Each year, Pulptown rounds up the biggest restaurant openings and most heartbreaking closings of the year around Orlando. This year, we’re starting with the good news first and in order of appearance (i.e. when it opened): 👇
🌌 AC Sky Bar debuted in Downtown Orlando at the start of the year, boasting a swanky rooftop terrace with dynamite views of Orlando. On the menu: tapas, artisanal cocktails, and a tasty Sunday brunch. Reservations are cool.
🌮 Taco Bell Cantina officially opened at the start of 2021, and fans of the chain ran straight to the border of Central Blvd and Orange Ave.
🥯 Deli Desires is my jam. The hot new Jewish deli opened next door to the old Sanctum restaurant on Fern Creek and Colonial and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better bacon bialy anywhere else in the world. Wowzers.
🍣 Ootoya Sushi Lounge took over the former Shari Sushi space in Thornton Park and I can honestly attest to the fact that the Tiger Roll is rather unforgettable. Now if only F&D Cantina can hurry up and open next door, that little square might finally be cooking again.
🍣 Soseki, a 10-seat Omakase experience in Winter Park, is the brainchild of Taglish Collective, “teaming Taglish’s Mike Collantes with Kaizen Izakaya’s Denni Cha”, and serves globally-inspired seasonal dishes that take you on a wonderful journey.
🍱 Japango is a trendy eatery that opened in the old Chewy Boba Co. space on Colonial in March and its sushi bento boxes range in name from “bitch box” to “boss box” and they offer vegan boxes too. Right next door is Dochi, the fine Japanese mochi donuts that gained popularity at East End Market before opening its Mills 50 location earlier this year.
🎤 Aloha Beautiful is both a great greeting and also the name of Team Market Group’s 2021 concept. There’s more to do in Orlando than eat — a girl’s gotta drink too, amirite? And it doesn’t get much better than a karaoke tiki bar in the middle of downtown Orlando, right?
🍞 Cheba Hut held its grand opening in March when it arrived on the scene in East Orlando with its weed-themed sandwiches.
🍖 Smokemade Meats has popped up all over town this year, with its initial debut happening back in March. Arby claims to have the meats, but it’s got nothing on this guy and his team.
🍩 Pattie Lou’s Donuts moved into the City-owned floor retail space beneath the downtown library parking garage on Pine Street back in April and co-owner Kobina’s friendliness warrants a return visit almost as much as the tiny build-your-own tiny doughnuts he churns out daily.
☕️ Cups and Pups Coffee took over Gratitude Coffee April 1 when the then-owner Jenny decided to move onto the next chapter in her life, but not before handing the keys over to coffee purveyors who would continue her legacy in College Park.
🍽 The Monroe is the newest concept from the Good Salt Restaurant Group, the same people who brought us The Osprey, Seito Sushi, and Reyes Mezcaleria. “Orlando’s living room” opened on the bottom floor of The Julian in Creative Village mid-year and is named after Dr. William Monroe Wells, one of Orlando’s first Black doctors.
🍔 White Castle likely topped the list for hot local restaurant news this past year, even though it’s a California-based chain. The tiny square-shaped sliders have amassed a cult following, one I have yet to understand.
🍨 Shaka Ice Co. opened next door to its sister restaurant Shaka Donuts in SoDo in May and specializes in Hawaiian-style shaved ice.
☕️ KOS Coffee & Bodega is a new coffee company located across from Rollins College in Winter Park. For every sale of single-origin coffee, candles, wine, soaps, and other gifts it sells, the java shop donates 10 percent of its profits to local charities.
🍍The Pinery is a fine dining casual restaurant that opened on the floor of the Lake House Apartments overlooking Lake Ivanhoe and its Florida roots and outdoor patio have been the talk of the town for months now.
🥂 Bites & Bubbles isn’t a new-new restaurant to Orlando but it’s relatively new to its current space in the former short-lived Bellicoso building next door to Brass Tap.
🍕 Buttercrust Pizza opened in the South Orange community near Edgewood in the heat of summer and specializes in square butter crust slices of ‘za. The pepporoni pinwheels are a nice touch too!
🍕 Brad’s Underground Pizza took the Orlando Foodie Forum Facebook group by storm this year. The pandemic popular pop-up pizza purveyor secured a brick-and-mortar in Curry Ford West in early July.
🍻 Gatlin Hall Brewing debuted next door to Buttercrust Pizza less than a month after the buttery pizza spot’s grand opening and helped further put the Fort Gatlin plaza on the map for good eats. The brewery/food hall is home to Da Kine Poke, Frenchy’s Woodfired Pizza, Willy’s Original Burgers, and a slew of craft beers.
🧁 SugarDough Bakehouse is the sister concept to Light on the Sugar, another equally popular bakery, and like its sister, often has a line out the door for its sweet treats. Light on the Sugar opened a second Winter Park location earlier this month.
🌺 The 808 is a new dining and drinking concept located in the heart of Thornton Park. The “surf shack” serves island cuisine and got its name from the Hawaiian slang of “808” which is meant to ignite a feeling of happiness, comfort, and Aloha.
🍪 Phat Ash Bakes has been slinging oversized small-batch cookies from scratch for a year now and took over the former Bites & Bubbles space in Mills 50 which it will eventually share with Grilled Cheezus.
🐟 Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips opened in ICON Park and is the first Florida restaurant from the famous chef. It was recently voted as one of the best places to order fish and chips in the U.S.
🛍 Marketplace at Avalon Park is one of many trendy food halls that opened across Central Florida in 2021. Choose from nine eateries and enjoy indoor or outdoor seating, live entertainment, a general store, and a gathering kitchen.
🍽 Milkhouse is a food hall(ish) that opened in the Milk District in October across from Sideward Brewing and adjacent to MX Tacos. There you’ll find Foxtail Coffee, the Courtesy, Bagel Bruno, The Ravenous Pig Brewing Co., and Kelly’s Homemade Ice Cream.
🐓 Itsa Chicken! Is a hot new chicken sandwich and fries concept that opened on the side of Whiskey Lou’s in the Milk District, right by Milkhouse and across from Sideward.
🍷 Pour Choice Taphouse boasts 50 taps of beers, cider, sake, seltzer, and wine and is new to the Mills 50 neighborhood.
🍸 The Neighbors is a neighborhood store and cocktail lounge located on the 2nd floor of @eastendmkt and is home to @camille.orl, a French-Vietnamese, multi-course tasting menu at an 8- seat Chef’s table. At The Neighbors, you can shop for local goods while drinking fun cocktails, enjoying live music and community.
🌭 Uncle Dendog’s is a food truck operation that pops up around town at places like Orlando Brewing, Wally’s Liquor, and Whippoorwill. It specializes in Korean-style hot dogs and globally inspired street food.
🇮🇹 North Italia does a good job of transporting you to Italy with its wood-fired pizzas, plates of pasta, and grilled branzino. It’s the first Orlando location for the Cheesecake Factory-owned Italian chain.
🍗 Chicken Guy! Is shaking things up in the former Winter Park Steak ‘n Shake as of Dec. 2, further solidifying that part of Orlando Ave as either the Chicken Strip or the Cock Block with all of its fried chicken offerings.
🍻 Gnarly Barley, a local’s favorite for good beer and tasty sammies, made the move from South Orlando earlier this year to Ivanhoe and officially opened to the public at the beginning of the month in its new location on the corner of Orange Ave and Virginia Drive.
🍵 Frosty Fox is officially serving boba tea, mocktails, gelato, and Hong Kong-style egg waffles in Baldwin Park. You can check it out for yourself at 4816 New Broad St.
🐓 bb.q Chicken is the latest chicken spot on the map here in Orlando. The Korean fried chicken restaurant chain opened in the former Tasty Wok space on East Colonial and dishes up traditional Korean fare and a mix of American sides.
As for the places that closed and left a gaping wound in a lot of Orlandoans’ hearts, here’s what we’ve got:
🍻 Finnhenry’s Public House’s closure likely came as a shock to many. The longtime downtown Orlando watering hole spent a good 12-13 years filling our proverbial cups before it shut down in July of this year.
🍕 Perla’s Pizza’s early success was more than admirable, it was downright astonishing. So when it closed six months into things, we were a little shocked. Then we learned co-owner and chef Christian Ziegler would be taking over the Ivanhoe spot, renaming it Ziggie’s Pizza, and keeping the menu, and all was okay with the world.
🍸 Cleo’s Lounge closed up shop in October, marking an end of an era for longtime Orlandoans. But word on the street is that the beloved downtown watering hole will get a facelift in the coming year and reopen as a different concept under new owners.
🎶 Soundbar, a stalwart of the downtown Orlando nightlife, closed its doors in November, citing a legal battle with its landlord. For former Backbooth fans and current Soundbar ones, the news felt like a kick in the gut.
A few other places on our radar that closed included: Menagerie Eatery & Bar in Thornton Park (the good news is that it was replaced by Rusteak), The Pharmacy speakeasy in the Dellagio Town Center in Dr. Phillips, Lombardi’s Seafood in Winter Park (it closed its café but is expanding its retail market and grab-and-go options), Dexter’s New Standard in the Ravaudage complex (it was a messy exit, but a new upscale Mexican restaurant is moving in), and Bubbalou’s shut down its Winter Park location after 35 years (but you can still order from its other two sites and the best news of all is that Pig Floyds will open a second location in its space).