Making a list that features the best dining venues in the Orlando-area confines of Winter Park would be 100 percent fun if not for the whole "only 10" thing. We made the best of it, though, pulling together a list that mixes tried-and-true favorites suitable for special occasions, some get-in/get-out/get-stuffed casual options and a few in the middle. Menus are as varied as price points. Perennial local favorite the Ravenous Pig may have bid farewell to its famous pig roasts, but has added brunch into its menu mix (all the better to sample the creative flair of the kitchen and bar staffers!). Anna's Polish Restaurant in its modest, Aloma strip-mall digs has just as loyal a following for its pierogies as the Pig does for its blue cheese-laden Pub Burger. Bosphorous, with its Turkish delights and hookah pipes reps for tony Park Avenue while the mini-but-mighty Mediterranean Deli does the same for its off-grid location on the outskirts of College Park. Looking for a great option for take-out lunch? Look no further than the small Cuban confines of the Black Bean Deli. Is it date night? Head back to Fairbanks Ave. for dinner or happy hour and sign on for wine and tapas at Scratch, an intimate venue you'll enjoy just as much with your S.O. as your B.F.F.
Black Bean Deli
The first thing you need to know about Winter Park's Black Bean Deli is that you're taking your food to go. Okay, fine, there are a couple of seats in the small waiting area – technically you could scarf and split – but honestly, you want to enjoy because Black Bean's stick-to-your-ribs Cuban comfort food is righteous. Empanadas and Cuban sandwiches, papas rellenas and platters piled high with picadillo or baked chicken have been bringing the locals back for years. Check out the Black Bean's newer location on Colonial for space to sit down and a broader menu. In Winter Park, though, its tops for takeout. (407-628-0294)
Casual and friendly with solid, largely Southern-American fare, the Porch's kitchen serves up cheese-and-bacon-laden offerings that anyone remotely serious about their diet will want to steer well clear of. For the rest of you culinary sinners, though, it's game on. Show up for an Orlando City match and let the athletes at the stadium work up a sweat while you work on that plate of jumbo house-brined wings or a pillowy sampling of pretzel poppers served with homemade beer cheese on the side. Veg heads can console themselves with an ample and delicious salad menu (yes, really!) but the stars here are the ones your cardiologist warned you about.
Winter Park's lovely Park Avenue is home to Bosphorous, a Turkish delight of a restaurant with a corner location and outdoor seating to boot. Inside is no less charming; it's warm and inviting, as is the food. Grilled lamb, all manner of kebabs, rich, heavenly moussaka or light grilled fish – there are no bad choices. Top any or all of it off with a Turkish coffee. If you're coming later in the evening to partake of the hookah – or just want a smoke to take the edge off that belly full of babaganoush – you're going to have to opt for an outdoor table. Views and people-watching are prime; you won't mind at all. (407-644-8609)
Tamarind Indian Cuisine
Not all of Winter Park's great restaurants are ensconced in tony digs. Many are hiding in plain sight. That's the case with Tamarind, where great South and North Indian cuisine surmounted the obstacles of strip-mall obscurity to become a local favorite. Open for lunch and dinner – it closes in between – regulars and those soon-to-be revel in the flavors and textures of tandoor meats, delicious masalas, chewy naan, massive dosas and a wide array of vegetarian selections for those who forgo the meat. Waits are not uncommon during peak evenings, but that's because Tamarind's following knows precisely what it's hanging around for. The Indian classics are done right. ((321) 207-0760)
This place, in its exceedingly humble, aged strip-mall digs, has been around good, long while. Why? Others may have more upscale atmosphere, this modest, dine-in/take-out deli has truly delicious food. The menu's not too expansive. In fact, it's emblazoned on all the tables in a kind of Waffle House-style. But what it lacks in variety it more than makes up for in quality, authenticity, flavor and heart. Gyros – $5.50 if you just get the sandwich – are huge, stuffed all the way through with succulent, seasoned meat and fresh-made tzatziki. Falafel is crisp-tender. Hummus is creamy with just the right balance of nutty tahini. There are a number of other items, too, all well executed. And the service? It simply doesn't get more gracious. ((407) 539-2650)
Anna's Polish Restaurant
Doughy dumplings. Tender cabbage. Bright, flavorful borscht. Scrumptious pierogies. Just a few things you might enjoy on a visit to Anna's Polish, yet another hidden gem of an eatery tucked into yet another nondescript shopping center, this one set back a bit from Aloma Avenue (which actually makes its outdoor tables much more pleasant than one might expect on a busy thoroughfare. No matter where you sit, however, Anna's will please the Polish-loving palate with rich stews, crisp potato pancakes, snappy kielbasa and good Polish beer. A recent expansion means more room on busy nights – of which there are many. ((407) 657-0020)
Though portions at this Japanese fusion venue are billed as "tapas-style," they are generous, which makes sharing not only fun, but more filling than often expected. While seafood, sashiimi and sushi lovers are certain to love Umi's super fresh and creatively prepared offerings, the restaurant's ample selection of Robata-grilled meats and vegetables allow fish-abstainers as much freedom of choice as any other diners to dig into the menu with foodie abandon. A large wine, beer and sake selection makes happy hour extra fun; staffers mix up some inspiring cocktails with the latter. The Happy Hour food menu makes for exceptional bargains, as well. Enjoy a cocktail and a bite out on the Park Avenue sidewalk and soak up the charm of Winter Park. (407-960-3993)
Prato is an upscale enough venue in which to celebrate a landmark anniversary or well-deserved promotion but also casual enough to bring the (well-behaved, please) kids for some wonderfully crispy pizza from the wood-burning oven and sandwiches like the BLT panini or the excellent heirloom eggplant version. Exposed brick, twinkly lights and some patio seating on Park Avenue give the place a cosmopolitan feel. Prato's menu pulls on classic Italian for inspiration but pays due diligence to culinary evolution, allowing for creativity and some turns that might surprise you. Half-portions on most of the pastas allow for a more authentic Italian experience (pastas are often served in small portions before entrees in the Old Country) and offer more opportunities to share and sample. (407-262-0050)
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)
The Ravenous Pig
The Ravenous Pig was among the first businesses to begin a new phase of transformation on this stretch of Orange Avenue in 2007 – and probably among the first to bring the term "gastropub" into the local lexicon, as well. Local is king here; a rotating food and craft cocktail menu features ingredients grown, raised and made by Florida purveyors. A few dishes are mainstays, but the rest rotate – leaving diners to wonder what delights they may find when they venture in. Braised rabbit over tagliatelle? Pot-au-feu? Could be. If not, another fresh-made creation is sure to please. Come thirsty, as well. Rotating taps feature phenomenal craft beers including those of its sister restaurant's own brewmaster. (4076282333)
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