Local traditions and culture in Orlando

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    BEST MIDDLE EASTERN

    by Michael_D Written Mar 22, 2005

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    BEST MIDDLE EASTERN

    Cedar's Restaurant

    7732 W. Sand Lake Road, (407) 351-6000

    The thing about Middle Eastern food is, well, every restaurant serves the same stuff — so you tend to just go to the one that's closest.

    Cedar's, however, adds inspired originals to the mix. The eggplant stuffed with pickled walnuts is worth the trip down to the Sand Lake Road restaurant pileup. And the usual suspects — delicate, fresh-baked pitas, silky baba ghanoush, luscious hummus spiked with ground sumac — are perfect renditions of the basics, without unnecessary embellishment.

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    BEST CEVICHE

    by Michael_D Written Mar 22, 2005

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    BEST CEVICHE

    Pollo Rico

    4006 S. Semoran Blvd., (407) 381-5519

    Seafood cooked in the acidic juice of citrus fruits is a glorious gift to us from the Incas.
    And the folks at Pollo Rico must be channeling the ancient deities, because their version of this essential South American dish is otherworldly. They toss big chunks of raw fish, scallops, calamari and shrimp into a vat of citrus juice (heavy on the lime) and let the acid do its thing. (South American fisherman in a hurry let the mixture sit out in the sun to cook faster.) Then they mix in tomatoes and cilantro, garnish with slices of raw red onion and corn on the cob, pile it high on a plate and put it in front of you, for the very reasonable price of about $11. And there we go slobbering again just thinking about it.

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    BEST MEXICAN

    by Michael_D Written Mar 22, 2005

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    BEST MEXICAN

    Maria Bonita

    10615 E. Colonial Drive, (407) 282-1411

    Try as we might, I can't find a better Mexican restaurant in town than Maria Bonita's. We've been there so often they know us by name, which is probably a reflection on the dearth of good Mexican in this city as much as it is a recommendation. But believe us, you're not settling for what's available when you eat here. All the standards (enchiladas, burritos, tacos) are good, and the tortilla soup is exquisite. If you're lucky, they'll even serenade you while you sip your margarita.

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    BEST LATIN AMERICAN

    by Michael_D Written Mar 22, 2005

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    BEST LATIN AMERICAN
    '
    Pio Pio

    5752 International Drive, (407) 248-6424

    Your first jaunt into this fabulous Colombian restaurant will be the beginning of a longtime love affair with their roasted chicken and garlic sauce. Even though Pio Pio is practically hidden in the back of an International Drive strip mall, it's clean and comfortable, and the no-frills atmosphere makes it a great lunch spot, a casual dinner joint, even a good place to dine alone. The service is friendly and even though the food choices are limited, everything on the menu could induce severe Latin-food addictions.

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    BEST KOREAN

    by Michael_D Written Mar 22, 2005

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    BEST KOREAN

    Shin Jung

    1638 E. Colonial Drive, (407) 895-7345
    ]
    Even your uncle from Alabama, who subsists solely on steak and potatoes, couldn't resist the bulgogi (marinated, barbecued beef) here. Every type of dieter can stuff their face on some of the tastiest meals around — meat for the low-carb crowd, chicken for the low-fat crowd. And everyone loves the array of marinated and pickled veggies provided with every meal. Try their whole menu of comfort foods and you too might be considering an early retirement in Korea.

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    BEST JAPANESE/SUSHI

    by Michael_D Written Mar 22, 2005

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    BEST JAPANESE/SUSHI

    Yae Sushi

    2050 N. Semoran Blvd., Winter Park, (407) 677-1088

    Picking the best sushi joint in town is like picking the best parents in town: The answer is always mine. Though we don't make it out to Yae Sushi as often as we wish we could, every time we go, it's like going to some other kid's house and saying, "Man, I wish my parents were as cool as yours." Service is impeccable, the atmosphere is authentic in a Kyoto-shopping-bazaar kind of way and the sushi … oh, God. A blinding variety of one-of-a-kind rolls, expertly cut sashimi and loads of hard-to-find dinner dishes make us wish that Yae would adopt us away from our strict, boring Japanese restaurant.

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    BEST SOUL FOOD

    by Michael_D Written Mar 22, 2005

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    BEST SOUL FOOD

    Johnson's Diner

    692 W. Robinson St., (407) 841-0717

    This is the place to go to nourish the small-town country person in you, even though you'll be in big-city company. People from all walks of life — from NBA players to Grammy-winning musicians to congressional leaders — eat here regularly. Johnson's is such an intimate little eatery that you'll feel like you're dining with neighbors. To get the full effect, drop your lunch plans for the coming week and make a daily trip to Johnson's instead to sample from their set weekly menu. Don't miss the smothered pork chops and turnip greens on Tuesdays and the fried chicken on Fridays. Cook Earlean Taylor's lemon cake and sweet-potato pie are the best around and (thankfully) probably nothing like your proverbial mom used to make.

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    BEST PIZZA

    by Michael_D Written Mar 22, 2005

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    BEST PIZZA

    Planet Pizza

    14 W. Washington St., (407) 650-8859

    There's something to be said for a pizza shop located directly across the street from not one, but two, downtown bars. But affection for Planet Pizza goes beyond drunk munchies. The fact is, those big slices come out of the oven warm and so heavily packed with toppings that you'll want to grab an extra paper plate on your way out. And the service is friendly and quick, even on nights where you have to deal with the swarm of Tabu-clubbing college kids who think falling down drunk is sexy (on certain nights, we'd agree). We suggest the white pizza, which comes smothered with mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. But honestly, it's all good. Especially after a good bender at the bar (or bars) across the street.

    RUNNER UP
    N.Y.P.D. Pizza and Delicatessen

    373 N. Orange Ave., (407) 872-6973;

    2589 S. Hiawassee Road, (407) 293-8880;

    www.nypdpizzaonline.com

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    BEST ITALIAN FOOD

    by Michael_D Written Mar 22, 2005

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    BEST ITALIAN FOOD
    Il Pescatore

    651 N. Primrose Drive, (407) 896-6763

    Ultra-friendly management and staff (who are both accommodating and pleasantly gregarious) along with a uniquely cozy interior design are just bonuses when it comes to Il Pescatore. We'd allow ourselves to be loudly berated while sitting in their back parking lot if that's what it took to be able to dig into their generous portions of mind-blowing Italian staples. Rich sauces and unique combinations of standards make every meal here a joy.

    RUNNER UP
    Carrabba's Italian Grill
    Multiple locations,
    www.carrabbas.com

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    BEST INDIAN FOOD

    by Michael_D Written Mar 22, 2005

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    BEST INDIAN FOOD

    Dakshin

    12541 State Road 535, (407) 827-9080,

    www.dakshin-orlando.com

    Oh, Dakshin, how we love you, but we long for you to be closer. Your proximity to Disney may mean more tourist dollars (or not), but surely you must know how we pine for your lusciously spicy seafood dishes and hard-to-find Goan preparations, but shrink from the thought of battling T.G.I. Friday's customers for a parking spot. All of it is served in such a classy way in such a beautiful environment … those sun-pinked Ohioans surely don't love you as much as we do. Come closer, Dakshin, and we will reward you with the banana-leaf hugs you deserve.

    RUNNER UP
    Clay Oven
    1275 S. Highway 17-92, Longwood,
    (407) 696-7775

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    BEST PLACE TO EAT WITH YOUR POLISH GRANDMOTHER

    by Michael_D Written Mar 22, 2005

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    BEST PLACE TO EAT WITH YOUR POLISH GRANDMOTHER

    Polonia

    3586 Aloma Ave., Winter Park, (407) 671-4424

    A Polish grandmother is really the only person with whom to eat blintzes. But since everyone is not invited to dine with their Polish grandmothers on a regular basis, try eating blintzes where a Polish grandmother would go if she didn't want to make them herself — Polonia. And it's not only the blintzes, recent research suggests the same for the golabki — the stuffed cabbage.

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    best BURGERS BAGELS and BBQ

    by Michael_D Written Mar 22, 2005

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    BEST BAGELS
    Einstein Bros
    Multiple locations,
    www.einsteinbros.com
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    BEST BARBECUE
    Bubbalou's Bodacious BBQ
    Multiple locations,

    www.bubbalous.com

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    BEST BURGER
    Back Yard Burgers
    Multiple locations,

    www.backyardburgers.com

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    BEST FRENCH RESTAURANT

    by Michael_D Written Mar 22, 2005

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    BEST FRENCH RESTAURANT

    Le Bon Appetit

    1575 Maguire Road, Ocoee,
    (407) 654-9096,
    www.lebonappetit.com

    Forget everything you thought you knew about French restaurants. Snotty waiters? The Marlot family (mère et père, and their son and daughter-in-law) will gamely converse with you in your stumbling high-school French — you don't really have a choice, since there's very little English spoken here, so it's make a fool of yourself or starve. Tiny, fussy food? Try the hearty homemade country pâté, served with gherkins and grainy mustard — hardly delicate fare. Your entree (sure to be a generous portion) will occupy a plate groaning with Provençal sides: potatoes Anna, ratatouille, stuffed broiled tomato. And every bite will be classically balanced; not obnoxiously gastronomique, just perfectly seasoned and cooked according to centuries of French wisdom.

    RUNNER(almost a tie)
    Le Coq au Vin
    4800 S. Orange Ave.,
    (407) 851-6980

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    BEST SMOOTHIES

    by Michael_D Written Mar 22, 2005

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    BEST SMOOTHIES

    Whole Foods Market

    1989 Aloma Ave., Winter Park, (407) 673-8788,

    www.wholefoods.com

    We like ringing a doorbell to get our smoothies, and Whole Foods is the only place in town that we get to do that. Ice-cold fruit and spirulina only mix together in so many different ways, but the diffident coolness with which the bell-summoned staff blends 'em here at least makes us feel less guilty about not wanting peanut butter in a drink. Plus, wheatgrass shots and carrot juice are yours for the asking.

    RUNNER UP
    Planet Smoothie

    Multiple locations,

    www.planetsmoothie.com

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    BEST COFFEEHOUSE

    by Michael_D Written Mar 22, 2005

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    BEST COFFEEHOUSE

    Austin Coffee & Film

    929 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park, (407) 975-3364,

    www.austincoffeeandfilm.com

    Austin Coffee & Film is exactly what a coffeehouse should be: relaxing. There's food to munch on, coffee and beer to drink, music to listen to and a general atmosphere that makes us feel at peace with the world. What else do you want?

    RUNNER UP
    Starbucks
    Multiple locations, www.starbucks.com

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