Everybody knows about Orlando's theme parks and their many and varied dining options, but here's a guide for visitors who want to get to know the other side of Orlando, where the locals live and eat.
DAY ONE: GETTING TO KNOW DOWNTOWN
Benjamin French Bakery & Café
One bite of the chocolate croissant or Croque Monsieur and it would be easy to imagine you are sitting at a sidewalk café in a quirky Paris neighborhood rather than Orlando's trendy Thornton Park neighborhood near downtown. Take your pastries to go, or sit and linger longer over a cup of coffee or bottle of Perrier with the young locals.
Tip: Parking is scarce on the neighborhood's streets, but there's a lot behind the restaurant that's dedicated to café customers.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
Address: 716 E. Washington St., Orlando
One of more than a dozen Vietnamese restaurants in a stretch along Colonial Drive nicknamed Little Vietnam, Pho Vinh attracts a crowd of locals who come to eat its namesake dish - pho, the large bowls of beef broth soup - as well as more unusual offerings such as stir fried frog legs in curry sauce. It's a tidy place adorned with paintings of Vietnamese women in the middle of various tasks and poses.
Tip: The restaurant is right off of Mills on Primrose, but its entrance is in the back off its parking lot.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Address: 657 N. Primrose Drive
Spice Modern Steakhouse
Spice has a classic high-end American steakhouse menu plus sushi and other seafood. The restaurant says it strives to acquire ingredients from local sources and high-quality artisans. Some tables offer an exceptional view of Orlando's iconic Lake Eola Fountain and the downtown skyline.
Tip: The outside deck with the view fills up fast, so call ahead or arrive early.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday
Address: 407 E. Central Blvd.
DAY 2: CARBS TO CASKS
Keke's Breakfast Café
Keke's has grown into a local chain that doesn't feel like a chain. The ingredients of its omelets are fresh and the variety of flavors available for waffle toppings and stuffed French toast go way beyond strawberry all the way to Turtle-flavored French toast stuffed with pecans, caramel, chocolate and cream cheese. Such sustenance can keep a Mall of Millenia shopper fueled well past lunch.
Tip: There are nine Keke's locations in the Orlando area - check the website.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily
Address: 4192 Conroy Road, Ste. 100
Locals have been flocking to Beefy King since it opened in1968. The draw is its moist, made-to-order hot meat sandwiches on steamed buns. Roast beef made fresh daily is the specialty. But Beefy King also serves ham, turkey, pastrami, corned beef and barbecued beef and pork sandwiches. Sides are simple and include Beefy Spuds (aka Tater Tots), coleslaw, chips and hand-spun milkshakes.
Tip: If you're in a hurry to get in and get out of the parking lot, don't park where the drive-through line can block you in.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday
Address: 424 N. Bumby Ave.
Cask & Larder Southern Public House
The Cask of Cask and Larder is a craft brewery behind glass that turns out exceptional beer. And its Larder is fat with vegetables from Florida farms and meats from south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Hams are from Kentucky, grits and grains come from South Carolina and even the chocolate hails from Tennessee. The menu is both traditional and innovative. Think deviled eggs with caviar, hushpuppies with lobster and ducks cured like ham.
Tip: Travelling with a group of eight meat lovers? Order a pig smoked whole for the table with 72 hours notice.
Hours: Evening dining 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Sunday, brunch 10:30 a.m. to 3
Address: 565 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park
DAY 3: A SHORT ROAD TRIP FOR SUBURBAN SUSTENANCE
As the name implies, donuts, every flavor you could imagine can be found in this tiny wayside kingdom that's open 24-7. But don't overlook the Frisbee-sized apple fritters or breakfast sandwiches. If you happen to show up at lunch or dinner, there are Cajun offerings and burgers. Can't pick just one donut flavor? Take an assortment to go.
Tip: Dining space is limited. If the small tables are full, you can take your breakfast to go and eat at the picnic tables nearby at the trailhead for the Lake Minneola bike trail at 315 Madison Street. Then, if you're so inclined, you can burn off all those the calories by biking the trail with one of the highest elevations of any rails-to-trails project in Florida.
Hours: Always open
Address: 208 U.S. Highway 27, Minneola
It's fitting that this restaurant is in historic downtown Winter Garden, once a thriving agricultural town. alFresco, as its name suggests, features fresh and locally grown vegetables. The menu has a Mediterranean bent, but also offers a traditional burger with a surprising twist - ground chorizo sausage blended into the beef, as well as manchego cheese and red pepper ranch.
Tip: The restaurant often utilizes vegetables grown in the building's roof-top garden. Ask what's freshest that day.
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Sunday, dinner 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Address: W. Plant St., Suite 140, Winter Garden
Chatham's Place Restaurant
This restaurant is where upscale locals come to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and propose marriage. While not far from the theme parks, without help tourists are unlikely to find this cozy restaurant tucked in back of a seemingly empty office complex just around the corner from Sand Lake Road's "restaurant row." But once you find your way in, you'll be welcomed with warm, extremely attentive service and impeccable food in the Continental tradition.
Tip: Reservations are suggested because space and the hours of operation are limited.
Hours: 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. weekends and 5:30 to 9 p.m. weekdays
Address: 7575 Dr. Phillips Blvd., Orlando (back southeast corner of the office complex)
DAY 4: A TRIP TO OLD AND NEW FLORIDA
Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill & Griddle House
Take a morning paddle down a beautiful spring fed river and then refuel up by cooking your own pancakes at a griddle embedded in the middle of a well-worn pine table at this unique eatery located inside DeLeon Springs State Park. The server brings unlimited pitchers of batter and syrup for $4.95 a person. Pancake additions, from apples to pecans, as well as breakfast meats, can be had for an added charge. Diners who prefer a more traditional hands-off dining experience can order pre-cooked breakfast offerings, as well as sandwiches and salads. Don't expect white tablecloths here. The dining room is rustic, snug and authentic old Florida.
Tip: This is a small and popular place, so waits can be long on weekend mornings. Hiking trails, swimming, taking a boat ride or just resting your eyes on the blue spring waterfall can help pass the time.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and holidays; open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas
Address: 601 Ponce de Leon Blvd., DeLeon Springs
The Goblin Market Restaurant and Lounge
Being tucked away off one of historic Mount Dora's less-travelled brick-paved alleys does nothing to deter locals and visitors from seeking out this restaurant with an atmosphere as soothing and satisfying as its food. On hot days, cool off in the shady book-lined dining rooms and on cool afternoons soak up perfect weather in two al fresco areas. Feel like a glass of wine and a snack? The upstairs bar is cozy and welcoming. The gourmet menu, from soups and sandwiches to dinner entrees, is traditional with an occasional twist.
Tip: Walk off your meal by shopping Mount Dora's eclectic collection of shops or take a boat ride on scenic Lake Dora.
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 11:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday; dinner 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Address: 330 Dora Drawdy Way, Mount Dora
Ethos Vegan Kitchen
Anti-meat eaters interested in environmentally aware and socially responsible meals will find a home at Ethos, a Winter Park restaurant built on those principles. Ethos serves hearty, home-style 100 percent vegan food. There are traditional vegan offerings as well as imitations of traditional meat treats like Sheep's Pie. Ethos' Bay Cakes are simulations of crab cakes made from chickpeas, celery and fresh herbs.
Tip: The bread that comes with the Healthy Trio light bite is amazing.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; closed some holidays
Address: 601-B South New York Ave., Winter Park
DAY 5: HANGING AROUND TOWN
White Wolf Café and Bar
This former antique store has transitioned into an eclectic bistro with some eye-popping French toast offerings, a daunting steak and eggs plate, and biscuits flaky enough to make you talk back to your mama. The atmosphere is fun and vibrant with a neighborhood pub vibe. Walk it all off by wandering through the adjacent curiosity shops that sell items you won't find everywhere or, maybe, anywhere else.
Tip: On busy mornings, a small party can often be seated quicker at the bar, which is decorated with a collection of bronze art-deco nymphs.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
Address: 1829 Orange Ave., Ivanhoe Village, Orlando
Hillstone offers a sturdy menu of hearty flavorful American fare delivered by diligent servers. Beef is a signature menu item, but seafood and salads are also notable and generous. The décor is simple and warm. Large windows offer expansive views of Lake Killarney from inside. Outside lake-view dining is also available and a dock can be reserved for special occasions.
Tip: Reservations are advised.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Address: 215 S. Orlando Ave, Winter Park
What could be better than watching a cozy art film in the dark? Being served food way better than just popcorn during the movie. The Enzian Theater offers gourmet appetizers, entrees, beer, wine and desserts to movie watchers. You could opt for something as decadent as buttermilk hand-battered fried tender chicken tenders or as healthy as a Granny Smith apple salad. And, in case you would prefer to see the food while you're eating, you can belly up to the Eden Bar outside the theater before or after the feature. Lush tropical vegetation and oak trees older than the USA surround the bar.
Tip: If you have a group of more than four who want to watch the movie and eat at the tables inside the theater, arrive early and try to find adjacent tables. Only members of the Enzian Film Society can get reserved seating.
Hours: Check movie times. Eden Bar open 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 pm. Sunday through Thursday
Address: 1300 South Orlando Ave., Maitland
-- Story by Teresa Burney, photos by Julie Fletcher for VISIT FLORIDA