Orlando’s culinary and craft beer scene has witnessed explosive growth in the last five years, catching the attention of locals and out-of-towners alike. The proliferation of independent restaurants and local craft breweries speaks to the variety of dining and drinking options available here. More than just theme parks and mediocre chain restaurants, Orlando boasts some hidden gems worth a visit, from fine dining and local neighborhood joints to an upscale speakeasy and a surprisingly cool chain restaurant.Read More
The Most Surprising (and Delicious) Drinking and Dining in Orlando
903 Mills Market Café
Looking for a comfy hideaway to unwind, grab a well-stacked gourmet sandwich, and chill with a cold beer? Head to 903 Mills Market Café, a popular café and community deli/market in the Thornton Park district. On the dog-friendly patio, you can people-watch while noshing on an Orlando Blues pulled pork sandwich topped with Pop’s BBQ sauce. The affordable offerings (all under $10!) let you come back for repeat visits to sample breakfast, lunch, and dinner without breaking the bank. With plenty of flatbreads, soups, salads, and wraps, 903 Mills makes a perfect pit stop. The grown-ups will appreciate the great beer and wine selections, including plenty of craft brews and monthly wine tastings.
Sanford Brewing Company
Billing itself as a “brewhouse, taproom, gastropub,” this trifecta serves up more than a dozen rotating in-house and guest craft beers, where you can grab an Elysian Brewing Company brew on tap. There’s even an expansive menu of meads, ciders, and specialty sodas. Set in historic downtown Sanford, the pub features a beautiful, wood-paneled taproom inside and spacious patio seating outside — a dog-friendly atmosphere that’s perfect for people-watching. With a nosh-worthy menu (including the must-try beer cheese pretzel), live music, and a slate of special events, the pub regularly packs in the locals.
Nestled inside the Alfond Inn, a boutique hotel owned by nearby Rollins College, Hamilton’s Kitchen dishes up traditional Southern fare in this popular eatery just 20 minutes north of downtown Orlando. Tapping into locally sourced ingredients, this rustic-but-casually-elegant restaurant creates exquisite temptations such as wagyu beef carpaccio and lemon sage chicken gnocchi. Plus, this award-winning eatery hosts a fabulous weekend brunch, complete with scratch-made soups, mimosas, and berry-topped, sugar-dusted brioche. Pop into the adjacent courtyard for a post-dinner cocktail under the twinkling string lights. Reservations highly suggested.
The Hammered Lamb
Located across from Lake Ivanhoe, the Hammered Lamb offers an unbeatable view, especially if you’re chillin’ outside on the patio. Grab a table and hope the train goes by while you’re there — the bar offers free shots whenever a train passes! This casual neighborhood pub makes a perfect pit stop to grab a cold beer from nearly two dozen on tap and 75 bottled/canned options. Order an Elysian Dayglow IPA when you’re there, and don’t miss the killer Bloody Mary bar during Sunday brunch.
Colorado Fondue Company
Tucked in an unassuming shopping center, Colorado Fondue draws you in with its ski lodge ambiance — including a moose head anchored near the bar. In business since 1992, this family-owned restaurant melts your heart with its laid-back vibe and slate-top tables where diners play chef. The Rocky Mountain theme spills over to the menu directing you “how to hike these trails” depending on your appetite. (The Intermediate Trail offers a smart choice if you don’t want dessert.) The cheese fondue delivers a hearty selection of bread, fruits, and veggies to dip into the gooey goodness of the Cheddar Santa Fe blend. A pot of vegetables slowly simmers while you cook your choice of meats on the super-hot stone brought to the table. It’s worth the drive even if you just visit for one of the delectable chocolate fondue desserts.
The Crooked Spoon Gastropub
This food-truck-turned-restaurant continues to draw crowds since opening its brick-and-mortar spot next to Clermont’s Citrus Tower. Famous for its innovative, all-American dishes like coconut-crusted chicken, six-cheese mac and cheese, and the mammoth “420 Burger,” this sports bar earns its praise by putting a modern twist on pub food. With locally sourced ingredients on the menu, dozens of craft and local beers on tap, and notably friendly customer service, Crooked Spoon hits just the right mix of what you yearn for in a local pub.
Mathers Social Gathering
Hidden on the third floor of downtown’s Phoenix Building, this upscale speakeasy beckons you for a sophisticated night of craft cocktails, tasty treats, and swing-era jazz. The building itself (a former 1800s furniture store) lends historic charm to this throwback bar decked out with a luxurious décor, buttery leather sofas to sink into, and brick-wall backdrops. The “dapper bartenders” clue you in to the dress code required. Pricey-but-worth-it cocktails (made with locally sourced, freshly squeezed juices) include the cucumber-based Mathers Fizz and The Phoenix (with berry-infused rum). If you’ll be hanging with a group, opt for a decanter of Social Potions.
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Spill Wine Bar
Tucked away in the back of the Winter Springs Town Center plaza, Spill occupies a cozy corner with ample outdoor seating, providing the perfect backdrop for live music sets throughout the week. In addition to showcasing local talent, this small-but-mighty bar hosts wine tastings, trivia nights, open mic nights, and special events (like Meet the Winemaker). Food options are limited, but you can order from neighboring restaurants. There’s a comfy couch in the corner if you want to settle in with a friend to share a bottle of wine from the extensive wine list (100+ choices!). Or snag a stool at the bar, sample from a nice selection of craft beers from breweries all over the country, like Elysian, and talk it up with the friendly servers who really make the place feel like the neighborhood spot it strives to be.
At first glance, you might dismiss a chain restaurant smack in the middle of a tourist hub in the I-Drive 360 entertainment complex. Instead, run inside to escape the heat and the crowds at this casual upscale eatery that hits a home run with its enormously diverse menu. The massive center island bar highlights 100+ taps of imported, craft, and specialty ales and lagers. In particular, check out the Chalkboard Series, a rotating selection of draft beers from local, domestic, and imported brewers. Reading through the never-ending food options alone could take 15 minutes, so order a brewski to hold you over. From the aioli-topped crispy Brussels sprouts to the Nashville hot chicken to the crème brûlée, the Yard House surprises and delights from start to finish. For a budget-friendly experience, hit up the weekday happy hours, which include half-off deals on select appetizers and $2 off alcoholic drinks.
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Wolf Branch Brewing Company
Another relaxing, dog-friendly pub, this worth-the-drive hidden gem invites you to hang outdoors in “The Grove” — the brewery’s lush outdoor space. Decked out with hanging lights, plant-covered walls, and wooden tables, this spot makes you feel like you’re in your own backyard. With no food options in-house, you can order from nearby restaurants to keep hunger at bay. With a hip, industrial vibe and chic atmosphere, this new-to-the-scene brewery is quickly gaining a following. Brewery tours are in the works. In the meantime, sample the brewery’s “old world meets new world” beer portfolio, complete with affordable house-made brews, craft beer, and sangria.