Getting off the Beaten Path in Orlando


September 29, 2015BY KATE KELEHER

Orlando – some call it the City of Dreams. But what if fairy dust, roller coasters, and magical adventures aren’t your cup of tea?

When producing events in Orlando, we are often faced with some unique challenges. How do we create truly memorable experiences in a city known for popular, well-frequented tourist attractions?

We wanted to discover the city beyond the theme parks. We talked to locals to find out where they go for authentic food and culture.

Here is our current list of top finds:

Dragonfly Robata Grill & Sushi
Hidden in a tangle of highways and strip malls, Dragonfly Robata Grill & Sushi is a complete diamond in the rough. Red lanterns, traditional Noh Masks, and cascading origami curtains transport you away from the bustle of Orlando and immerse you in a classic Japanese Izakaya atmosphere.

Sit at the bar and watch chefs prepare the day’s fresh catch, or find a cozy alcove to share a bottle of Sake with friends. Creativity and intentionality are present in every detail.

Waiters are knowledgeable, friendly, and attentive – their passion for good food and the Izakaya tradition is apparent. Our top recommendations include: Agedashi tofu, grilled shishito peppers, tuna sashimi, the Smokey Dragon roll, and of course, a glass of Umeshu.

If you’re lucky, you may see the resident Amezaiku candy artist, quickly crafting his tiny candy sculptures.

Church Street District
Brick and cobblestones line this historic street in the heart of Downtown Orlando. After a long workweek, this is the go-to destination for locals to find drinks and good food. Though Church Street features a number of restaurants, two stand out as truly unique.

Ceviche is a Spanish restaurant featuring cold tapas, flamenco dancing, and a chapel ceiling from a 16th century abbey.

Across the street you’ll find The Cheyenne Saloon, a bright, open venue in the Western tradition, complete with a stage, a grand double staircase, and three levels of balconies wrapped in a latticework of hand-carved wood.

Wall Street Plaza
This family owned restaurant collective in Downtown Orlando centers around a cobblestoned plaza next to Lake Eola Park.

Grab tacos at The Cantina, house-batched Moonshine at the steampunk bar Shine, or a Dark & Stormy from the Waitiki Tiki Bar.

Our favorite is Sideshow, a quirky carnival themed restaurant with red and white stripes, bizarro paintings of circus oddities, and a giant pinwheel game. Weekly block parties and bar crawls make this a super fun destination for locals and visitors alike.

House of Blues
Yes, House of Blues is a chain, but our list would be incomplete without it. We could get lost for hours studying the eclectic paintings, furniture, murals, and found objects that line the varied indoor and outdoor spaces of the venue.

Home to the largest collection of Folk Art in the United States, House of Blues celebrates the artistic heritage of the South through music, art, great food, and its community outreach program Music Forward.

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