Last year, the MICHELIN Guide kicked off their Florida selection with buzzy spots as far north as Orlando (it's more than just Disney) all the way down to Miami. So in the past 365 days our Inspectors have been hard at work discovering new gems and revisiting old favorites. Next week sees the full Florida selection, including all the distinctions—but below, a sneak peek where we share the 8 new Bib Gourmands.
From feel-good Southern fare sourced locally to Cuban cuisine with flair, here are the new haute boîtes to visit. Just make sure to come back next Thursday, May 11th, for the full list of Florida's MICHELIN Guide spots. We promise, it's worth the wait.
The group behind Jaguar Sun has had a busy few years, opening, closing, reconcepting and relocating at various points. Steady, though, is the sheer enthusiasm with which the city has embraced each and every development. Indeed, this local favorite cooks as well as it shakes, offering a winning combination of excellent house-made pastas and balanced, creative cocktails. Warm Parker House rolls and Caesar salads stacked to the sky are opening acts to an umami-packed mushroom tagliatelle or spicy strozzapreti with plump mussels, ‘nduja and breadcrumbs. And to drink? A refreshing Sunday Driver balancing tequila, green apple and manzanilla kicks off the night perfectly. As an added bonus, a warm, personal staff makes everyone feel like a regular.
Kudos to husband-and-wife team Chef Akino and Jamila West. What started out as a wildly popular brunch pop-up in Overtown has evolved into this permanent brick-and-mortar in Little River. The outdoor-only space is as breezy as they come with dangling garden lights and ample shade covering an expansive patio. The notably Southern menu covers a generous amount of ground. Deviled eggs with chicharrones, biscuits in guanciale gravy and fluffy banana pancakes with vanilla custard are primo brunch favorites. Heartier hits, like fried hot chicken and waffles or a generous fried fish and grits with collard greens, satiate larger appetites. Tickets to an occasional dinner prix fixe sell out quickly and signal more good things to come from this successful duo.
Orlando's Thai restaurants typically dole out southern curry dishes and the ubiquitous pad Thai, but Isan Zaap strays from the pack with its gaze trained exclusively on northeast Thai cuisine with Laotian overlaps. There is an impressive level of attention to detail and a nice balance of spice and fermented flavors, and though impeccably executed curry makes an appearance, there's also an entire section dedicated to som tums that can be topped with fermented crab or fermented pork sausage. House specialties are a hit, as in the unique whole fish larb, cut into bite-sized pieces, tossed with toasted rice powder and fried to a crisp, and crowned with shaved red onion herbs tossed in a sweet yet spicy sauce. For dessert, dig in to durian sticky rice - if you dare.
There are just eight seats at this tiny but mighty spot at the Plant Street Market from Chef David Tsan. This is sushi done in a casual "choose your own adventure" style, as guests pick from various cuts of fish and shellfish and then select as either nigiri, sashimi aburi or temaki. It's all fun and may include winning plates like popcorn hamachi, a surprising dish with avocado puree, dots of whipped cream cheese and finished with popped sorghum. Shima aji displays its buttery best as nigiri, and it's all about the sear on the avocado served with a sweet kabayaki sauce. Good products and solid techniques are on display in the hand rolls, where fillings like shredded blue crab make an impression.
Can't choose? The well-priced, ten-piece omakase is a nice option.
Otto's High Dive
This tiny but oh-so-sweet space recalls the charm of Old Florida with its whitewashed brick walls and white tile floors. Billed as a neighborhood rum bar, Otto's High Dive is on point at every turn, from the genuine service to the unfussy but well-executed food. The kitchen delivers a concise edit of Floridian/Cuban fare with oodles of tropical elements. Begin with oysters before moving on to an array of cold and hot plates ranging from a shrimp cocktail that's all grown up with its thick "Bloody Mary" sauce to chicken mojo and ropa vieja with sides like rice and beans. Cinnamon bread pudding topped with a delightfully tangy cream cheese whip is a memorable sign-off. Rum is all around, from the Cuba Libre on tap to the daiquiris available by the pitcher.
Taste of Chengdu
A long-standing restaurant in the Orlando area, Taste of Chengdu promises exactly that, as the expansive menu is singularly focused on Sichuan specialties. Chef Xiong “Tiger” Tang shows restraint in his use of spices, instead opting for depth and balance; while classics like mapo tofu are given a nuanced nudge. Heat-seekers will want to dig right in to the Sichuan cold noodles, a ramped up iteration that replaces the traditional thick sauce with a lighter vinegar-based, sesame-laced zing. More mellow dishes include a delicate white fish in a green pepper broth mixed with mushrooms, cucumber and baby bok choy, or a sautéed cabbage tossed in touch of oil with garlic and scallions that has just the right amount of crunch.
Take the short drive from downtown for a taste of Himalayan cuisine at Gorkhali Kitchen. The mirrored glass exterior means the interior is kept a secret until you're through the door but come inside to experience this place's warm hospitality.
The menu is large with a Nepalese focus along with some Indian elements. Of course, there must be momo, those iconic Nepalese dumplings that are seared, pan-fried or even in jhol (soup). Chili momo filled with chicken is tossed in a fiery sauce that's not for the faint of heart. Sweet at the start, the heat builds and then finishes with a very spicy kick—perfect for heat seekers. Chicken is a popular protein that appears often on the menu, but don't shy away from the goat specialties. They're falling-off-the-bone tender and savory.
Owned and run by second-generation Greek-American, Christina Theofilos, this daytime eatery and bakery epitomizes warmth and comfort. Strangers become friends in no time, noshing on breakfast and lunch during the week and brunch on weekends. The menu is laced with Greek items ranging from flavorful and tender octopus ceviche to house-made dolmades that display an added level of care. The farm to your table sandwich is layered with avocado, pickled green tomato, shaved jicama, sprouts and whipped feta. Of course, with a name that translates to bread, there must be baked goods and you'll find it all here. Don't skimp on dessert and order bougatsa, baklava or baklava coffee cake (an impressive marriage of the two).
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