From Farm-to-Fork to Lakeside Allure, Orlando Knows How to Do Business

Hold onto your PowerPoints, business travelers, Orlando may be the theme park capital, but this city’s got bonafide restaurant clout. Not surprisingly, many of these culinary strongholds are ideal not merely for impressing significant others, but significant colleagues, as well. Those looking for a venue for farm-to-fork aficionados might look into the new kid on the block at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes. Highball & Harvest mines not only the local Central Florida purveyors for its fresher-than-fresh Southern-style fare, but its own verdant farm, as well. The downtown business district offers a host of eateries as well, from the contemporary American of Citrus to the classic chophouse of Kres. The latter, located in an historic building sits a stone’s throw from the sleek, modern Amway Center but inside emanates the cool confidence of a lost era in American business dealings. They make a fine cocktail, as well. Over near the Mall at Millenia, reliable and delicious comes in the form of the well-known Capital Grille while over on I-Drive, homestyle Italian meets elegant fine dining at the locally owned Vincenzo Cucina Italiana. Whether you’re pitching woo or cutting-edge ideas, there’s nowhere better to relax your intended than the al fresco charms of Hillstone’s lakeside patio. Order a drink and let the business dealings begin. 

10 Kasa Restaurant & Bar
This bright and modern downtown venue has its share of decadent plates, many of which are meant for sharing. Creamy mac and cheese shares billing with guava barbecued chicken and yucca fries, crab cake BLTs and bison burgers (hey, they're lower in fat than beef!), but don't let such selections pin them down. KASA has light and fresh handled with others including Mediterranean tuna salad, edamame bruschetta and a raw bar offering seafood paired with crisp fruit-and-veggie amalgams that won't weigh you down. The sunny, airy space may help with that, as well. Its full bar and craft cocktails allow happy hour to ease right into dinner hour. ((407) 985-5272)

9 Vincenzo Cucina Italiana
Chef and owner Vincenzo Navarra may hail from Boston, but his cuisine comes straight from the land of his forebears. Ensconced amid the tourist-laden I-Drive corridor, Navarra's namesake eatery, proponents are like to say, is the antithesis of the chain offering with its warmth and singularity. Whether special-occasion dining with a loved one or wheeling and dealing with a colleague, few things set the mood like fine wine and Italian food. The less adventurous will find solid, familiar faces on the menu, but stray and you may enjoy a culinary tour of Italy. It's a path you may want to retrace. (407-745-4030)

8 Hamilton's Kitchen
Southern cooking, modern preparation, locally sourced ingredients and a lovely setting -- indoor or out -- make Hamilton's Kitchen, the resident eatery at Winter Park's beautiful Alfond Inn a wonderful choice for a business dinner (or breakfast, lunch or brunch, come to think of it). Bright but rustic with an open kitchen -- hence the name, perhaps -- Hamilton's Winter Park location makes before- or after-dinner exploration of Park Ave.'s shops and bars a nice way to work up an appetite or walk off a meal. Dinner fare runs the gamut from land to sea, often with an especially nice selection of seafood. In fact, snap up the olive oil poached snapper if you see it. (407-998-8089)

7 Lolailo, The Original
Tapas make for a wonderful dining experience, business or otherwise, as foodies sample and savor and sigh. Over in Dr. Phillips, Lolailo the Original makes a wonderful venue for just these three things, this one specializing in Galician cuisine. You won't find a paella-laden menu here, rather one including tender, mouthwatering octopus, stuffed peppers and cheese plates to pair with a fine Spanish vintage -- with or without live music and/or flamenco dancing, depending on which night you visit. Small plates aren't the only option, however, generous entrees include seafood, steak, lamb chops and more. Lolailo's expansive space allows for different experiences, whether dining with a date or a colleague. (407-730-8948)

6 Citrus Restaurant
Stylish, inviting and well located for downtown business dealings, Citrus' bright, contemporary space makes a comfortable backdrop for its new American menu and a nice place for a power lunch or dinner -- or even a cosmopolitan date night. Diner from out of town might opt for fresh Florida fish or shrimp or other locally sourced delights served with a bit of a Southern spin. Buttermilk fried chicken, trout over cheese grits, fried green tomatoes with pork belly and the like make for tempting entrees but fear not, there is lighter fare to be had if that's your preference. (407-373-0622)

5 Bistro CloClo
Ensconced in the decidedly upscale Marketplace at Dr. Phillips shopping center, this intimate venue offers both indoor and outdoor seating and makes a nice business-dinner alternative to the usual, if competent, chain offerings in the area. Inside, sultry red walls, fresh flowers and an array of art -- all of depicting scenes from France -- set the mood. Outside, (or both if the bistro's large glass doors are open -- the deftly screened patio does a good job of masking the parking lot's proximity. The food may help you forget, too. Open for lunch and dinner, offerings both artful and rich ply the palate and the wine list is extensive. Live entertainment in the form of jazz ensembles or singers is not uncommon. ((407) 745-5045)

4 Capital Grille - Millenia
With locations nationwide, Capital Grille is well known by special-occasion customers and business travelers for solid service, excellent food and generous portions. Fresh seafood and steaks -- dry-aged in house -- are the best known of its menu, but it offers an array from which to choose, along with a few hundred or so wines. Millenia is convenient to the I-Drive and convention center area, but offers a reasonable change of venue (not to mention top-shelf shopping at the Mall of Millenia, literally just steps away). Dine in the Capital Grille's fashionable and well-appointed indoor space or enjoy Orlando's generally stellar weather on the patio. (407-351-2210)

3 Hillstone
With its truly exceptional lakeside setting, fine dining at Hillstone may leave you and your guests stuffed, but no one at the table will find it stuffy. In fact, it's just the sort of place to loosen the tie, slide the power heels off a bit (under the table, perhaps) and unwind after a day of wheeling and dealing -- one cocktail and a bit of fresh air and schmoozing becomes simple socializing over an ample wood-grilled steak, crisp salad or perhaps a sandwich or burger. Save room. Hillstone's desserts are decadent, as well. Thank goodness the view has zero calories. (407-740-4005)

2 Highball & Harvest
This newest restaurant venue at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner -- which means you can entertain clients (or yourself) for all three squares. Be warned, though, the fare here is hearty, down-homey and delicious, so it's going to take more than a few rounds of golf to work off the decadence. Southern is the order of the menu and hyperlocal is the order of its ingredients, whether outsourced from Florida's own or in-sourced at the property's own Whisper Creek Farm. Handcrafted cocktails make the perfect prelude. Bartenders will be happy to explain the process.H&H also boasts a brilliant selection of wines from the cask. As for atmosphere: while cozy and comfortable, you won't be forgetting you're at a Ritz-Carlton venue. Highball & Harvest may be rustic, but it's still posh. (407-393-4422)

1 Kres Chophouse
It's slick and red, chic and modern with a little vintage essence and located in a hopping little corner of downtown. But Kres Chophouse isn't just a pretty face, it offers quality dining the business-oriented diner might pair with a Magic game at the nearby Amway Center. Food is always on point but its atmosphere adds a "Mad Men"-esque touch that's like to charm even the toughest nuts in your Rolodex of high-powered colleagues. Follow the succulent steak up with a cigar to enjoy on a walk around downtown if the weather suits. There are many nearby change-of-venue options for an after-dinner drink to close the deal. ((407) 447-7950)

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  

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Maps and Directions

Kasa Restaurant & Bar 10Best List Arrow
Dining Options: Bar / Lounge, Bar Dining, Group Friendly, Parties / Private Rooms
Cuisine: Fusion
Neighborhood: Downtown
COST: $$
Vincenzo Cucina Italiana 10Best List Arrow
Dining Options: Bar / Lounge, Catering, Family Friendly, Group Friendly
Cuisine: European, Italian
Neighborhood: International Drive
COST: $$$
Hamilton's Kitchen 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American
Dining Options: Bar / Lounge, Group Friendly
Neighborhood: Winter Park
COST: $$$
Lolailo, The Original 10Best List Arrow
Dining Options: Bar / Lounge, Family Friendly, Group Friendly
Cuisine: European, Spanish
Neighborhood: Doctor Phillips
COST: $$
Citrus Restaurant 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American, New American
Dining Options: Bar / Lounge, Catering, Group Friendly, Parties / Private Rooms
Neighborhood: Downtown
COST: $$
Bistro CloClo 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: European, French
Dining Options: Live Music, Parties / Private Rooms, Sommelier
Neighborhood: Doctor Phillips
COST: $$
Capital Grille - Millenia 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American, Steakhouse
Dining Options: Bar / Lounge, Bar Dining, Family Friendly, Group Friendly
Neighborhood: South Orlando
COST: $$$
Highball & Harvest 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American, Southern
Dining Options: Bar / Lounge, Group Friendly, Parties / Private Rooms
COST: $$
Kres Chophouse 10Best List Arrow
Dining Options: Bar / Lounge, Bar Dining, Catering
Cuisine: Seafood, Steakhouse
COST: $$$
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