The Great Orlando Food Staycation

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.

Frank & Steins - Orlando, FL

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.

Dragon bowl from Juice’d Orlando

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

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?

The Guesthouse craft cocktail bar Orlando, FL
The Guesthouse

The Guesthouse
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.

The Guesthouse craft cocktail bar Orlando, FL
Corpse Reviver from The Guesthouse

King Bao
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.

King Bao - Mills50 District Orlando FL
Coco Loco bao from King Bao

Kres Chophouse
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.

Fine Herb Omelette from DoveCote, Orlando FL
Fine Herb Omelette from DoveCote

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!

Steph’s Taco Blog: Tako Cheena in Mills50 (Orlando)

Admittedly, I kind of have some beef with fast casual taco joints. In my experience, they can be super hit or miss. It’s a disappointment to go running for a taco stand only to end up with a sad, floppy taco with too much sauce and not enough filling in a sloppy flour tortilla. But then there are true hits, where fast meets fresh, and counter ordering doesn’t translate to depressing tacos. Tako Cheena in the Mills50 district is firmly in the latter category; a true hit and one I’ll return to next time I’m in the area.

The Mills50 district is one of my favorite nooks of Orlando. It’s the perfect mix of hip and urban, with street art adorning the buildings and affordable, quality eats found at every turn. Locals describe this area, among others, as the real Orlando, and I tend to agree. Venture slightly away from the theme parks and tourist hot spots, and you’ll find a community-oriented culinary scene thriving in and around the heart of downtown Orlando.

Tako Cheena is located amidst all the action. While the current location can be easily missed the first time you drive by, it’s worth locating this hole-in-the-wall taco spot best described as Latin-Asian fusion. Continue reading “Steph’s Taco Blog: Tako Cheena in Mills50 (Orlando)”

Orlando Eats and Treats Worth the Hype: Part Two

Think Orlando has nothing but theme parks? So did I before moving here, but after almost five years (!) living in a tourist town, I’ve come to understand Orlando as so much more than a theme park mecca. Case in point: Orlando was recently voted as the top foodie city in the USA.

Food is something our city definitely does right.

While I can’t visit every eatery in the City Beautiful (#goals), there are some that create so much buzz I just have to go investigate. So here’s my latest recap of what I like to call “blog research” – give one of these Orlando eats a try and let me know your personal favorites. Continue reading “Orlando Eats and Treats Worth the Hype: Part Two”

Steph’s Taco Blog: Bartaco in Dr. Phillips

It’s Taco Tuesday and you know what that means…time for another edition of Steph’s Taco Blog! Today is a little special because it’s the week of Thanksgiving, so I’d like to do a special Thanksgiving gratitude edition.

This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for tacos. 

I discovered Bartaco the way I discover most delicious food these days: stalking food accounts on Instagram. I kept seeing these beautiful trays stuffed with 7+ tacos and thinking to myself, “wow…that’s a lot of tacos for one person. Are they just really hungry? Maybe they’re sharing with a friend?” Obviously I needed to investigate.

From the outside, Bartaco looks like an oasis. And luckily, this oasis is one of the taco variety. The outdoor seating area is bright and cozy with cushioned booths, white tables, plenty of foliage, and string lights. I imagine it’s gorgeous to eat here at night time (will go back to confirm). If you like obsessively photographing your food (guilty) you’ll be right at home in this super-cool space. Continue reading “Steph’s Taco Blog: Bartaco in Dr. Phillips”

Steph’s Taco Blog: Pepe’s Cantina in Winter Park

Ah, Winter Park. While I still have certain reservations about the area (everything is expensive, the vibe can be a little snooty) I have to admit it’s growing on me. And when you step off Park Ave. there are some real gems to be found in this foodie-friendly neighborhood north of Orlando.

One of those gems, Pepe’s Cantina, was recommended to me by my friend Arlene (who is also an Orlando blogger – check her site out) after she saw I was starting up a taco series. We decided to meet up there for lunch and, you know, “research.” Tacos: the great connectors. Continue reading “Steph’s Taco Blog: Pepe’s Cantina in Winter Park”