De La Vega

This is an interesting tapas concept because instead of Spanish food, the emphasis is on Latin food. We started with a delicious red sangria, and then proceeded to try a number of the different tapas appetizers, never making our way to the entrée section of the menu.

The Asparinas were a great way to start, and were offered free for checking in on Yelp! We tried the empanadas, and had half chicken/half cheese; both were good.

The Chicken Molé Rice Balls were also very good, with a complex Molé sauce that wasn’t too sweet. 

The Ajito de Pescado was my favorite, with flavors of freshly cooked fish and veggies.

Excellent and friendly service. During temperate weather, it would be great to sit out on the sidewalk.

Bahama Breeze

Goat curry bowl (small)
Rum Raid
Rum Raid
Island hopper combo

**** (4 stars)

For a chain restaurant, there are some surprisingly authentic Carribean dishes in the Bahama Breeze menu. I visited the original location when they first opened and thought it was just okay, but a recent visit to this larger venue was more impressive.

There are standard sports bar-like items, of course, including an appetizer sampler that had some nicely fried coconut shrimp and onion rings. But there are also authentically seasoned items such as the goat curry bowl, which I thought was excellent. Best of all, unlike traditional goat curry, there were no bones!

My favorite item was a drink sampler that included 8 different tropical and tiki-style drinks. They were large enough that the assortment is intended for more than one person. Since I’ve recently been researching tiki drinks at some of the country’s top tiki bars, I wasn’t expecting them to be as good as they were. There were excellent examples of a Zombie, Painkiller, and Dark and Stormy, among others. At about $26 it was a good deal.

Service late at night seemed a bit harried, but was friendly. The restaurant is very large, nicely decorated, and there is a large outside dining area with live music.

Bahama Breeze
8735 Vineland Ave
Orlando, FL

Casa Jimenez

Chips salsa and margarita

Beef nachos

Chicken empanada

**** (4 stars)

I’ve been hesitating to go here because the reviews have been so mixed, but I’m glad I did.

Service was excellent (of course it was early Sunday and I was alone) and so was the margarita, which was obviously made with fresh lime.

Because it was Sunday it was “happy hour” all day, and there are some deals. I had a chicken empanada, which had a nice flakey crust, and a huge plate of beef nachos. The nachos were made with an unusal combination of squirt cheese and unmelted cotija cheese, but they were good. And they were just $5. My whole bill was under $16. Definitely a great deal for a nice experience.

Casa Jimenez
15493 Stoneybrook W Pkwy
Ste 120
Winter Garden, FL 34787
(407) 614-1438

El Patron Restaurante Mexicano

Presidente Margarita



Nachos with no beans or meat

Taco Al pastor

Special dessert

**** (4 stars)

I had avoided this restaurant for many years after a bad experience when they first opened, but I’m glad I decided to try it again. It’s a pretty interesting Mexican restaurant, particularly considering it’s in a tourist area where it doesn’t need to be all that good.

I admit I started with the Presidente Margarita, which at 24 ounces may have favorably colored my experience of the rest of the meal! It was much too sweet, but a plate of lime wedges fixed that.

I started with the nachos, a generous serving to say the least. I don’t like bean and meat on my nachos, so I had them without that, and they were really good–even though I usually want melted cheese, not queso on nachos. There was a generous mound of pickled jalapenos on top, and they were just the right degree of spiciness.

After all those nachos, I just had a single taco al pastor. It was very authentic, with two corn tortillas, bits of pineapple, and just the right level of spice in the marinade.

Even though I was full, I couldn’t pass up a dessert special, bunuelos. This was a stack of three deep-fried flour tortillas coated in sugar and cinnamon and topped with vanilla ice cream. It was really excellent, very freshly made and crisp, with the perfect combination of sweet and salty, crisp and chewy, hot and cold. A dessert home run.

I really enjoyed my lunch, which was not cheap, but was just what I wanted. Everyone else in the place was taking advantage of the lunch buffet, which is a good deal, especially for a tourist area.

Service was attentive and friendly, and the place is nicely decorated. I will definitely return.

El Patron Restaurante Mexicano
12167 S Apopka Vineland Rd
Orlando, FL 32836
(407) 238-5300

Bocas Grill – Orlando



** (2 stars)

This nice space has been a succession of restaurants, all of them better than this incarnation.

The extensive menu offers a variety of Latin cuisines, with an emphasis on Venezuela. The prices are pretty ridiculous, with a soda or iced tea costing $5, and a milkshake an astounding $15.

Fortunately there are lunch specials for $9. We tried several, and none rose above mediocre. Your money would certainly be better spent at an alternative such as Pio Pio or Arepas El Cacao.

Service can only be termed snail-like, despite the place being only half full, with plenty of servers.

I’m already looking forward to the next restaurant in this space.

Bocas Grill – Orlando
7600 Dr Phillips Blvd
Ste 22
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 723-8351

El Buda Latin Asian Restaurant




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

Maya Del Sol

*** (3 stars)

A beautiful patio is the highlight of this place. Unfortunately sitting in it means you have to eat their food, which is a mixed blessing at best.

The only particularly good item was the nachos, which were unconventional but good. Each rustic chip was topped with shredded beef, black beens, a little drizzle of cheese, tomatoes, scallions, jalapeños and sour cream.

The fish in the fish tacos was coated with a very strange seasoning that no one at our table liked. And the chilaquiles were a sodden lump, the worst we ever encountered.

Service was friendly and efficient, and as I said, the patio is lovely. My advice: have a sangria and some nachos and call it a day.

Maya Del Sol
144 S Oak Park Ave
Oak Park, IL 60302
(708) 358-9800


*** (3 stars)

Latinicity is a couple of concepts in one. It’s essentially a mall food court, except that you use a plastic card to keep track of your purchases at the various counters and then pay on the way out.

But the first thing you come to when you enter is a conventional sit down restaurant. Do not eat there! It offers a limited select of mediocre and over-priced Spanish tapas. You will do better at literally any other tapas restaurant in town.

Beyond it, the food counters offer some interesting selections, though, including ceviche (which is really more of a seafood cocktail) and even sushi.

The best choice is Machefe Taqueria, which serves tacos, burritos and cazuelas in a fashion similar to Chipotle, but with actually good ingredients. The corn tortillas are completely authentic, for example. The pastor was not the best in town, but was decent. And at $3 the tacos are certainly reasonable.

A better deal is the burrito, which is served in a flour tortilla the size of a manhole cover for $7.

An even better deal is the cazuela, which is basically an exploded burrito served with three corn tortillas. The attraction here is that it’s the only way to get the chicken mole, a nice slab of breast meat drenched in a very good dark mole sauce. It’s a lot of food for $8.

There’s plenty of seating in the back, but it’s nicer to set near the exit, which is much quieter.

You can get better Mexican food elsewhere, but if you’re in the area it’s a perfectly acceptable choice.

108 N State St
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 795-4444

Sofrito Latin Cafe

***** (5 stars)

This is a terrific pan-Latin restaurant that is a whole lot better than it needs to be in the tourist corridor. In fact, it’s probably the best Latin restaurant in town. (Just to clarify, it is NOT Latin fusion, which would combine the cuisines of different countries; instead, they offer different foods from many Latin countries.)

Although it’s a quick serve concept where you order at the counter and food is delivered to the table, the service is exceptional. The staff is clearly enthusiastic about their food, and is welcoming and anxious to explain the menu, and to promote their favorite items.

My favorite items were the Pandebono, a round, cheesy, and slightly sweet Colombian bread, and the Cachapa, a Venezuelan sweet corn pancake filled with white cheese and (in my case) beef. Both were a complex combination of savory and sweet flavors, with both crisp and chewy textures. I’ve never had a better Chachapa.

I also enjoyed the Venezuelan empanada, although it didn’t have a lot of filling. I was less enthusiastic about the Mini Cheese Tequeños, which were cheese filled pastry rolls without a lot of flavor.  

There are a number of interesting beers on tap, South American soft drinks, and excellent Cuban coffee.

If you’re visiting and looking for something non-touristy and a bit different, this is a great choice. And if you’re a local, it’s worth the drive to Lake Buena Vista to get your Latin food fix.

Sofrito Latin Cafe
8607 Palm Pkwy
Orlando, FL 32836
(407) 778-4205

Tako Cheena

***** (5 stars)

This tiny taco palace is soon moving four doors north to larger quarters, but for now competition for the few tables can be challenging. Fortunately, although it is a table-service restaurant, it also looks like and operates as a counter service place, and the food is just as good when you get it to go.

I tried two very different specials. The shredded pork taco was moist and tasty, with just the right spice level to the pork. But the curry beet arepa was an event. I’m not a huge beet fan, but it doesn’t matter; the delicate combination of flavors, and the creamy curry sauce (which tasted like it had just a touch of mayo) was out of this world. And the maize shell was perfectly crusted. I would definitely have this again. And again.

Service was friendly. Food preparation takes a bit longer than you’d expect for a counter service place, but that’s probably because of the cooking time of the arepa batter, and it was definitely worth it.

Tako Cheena
932 Mills Ave
Orlando, FL 32803
(321) 236-7457