Great Dining Deals, No $1 Menus: Best Value Venues in Orlando
By A.D. Thompson
Orlando Local Expert
Who’s to say what “best value” really means? Price may be a factor but doesn’t what you get for your money figure in? With that in mind, 10Best presents a list of eateries – food truck to fine dining – we believe deliver on that promise, though not all in precisely the same way. Take Bem Bom, for example, which proffers exquisite Portuguese cuisine – right down to its delicate custards – for a very reasonable price, and all out the window of a food truck. Winter Park’s Ravenous Pig on the other hand is a very well known gastropub that comes with a higher tab, but its monthly pig roast is a feast for the eyes – and the belly – with a sticker price that includes a piled-high plate and a microbrew. Orlando has more than a few great Vietnamese options in town, Banh Mi Nha Trang barely has chairs, let alone a dining room – but its friendly staff and truly unbeatable $3 sandwiches earn it a place on the list. And down at the theme parks, teppanyaki masters do their due diligence with a flourish at EPCOT’s Teppan Edo, where for a little while, at least, someone else can entertain your kids while you grab a cold beer in the climate-controlled comfort of the Japan Pavillion.
9 Bem Bom Food Truck
Orlando has a vibrant food truck scene and among its many jewels is Bem Bom, which specializes in Portuguese cuisine with gourmet tacos and some delightful pastries, to boot. It's friendly proprietor, whose childhood was spent in the archipelago of the Azores, has traveled quite a bit in the pursuit of his craft -- in the process creating the amalgam that became Bem Bom. Salted fish croquettes with black-eyed pea salad, popular Portuguese piri piri chicken and a host of other alluring items stud the menu. By the way, "Bem Bom" translates to "Good Good." When was the last time your food-truck slider was marinated filet mignon topped with a quail egg? We rest our case. Check their website, Facebook and Twitter to find them. ((321) 236-2660)
8 Teppan Edo
Live entertainment adds value to any meal. And when said entertainment is A) Cooking your food B) Entertaining your children, who you've been entertaining all day long as you've all been "globetrotting" around EPCOT -- it wins extra value points. Teppan Edo's friendly teppanyaki chefs are engaging -- as are the massive onion volcanoes the build on the sizzling grill. As for the food, it's the usual suspects you'd find at your local -- shrimp, chicken, steak cooked to order and the like -- served on udon and/or rice. Large party? No problem. Each table accommodates eight. Appetizers and a few sushi selections round out the menu, but the culinary performance art is where it's at. ((407) 939-3463)
7 Pho 88
A fixture in the ground-zero area of Mills50 for more than a decade now, Pho 88 is family-run with a truly vast menu of Vietnamese dishes from appetizers to sizzling entrees to the brothy-delicious delicacy for which it is named: pho. Don't know pho? It's noodle soup! Giant, steaming, noodle-filled bowls for the novice or traditionalist (chicken, beef) or the adventurer (tendon, tripe, squid) -- take your pick. In addition, Pho 88 slings banh-mi -- traditional Vietnamese sandwiches -- simmering hot pots, sauce laden fish, left whole on the platter. It would take you ages to go through the entire menu. But you may want to try. ((407) 897-3488)
Thought tucked into the confines of an unremarkable shopping center, for Venezuelan comfort food, Q'Kenan is tops. Cachapas, arepas and empanadas are just three of the stars on a vast menu that's drizzled with smooth crema and dressed with rice, beans and plantains (green or sweet). Unfamiliar with the cuisine? Don't be shy. Staffers are happy to walk you through the Comida Venezolana 101 crash course and breakfast, lunch or dinner. The impressive arepa menu alone, most under $5, loaded with an array of ingredients such as beans and cheese, shredded chicken, ham or pork, might make decision-making tough. If you're in a group, you'll hope it's made up of sharing types. ((407) 301-6127)
5 Banh Mi Nha Trang
This shop is nestled into the far reaches of a tiny, aging plaza near the Mills 50 intersection. There are no tables save the folding plastic one, on which might find a few errant catalogs or Vietnamese newspapers. Several chairs for waiting or eating are crammed around the periphery of the miniscule standing area on the customers' side of the lunch counter. They don't take credit cards and the friendly woman who will take your order and make your $3 sandwich speaks very limited English. But guess what? No one cares. In fact, it's all part of the Banh Mi Nha Trang charm. When the traditional Vietnamese sandwiches are this good, right down to the cheerful, "See you tomorrow!" farewell that regulars have come to expect from this talented banh mi artisan, what's a little language barrier between new friends. Buy five, get one free! (407-346-4549, 407-595-6998)
4 Relax Grill at Lake Eola
The Relax Grill is casual, comfortable and nothing fancy, but with nightly drink specials (all-day Happy Hour on "Mad Mondays") and a gorgeous location on the shores of Lake Eola, you can't beat it. Menu is a mixed bag of American and quasi-Mexican offerings with a surprising and quite fresh selection of traditional Greek and Middle Eastern dishes, as well. The location alone warrants its mention, as views like this generally come with a heftier price tag at the end of your meal. Trivia night on Wednesdays. Live music, weather permitting, on Sunday evenings. Bonus for dog lovers: Fido is most certainly welcome! ((407) 425-8440)
3 The Ravenous Pig
Alright, I know what some of you locals are thinking: the Ravenous Pig is amazing, but it's not a one-dollar-sign kinda place. What gives? This American gastropub's monthly pig roast, that's what. Offered on the first Saturday of every month -- lunch only -- for $22, diners who are most certainly not vegans can buy into a wonderfully casual celebration of the swine along via a plate piled high with meat and signature sides -- along with a pint of one of this undeniable local favorite's delicious microbrews. Not drinking? The same sells for $17 with a soft drink. Stop by and let the smell of the smoker seduce you. It might be the nicest place you ever ate a big 'ol plate of pork. (4076282333)
2 Tako Cheena
We listed $9 as an average price because that's what a two or three tacos and a drink will run you at Tako Cheena, but you'll want to spend a little more. Why? Because it's freakin' delicious, that's why. This place is small, friendly and exceedingly local in vibe (it's proprietress is also the talent behind Pom-Pom's, an excellent tea house/sandwich shop in the nearby Milk District), but its food is a wonderful amalgam of Thai and Cuban, Filipino and Mexican, and unlike so many late-night taco shops, it's as good sober as it is...er, on those rare and random occasions when you're not. In fact, check it out for lunch and see! Panko-crusted cod takos, Thai peanut chicken takos, Indian butter burritos, banh-mi hot dogs, Asian braised beef on arepas -- it's a culinary world's fair on one small, colorful chalkboard menu -- everything reasonably priced and served with a smile. ((321) 236-7457)
1 Thai Purple Orchid Cafe & Grocery
Lots of restaurants say they've got a family vibe but the mother-daughter proprietresses at Thai Purple Orchid Cafe, a modest little gem in an aging Colonial Drive strip center, serve it up with just the right amount of eastern spice. Sonia (a UCF grad) and mom, Nisa (a former pharmacist) welcome all walks of customers -- UCF students and well beyond, who come for very reasonably priced and authentic fare in a clean, cute place that feels sort of like your friend's mom's kitchen. Which it sort of is, we suppose. A small attached grocery (about an aisle's worth of foodstuffs) sells Thai staples. Feel free to ask questions about goods or dishes; staffers here are affable and the food is first-rate. ((407) 203-3891)
About A.D. Thompson
A.D. Thompson has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and roughly 15 as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum. A roller coaster enthusiast, A.D. readily admits there is fun to be had amid the madness of the theme parks, but has found there is magic, as well, in the outer-lying reaches of Mickey’s long shadow. She is delighted to share with you the spoils of her adopted city. Visit her colorful compendium at www.amydrewthompson.com.
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