Sure, we do a bit of junk-food worship here in the states. And Orlando, being the undisputed king-destination of family vacationing has more than a few burger joints and soft serve stands, but that’s hardly all that’s here. Right alongside the city’s massive uptick in creative, independent restaurants and fine-dining venues, there's been a steady increase in restaurants where healthful ingredients take center stage. Orlando now has 100 percent vegan venues and vegetarian favorites (even meat-eaters dine there!). It has restaurants that meld meat- and plant-based dishes, but with good, nutritive eating in mind. Ethos Vegan Kitchen, in fact, was so successful that not long ago they moved from their charming Ivanhoe Village digs (now occupied by the decidedly less vegan but no less charming Hammered Lamb) to an expansive, modern space in Winter Park. Altamonte Springs has its very own organic juice haven, with a fresh, raw, vegan menu for breakfast and lunch in Wheat Berry Café. Veg-heads on the fly (along with those who enjoy a nice turkey wrap) can grab and go at the Green Day Café and those looking for a fun, casual all-vegan experience might want to give Market on South a try. Serving a creative array of small plates – some more decadent than others – among other dishes, allows mixed-interest diners to enjoy their preference or sample either. A daily happy hour makes many of them available at a more palatable price point and the spacious modern venue works for a date night or a business lunch.
Green Day Cafe
Super Veggie, Holy Guacamole and the Big Tahuna are just some of the fun salads (make it a wrap, regular or gluten-free, it's your choice!) available at the Green Day Café, a healthy fast-food franchise with an outpost in North Orlando. Vegans and carnivores and everyone in between will find selections to suit their idiosyncratic palates and gluten-free diners will delight in a menu stocked with loaded potatoes, rice bowls and even GF quesadillas. What's more – you don't even need to get out of your car. The Green Day Cafe boasts a drive-through window for health-conscious eaters on the go. ((407) 704-7877)
Wheat Berry Cafe
"You have brains in your head..." Dr. Seuss wrote in one of his most beloved books. Wheat Berry Café borrows the phrase for one of its cold-pressed juice creations (a combination of carrot, apple, ginger and cinnamon) and perhaps carries the notion into its raw, vegan menu of fresh, live food that's good for those brains – not to mention all the rest, right down to the feet in your shoes. With pates crafted from walnuts and cheese from sunflowers, staffers here create tacos and manicotti – and of course, loads of colorful veggies and fruits for crisp, healthful salads, berry bowls at breakfast and all the organic produce you can suck up through a straw. (407.865.9999)
Vegetarians and vegans will find much to crow about with their morning, afternoon or evening tea at Infusion Tea, a College Park favorite. Its menu runs the gamut – from rich burrito breakfasts to crisp, fresh salads, tea-sandwich snacks to Panini, pizza, even gooey grilled cheese (hey, you don't have to be THAT healthy....) Gluten-free bread is available, as well. A bright atmosphere and a vast organic tea selection that numbers more than 100 bring in all walks for friendly meals and business lunches, fresh fare – and probably the famous coconut cake, among other decadent desserts with which to pair it – keep them coming back. (407-999-5255, 866-346-5135)
Ready to dive head-first into the joys of raw food? How about a taste of fresh-from-the-tap kombucha – an effervescent fermented tea (reportedly with all kinds of health benefits)? Whether you're all-in for the raw-foodie experience or prefer to roll conservative with one of Skyebird's delicious organic juice combinations, this East End market purveyor of all things fruit-and-veggie is worth a visit. Grab a seat at the bar, scope out the chalkboard menu and sample something traditional or go big and "experimental." Skyebird's kitchen was founded on the ideology of an evolving menu, fresh, seasonal produce and lots of vegetarian- and vegan-friendly options for all three meals. ((407) 758-9311)
Ethos Vegan Kitchen
There aren't many restaurants anywhere that can claim a 100 percent vegan menu, let alone in Orlando, but Ethos has been carrying the plant-based diet torch here in town since 2007. After several years building a devoted following, Ethos moved to an expansive, modern space in Winter Park and hasn't looked back. Stop in for lunch, dinner or their popular brunch and poll those waiting (there's often a wait on Sunday mornings...!) and you'll find more than a few regulars, though health-conscious, aren't even vegans. That speaks to something, of course. Most obviously the fact that tasty food – yes, even at brunch – need not be fraught with bacon. (407-228-3898)
King O Falafel
The regulars here honestly wouldn't mind placing crowns on the heads of the falafel artisans here. Whether your passion is a well-seasoned gyro, a creamy platter of hummus or those crispy-delicious pita ensconced fried balls of chick-pea goodness, you've stepped into the right place. King O Falafel is reasonably priced, clean, casual, friendly – and everything is fresh-made. Is it fancy? No. Will you leave sated? Yes. And if you're only in town to visit, you'll be sorry this locally owned venue is so far from where you live. From the spinach pie to the lentil soup to the baklava, this is indeed a monarchy of flavor, whether meat laden or all-veggie, all the time. ((407) 979-4940)
Bikes, Beans & Bordeaux
This neighborhood stop in Audubon Park, known by many its many proponents more simply as "B3," was borne of a love of cycling – along with that of good food and community. It's part coffee shop and cafe, part beer and wine bar, a cozy little enclave where you order at the counter. They're well known in the community, not just for affable staffers and a great beer selection, but for lots of neighborhood involvement. It's not unusual to see customers out on lawn chairs in the parking lot, enjoying a little live music alongside a sandwich or a glass of wine. There's plenty of meat on the menu, but a nice selection of vegetarian and vegan options makes it a great venue for a mixed palate of palates. (407.427.1440)
The Sanctum really does feel a little sacred in the way they do things; its beautiful plant-based plates are colorful and fresh and alluring. And while there are loads of options for the vegan members of the populace, this place isn't that strict – you'll also find eggs and cheese on the menu in places. Grain bowls and salads, sammies and pastas populate a menu that holistic practitioners would likely tout. Delicious juices and smoothies tempt those looking for goodness by the glass. Breakfast/brunch is exceptional, whether you like your avocado toast animal-free or feel like topping it off with a couple of organic eggs. (407-757-0346)
Dandelion Communitea Café
The dandelion, an edible flower that we're quick to call a weed, is a mascot of sorts for this quirky organic teahouse. You'll first be reminded of the café's namesake when you view the exterior (bright green with yellow shutters) and then again when reading the menu: vegetarian, sustainable and healthful. Plenty of vegan options, as well. And raw. In fact, generous salads piled high with fresh, snappy, many-colored ingredients make Dandelion something of a "live food" haven. "$5 Giddyup Monday" is a great intro for newbies, who can sample one of the most popular menu items (in salad or wrap form) for just five bucks. Be warned, its pleasantly crunchy confines may well have you inquiring about the next full moon drum circle. (407-362-1864)
Market on South
There's absolutely no denying that the all-vegan, all-the-time fare at Market on South is decidedly healthy, from their phenomenal use of the versatile jackfruit in everything from tacos to sloppy joes to the delicious T.L.T. sandwich (where tempeh bacon subs in for the traditional variety) to a creamy baked mac n' "cheese" that will satisfy your comfort-food cravings. That said, they do a great job of proving that vegans know how to get their fatty on via the delicious sweets served up via local vegan bakers, Valhalla. The doughnuts are as massive as your head. Let the cruelty-free nature of their making soothe your guilt over the calories. (407-613-5968)
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