Downtown Orlando may be the heart of our metropolis, but some of The City Beautiful’s soul is just an arm’s throw away. Two lively neighborhoods north of downtown ─ Mills50 and Ivanhoe Village ─ each offer tons of hotspots. So, get yourself elbow to elbow with hip Orlandoans slurping up pho, feasting on late night tapas and devouring Lao street food!
Geographically named after its busy intersection of Mills (17-92) and State Road 50 (Colonial Drive), Mills50 is an artsy district brought to life by overlapping cultures and eclectic storefronts. The foundation includes Asian-inspired establishments, some of which set up shop in Orlando following the Vietnam War. These multi-generational, family-run businesses remain celebrated, as do new arrivals adding to the diverse yet unified district.
A leader among Orlando’s farm-to-table scene, The Strand is a hip restaurant with a quaint and intimate setting. Serving lunch and dinner, The Strand is a family-owned scratch kitchen with a rotating beer and wine menu. Sit at the bar and spark up conversation with the owner, or sink into the calming mint-green mid-century interior amid indoor plants and savor a New American meal. Embracing the Mills50 mentality, The Strand aims to bring people together over memorable experiences and good food.
Dandelion Community Café operates out of a lovely 1920’s bungalow that’s been transformed into a green sanctuary catering to vegan and vegetarian diners. This earthy eatery lights up the outskirts of Mills50 with its colorful exterior and flourishing community garden. Enjoy a healthy, homemade (and homegrown) lunch in cozy nooks starting with the Whirled Peas and Chips. Dandelion is also a gathering place for Orlando’s holistic community of poets, musicians and artists. Join in on drum circles, full moon parties, poetry slams and spoken word nights for a funky local experience.
Baos are a Northern Chinese snack made with a steamed rice bun stuffed with savory fillings. Bringing baos into the 21st century, the King Bao menu blends Eastern and Western influences, adding a dash of Floridian flair. You’ll find addictive flavors like Korean short-rib, firecracker Florida shrimp, kimchi fried chicken and fresh-from-the-coast lobster!
Tucked between Thailand and Vietnam is an unassuming Southeast Asian country called Laos. Similarly, Sticky Rice Lao Street Food is tucked away, hidden among the throng of East Asian eateries in Orlando’s Mills50 district. Approach the menu like ordering tapas and sample a variety of small dishes such as mango sticky rice, pork tapioca dumplings and sticky street wings. You can order the entire menu for under $70 if you’re dining with a group and feeling famished! Embrace the culture by eating with your hands… ball up the rice with your fingers and dip it into house-made chili sauces.
An Orlando staple for over 15 years, Black Bean Deli is the go-to spot for traditional Cuban fare like Ropa Vieja, Masitas de Puerco and, of course, an unforgettable Cuban sandwich. Enjoy a scrumptious empanada on the bright and airy mid-century patio or tuck inside for a beans and rice feast that’ll leave you satisfied all day long.
Take Cheena’s menu is best described as Pan-Asian flavors donning a Mexican disguise. Burritos and tacos are on the menu but reimagined with robust fillings like Tom Yum Mojo Shrimp or Thai Peanut Chicken. Also consider the Hot Dawgs, featuring unique toppings like avocado-wasabi and pickled daikon. Cultures collide beautifully at this Day-of-The-Dead decorated eatery.
Wine on tap? Cheers to that! Stop into Quantum Leap Winery for a glass or flight. This environmentally-friendly winery reuses kegs that hold the equivalent of 26 bottles. At the facility, wine is stored, finished, blended, packaged and, of course, drank.
Ten10 Brewing Company offers 13 beers on tap. If you’re looking for a one-and-done go-to, opt for The Harder They Fall, an 11% ABV imperial sweet stout. Most of Ten10’s brews can be taken home in a growler or crowler. This small brewery also carries wine from their neighbor, Quantum Leap Winery.
Every Tuesday evening, the Ten10 Run Club starts and ends at the brewery. Beer has been praised as a decent post-exercise recovery drink. So maybe that’s what inspired the Ten10 Run Club to pour out 2-mile, 5k and 10k routes along the Orlando Urban Trail. Quantum Leap Winery also hosts events including Wine Down nights featuring live music, plus specialty functions like art shows, fundraisers and private parties.
For something a bit less structured, take a leisure walk on the Mills50 strip to discover the murals and street art that speckle the district. Best known for its painted utility boxes, Mills50 has adopted an artsy look thanks to a call for artists commissioned by the city. The boxes are painted by locals and reflect the sense of community that characterizes this neighborhood. The project is ongoing, so new art is always at every corner. Plan to also see what’s hanging on the walls at Snap! Space, a contemporary art gallery which features works from notable Florida photographers and portraitists.
Just as beautiful and just off the beaten path of 17-92, spend an afternoon exploring the botanical alcoves of Harry P. Leu Gardens. Find quiet, shaded corners within this sprawling jungle oasis perfect for a picnic. Or, on date night with love in bloom, attend an outdoor movie screening or concert.
Shake things up by peppering in a salty self-care treatment at the Salt Room. Or pamper yourself at the Barefoot Spa along Virginia Drive, offering personalized massage and restorative facial treatments in relaxing, nature-inspired quarters.
IVANHOE VILLAGE DISTRICT
Shouldering up to Mills50 is yet another funky ‘hood know as Ivanhoe Village. Famous for its antiques and walkable European-style waterfront promenade, this charming main street encourages ambling. With views of Lake Ivanhoe, you may want to stay awhile and book a room at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Orlando Downtown. This property has a heated rooftop pool and lounge deck, a Starbucks café, a breakfast buffet and shuttle service to the Amway Center and Orlando City Soccer Stadium.
First open nearly 30 years ago as an antique shop, White Wolf Cafe & Bar is pretty much the anchor of this progressing section of Orange Avenue. Come for any meal of the day but, when brunching, the crab cake benedict is a must-have dish. However, Hammered Lamb takes the cake for best brunch beverage thanks to its DIY Blood Mary bar.
Do you ever find yourself reminiscing about that one summer you spent in Barcelona, drinking sangria, noshing on croquetas and getting lost in conversation late into the night? Recreate this Spanish experience by snagging a table at Santiago’s Bodega. Amid a Gaudi-inspired interior with stained glass windows and custom woodwork, you’ll feel at home in high back chairs while you sample composed small plates. If you’re lucky enough to snag a coveted patio table, order a bottle and people watch the Orlandoans embarking on a cocktail crawl. Other restaurant spots in Ivanhoe Village include The Greek Corner, Mesa 21, Sette and Ta-Ke Sushi Bar.
For dessert, expect an orgasmic experience at Better than Sex. This dessert-only hotspot heats things up with boldly titled cocktails and sweets, like Between My Red Velvet Sheets Cheesecake. This dish is made of red velvet cheesecake, a double chocolate cookie dough crust and cream cheese frosting. A glass of vino is anything but ordinary, especially when you order Berry Naughty, a Malbec served in a semi-sweet chocolate-rimmed glass topped with raspberry sugar.
Exotic furniture boutique by day and moody bohemian bar by night, The Imperial is a distinctive place to wind down with a drink in hand. The eclectic gallery features unique pieces like Balinese four-post beds, Indian teak loungers and ornate hand-carved Southeast Asian patio fixtures. Wander among the jungle of funky goods and find the perfect eccentric corner to tuck into with a wine or beer and charcuterie board.
Ivanhoe Park Brewing Company gives nod to the neighborhood’s history with their Florida craft beers cheekily named after the recreation park Joyland, which once lit up the shores of Lake Ivanhoe in the early 20th century. The brewery features year-round drinkables like a blonde, whit and an American IPA, while offering seasonal small-batch brews that keep locals coming back for another round. Keep a keen eye on their calendar of events for trivia nights, guest food trucks and indie markets.
More libations can be found at Ivanhoe Craft Bar and Packy, The Lucky Lure and M Lounge.
Orlando’s cultural corridor lives in the Ivanhoe Village District. This includes the Mennello Museum of American Art, Orlando Museum of Art and Orlando Shakespeare Theater. By day, the Orlando Science Center is an out-of-this-world family attraction but, by night, adults-only themed events like Science Night Live spark wonder. Speaking of adults only, The Venue presents a one-of-a-kind, high-brow burlesque show.
With so much food and beverage consumed, be sure to work up a sweat and burn calories during Orlando’s biggest group bicycle ride, Critical Mass. On the last Friday of every month, cyclists of all levels meet at Loch Haven Park at 6 pm for a mass 8-mile trek through Downtown Orlando. Decked out bicycles are encouraged, as are good vibes that contribute to the community atmosphere. This event attracts hundreds each month; children and pets on wheels are welcome.