Over the past two decades Orlando has transformed its culinary image from a chain-heavy destination to one embracing its standing as an international city. Visitors, who once restricted their stays (and meals) to the ersatz world of the tourist sector, now regularly venture into Orlando’s many neighborhoods to get a true taste of what this sprawling city has to offer. Naturally, countless dining options abound, but the 24-hour itinerary below will help park pilgrims and urban vacationers alike get to know what locals refer to as the “real Orlando.”
8 a.m. – Breakfast
Option 1: Kickstart the day with a savory breakfast of fresh-baked bialys (not bagels) at Deli Desires. Hannah Jaffe and Nathan Sloan’s daytime hotspot is on the regular rotation of in-the-know-eaters, many of whom come for the boiled-and-baked wonders offered in caramelized onion or smoked jalapeno and Muenster varieties. Fillings range from gravlax to labneh to scrapple (no, this is not a kosher deli). Morning brews range from cortadas to coffee sodas and are made using beans from Bandit Coffee from St. Petersburg.
Option 2: Indulge in the butter-soaked pastries at Buttermilk Bakery, a cozy little scratch patisserie in Winter Park serving incredibly flakey croissants, guava-and-cheese pop tarts, monkey bread, brioche donuts and so much more. Then take a two-minute walk to Foxtail’s Farmhouse and sidle up to what’s dubbed as “the world’s largest coffee siphon bar” for an experimental or seasonal coffee beverage from the local coffee chain’s flagship location.
9 a.m. — Take a walk (or a swan boat ride) after breakfast
Make those fatty, sugary, carb-filled breakfast treats guilt-free by heading downtown to Lake Eola Park and taking a walk around Orlando’s iconic fountain. The walk path is a little under a mile long so, depending on how many croissants have been ingested, a couple of laps may be in order. On Sundays, the Orlando Farmers market takes place along the lake’s shores offering seasonal produce and so much more. If the pre-noon heat proves unbearable, consider working off the extra calories by renting a swan boat and pedaling around the picturesque lake. Either way, the legwork will inevitably work up a thirst, so stroll over to the cobblestone streets of in Thornton Park and pop into the Raw Juice Bar on East Washington Street. The cozy, little joint serves a bevy of cold-pressed beverages and salubrious smoothies. Near the roundabout outside the juice bar, snap a selfie at the fountain modeled after the Fontaine de la place Louvois in Paris. No one will think it’s Orlando.
11 a.m. – Lunch at the Monroe
Less than two miles away from Lake Eola Park sits Creative Village, Orlando’s newest district and a hub for technology and education that rose from a parcel in the historically Black Parramore neighborhood. It’s also home to The Monroe, the latest concept from restaurateurs Jason and Sue Chin, who also run Seito Sushi Baldwin Park, The Osprey, and Reyes Mezcaleria. Modern comfort is the angle and if there’s one dish this stunner of midcentury modernity does well is fried chicken, specifically, the Bell & Evans thighs with a side of watermelon-basil salad, coleslaw, and buttered biscuits. White bean hummus and a bowl of roasted tomato soup makes for a lighter meal, but the “perfect cheesecake” with Luxardo maraschinos, sour cherries, fresh cherries and a cherry glaze doesn’t just live up to its name, it’s a must ending. The restaurant is named after Dr. William “Monroe” Wells, the man who opened the historic Wells’Built Hotel in the neighborhood in 1926 for African American travelers.
1 p.m. — Tour the Wells’ Built Museum of African American History and Culture
Just a few blocks away from the Monroe on South Street is the Wells’Built Museum of African American History and Culture, one of the city’s most unique segregation-era institutions. The museum was once a hotel built by Dr. William “Monroe” Wells in the 1926 to accommodate African American visitors to Orlando who were barred from other establishments because of Jim Crow laws in the South. It also attracted a who’s-who of African American notables from Ella Fitzgerald to Jackie Robinson to Thurgood Marshall. The museum’s exhibits and artifacts relate not just to the celeb guests, but to the Civil Rights Movement and its effect on the city.
2 p.m. – Slurps and sips in Mills 50
Take a short 10-minute drive to Mills 50, situated at the crossroads of Mills Avenue and East Colonial Drive (State Road 50), and take in the neighborhood’s eclectic and progressive makeup as well as its pan-Asian cafes and restaurants. Mills 50 is still informally known as “Little Saigon” and “Little Vietnam” for its numerous Vietnamese-run shops, cafes, and restaurants and one of its newest Ga 2 To isn’t just turning heads but lowering them over its bowls of North Vietnamese-style chicken noodle soups. Top Chef winner Hung Huynh says eating here is “just like eating in Hanoi.” Another specialty: creamy egg coffee. It’s a fluffy boost of energy in a tall glass.
There’s no shortage of coffee in the neighborhood, but what makes Mills 50 a destination for caffeine lovers is the high concentration of matcha and boba tea houses. Matcha Cafe Maiko is a go-to for the ceremonial-grade super beverage (its matcha soft serve rules as well), while across the street, Möge Tee lures tea totalers in for their fruit teas. Royaltea does the best cheese foam tea, but if the lines get too long, head over to the slew of other joints within walking distance – Qreate, Vivi Bubble Tea, Chewy Boba Company, Japango, and Gong Cha to name just a few.
3 p.m. Detour through a botanical oasis
Just over a mile away from Mills 50 sits Leu Gardens, a lush urban sanctuary comprising 50 acres of verdant landscaping, lake views and, most importantly, shaded walk paths. There are more than 40 different plant collections in the numerous gardens making it an ideal place to stop and smell the roses. Then stop and savor the suds being poured at Redlight Redlight nearby. The beer-lovers’ institution anchoring a strip plaza in the Audubon Park neighborhood has 24 rotating draughts and a collection of 250-plus bottles. On the other end of the plaza is Park Ave CDs, a must-stop for music geeks.
4 p.m. – An afternoon meal and a beverage
East End Market in Audubon Park has been an incubator for local food purveyors since opening in 2013, having nurtured such local stalwarts as Lineage Coffee, Gideon’s Bakehouse, Farm & Haus, Skyebird Juice Bar, and La Femme du Fromage. Vegan diner Winter Park Biscuit Co. and all-meat sandwich-and-charcuterie stall Hinckley’s Fancy Meats are two of the more well-received operations inside the indie food hub and market. The meatless WPBC burger at the former is one all meat-eaters should try, and if additional protein is still needed, cobble some together from Hinckley’s as everything from tasso ham to duck liver pate to elk sausage beckons from the display case. Then head upstairs to The Neighbors, a second-floor space offering local goods and creative handcrafted cocktails.
7 p.m. – Dinner in Colonialtown
Option 1: Pan-Asian dining in Orlando is as variegated as it is superb, and the fare at Juju happens to be both. The retro izakaya awash in Shōwa-era memorabilia is just like its sister restaurant, Susuru, but Juju’s menu of creative izakaya bites goes beyond yakitori and kushiyaki. There’s Hokkaido soup curry, scallop carpaccio, pork belly wrapped enoki mushrooms, and teba gyoza – grilled chicken wings stuffed with chicken and shiitake and glazed with a sweet yuzu kosho. Fancier fare is also offered in the form of 10-course chef’s tastings at the six-seat kappo bar.
Option 2: Kabooki Sushi has consistently served some of the finest cuts of fish in the city for nearly a decade and the menu has just evolved over the years. James Beard-nominated chef Henry Moso is behind some of the most outrageous omakases in town (book beforehand) though Kabooki’s menu of hot and cold tastings (and creative rolls, if you must) are plenty gratifying. The recently expanded lounge is a sexy spot to sip and savor exceptional cocktails (try the A5-wagyu-fat-washed “Legend” with Mitcher’s bourbon, mushroom simple syrup, smoked peppercorn, and bitters) and exceptional bar food be it tempura-fried St. Louis sticky ribs tossed in smoked chili hoisin, or the gorgeous caviar-crowned otoro tartare enveloped by an amorphous rice cracker. Kabooki tends to attract a certain clientele (think Lambo drivers and the selfie set) and the spectacle alone is worth the visit.
10 p.m. – After-dinner drinks and entertainment
The one-mile strip of Mills Avenue from Colonial up to Virginia Drive gets lit with late-night revelers soaking in the casual sophistication and quality quaffs at such haunts as The Guesthouse and sister bar The Sunroom next door. There’s plenty to rave about at Tori Tori, namely its pomo potent potables and dazzling Japanese pub grub, but for true lushes, there’s no better place to drown one’s sorrows than at venerable dive Wally’s Bar & Liquors. Lil Indies, joined at the hip to legendary live music venue Will’s Pub, is a gathering ground for hipsters, subversives, and anti-corporate activists who fancy a properly crafted cocktail while discussing strategies on how to change the world. The sidewalk spillage of people is inevitable but should a pang for a vegan burger or oat-based shake hit, don’t hesitate to navigate the crowd on the way to Plantees next door.
2 a.m. – Late-night snack
Option 1: Yes, a late-night nosh at Cafe 34 Istanbul requires a ride share down to the tourist sector, but the Turkish hotspot is open 24 hours a day, so no need to rush. The mix of patrons energizing the enticing patio come for the free-flowing raki and majestic heaps of sizzling kebab platters. And unlike other tourist-sector restaurants, the ambiance inside this sultry space isn’t manufactured in the least.
Option 2: Orlando isn’t just home to the only White Castle in Florida, it’s home to the largest White Castle on earth. Cravers can get their fix of sliders until 4 a.m., though the burger joint will open 24 hours a day later this summer.