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

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

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

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

O’Charley’s Restaurant & Bar

Exterior

Entry

Interior

Interior

Bread

Wedge side salad

Cedar plank salmon

Appetizer sampler

***** (5 stars)

I rarely give five stars to a chain restaurant, but this place really deserves it. Sunday lunch here was one of the best dining experiences I’ve had in months. Everything about our visit was perfect, from the hostess stand to the friendly and attentive server, James, to his helpful assistant and the manager. And the food was far above expectations.

The first surprise was the interior decor. From the outside I was expecting a dark and dreary steakhouse. But it turns out those brown walls are panes of smoked glass, and inside the place is lit by a two story atrium. There’s also outside seating, which wasn’t apparent from the parking lot.

I had the cedar plank salmon. It was a huge, succulent piece of perfectly seasoned fresh salmon, and had really picked up the cedar flavors from the plank it was served on. This was honestly better than the cedar plank salmon at Disney’s Artist’s Point, at about one-third the cost.

Not only was the salmon great, the sides were, too. I selected the wedge salad and a loaded baked potato. Both were every bit as good as you can get at any high-end steakhouse in town. For all that fabulous food I felt like $16.99 was an extremely fair price.

My companion went a completely different route and had the appetizer sampler. The potato skins, fried cheese, and chicken tenders were all perfectly crisp and excellent–everything you’d expect from a good sports bar-type place, but served in a much nicer environment, and at $8.99 another great value.

Our drinks were refilled multiple times, the waiter stopped by to check on us and chat several times, and the manager bid us farewell on the way out the door. I can’t really imagine a better dining experience than this.

O’Charley’s Restaurant & Bar
8081 Turkey Lake Rd
Ste 700
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 354-0010
http://www.yelp.com/biz/o-charleys-restaurant-and-bar-orlando