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

Izziban Metrowest

Interior

Lunch buffet

***** (5 stars)

I’ve never thought that sushi and buffets went together. Sushi requires extreme freshness of ingredients, something you rarely see on a buffet. But I’ll make an exception for this is Izziban.

I think the reason is that they’re constantly resupplying the buffet, so everything is very fresh. There are also hot items and a plethora of sauces to choose from.

At $10.99 the lunch deal simply can’t be beat. It’s quick and delicious and economical, a homerun.

Izziban Metrowest
6996 Piazza Grande Ave
Ste 100
Orlando, FL 32835
(407) 868-9999
https://www.yelp.com/biz/izziban-metrowest-orlando

El Cholo

Interior

***** (5 stars)

I’ve been going to El Cholo on Western since I was a child, and it defines Mexican food for me, even if their idea isn’t perfectly aligned with what has come to be known as Tex-Mex, and even if it’s not all authentic Mexican either. I love it.

This location is just as good, if lacking a bit of the small house ambiance. Have a number 1 and original nachos. You won’t be sorry.

El Cholo
1025 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 899-1106
https://www.yelp.com/biz/el-cholo-santa-monica-2

Saké

Dragon egg

Dragon egg

Short rib

House salad

Bass grouper

Dining area

Beef tataki and popcorn shrimp

Kingfish

Sashimi appetizer

Sake wall

Interior

**** (4 stars)

This very stylish restaurant in the Rocks is surprisingly large, yet intimate, with romantic lighting levels, and a modern club type soundtrack.

We had the “Chef’s New Classics” tasting menu, a mixture of raw and cooked dishes that included fish and meat. They were all good, but I actually preferred the sashimi appetizer we also ordered, as the fish was of excellent quality, and my preference runs to sashimi.

The Dragon egg is an interesting dessert option. It is presented at the table with an interesting flourish, as warm sauce breaks open the candy egg to reveal the inner Dessert.

Saké
12 Argyle St
The Rocks
Sydney, New South Wales 2000
+61 2 9259 5656
https://www.yelp.com/biz/sak%C3%A9-sydney

Boca Kitchen Bar Market

Exterior

Interior

**** (4 stars)

I used to think this space was cursed, because of the long succession of unsuccessful restaurants that occupied it. But it turns out it wasn’t the space, it was the restaurants that were the problem. Boca is packed every day, and with good reason.

The food and service are both top notch. We had the day’s lunch special, a blackened amberjack sandwich. The amberjack was a thick piece, perfectly cooked. The accompanying mango slaw was a bit sweet for my taste, but with just a little on the sandwich it was perfect.

Rather than fries we asked for the mixed vegetables which had been sauteed and had a delightful smokey flavor.

Boca is one of the best bets for lunch on Park Avenue.

Boca Kitchen Bar Market
358 North Park Ave
Winter Park, FL 32789
(407) 636-7022
http://www.yelp.com/biz/boca-kitchen-bar-market-winter-park

Luke’s Kitchen and Bar

Chicken burger

Scallop ceviche

Snapper ceviche

Potato chips with onion chive dip

Interior

Lunch menu

*** (3 stars)

This is a new endeavor from the creators of Luma and Prato. You can see them designing in all the things they’d like to have, such as a larger prep kitchen. Now their challenge will be to get better food out of that kitchen.

We went for lunch and it was just okay. We started with some house made potato chips and onion chive dip. The chips were good, but notethat the predominate dip flavor is actually truffle, even though it’s not listed as an ingredient.

The tuna tartare we ordered was unavailable, so we tried again, with red snapper ceviche. I liked it okay; my companion thought it lacked sufficed acid to “cook” it in the true manner of ceviche.

My companion preferred the scallop ceviche. I liked the scallops, but thought this one needed lime juice instead of passionfruit.

As an entree we shared a chicken burger. This was not a good choice. It is, indeed, a ground chicken patty that has been deep fried. If that sounds like something you’d get at McDonald’s it also tastes like it. The only redeeming feature of this dish was the accompanying house greens salad, which was delicious.

The vibe of the restaurant owes a lot to Hilstone’s. Tables are nicely spaced.

There are a LOT of people working here, which makes it surprising how long it takes to get dishes from the kitchen, particularly considering that they weren’t busy. Our server was friendly and helpful.

Luke’s Kitchen and Bar
640 S Orlando Ave
Orlando, FL 32751
(407) 674-2400
https://www.yelp.com/biz/lukes-kitchen-and-bar-orlando

Sam Snead’s Oak Grill and Tavern

Chocolate sack

Exterior

Interior

***** (5 stars)

Many years ago there was a Sam Snead’s across from my office, and we ate there at least weekly. Sadly, it closed some 15 years ago, to be replaced by a parade of mediocre imitators.

So it was quite a stroll down memory lane to visit this location, which is virtually identical. The menu is also largely unchanged, so we were able to enjoy several of our favorites including the spinach and cheese dip, oak grilled grouper sandwich, and chocolate sack. Each was even better than I remembered. So perhaps you can go home again!

Sam Snead’s Oak Grill and Tavern
1801 Maitland Blvd
Orlando, FL 32810
(407) 622-8800
https://www.yelp.com/biz/sam-sneads-oak-grill-and-tavern-orlando

The Mex Authentic

Nachos Al pastor

Exterior

Interior

**** (4 stars)

Excellent service is the highlight of this nice sit down Mexican restaurant at the base of State Street.

The tortilla chips are authentic and obviously homemade, and the salsa is fresh and not terribly spicy.

We started with the Nachos Pastor, a loaded version of nachos the included beans, cheese, guacamole, sour cream, seeded raw jalapenos and pork pastor. It was delicious, however the two of us could only make our way halfway through it! So when I say “we started with” I also mean “we finished with”!

I’m looking forward to returnign and trying some of their other offerings.

The Mex Authentic
413 State St
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805) 845-6364
https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-mex-authentic-santa-barbara

Cask & Larder

CL burger with cheddar

Crispy cauliflower

Grilled fish

Drinks

Menu

Exterior

Interior

*** (3 stars)

This is certainly a step up in the food available in the D terminal at MCO. Fans who remember the food at the Cask and Larder in Winter Park may be disappointed, but the food her is certainly above average for an airport.

The open atmosphere is sunny and pleasant, and spacious enough to feel like a bit of an oasis from the bustle of the gates. The menu focuses on Southern and barbecue, which means the only healthy choices are three salads and the grilled fish. I chose the latter. The fish was a nice piece of swordfish, which was a bit well done, but good. The accompanying rice was delicious. Zucchini and tomatoes were very overcooked.

We also tried the CL Burger. It was a generous two patties, and we opted for cheddar rather than blue cheese. The best thing were the crispy fries, well worth the extra three bucks.

Speaking of crispy, the Crispy Cauliflower wasn’t. It also wasn’t very good: a small, overpriced portion served in an oddly sweet sauce.

Service was friendly. The kitchen was pretty slow, considering there were few customers at 10:30 am, but it’s more a place to relax than somewhere for a quick bite.

I’ll go back, but I’ll stick with the burgers and BBQ.

Cask & Larder
1 Jeff Fuqua Blvd
Gates 100-129
Orlando, FL 32827
(321) 280-4200
https://www.yelp.com/biz/cask-and-larder-orlando

1921 by Norman Van Aken

Exterior

Entry

Foyer/kitchen

Dining room

Fried Cornish game hen, collard greens, Mac and cheese

Duck

*** (3 stars)

The challenge a new restaurant faces is threefold: providing good food, good service, and attracting customers. 1921 has succeeded on two out of three.

The customers are no problem. Open only a week or two, the restaurant was packed when we visited. Unfortunately, although the decor is beautiful, it didn’t include acoustic treatment, so the dining room was at a deafening level–enough that my companion and I had to keep repeating ourselves, even though we were at a small table for two.

The food also passes muster. I’ve never been a huge fan of Norman’s at the Ritz Carlton, but I thought three of the dishes we had here were better than anything I’ve ever had there.

The Caesar salad was enlivened by some lemon zest, a trick I will try at home.

Chaufa “Aeropuerto” was an Asian-influenced fried rice dish with grilled octopus and sausage. The octopus and sausage were just okay, but the rice flavors were wonderful. This is a large starter, but would make an excellent side dish.

The fried cornish game hen was excellent, like a wonderful fried chicken, and served with good collard greens and mac and cheese.

The only miss was the duck breast that our waiter highly recommended. It looked unappetizing, and the “mole” sauce bore no relationship to a true mole, overpowered by odd tasting herbs.

The third aspect of a good restaurant is the service staff, and the place was certainly heavily staffed. But our waiter was in way over his head. Upon taking our order he told us he’d “try to get the wine out as soon as he could,” as if this required some Herculean effort. Apparently it did, as it didn’t arrive until we were almost done with our first course. Someone should also mention to him that you present the bottle before opening it, and you don’t fill the wine glasses to the brim to save yourself a trip later. And had we not anticipated his failure to pace the meal, I’m pretty sure our entrees would have arrived before we’d even finished that course.

Management seemed involved, so perhaps this will be corrected as they adjust staff levels.

Overall I’d say that if you’re in the area and want good food, 1921 is worth a try, as long as you don’t plan on having a conversation during dinner.

1921 by Norman Van Aken
142 E 4th Ave
Mount Dora, FL 32757
(352) 385-1921
http://www.yelp.com/biz/1921-by-norman-van-aken-mount-dora