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Top Tables 2020: The Best Restaurants To Open In Orlando This Year | Food & Drink Stories | Orlando


WHAT. A YEAR. After COVID-19 devastated and affected our restaurant landscape, the struggling restaurateurs were as good as forced to cut staff and rethink their business models. Numerous restaurants have closed their shutters. Unemployed cooks and waiters waited (and waited) for unemployment benefits as the queues at local food banks grew longer and longer. “Social distancing” was added to the culture lexicon, and “contactless payment” and “roadside pickup” soon followed. Even so, the outlook for 2021 seems to be tenable, I dare to say. Sure, the impotence of our elected officials has delayed the passage of the RESTAURANTS Act (and $ 120 billion in direct aid), but we’re still seeing signs of culinary life in this city.

The terrace season attracts customers back to restaurants; Some of our favorites (Kabooki Sushi, Taste of Chengdu) have expanded their activities. Celebrities and celebrity chefs (John Tesar, Blake Shelton, Drew Brees, Gloria Estefan) are shining again in the tourism sector; and Instagram-only delivery operations (Brad’s Underground Pizza, Yugiri Ramen, Deli Desires, Jeffs Bagel Run) become market disruptors as they pursue stationary destinations. Oh, and the biggest white castle on earth laid the foundation stone (I get high just thinking about it).

There is also a lot to look forward to next year: dining rooms from Winter Garden to Ivanhoe Village to Oviedo; second locations of Hunger Street Tacos and Black Rooster Taqueria; a new home for Orlando Meats; Kaya, the Filipino concept of the Kadence team; Soseki by Michael Collantes and Denni Cha; and Norman Van Aken’s return to Orlando.

But enough about 2021. There are restaurants that can be celebrated in 2020 now. In all honesty, I never thought that a list of this year’s top tables would be feasible, let alone rightly necessary, but these extraordinary times have managed to produce some extraordinary restaurants.

So here are the best restaurants to open in 2020.

  • Photo courtesy knife and spoon

No. 1: Knife & Spoon

4012 Central Florida Parkway,

opened on October 7th

This town has never served a 240-day dry-aged bone-in ribeye, but then again, this town has never seen a chef like John Tesar. That top chef alum (and the inspiration for the “Jimmy Sears” character in Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential) may be the GOAT of dry aging, and this steakhouse in the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes is poised to become one of the best bastions in beef State, if not in the country. Like Knife, Tesar’s legendary Dallas Chophouse, Knife & Spoon sources highly marbled cuts from 44 Farms and HeartBrand Beef in Texas. Then Tesar and his colleague, top chef cohort and K&S chef Gerald Sombright, age the coveted ribeyes and strips in a $ 70,000 meat cupboard. The grilled beauties are life changing (and expensive). If you have not yet experienced the true umami of beef, Tesar’s beef psychedelic will take you on a journey.

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  • Pineapple care | Russell is on Lake Ivanhoe | Photo by Rob Bartlett

# 2: Russell is on Lake Ivanhoe

1414 N. Orange Ave.,

opened on September 18th

Ivanhoe Village finally has its destination restaurant and all credit goes to owners Kevin O’Donnell and Phillipe Villain, who invested a ton of money in renovating the picturesque lake. Enclosing the terrace has the effect of bringing in a little bit of the outside, but what makes Russell’s the best restaurant in 32804 is the kitchen experience and steady hand of Chef Emmanuel Clement. His roasted beets and burrata “Napoleon” are a camera-ready starter, while his “Royale with Cheese” strives for burger supremacy. Local seafood is always on offer, and desserts like the Pineapple Foster pay homage to Ivanhood’s past.

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  • Tabla Winter Park | Photo by Rob Bartlett

No. 3: Tabla Winter Park

216 N. Park Ave., Winter Park,

opened on February 22nd

The pandemic could not have come at a worse time for Tabla Winter Park than it did just weeks after the Park Avenue pickup restaurant opened. But chef Sajan Prem saved the high-end sup spot from dire circumstances with his upscale and unique Indian cuisine – from pani puri and besan chillas to the plushest tandoori lamb chops and the most intoxicating palak ghosht with pieces of goat bones. You won’t find better search for lamb kebabs in town, nor will you find better Indian food. Undoubtedly, there is potential for tabla to become our own gymkhana, brigadier, or junoon, and prem is key to getting us there.

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  • Winter Park Biscuit Co. | Photo via the website

# 4: Winter Park Biscuit Co.

3201 Corrine Drive,

opened on November 23rd

The vegan diner of cookbook author and former Blink 182 street cook Mary Westfall and guitarist Neil Westfall from A Day to Remember have made the East End Market a meeting place for herbivores and omnivores. They represent the fluffy oat buttermilk biscuits, often served in a three-piece chick-strip box with fries and coleslaw, and the incredible burger that has been likened to In-N-Outs. When the counter opens in a post-COVID world, the stools will undoubtedly be the hottest places in town.

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  • Papa Llama | Photo via the website

No. 5: Papa Llama

2840 Curry Ford Road,

opened on November 5th

Even before Kevin and Maria Ruiz opened their quaint restaurant on Curry Ford Road on Curry Ford Road, they were known in their Papa Llama pop-ups for their modern approach to traditional Peruvian dishes. The menu at this mall is purposeful and the flavors in Lomo Saltado and Arroz Chaufa are clean and genuine. The papa rellena’s delicate roast filled with jam egg and ground sirloin topped with ají amarillo and salsa criolla is what the addiction is made of, although the same can be said of their picarones – sweet potato donuts served with citrus honey.


  • Bao’s Castle | Photo by Rob Bartlett

Honorable Mention: Bao’s Castle

45 W. Crystal Lake St.,

opened on March 21st

A 24-hour bao house on the theme of Super Mario’s archenemy may seem a bit tricky, but the alabaster buns, which are filled with everything from fried whole soft-shell crabs to fiery galbi, are as serious as they are elegant. No wonder: the menu was developed by Danny Nguyen, head sushi chef at Kabooki Sushi Sand Lake, and a man known for showing off his creativity.

Other notable new openings for 2020:

534 Scratch Kitchen, Aji Ceviche Bar Casselberry, Bad As’s Sandwiches Winterpark, Boku Sushi, BoVine Steakhouse, Bricks & Spoons, Chicken Fire, Chi-Kin, FK Your Diet, Greek Take-Away Maitland, Henry’s Depot, Kathi Rolls, Korean Gogi Grill, Mason Jar Provisions, Ramen Takagi, 60 vines, Taqueria Las Cazuelas, Tokyo Ramen Fusion Cuisine.


Janet Smith