You’ve got on your black and gold. You’re ready to cheer. But wait, is that your stomach rumbling? You may need some pre-game sustenance. You may want to dine over some post-game analysis. Either way, you won’t have to stray far from the confines of Bright House Stadium, because the East Orlando area around the University of Central Florida is rife with restaurants. Sure, there are tens of chain offerings on University Blvd. that might get rid of the growl, but while you’re in the neighborhood, you may as well roam and explore a bit. For games that are doubling as dates, you may want to check out Tamarind Indian Cuisine out on Colonial, with its extensive and exotic menu or head to Oviedo’s famed Sushi Pop, for creative takes on traditional fare and other offerings that come with a side of sleek, anime-inspired surrounds. If fast-casual is more the order of the day, the immediate area is an ethnic buffet – Mark’s Caribbean brings wonderful authentic Jamaican food into play while Nar Mediterranean Grill will satisfy your falafel-and-hummus cravings (and keep your less adventurous companions at bay with pizza and wings simultaneously). Across the way from the school, Sus Hi Eatstation gives diners a new spin on sushi. Patrons choose from wraps, bowls or rolls and choose among proteins and other ingredients that can get a little out there…. How much you like it may surprise you. Go Knights!
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)
Kimchi Korean Restaurant
An unassuming little shopping center in the suburbs yields big Far East flavor in the form of galbi, bulgogi, katsu and a long, tempting roster of lesser known and perhaps more delectable Korean delights. The outset of meals at Kimchi begin with a host of small dishes – fish cakes, kimchi and more. Great to whet the appetite, particularly if you're new to Korean and want a quick initiation. Lunch box specials offer a sampling of the familiar with the more exotic for the cautious, the larger menu allows the adventurous to jump in whole-hog (or beef, or seafood, or vegetarian....). ((407) 977-4455)
The TownHouse Restaurant
To paraphrase that old 70s hit, "they don't make 'em like this anymore." Oviedo's downtown is hardly bustling – unless you count its famous feral chickens, they bustle quite a bit – but at its center sits the TownHouse, almost as it has since the 1950s (a recent move has put it in brand-new expanded digs up the street). Serving up all the diner classics – breakfast, lunch and dinner – in as cozy a setting as possible, it's been named to a host of Orlando-local lists over the years, most notably for its breakfasts. Aside from biscuits and gravy, omelets, pancakes and the like at breakfast, the Townhouse menu also features Greek and Mediterranean fare – with staples like burgers and meatloaf and all the things you'd expect from a quaint country diner. ((407) 365-5151)
Mark's Jamaican Bar & Grill
Mark's Jamaican reproves the slightly updated adage – it's one you'll hear over and over again as you navigate the suburban sprawl-chitecture for some surprisingly wonderful dining venues – that you can't judge a shopping center by its cover. Though housed in a plaza that could use a little love, the space inside Mark's is bright, clean and friendly (as is the staff) and often busy with folks who clamor for the jerk, Jamaican patties, curry, plantains, oxtail, curried goat and other regional delights. Pop in for a rich, stick-to-your-ribs plate piled high with the stewed meats and carby staples of the islands. You can even grab some to go. ((407) 636-9290)
Native Orlandoans remember a time when Oviedo was nothing but native woodlands and sprawling farms – celery, horses, you name it. These days it's a growing suburb with many, many residents, all of whom need a place to get their chow on. As such, innovative eateries have been popping up 'round these parts in recent years. Sushi Pop is one of them. Okay, it's still perilously close to a sod farm, but that doesn't take one bit away from its innovative menu of offerings. Many are non-traditional, employing ingredients such as fried capers and rendered bacon. Asian fusion brings bits of Vietnam and Korea into the nouvelle mix, as well, along with interesting seafood and meat entrees. Desserts are quite creative, as well, and the chic, anime-inspired décor makes it feel a bit South Beachy out here in the 'burbs.
Tamarind Indian Cuisine - UCF
This is the East Orlando outpost of the popular Winter Park eatery and a no less delicious venue. Extremely popular for its reasonable lunch buffet ($8.95) – loaded down with chutneys and sauces, vegetarian and non-veg options – it's very easy to over-indulge. The UCF Tamarind's "edge of Orlando" Colonial Drive location feels semi-remote, but belies the enjoyable atmosphere inside, where warm colors, soft music and Indian touches create pleasant confines in which to enjoy the spice-laden entrees (all you can eat at lunch) and soft, chewy naan. Many diners here are regulars at lunch time due to price and selection, but Tamarind's off-buffet menu is extensive and certainly warrants exploration. ((407) 237-0920)
Sus Hi Eatstation
This little counter service gem, a favorite of UCF students, staffers and a good many of the other locals who live and work in the area has a formula: pick your mode of foodstuff delivery (roll, bowl or wrap), choose your protein (an array of cooked, raw and even vegan options), choose your ingredients and sauces (most are free, a few are 50-cent upgrades) and ka-pow! The staffers – aka ninjas – turn it out 1-2-3. You'll find among the ingredients things you'd expect – cream cheese, scallions, cucumber – and a bunch you almost certainly didn't, like raisins, Rice Krispies and Cheez Whiz. Don't count anything out straightaway, though. These ninjas know what they're doing. Fun place. ((407) 826-1682)
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.
Read more about A.D. Thompson here.
Connect with A.D. via: Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Google+ | Pinterest