Take a few steps in any direction of your hotel or the Orlando Convention Center and you will spot a plethora of restaurant options, many being national chains that you can find in dozens cities across the United States. To find few options that aren’t full of Mickey Mouse ears, you will have to be creative and look beyond the Convention Center/Universal Studios area.
The recommendations listed below are off the beaten path, several miles away from the Convention Center, and all are quaint neighborhood gems. Every single option is well worth the extended Uber ride. Corral a few friends, make a reservation on Open Table, and break away from the conference buzz to enjoy a lunch or a dinner bonding with your newest pals while partaking in an amazing culinary adventure.
Ravenous Pig is located at 1234 Orange Avenue in Winter Park, FL (a suburb of Orlando). Those who make this trek are in for a treat. The small space offers a mouth watering selection of sharable appetizers and entree sized portions. Be adventurous and order the grilled octopus, gardener salad, brussel sprouts, grilled okra, and mac and cheese. Oh, and leave room for desert and a nightcap.
HIGHBALL and HARVEST
Highball and Harvest is located in the Ritz Carlton, but don’t let that fool you. The space serves up classic cocktails and a vast draught selection. Their farm-to-table concept allows for a menu with ingredients from local farms as well as the 7,000-square foot garden at Whisper Creek Farm. Think of Highball and Harvest as a Florida’s spin on Southern cuisine. The garlic confit deviled eggs, campfire oysters, chicken and waffles, and duck dumplings will surely make you talk about this establishment long after you are back home. A word from the wise: save room for dessert. The chocolate and s’mores pot pie and waffles and bananas will surely wrap up your culinary adventure.
Slate is the closest option to the Convention Center in the list of recommendations and is located at 8323 Sand Lake Road in Orlando. The wood grilled options will be calling your name as soon as you peek at the menu. A few that are catching my attention are the pimento cheese hush puppies with jalapeño jelly, sweet and sour calamari, and the smoked brisket. Slate offers a phenomenal brunch spread for those who would like to rest their weary feet on Sunday between sessions.
You may think Santiago Bodega will deliver a spread of South American or Mexican offerings based on the name, but you’ll be surprised when you step food into this neighborhood haunt located at 802 Virginia in Orlando. The menu features endless cold and hot tapas—perfect for sharing with your new mates—as well as delicious soups and salads. The spicy shrimp bisque should not be overlooked, nor should the carpaccio or ceviche. The hot tapas menu takes up the entire back of the menu, and be sure to order the dates or bacon and basil wrapped mushrooms. This cozy gem of a restaurant offers both indoor and outdoor seating and a warm and inviting staff.
One of my most favorite quotes about food is, “One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating,” by Luciano Pavarotti. Take a few moments over the next few days and follow Luciano’s lead and stop what you are doing and devote your attention to a few friends while eating food.