Things like burgers and tacos are standard for late-night menus – and you’ll find plenty of those on this Orlando roster. That said, there are surprises in store. Gourmands from elsewhere, cities perhaps more often considered culinary contenders, would likely balk at the idea they might find an intimate eatery at which they could order a bottle of Sancerre to pair with sea bass and potato and fennel hash at 1 a.m., but that’s precisely the deal at Scratch, a romantic venue in Winter Park that’s far cozier and friendlier than the pretentious-sounding foodie copy above might lead you to believe. Over at the Smiling Bison, you can pair fried chicken livers or foie gras pierogi with live jazz late on Tuesday nights. And if all of that sounds a bit upmarket for your tastes, you can’t do better than the lamb taco (when they have it; it’s a special) at Tako Cheena, where about $10 will get your belly full of some seriously good food – tacos, burritos, hot dogs and more, much of it with an Asian spin – after a night out in Mills 50. Over in the Milk District, Tako Cheena’s sammie-slinging sister venue, Pom Pom’s, is open 24/7 on weekends, much to the delight of tea aficionados and late-night munchers. And at Oblivion Taproom – a family-friendly craft beer emporium and restaurant earlier in the evening – some say the nightly specials and piled-high burgers taste even better later on, when the music’s a little louder and there may or may not be a fun themed party going on.
Hyperlocal and frequented by both college students and Wifi-powered freelancers with a need for excellent Fair Trade coffee and a pleasant working environment, Austin's is a 24-hour establishment that provides a steady infusion of both. Add to this local art for sale on its walls, a better-than-decent collection of tabletop games and amusements and a very nice craft beer menu. Add to THAT an eclectic and affable staff, a solid menu that runs from carnivorous to dedicated vegan and live entertainment. Now we've really got something, don't we? Don't come here expecting fancy. It's not. Friendly, however, they have in spades. And if you want a good panini at 3 am, you can have that, too. (407-975-3364)
The Hideaway Bar
The Hideaway Bar is a tried and true local hang on the edge of Ivanhoe Village. Good, cheap drinks, a pool table and an exceedingly laid back atmosphere has garnered the place a legion of regulars. All comers – Miami Dolphins fans in particular – are welcome. (Note its colors and the sharp murals out front by local artist, Andrew Spear.) It's the eclectic mix of folks who frequent the Hideaway, in fact, that many cite as part of its appeal. Another facet is that the kitchen behind this dive bar is virtually universally lauded. Wings in an array of sauces, burgers, dogs, subs, sandwiches and more are available for dining in or taking out. And since the place opens at 7 a.m. six days a week, 9 a.m. Sundays (yes, really) you may want to give their breakfast burrito a try, too. (407-898-5892)
So, you like the DIY sensibility of fondue, but are less than enthused by the massive time and money investment necessary to make it happen. 10Best prescribes Hotto Potto, a fun little concept wherein you begin with a broth base, select from an array of meats and vegetables to create a custom Chinese-style hot pot you may then dress with any number of condiments. It's fun, it's reasonably priced, it's pretty healthy. Heck, it's straight-up vegan if you want it to be. While you won't while away ages during the cooking process, it is still a process, so if you're in a real hurry, come another time when you can relax and enjoy. Portions are impressive. You may find yourself leaving with leftovers. You won't mind a bit. ((407) 930-5366)
Arepas El Cacao
Arepas, at any hour, equate to Venezuelan comfort food, but they may taste best at 2 a.m. How do we know? This popular establishment, which began its life as a food truck, now has several permanent locations around town. The Universal-convenient shop isn't fancy, but it's clean and friendly and serves up white-corn goodness stuffed with your preferred array of meats, cheeses and vegetables. Prefer the sweet yellow corn of the cachapa? They've got these, too. And the carne mechada – think shredded pot roast – is tender and flavorful. Portions are generous, and this place won't break the bank, either. (321-252-2226)
Oblivion's customers are a dedicated bunch. Why? It's an inclusive kinda place, atmospherically AND gastronomically.They rustle up some of the best pub grub anywhere, but don't leave out the vegetarians and vegans. Try the house wings, coated in a delicious, flavorful dry rub. Peruse its creative burger selections, with toppings that go from uber-traditional to over-the-top. Destroy your enemies by ordering raw Hawaiian garlic topping for your tater tots. Then enjoy a game of darts and one of about a zillion craft beers from their massive, perpetually rotating menu. Put a bow on it with an order of D.F.O. – Deep-Fried Objects (they're Oreos with caramel sauce) and call it a very delicious, if late, night. ((407) 802-4800)
Oh, tacos. The later it gets, the better you sound. Not that Gringos Locos doesn't make a great lunch or dinner option. But you know what we mean. It's late, you're downtown, perhaps after visiting a few of our fair city's sophisticated nightlife options. Or not so sophisticated. It's cool. Tacos don't judge. Though you're like to judge those at Gringos Locos as ideal for an after-hours indulgence. They're open 'til 3 a.m. every night. And if you're around earlier, consider their happy hour; 4-8 p.m. daily brings $2 tacos, $2 beers and $5 burritos. You'll have plenty of money left when you show up again a few hours later. (407-841-5626)
The Smiling Bison
This Bennett Road gem began its life as a food truck and while the fare is admittedly more sophisticated than the average plastic-fork venue, its late night menu pays due homage to its roots while upping said culinary ante. Open 'til midnight most days, later on weekends, the Smiling Bison's chorizo Scotch eggs and provolone-slathered burgers sandwiched between thick Texas toast will surely do the job of satisfying wee-hour cravings – or soaking up all the great beer you enjoyed earlier in the evening. With live music several nights a week, it's not at all unlikely as a one-stop-shop for drinks, dinner, entertainment and a Hobbitesque "second dinner" if you're so inclined. (407-259-8036)
Pom Pom's Teahouse & Sandwicheria
Pom Pom's is a small, arty little joint in the Bumby vein of the Milk District, a predictably hipsteresque but very friendly haunt with an array of generous fresh salads, homemade soups, a veritable library of teas and a creative, extensive menu of sandwiches, any of which they'll be happy to press. From the decadent Mama Ling's Thanksgiving (pretty much what you'd imagine on your choice of bread) to leaner veggie options to the Graceland-meets-Tijuana fantasy of banana, bacon, strawberry jelly, cayenne and peanut butter that is the Spicy Elvis, the offerings are as fun as the local art lining the walls which, much like the sandwiches, is all for sale. ((407) 894-0865)
You might fork over $10 for two or three tacos and a drink at Tako Cheena, but you'll want to spend a little more. Why? Because it's freakin' delicious, that's why. Small, fun, exceedingly local, the food here 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 by knowledgeable staffers. ((321) 236-7457)
Intimate and chic, but hardly pretentious, the folks at Scratch makes you feel at home whether you've dropped in for a drink at the bar or to sample its sublime small plates (which you can also do at the bar). Its location on Fairbanks is just a skip from the nightlife options of Park Ave. and Hannibal Square – ambling over from either will up your evening's romantic vibe, making it feel like a random place you've decided to try after a day exploring a new city. Its wine and beer list are extensive, its wait staff knowledgeable and its seasonally rotating menu a wonderful array of tastes both traditional and exotic – and sometimes an amalgam of the two. Artful plating makes each selection almost too pretty to eat. Almost. (407-325-5165)
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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