Food & Drink: Brendan’s Best Tips for Discovering the Orlando Food Scene

Whether you’re a newcomer or a native Orlandoan, here is a list of must-eats.

Google tells me that 1,500 people move to Orlando every week and need to learn where to have a good dinner. I know this because I see them complaining online about how bad the restaurant scene is in Altamonte Springs or raising their digital fists at the sky about the lack of good Thai food in Mt. Dora. But I’m here to tell newcomers you need to sit down and listen. We’ve got enough good food to keep you happy and sated here in Orlando. 

So put down that Pub-Sub, Betty, and buckle up. 

Lee and Rick’s Oyster Bar  

This spot opened in 1950 and specializes in really big oysters. Bushels of them. They opened as a nine-stool restaurant, and the owners used to live in the back of the building with their kids. Now it’s one of the most beloved restaurants in Central Florida. And while the food is delicious, it’s also extremely affordable, with a bucket of raw or steamed oysters setting you back just $16. That’s not to say it’s a fussy/big deal experience when you go, though, as most people dress down because they know they’ll get horseradish and cocktail sauce everywhere. I’m not kidding. I have a friend who wears the same shirt every time he goes there so he can add to the food painting he’s been working on for the past few years, like a wearable Jackson Pollock. 

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Lee and Rick’s knows how to shuck those oysters. Photo by Roberto Gonzalez

Bombay Street Kitchen 

The adorable and highly talented Chef Amit Kumar told me once that he chose Orange Blossom Trail for his Michelin Bib Gourmand-winning restaurant because it allowed him to stretch out and do his thing without fear of losing his hat on the real estate prices downtown. He has fearlessly laid his claim and staked out one of the most exciting restaurants in Orlando. Chef Kumar believes that food can be medicine and that the traditional Indian use of spices and herbs should be studied and revered, but he’s still playful in his choices and not afraid to modernize a dish. His food is flavorful and happy and always a treat to eat. Plus, the dining room is always full of local Indian families, with mothers and grannies nodding their heads in approval, so Bib Gourmand or not, he’s doing something right. 


Bombay Street Kitchen serves up some of the best food in Orlando. Photo by Roberto Gonzalez

Linda’s La Cantina 

Ask any real Orlandoan, I mean someone who went to Boone High School or has jumped off an oak tree into a lake in College Park on purpose, for the best steakhouse in town, and they’ll point you at Linda’s. They’ve been serving steaks since 1947, and are known for their seasoned wait staff. It’s the type of place that serves hot bread and a house salad with your entrée, just because it’s the polite thing to do. And you can even get a side of spaghetti or steamed broccoli with your T-Bone, too, if that’s how you roll, but you’d be dumb not to get the baked potato because that’s what a civilized adult does. Linda’s is the local choice for a business dinner, graduation, or just a place to pretend you’re on “Mad Men.” Call for a reservation; you’re not getting a table otherwise. 


Chef Bruno Fonseca’s love and familiarity with food and seasonal ingredients is refreshing and sexy, and he’s got some fancy toys that’ll make the foodies in your life blush when he uses them. While Chef Fonseca earned his stripes with a prolific series of pop-ups around town and crafting remarkable dinners from tents and in the bushes but now that he’s moved into a beautiful restaurant of his own, I can’t wait to see what else he can cook up. Go hungry. 


Born in Rio De Janeiro and an Orlando-resident for the last 30 years, Chef Bruno Fonseca is a seasoned veteran with over two decades of experience in the culinary industry. Photo by Roberto Gonzalez

Yellow Dog Eats 

You’ll find this gem tucked into the historic Brockman House in Gotha, just to the west of Orlando. Chef Fish Morgan has imagined up some crazy stoner sandwiches that have garnered a cult-like following. One of my favorites is the Bleu Suede Shoes; a pulled pork sammie topped with blue cheese crumbles, pecan-smoked bacon, scallions, red onions, and some homemade barbecue sauce but the What the Fig? with its fried onions, bacon, and goat cheese kind of slapped me in the face last time too. The sandwiches are big and unapologetic, just like me, so bring a friend if you need support. 


Photo by Roberto Gonzalez

Beefy King 

This is a time capsule disguised as a sandwich joint. They’ve been around for over 50 years; the last remaining link to a failed sandwich chain. They specialize in steamed sandwiches. While everyone always talks about their roast beef, the corned beef and pastrami combo is the best menu option. And be sure to complete the experience with a side of Beefy Spuds. Please don’t take it to go, either. The best way to enjoy Beefy King is inside the restaurant’s dining room, which has changed little since it opened. Some of the old dudes plucking their suspenders have been going there since they were kids throwing grapefruits at alligators and they’re still going strong, so don’t feel bad about finishing all those tots before you leave. 


Photo by Roberto Gonzalez

Sticky Rice Lao Street Food 

Tucked into a nondescript building in Mills 50’s Little Vietnam retail district, you’ll find this oasis of Laotian street food, owned by the soft-spoken though totally sassy Kevin Phanhvilay, a former monk turned Orlando foodie. The menu features affordable dishes like chicken laab, lemongrass beefy jerky, and Lao chicken noodle soup. Sticky Rice is best enjoyed by over-ordering and eating it Lao-style with your fingers and friends. 

Victoria & Albert’s 

This Disney staple has been making tourists feel fancy since 1988 and regularly wins top-tier rankings for providing some of the best service in the region, let alone the state, and is a AAA 5-Diamond award-winning restaurant. The wine list has over 500 wines from around the world. The restaurant has three different “experiences” to choose from based on the room you would like to dine in, including the main dining room inspired by a Victorian garden, Queen Victoria’s Room which provides a tasting menu for just four couples each night, and the Chef’s Table which lets you watch the crew do their thing. At the same time, you pretend you’re in “The Menu.” It’s in the Grand Floridian Resort, just outside the Magic Kingdom, so if you time things correctly, you could waddle out of dinner while fireworks go off over your head and children scream in their strollers for more sugar. So very Orlando. 

Tap room at Dubsdread 

The Tap Room has been open since 1924 and sits atop Orlando’s oldest public golf course, like a crown on an aged beauty queen, still waving at the crowds and smiling through a few layers of makeup. The restaurant sits in a beautiful historic building. It offers mid-century Country Club classics like deviled eggs, lemon chicken risotto soup, a yummy prime rib, and crab cakes you could probably recommend to your Baltimore grandmother. All the local generational College Parkers are here to see and be seen too, so if you’re new to town and looking to make some friends, go grab a putter and hang around until someone says hello. 

Kappy’s Subs 

This unpretentious diner has been in the same family since 1967. It operates out of an original Valentine Diner, essentially an L-shaped box with just 12 swiveling bar stools with weathered cushions, overlooking the kitchen where a calm and collected staff sweats through order after order of burgers, strawberry milkshakes, and Philly Cheesesteaks. Valentine Diners were prefab trailers designed to be run by just a few people, and they’re not being made anymore, but the utilitarian charm makes you wonder why they couldn’t make a resurgence someday. The youngest generation of the Caplan family has recently added their own flair to the family business, including a trendy food truck and some innovative additions to the menu. Still, the real magic is simply being able to sit in the roadside dining room of this Maitland-based icon and watch the world drive by on 17-92. 

Categories: Dining