Food & Drink: Chill Orlando Neighborhood Restaurants

Sometimes You Want To Go Where Everybody Knows Your Name.

Sometimes, you find yourself with an abundance of time, in a corner of town where you have absolutely no idea where to go. Don’t fret, my friend, there are plenty of places where you can park yourself and chill out, with no pressure to move on and make space for someone else.

Gbo Bosendorfer Bar

The Grand Bohemian boasts several great spots to relax! Courtesy of the Grand Bohemian Hotel.

Downtown Orlando / Thornton Park

Traditionally, downtown Orlando has catered to two audiences: the office workers and the late-night party crowd. With recent ordinances restricting downtown nightlife and City Hall pushing for a future where downtown is more family-friendly and “neighborhoody” that is likely to change. That being said, one of the best places to eat downtown without the fear of being rushed out is a small eatery tucked away in an office building on Orange Avenue. 

Latin Square is family-owned and operated and serves up a variety of Hispanic dishes for breakfast and lunch. My favorite is the chicken pepito, which has grilled chicken, swiss cheese, onion, lettuce, tomatoes, cilantro, garlic sauce, cilantro sauce, “pink sauce,” and potato sticks. And the added bonus of visiting Latin Square is being able to eat your food in the park on its doorstep, under beautiful shade trees, with the sound of a nearby water fountain and men in suits talking about the chicks they made out with at Mathers Social Gathering the night before. 

The Grand Bohemian just completed a massive renovation of its rooftop pool deck and reopened it with a fancy event I was lucky enough to be invited to last month. Altira Rooftop Lounge is open to the public for drinks and apps, but if you want to swim you’ll have to rent a room. It’s hosted a number of fancy scene parties since the reopening and I can confidently tell you, that this sixth-floor, rooftop venue is going to be one of the best places to see and be seen this summer. And they can make a mean cocktail to sip on while you enjoy the sunset bouncing off of the buildings around you. Squint your eyes and you can pretend you’re in New York. 

On the other side of the pond in Thornton Park, you’ll find the longtime watering hole, Burton’s Bar. Touted as one of the oldest, if not the oldest, bars in Orlando, Burton’s first opened as a package store back in 1937. Nowadays it’s known for its laissez-faire charm, outdoor patio and city-sponsored parklet, and its karaoke nights hosted by Real Radio 104.1 FM personality Sabrina Ambra. The bar recently added a kitchen, which is run by Brian Minkl, a name that has been attached to the downtown drinking scene for years. Minkl serves American pub fare with a twist like a Bloody Mary steak sandwich and a poutine that would make any Canadian happy, complete with squeaky cheese curds. Saddle up at the bar and take your time. There’s a pool table too if you want to play a game and make a friend.

Redlight 192

The lights are on at Redlight Redlight, where craft beer flows and neighbors reconnect. Photo by Roberto Gonzalez

Audubon Park / Baldwin Park

For a hot minute, Audubon Park was known as a bit of a Baked Goods ‘Hood, with a variety of small bakeries calling it home. Since the pandemic, we’ve been sad to see a few of the more popular ones drop off, including The Gourmet Muffin, Olde Hearth Bread Company, and P is for Pie. But we are seeing a shift in the dynamic to something more elevated, including the opening of the new Foreigner chef experience under Chef Bruno Fonseca, and the upcoming kitchen at Redlight Redlight under Chef Jes Tantalo. 

Stardust Lounge, a hipster hangout in a former video store turned coffee shop, has been holding it down for years though, and doesn’t look to be stopping any time soon. While the service is known to be slow and sometimes even plodding, the simple menu is tasty and hits the spot and the cocktail and coffee programs are strong. The space has become an incubator for outsider art and music and is host to major annual events like the Grandma Party Bazaar every December. 

The Neighbors, a retail space on the second floor of East End Market, has been hosting a pop-up French-Vietnamese concept since August 2021 called Camille, led by Chef Tung Phan, that is preparing to open a new brick-and-mortar restaurant in nearby Baldwin Park. A new pop-up will be announced shortly to take over the East End Market space, and foodies around town are watching with bated breath to see what they have planned next as it has quickly established itself as an excellent spot for a happy hour cocktail.


For an ultra-chill spot, head to the Living Room Bar. Photo by Milena Wambold

Lake Nona

Lake Nona has plenty of restaurants to choose from in its City Center like Bosphorus Turkish Cuisine and the nearby Boxi Park, but a real standout is Park Pizza and Brewery, and you can tell the locals think the same, as it’s always full. The menu features a variety of tasty wood-fired pizzas that are perfectly complemented by their in-house brews. Some of my favorite pizzas include their truffle shuffle with smoked gouda, cremini mushrooms, ricotta, truffle oil, and arugula, or their pickled pig with house made sausage and giardiniera.

Just up the long, winding sidewalk from “downtown” Lake Nona, you’ll find the Wave Hotel, which emanates a strong Miami vibe, but in the middle of the state instead of being on the ocean. While the hotel has an award-winning restaurant at its heart, called BACÁN, for an ultra-chill spot, I think the Living Room Bar is the place to be. The space is built around a pink replica dogwood tree that goes up two stories and features a selection of handcrafted cocktails and regularly offers live music. It’s very Instagrammy and a great spot to chill out for a few drinks. Or you could put your phone down and go pick up one of the many art books showcased on the curated shelves lining the adjacent lobby.

Mount Dora

Mount Dora is known for its robust antiquing and small-town charm, but it has some pretty gutsy foodies that call it home, too. So, if you’re over that way for a Renninger’s Extravaganza event or sticking your head into the Modernism Museum to see some of David Bowie’s old sofas, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what they have to offer. 

Off the main drag, in a more modern building, you’ll find Wave Asian Bistro, which is one of the most photographed and innovative restaurants in Central Florida. Owner, and Chef Jonathan McKinney, clearly loves sushi and is not afraid to really shake things up with his unique creations and hibachi-style plates. It’s almost like he woke up one day and thought, “I need to make sushi dishes that the average person will love and not be intimidated by.” And I think he’s succeeded. The menu features hibachi bowls and poke, as you’d expect, but the sushi burgers and sushi burritos are where it’s at. Be sure to try a sushi donut too. It’s a donut-shaped homunculus of sushi rice with a filling of tuna or salmon, avocado, masago, sesame seeds, and scallions. And it’s gorgeous. 

If you want something fun, kitschy, and a little British, you can head over to the Magical Meat Boutique, which is anchored by a decommissioned passenger train that’s available to rent for private parties. It’s a relaxed atmosphere and an ideal place to enjoy a good Bloody Mary and a plate of authentic bangers and gravy. 

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Vinia Wine and Kitchen offers guests delectable, magical meals. Photo by Roberto Gonzalez

Winter Park

Tucked away down an alleyway off of Park Avenue, you’ll find a restaurant that feels a bit Harry Potter and a little bit winery in Ojai, California. Garp and Fuss is a relaxed dining area with a large stonework atrium that serves simple, home-style food that’s just damn good. The name of the restaurant is a nod to one of the owners’ sisters, who were nicknamed Garp and Fuss by a family member, and that familiarity is felt throughout the space. 

The City Beautiful’s original artisan cocktail pioneers, The Courtesy Bar, abandoned their original home in downtown Orlando and relocated to Winter Park. They’re still serving up their trademark amazing cocktails but they’ve also shacked up with the folks from Swine and Sons and launched their own special “Bar Swine” menu of artisan food to match the drinks. The seating area is small and intimate and lit in just a way that you don’t really notice your neighbors and it makes for an ideal hangout with a friend or a date. 

Just up the road in Hannibal Square, you’ll find one of my favorite hidden gems, Vinia Wine and Kitchen. The husband-and-wife team behind this perfect date night mecca, Paula and Fabio, searched for years to find the Goldilocks zone of their dreams and right when they had given up, they found this storefront in Winter Park and opened their bar baby. The best nights to go are when Fabio has a chef’s table experience and you can just sit back and enjoy the prix fixe magic. Fabio will walk you through your wine options and tell you the story of the food you’re eating all the while looking adorable in his suspenders and flashing a big toothy grin. He’s a goat farmer too. I’m not sure why I’m telling you that, but it seems relevant.

College Park / Packing District

College Park is in a bit of a transition phase at the moment, with the departure of Linger, Rusteak, and Graffiti Junktion, some locals seem to have given up on the neighborhood in favor of nearby Ivanhoe Village or Winter Park, but there are some gems to be found. 

Breakfast-wise, College Park has three solid options with Christo’s, Shakers, and College Park Cafe serving up good coffee with a side of breakfast potatoes and sass. They’ve got some killer sandwiches at Blended Bistro, and tasty shakes at New Moon Market Juice Bar too. And Pizza Bruno’s College Park location serves some good pies and seasonal ice cream – though they just took pasta off their menu. 

But Duck and Drake Kitchen is arguably one of the best places to eat on the Edgewater Drive corridor, and they happen to be a food truck. You can currently find them in the parking lot of Digress Wines where they serve beef and lamb sliders that will have you sitting at home smelling your beard for hours afterward. Their food is humble, innovative, and made with heart and I can’t wait until they open their new brick-and-mortar in downtown Orlando in the near future, but there’s something particularly charming about them having the audacity to serve such amazing food out of a trailer. In a parking lot. 

Categories: Dining