Orlando's Thornton Park neighborhood is mini, but mighty. Jam-packed with gorgeous historic homes, towering oaks and cobbled lanes, it has no shortage of stylish inhabitants nor emigres from the areas it borders. Parking, however, can be tight. Bars, bistros, restaurants and boutiques dot the district, one of Orlando's few truly walkable neighborhoods and one with history that envelops those who explore. All that strolling – whether amid the fantasy real estate or around resplendent nearby Lake Eola – is bound to work up an appetite. Submitted herein, a list of true Thornton Park outposts and a few which border it by mere steps. Soco and the Baoery are within a literal stone’s throw of one another. Meander off to the edge of downtown and you’ll find the stylish Shari Sushi Lounge and its soaring loft and the spirit of Bacchus at the warm, welcoming Eola Wine Company. There are no losers on this list. It’s just a matter of mood.
Wildside BBQ Bar & Grill
It's a casual, colorful staple in Thornton Park with an aroma that's been luring errant neighborhood wanderers over from Lake Eola Park since 2001. In fact, they've since expanded to a location in Kissimmee, as well. With traditional barbecue and other fun fare in the form of smokehouse wings, baby-back ribs, barbecued chicke, fish tacos and an array of burgers, salads, sandwiches and flatbreads, WildSide is fun and family-friendly. Bring the kids or head over for happy hour with your co-ed softball team after the game. They're a flexible venue with great outdoor seating and myriad drink specials, as well. (407-872-8665)
Shari Sushi Lounge
Stylish, sleek, well-located with a soaring loft and enjoyable al fresco seating, Shari Sushi Lounge has been a staple venue in the Thornton Park area for quite some time. Serving elegant and artful Japanese fare – signature rolls, sashimi dishes and a few hot entrees for the not-so-sushi crowd – it's popular with the young after-works for happy hour but cuts a swath through the dining demographic at lunch and dinner. Just steps from Lake Eola Park, Shari's happy hour (seven days a week; select rolls $4.25) would put a nice refreshing cap on a day spent strolling or paddling the swan boats. (407-420-9420)
This fun, local burger joint now has five locations around the city of Orlando, but Thornton Park is where it all started. Bold colors, bold burgers, great happy hours (early and late!) and a universally friendly atmosphere welcomes everyone from the young to the young-at-heart. And who doesn't love a creative sandwich served alongside a cold beer? The entire place, inside and out, is ablaze with colorful art. Graffiti Junktion's Thornton Park outpost sits right in the middle of the area's tiny-but-charming business district, outdoor seating allows diners to soak up the atmosphere while scarfing down sweet potato fries. Win-win. (407.426.9503)
Eola Wine Company
Eola Wine Company's downtown location, just a couple of blocks from Thornton Park and practically on top of Lake Eola Park, is resplendent. Inside, rich woods and exposed brick warm patrons like a robust red. Outside, the bright views of downtown engage, like a crisp white. Of course, you're welcome to a flight of bubbly if neither of those pique your palate. In addition to its extensive grape stock, Eola Wine proffers a delightful menu of light bites, wraps, tacos and flatbreads to pair with your vino selection. Craft beer enthusiasts will find a nice selection of these, as well. (407-481-9100)
Baoery Asian Gastropub
"Feeling lucky, punk?" You may after trying the grilled shisito peppers at Baoery Asian Gastropub – the dish goes by this fun little movie-lover's moniker, and it's not the only whimsically named offering, either. Amusing names aside, what really matters at any restaurant is the food and Guy Ritchie's alternative in Thornton Park (he's also chef-partner at TP's Soco) but Baoery strays well off Soco's southern plantation and into the realm of Pan Asian. Diner's delight in sharing small plates including slow-roasted pork belly ramen to those aforementioned peppers, Asian-style crispy wings and the veg-friendly, wok-charred edamame known as "Dragon's Breath." But you really need to sample their eponymous handhelds: bao – tender buns filled with the likes of Korean fried chicken or slow-roasted pork belly. Good stuff. ((407) 849-9779)
Benjamin French Bakery & Cafe
Pop into this Thornton Park outpost for a petit déjeuner before work or a morning stroll around the neighborhood or nearby Lake Eola. Fresh pastries, croissants and baguettes baked on premises accompany coffee or, later in the day, an array of salads and sandwiches from the simple Le Parisien (Swiss cheese and butter) to the lavish Le St. Tropez (smoked salmon with dill-lemon crème). Quiches, of course, make more than an appearance. Try the familiar Lorraine or venture into something new, perhaps the La Montagne, with chicken breast or bacon accompanying confit onion, nutmeg sauce and goat cheese. Tarts, flans, macarons and more round out the menu – and perhaps your midsection. (407-797-2253)
Dexter's of Thornton Park
Depending on the hour you visit, Dexter's can be equal parts bar and restaurant – but most bars don't have a menu quite like this. Ditto for their Sunday brunch. In a word: decadent. Its lovely Thornton Park location, complete with al fresco seating (particularly enjoyable in this quaint neighborhood) is the icing on the cake. Sandwiches, salads and entrees are generous and made to satisfy, drink specials abound, live music is not uncommon. And get this: they also serve breakfast from 7-10 a.m., Monday through Friday. House-made corned beef hash before your morning meeting? Like we said: decadent. Dexter's is a good time. (407-648-2777)
Maxine's on Shine
It's eclectic, it's romantic, it's musical, it's fun, it's "neighborhood-y." Maxine's is lots of things, not the lease of which is a good restaurant that kinda feels like it's in the middle of a good friend's house. Just a couple of blocks outside Thornton Park proper, Maxine's on Shine actually does sit in the middle of a largely residential area, which adds to its appeal. Twinkly lights, outdoor tables, nights filled with live music are the side dishes to entrees such as fish tacos, skillet lasagna and a hearty brisket burger. Check them out for Sunday brunch, too. Festive and delish! ((407) 674-6841)
Oudom Thai & Sushi
Great service, nice atmosphere, friendly staffers, excellent food (and two kinds; just in case your party can't agree!) – these are the high marks oft given to Oudom, which moved into digs many viewed as cursed (it was a rotating Thornton Park location for a host of restaurants that didn't make it) and turned that trend on its ear with a vengeance. Thai that's cooked-to-order spicy and succulent cuts of tender sushi-grade fish are the lures. Mussaman curry, pineapple fried rice and crispy boneless duck may appeal to Thai lovers, while the Mexican and Bubba rolls could be just what the sushi doctor ordered. ((407) 849-3739)
Soco Thornton Park
Soco offers up loads of plated Southern comfort, though its name is actually a representation of Southern contemporary, which means you'll find some down-home diner favorites that have undergone an evolution into something more upscale. Think boiled peanut hummus, mac-and-cheese croquettes and chicken and dumplings that infuse the latter with lobster. Its dining room is warm and inviting but its al fresco sidewalk seating infuses meals with a hip, urban vibe that ticks everything up a notch. As appealing for dinner as it is for Sunday brunch or happy hour cocktails, Soco's patio is lively when the weather suits (which in Orlando is often), but the food here is exemplary, and well worth the visit even if the Florida rain is teeming outside. (407-849-1800)
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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