Maracaibo Mia

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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If you’ve been out to eat recently, you know that cost for restaurant food, much like anything else with a price tag, is skyrocketing. Twenty dollars for a chicken kebab, $28 for a chicken breast. Don’t even ask about the wings.

So even more now than in other times, people want to get a sufficient bang for their buck. Or eight and a half bucks with inflation.

So places like Maracaibo Mia, a Venezuelan restaurant in the Gateway District, offer a good value – a box full of food, more than enough to fill you up, maybe enough for two meals, for about half what a kebab would cost. You just have to adjust your mindset to know that the quality is likely to be commensurate with the cost. Here we're talking about a meat with rice and beans and two sides for under 10 bucks.

Kosher Grill

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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Anyone who strives to maintain a kosher diet can tell you the options for dining out are close to bupkis. But not totally. Kosher Grill is among the few glatt kosher restaurants in the area, and its International Drive location allows it to serve visitors as well as locals.

In simplest terms, the word kosher is derived from a Hebrew word that means to be pure, proper, or suitable for consumption. In that respect, we should all eat kosher.

HuNan Taste

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Hunan Taste interior

I first heard about century eggs from my father after he returned from one of his trips to Southeast Asia in the nineteen-sixties. They’re also known as hundred-year-old eggs, thousand-year-old eggs, pidan, millennium eggs, black eggs and, as they’re more simply known at HuNan Taste in West Orlando, preserved eggs. Some have even referred to them as one of the world’s most disgusting foods.

I don’t think I’d go that far but the mere thought of them might be enough to turn some people away. And if the thought doesn’t do it then the appearance might.

Bacán

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Bacan dining room

Orlando has a new luxury hotel, the Lake Nona Wave, and with it an upscale restaurant, Bacán.

That’s pronounced bah-KAHN and is a Spanish word meaning cool or awesome. I might add suave and sophisticated, too, because dining here is a fashionable experience with a modern menu of Latin American-inspired dishes served in a stylishly appointed atmosphere.

My companion and I sat in a booth with buttery leather seats beneath a large, colorful wall mural with a full view of the open kitchen, the rows of banquettes that run down the middle of the room and the cluster of gold-mesh hexagonal light fixtures overhead.

Thai Farm Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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The About page on Thai Farm Kitchen Orlando’s Facebook page describes the new College Park restaurant as having, “Award winning authentic Thai food from Thailand and the New York Times.” Sort of conjures up images of someone from the paper’s Food staff cooking up a batch of laab khai jiaw in the test kitchen to send out to Brooklyn.

Brooklyn is where the original Thai Farm Kitchen is, and the Times mention is apparently a reference to a review by Ligaya Mishan in 2019 in the paper’s Hungry City column. Mishan, who now writes for the Eats column in the New York Times Magazine, named the Kensington neighborhood restaurant an NYT Critic’s Pick. 

Perhaps New York doesn’t have as many fine Thai restaurants as we do here in Central Florida. Ot maybe it’s the same old story of out-of-state restaurants moving to Orlando and figuring they don’t have to try too hard to impress. I could be wrong, but consider this: The back page of the College Park menu has a four-step process on “How to enjoy phad Thai correctly”; I could find no such instructions in any of the dozens of online photos of the Brooklyn menu. Because, you know, New Yorkers are born with the necessary knowledge to eat any kind of food.

Pho 813

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Pho 813, a Millenia-area outpost of a restaurant out of Tampa (hence the 813), doesn’t look like much from the outside. In fact, sitting between a Chipotle and a Zöe’s Kitchen in a small outbuilding in front of a SuperTarget, Pho 813’s facade looks rather bland.

But inside is bright and pleasant, and so were the staff when I visited. Even better: the food was all quite good.

Cantina Catrina

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I could make this real quick and simply say that I don’t currently recommend Cantina Catrina, the Mexican restaurant from Miami that recently opened its second location, at Florida Mall. I could tell you that there was not one aspect of my experience that I found positive or redeeming, but I feel I need to be more specific.

The restaurant’s Facebook page states, “When you first step through the door you become part of the atmosphere.” Inasmuch as the atmosphere is predominantly influenced by the skeletal images associated with the Day of the Dead, I should have been warned.

Hangry Bison Winter Garden

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After more than a year’s delay, a second outpost of Hangry Bison, the popular Winter Park Village restaurant, has finally opened, bringing its award-winning burgers and creative cocktails to downtown Winter Garden.

Set in a newly constructed building fronting Plant Street, it’s a bigger restaurant than the original, with more outdoor seating and a large, expansive space indoors with a large bar the main focus. And even the indoor dining room has an al fresco vibe thanks to garage-door walls that open the space up. (It’s one of the new realities that air-flow is a concern in restaurant design.)

Daana Pani

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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For me, a hallmark of a good meatless menu, whether it’s merely vegetarian or fully vegan, is the absence of meat. What I mean is, the menu doesn’t try to replace actual meat with fake meat, processed products that emulate the tastes and textures of chicken, beef and seafood. I’m more impressed with restaurants that achieve vegetarian results organically (whether or not the ingredients are actually organic; don’t get me started on that).

Consider the food at Daana Pani, an Indian restaurant specializing in the cuisine of Gujarat in the west. Nearly 90 percent of Gujaratis follow a form of Hinduism that adheres to a vegetarian diet, even despite its seacoast location. Perhaps that is why you’ll find the word Gujarati on Daana Pani’s menu but not the word vegetarian – it’s assumed.

Jam Hot Chicken

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There are five levels of spiciness for the sandwiches at Jam Hot Chicken, a walkup window eatery in Winter Park’s Hannibal Square. The middle one is hot, which is what I ordered. I cannot imagine the fiery hell of the next level up, which is labeled hotter, let alone the spiciest one, jam. “You’ve been warned” is written next to that one on the menu. Woe to the person who mistakenly thinks jam means sweet jellied preserves.

Hot was plenty hot for me. I had ordered the Sando, which like the other two sandwiches was made with a thick slab of breast meat, breaded and deep fried. This one was dressed with claw and house-made pickles with a proprietary sauce called comeback (probably not a good name for a food item) and served on a buttered bun.