When my boyfriend, John, and I decided on a weekend staycation in downtown Orlando as our Christmas gift to one another, I didn’t really plan on spending the majority of our weekend together gorging on tacos, craft cocktails, steaks, brunch, and farmer’s market stand food. But who am I kidding? If there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s that food is one of the great joys of my life.
Some people are happy jumping out of airplanes (looking at you, mom) and some people prefer to see how many tacos they can eat in a day (more than I thought).
Food is the gateway to wonderful things: local culture, a love and appreciation for culinary talent, an exercise in expanding your comfort zone, a passion for cooking, art, and creativity. Visiting a new restaurant with no expectations, only to take the first bite and experience that magical moment of foodie euphoria, is incredibly satisfying to me.
It’s the melt in your mouth good food, or a combination of flavors that creates a lingering zing sensation on your tastebuds, or realizing something you assumed you’d hate is actually remarkable (hi, octopus) that makes eating great food so pleasurable for me.
I’m sorry…are you hungry?
One of the easiest ways to experience the local culture and literal flavor of any destination is through food, even if you can only explore what’s in your own city. So we chose to brave I-4 and dedicate a weekend to a city that’s close, but far enough away that we rarely get the chance to explore in depth.
We chose to stay at the EO Inn, a super cute boutique hotel that felt much more like a city studio apartment than a hotel. (The bed…so comfy and perfect for curing food baby pains.) It was also conveniently located, allowing us to explore exclusively on foot or on our bikes, which served as justification for all of the eating that followed. Here’s a recap of our unintentional food vacation.
Day 1: Late everything
Late (late late) dinner at Frank & Steins
John and I continuously try to convince ourselves we can be on time to things. So while we had the best intentions of making it to Orlando Friday night in time to have a sit down dinner before the Orlando Solar Bears hockey game we were attending, in reality we checked into our hotel 10 minutes after the game started. I scarfed down an overpriced hotdog at the arena, then fantasized about the much better hot dog I knew I’d be eating after the game.
I love Frank & Steins for its mastery of the simplest of American fare: the beloved hot dog. But these are no ordinary hot dogs. No, these ones come loaded with goodness like mac and cheese, sriracha, bacon, corn salsa, and the like. They even have pretzel buns! This is also the place to unleash your inner carb lover by ordering the giant pretzel, which comes with queso and 3 dreamy mustard dipping sauces. Don’t forget a pint or two of craft beer — the menu is so extensive its borderline overwhelming.
Day 2: The day of eating way too much and biking around to justify it
On Saturday morning, we set out on the Urban Trail with the best of intentions. While we did bike all the way to Mead Gardens in Winter Park and did a short hike, we mostly spent the day eating at the following establishments. The threat of a rainstorm led to day drinking, and at that point, eating more was a necessity. Or so I tell myself.
The Dragon Bowl from Juice’d was the only healthy thing I consumed all weekend. The granola was crunchy and sweet, the serving generous. The bowl was so loaded with fruit it was practically overflowing. But really, I just chose this for the vibrant purple color and dragonfruit. As much as I love indulgent food, every foodie needs a detox meal once in a while, and this one certainly fit the bill.
Pig Floyd’s Urban Barbakoa
Tacos know no boundaries. You can eat them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. They can be Mexican, American, Latin, Asian. Or they can be a little bit of everything, like they are at Pig Floyd’s. I took a mix and match approach to the tacos, ordering 3: pork belly, pork al pastor, and a crazy one named “la vaca tahkaw”. Each was delicious in its own right, but my favorite thing was the plantains with their crispy, charred, sugary coating and warm, gooey, ripe insides. Even after eating street corn, three tacos, and some nibbles of John’s BBQ, I still ate them all. This was also my first experience with Mexican Coca Cola and seriously, have I been living under a rock?
Craft cocktail bars can be intimidating. And I do get a slight vibe of that at The Guesthouse sometimes. But once John and I began expressing interest in learning about the drinks, wanted to try new things, and just kind of let the bartenders do their thing…the whole feeling changed. Thus our world was opened to smooth whiskey concoctions and citrus cocktails made for day drinking. Thanks to The Guesthouse, I discovered a new favorite craft cocktail (acceptable for drinking before noon) called the Corpse Reviver. The glass is rinsed with Absinthe…so tread carefully.
True to form, my hunger returned promptly after the consumption of two citrusy craft cocktails. I was hoping for a taco from Black Rooster Taqueria next door (a favorite spot for tacos in Orlando), but they were closed for their midday break. Cue tears. But I wasn’t too upset. A 5-minute bike ride down Mills landed us at King Bao for kind-of tacos. Bao are bite-sized delights served in featherlight steamed buns and stuffed with everything from coconut shrimp to pork belly. They’re also cheap. If you’re hungry, order 2-3 plus a side of the truffle tots.
One thing I’ve learned from my grandpa in recent years is the art of savoring a meal. But why is it so hard? John and I are both on the move constantly, and as nice as slowing down sounds, its often hard to put into practice. But dinner at Kres is the exception. Each time we dine here, phones are put away for the evening (I don’t even take pictures of my food – this is serious) and we focus on the experience of not only being together, but also enjoying the exceptional food. This time, we went even slower than usual, savoring each sip and bite along the way. Our belated Valentine’s feast was complete with strawberry basil and whiskey cocktails, refreshing caprese salads, savory mac and cheese, and a filet mignon I look forward to each year. This is one of my favorite restaurants in Orlando for a classy night out, and we return over and over.
Day 3: Quintessential Sunday in the city
Our last day was reserved for pretending to be locals before we packed up the car to head home. And what do locals do on a Sunday in Thornton Park? Wandering around Lake Eola Park, followed by brunch is one of many possibilities. It also gave us an opportunity to squeeze in some much needed exercise.
Lake Eola Farmer’s Market
If you want quick insight into the local culture of Orlando, head to the weekly Orlando Farmer’s Market at Lake Eola Park. Orlando is the “City Beautiful” for a reason. From the rainbow painted bandstand and community yoga class, to the hustle and bustle of market-goers and plethora of brunch options lining the picturesque lake, the energy of this park reaches it peak each Sunday morning. While you can certainly pick up some weekly produce, there are also food vendors and artists, lending a more street festival feel. I love getting a fresh coconut, or a brunch appetizer, aka pierogi, while wandering through and taking in all the sights.
Orlando knows how to do brunch, and unique options are at your disposal no matter which pocket of Orlando you visit. For offerings outside the standard chicken and waffles and eggs benedict, DoveCote is our new brunch go-to. I assumed the restaurant was super fancy and out of my depth, but after checking it out for a brunch piece on Orlando Date Night Guide it became a fast favorite. The croque madame, crab quiche, and fine herb omelet (so creamy and light, what I imagine a cloud would taste like) are all incredible. I was excited to see my new favorite cocktail on the menu too; Corpse Reviver two days in a row is allowed if it’s “vacation” right? I ended the weekend on a high note, taking brunch to new levels of indulgence by ordering creme brûlée. It’s the best I’ve had anywhere!