When you have tickets, whether they're for an NBA game, a rock concert or even a big-name convention, it's nice to know you have dining options nearby. When it comes to eats around Orlando's state-of-the-art Amway Center, there's nothing to worry about. Choice restaurants abound and most venues on this 10Best list are well within walking distance. (And if you're wearing heels or it's raining, a cab will get you there in minutes. Literally.) If a romantic dinner is your pre- or post-show intent, look into tapas, sangria and maybe even a little flamenco at the atmospheric Ceviche. Looking to grab something quick and fresh in stylish surrounds? Check out the Bento Cafe for an array of Pan-Asian offerings in slick digs. How about a cold pint and some friendly banter over a soccer game? The Harp and Celt is tops for either (and they serve a nice Irish breakfast to boot). Other excellent options include the stylish Kres, which is a top-shelf steakhouse but pours a lovely cocktail if you're hitting them up for happy hour before heading to the arena, Shin, for fresh sushi in an elegant and business-friendly space and the Rusty Spoon for gastropub-style cuisine and farm-to-table sensibilities to satisfy local-vores with ease.
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 opportunistic carnivore will pair with a Magic game at the nearby Amway Center, live music or dancing at a nearby nightclub (perhaps even some flamenco over at Ceviche) or even a slow stroll around Lake Eola, which bolsters romance as well as digestion. The Mixed Grill at Kres – garlic shrimp, filet mignon and double lamb chop served with asparagus and decadent three-cheese au gratin – makes for a generous sample platter. (407.409.7227)
Hamburger Mary's Orlando
"Eat, drink and be Mary...!" It's a slogan that carried the first Hamburger Mary's, which opened in San Francisco in 1972, across the nation, where 12 franchises have thrived in cities where the quota for burger-and-a-drag-show venues was woefully below satisfactory levels. In its lovely Church Street digs, the Orlando Mary's is casual and friendly (yes, even kid-friendly). But you'll probably want to leave the little ones home for Tuesday Bingo Night with Miss Sammy and Carol Lee (6:30 pm) and the Saturday Cabaret show (8:30 pm) where the sass-factor climbs to adult levels. (321-319-0600)
Whether your early-morning routine leans more toward steel-cut oatmeal and Greek yogurt or black pepper-crusted bacon, there is a lot to love about starting your day at Artisan's Table. Locally sourced ingredients are the norm here, as are delicious takes on quiches, egg sandwiches, French toast and more. Looking for something a little exotic? Try the Japanese bowl, which features sticky rice, scallion, bacon, sweet chili sauce and togarashi – topped with two eggs however you like them. Whatever you do, leave some of that yolk runny. ((407) 730-7499)
Serving Orlando since 2002, Napasorn is a comfortable, quiet Thai venue convenient to all that downtown has to offer and enjoys a loyal following. Creamy and/or spicy curries (red, green, yellow, Panang and Mussamun), nutty pad Thai and an array of dishes featuring beef, chicken, seafood, vegetables and tofu are served affably and expeditiously. Small salads come with each entree and its lunch specials are a hit with the weekday work crowd. Fish dishes give you the option for filets or lovely whole fishes for market price. Napasorn also features a hefty sake menu – wonderful for warming up or cooling off, depending on the day's weather. ((407) 245-8088)
Want an atmospheric venue for an evening out with friends? A restaurant with sexy vibe for date night with a special someone? Look no further than Ceviche, where delicious tapas, fruity sangria and live flamenco (they also feature evenings with reggae, jazz and pop acts) make the warmly lit room crackle with energy. Like the menu, the décor is infused with Spanish allure and all the succulent small plates, there are hot and cold selections, make sharing the order of the evening. Let the menu warm up your insides while the music of the flamenco lounge warms up everything else. (321-281-8140)
Kasa Restaurant & Bar
Creative. Colorful. Delicious. Three adjectives that could describe any of the menus at this clean-lined haunt in downtown Orlando. But Kasa Restaurant & Bar's weekly Bubbles N' Brunch – every Sunday, $35 – comes with bottomless sangria and mimosas in a sea of flavors including pomegranate, lychee or raspberry. In fact, these hit all three aforementioned adjectives already and we haven't even gotten to the food. Menus shift, but think gouda scrambled eggs, miso praline bacon, spiced French toast and a vast array of sweet and savory goodies. Live entertainment – DJs, musicians and more – keep the party going from 11 am to 4 pm. ((407) 985-5272)
Two Chefs Seafood Oyster Bar
You could get a little Forrest Gump at the North Quarter's Two Chefs Seafood Oyster Bar – oysters on the half shell, baked oysters, oysters on fire, fried oyster BLT, oyster po'boy.... – but we want to let you know right off the top: this is not a bad thing. In fact, it's all good in this cozy little restaurant tucked into an as-yet-unassuming part of Orlando's perpetually burgeoning downtown. The chefs here hail from prominent places – one once helmed Emeril's Orlando, the other the Palm – and the plates here, simple, superb, succulent and Southern – are a pescatarian's delight (even if you didn't come for the oysters). (407-270-4740)
Bento Cafe - Downtown
With five locations around Florida, two here in Orlando, Bento Cafe's fast-casual Pan-Asian fare is popular with diners looking for fresh food fast. Offering an array of Asian-inspired dishes – noodle and rice bowls, Bento box creations and sushi selections – Bento's atmosphere is stylish and its prices are reasonable. Bento Cafe's downtown Orlando location is popular with the lunch time work crowd, those looking for a quick, inexpensive dinner before a night on the town (or perhaps a movie at the multiplex upstairs!), along with downtown's growing resident population. Bento has a decent roster of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options for diners with diet restrictions, as well. ((407) 999-8989)
The Rusty Spoon
The motto says it all: American food, European roots, locally sourced. This organic gastropub-style restaurant encompasses a vast, airy space on Church Street, making it an ideal place to begin or end a bout of downtown exploration. Sourced from Florida farmers, its menu features animal proteins that are hormone- and antibiotic-free and fed all-natural diets – in fact, the ingredients are the stars in all of its kitchen productions. The focus on what goes into the food means that the Rusty Spoon's menu rotates, encompassing what's fresh and available – but favorites here include the "55" burger, slow-braised lamb collar and Lake Meadow eggs. This venue makes a great stop for pre-Amway cocktails, craft beers and appetizers, as well. (407-401-8811)
Harp and Celt Restaurant and Irish Pub
Family-owned and family-friendly, this venerable downtown favorite is half pub (the Celt), half restaurant (the Harp) and a 100 percent Orlando-area favorite. The Harp and Celt is a wonderful venue whether you're dropping in for a happy hour pint with co-workers, a crowd that's fit for footie or a full Irish breakfast with your friends and family. A full bar with a complete selection of beers and malt whiskeys complements a menu rife with pub favorites: fish and chips, Scotch eggs, sausage rolls and steak and mushroom pie – along with some surprising dishes and American standards. (407-481-2927)
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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