it very much.

Reyes Mezcaleria
821 N Orange Ave
Orlando, FL 32801
(407) 868-9007
https://www.yelp.com/biz/reyes-mezcaleria-orlando-3

O’town Burgers N Wings

Lunch wings combo

Lunch 1/2 pound Angus burger combo

Exterior

Interior

***** (5 stars)

Usually when a place tries to do too many things, they fail to do any one thing well. Fortunately, that’s not the case at O’Town. Not only do they have one of the best burgers in town, they also have terrific wings. Plus the gyros, shawarma, and other offerings look great, too.

We shared the lunch combo burger and the lunch combo wings. The burger was a generous 1/2 pound of Angus beef, perfectly seared with a bit of char on the outside, and with all my favorite toppings: lettuce, tomato, onion slice, pickles, and a mayo-based sauce. I added a bit of mustard and it was heaven.

I also really liked the wings, which were perfectly cooked, not fatty, and served with a delicious teriyaki sauce (many other sauces are also available).

Each special came with fries (thin cut) and a drink, and both were reasonably priced.

Service was friendly. It took a while because the food was cooked to order, but not too long, and when our food was delivered our drinks were refilled.

I’d definitely place this in the top burgers in town, and will definitely return.

O’town Burgers N Wings
6614 Old Winter Garden Rd
Orlando, FL 32835
(407) 286-0515
http://www.yelp.com/biz/o-town-burgers-n-wings-orlando

Ellie Lou’s Brews & BBQ

Pork platter

Exterior

Interior

Sauces

***** (5 stars)

Orlando is an excellent town for barbecue, with many great choices, and a lot of different styles, from Southern to Midwestern and more. I like the barbecue here better than almost anywhere I travel to, because of that diversity. And I have to say, of all the great Orlando barbecue places I patronize, Ellie Lou’s is the best.

I had the pork platter with two sides. I was expecting sliced pork, so I was pleased when something more like burnt ends appeared: succulent chunks of lean, moist pork, with a nice charred crust on some of the pieces. It was a generous serving, too.

I liked all four BBQ sauces on the table: Kansas City (sweet), Memphis, Hot, and Mustard. The combination of the first three was my favorite. All of them are made in-house, and it shows.

Also made in-house are the sides. The baked beans were loaded with chunks of meat; a squirt of sauce and they were perfect. One of my favorite parts of the whole meal was the potato salad, which was also obviously homemade, with big chunks of potato, a creamy dressing and lots of herbs.

The two slices of garlic bread were also excellent: fresh, crispy and with lots of garlic butter.

Perhaps the thing that most distinguishes Ellie Lou’s is the environment. It’s not crowded and is actually quite pleasant inside. And even though you order at a counter, the staff is very attentive once you’re seated, so it’s like a real restaurant. A real GOOD restaurant.

Ellie Lou’s Brews & BBQ
336 Moore Rd
Ocoee, FL 34761
(407) 347-9515
http://www.yelp.com/biz/ellie-lous-brews-and-bbq-ocoee

Carol’s Place

Breakfast burrito

Exterior

Interior

**** (4 stars)

Carol’s is an old-fashioned diner, the kind you see in television shows from the 60s. The decor, food and service are exactly as you would expect. Many of the customers are regulars who are greeted by name. You can pretty much get anything they’ve got ingredients for. The preparations are straightforward and generous.

Carol’s Place
3421 S Orange Ave
Orlando, FL 32806
(407) 251-8860
https://www.yelp.com/biz/carols-place-orlando

Uncle Julio’s

Exterior

Interior

Spicy seared tuna tacos

**** (4 stars)

I’d been to one of these in Chicago, and they are pretty similar. There’s a bit of a corporate feel to them. We had a large party, so I can’t really comment on the service, because that is always difficult, but the food was all pretty good. There isn’t really a standout appetizer or entree, although the spicy seared tuna tacos that I had were probably the best item. One person complained they were cold, but since they’re almost raw tuna and slaw, it seems appropriate.

Their unique item is the chocolate pinata, a suspended sphere of chocolate that you break open with a bat to scatter fruit and churros into the whipped cream moat below. It was fun for the group to scavenge through the debris and find their favorites.

Uncle Julio’s
8409 International Dr
Orlando, FL 32821
(321) 430-0600
http://www.yelp.com/biz/uncle-julios-orlando

Numero Uno Restaurant

***** (5 stars)

This has been my favorite Cuban place for almost thirty years. The food is authentic, and so is the vibe. My favorite is the lunch chicken plate with black beans and rice. Their black beans are essentially a soup, so it’s like an extra course.

The only downside is that over the years road expansion has eaten much of the few parking spaces they started with, so that can be a challenge.

Numero Uno Restaurant
2499 S Orange Ave
Orlando, FL 32806
(407) 841-3840
http://www.yelp.com/biz/numero-uno-restaurant-orlando

Vida 365 Bistro Juice Bar

Vegan tacos

Cup of chili

Interior

Exterior

Kitchen

Breakfast menu

Lunch menu

***** (5 stars)

This place is much more than a juice bar, with a complete menu of delicious food, some vegetarian, some vegan, but also lots of items that aren’t.

My favorite was the chili, a delicious concoction of ground turkey and beans with many interesting spices and just the right kick to it.

The Vegan tacos were also good, with crisp shells and a flavorful slaw to add some interest to the quinoa filling.

The servers and chefs were all very friendly.

Vida 365 Bistro Juice Bar
16129 State Road 50
Unit 104
Clermont, FL 34711
(352) 474-8432
http://www.yelp.com/biz/vida-365-bistro-juice-bar-clermont

Village Inn

Ultimate skillet, all Bacon

Interior

**** (4 stars)

Village inn has always been my favorite breakfast chain, and this location is just as good as any of them. I really like their breakfast skillets. They’re a great combination of eggs and whatever other ingredients you like all on top of nicely crisped home fries. I also like that they come with a side of pancakes, so you don’t have to decide between savory and sweet.

Village Inn
6275 Westwood Blvd
Orlando, FL 32821
(407) 352-1997
https://www.yelp.com/biz/village-inn-orlando-4