Orlando is a city of neighborhoods; each with their own distinct character and appeal. To truly enjoy Orlando, venture off International Drive and explore the diversity of Orlando through its neighborhoods.
Centered on the intersection of Mills Avenue (SR 15) and Colonial Drive (SR 50) and affectionately called Little Saigon by locals. Described as Orlando’s intersection of culture and creativity, this hipster hub fosters a mix of artists, restaurants, businesses, specialty shops, markets and bars. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see larger-than-life surrealist graffiti and murals covering walls, dumpsters and electric boxes.
Dandelion Communitea Café– a vegetarian teahouse set in a historically refurbished and colorful, bungalow-style home. Check out the “Dandy” for nightly events and performances as well as monthly full- and new-moon parties and drum circles. http://dandelioncommunitea.com/
BART–A family-owned and operated beer bar, arcade and art gallery, BART is located in the heart of Orlando’s trendy Mills 50 district. A rotating variety of classic video arcade games are almost all free and include everything from Pac-Man to Frogger. The cozy storefront bar also features an impressive selection of craft beers and wine. http://bartcade.com/
Hawker’s Asian Street Fare—Their motto is “Eat the Streets”, featuring Asian style street vendor fare without leaving the neighborhood. http://eathawkers.com/
Mamak Asian Street Food– offers delicious dining, carryout and delivery to Orlando, FL. Mamak Asian Street Food is a cornerstone in the Orlando community and has been recognized for its outstanding Chinese cuisine, excellent service and friendly staff. http://www.mamakasianorlando.com/
Pho88 –the signature dish is rice noodles in a savory soup served with paper-thin slices of beef that cook the moment they hit the broth, and it’s served with stalks of fresh cilantro, basil, lemon wedges and fresh bean sprouts. Be sure to get a creamy iced coffee for dessert. Vietnamese Cuisine. http://www.pho88orlando.com/
Little Saigon– Little Saigon Restaurant’s dishes are made from the best ingredients, freshest meats, and vegetables. They have a delicious selection of unforgettable Vietnamese dishes: rice vermicelli, popular pho (rice noodle soups), chicken with lemon grass, fish with ginger sauce, shrimp with tamarind sauce, and so much more! Vietnamese Cuisine. http://www.littlesaigonrestaurant.com/
The Strand— The Strand was conceived as a small neighborhood restaurant featuring the “New Old,” contemporary interpretations of classic culinary fare. Seasonal dishes made from scratch, with daily Chef’s specials inspired by fresh ingredients. Craft beers and wines. http://strandorlando.com/
Pig Floyd’s Urban Barbakoa– a sleek, Latin/Caribbean-inspired place specializing in Barbacoa served in tacos or on rolls. http://www.pigfloyds.com/
Anthony’s Pizza –preparing Italian cuisine with the finest meats and cheeses, freshest ingredients, specially prepared dough and homemade sauces. http://anthonyspizza.com/
Tako Cheena– a hipster dive serving a delicious fusion of Korean and Mexican flavors wrapped inside tortillas. http://www.takocheenaorlando.com/
Bubbles and Ice– makes a huge range of sweet boba drinks (the bubbles are chewy rounds of tapioca), and shaved ice with exotic toppings such as sweet red bean, coconut or fresh tropical fruit. https://www.facebook.com/bubblesandice
Will’s Pub– This neighborhood bar is one of the Sunshine State’s most established live music venues and an anchor of the Orlando’s creative district. Conveniently connected to Will’s Pub, Lil Indies is an intimate, cozy, non-smoking speakeasy serving craft beer, wine and cocktails perfect for conversations, dates and parties. http://www.willspub.org/
Located in the heart of Downtown Orlando, the Church Street District is home to an eclectic mix of world class dining, professional sports, live entertainment, night spots, theater and Orlando’s award winning Amway Center.
Amway Center—An entertainment metroplex—major events during ALA Annural, June 24—Orlando Predators Vs. Tampa Bay Storm, June 25—Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas, June 30—Justin Bieber. www.amwaycenter.com
Music— Beecham Theatre /The Social — This is the place to go downtown to see the most current and up-and-coming indie bands. http://www.thebeacham.com/
Mad Cow Theatre– With a passion for both classic and contemporary plays, this professional theater company presents compelling works for a wide range of audiences. Avenue Q will be playing during the week of ALA Annual Conference! http://www.madcowtheatre.com/
Dr. Phillips Center– Named by Travel + Leisure magazine as “World’s Coolest New Tourist Attractions 2015” and among their “Best Places to Travel in 2015,” the two-block downtown destination includes the 2,700-seat Walt Disney Theater, 300-seat Alexis & Jim Pugh Theater, Seneff Arts Plaza, Dr. Phillips Center Florida Hospital School of Arts & Wellness, the DeVos Family Room, and other event rental spaces. This state-of-the-art acoustical theater in downtown Orlando and sets the stage for Broadway shows, the Orlando Ballet and the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra. http://www.drphillipscenter.org/
Artisan’s Table– Serves creative American dishes accompanied by a craft cocktail & coffee bar.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served every day with happy hour all day in the bar. Menus are every-changing and always inspired by the freshest seasonal ingredients. http://www.artisanstableorlando.com/
Ceviche Tapas Bar and Restaurant– In the Catalan tradition, friends linger over signature sangria, aged Spanish wine and creative cocktails to splurge on tasty tapas, authentic paella offerings and decadent desserts. Ceviche is the original tapas restaurant in the region. More than 50 tapas dishes, so there’s sure to be a favorite for everyone at the table. http://www.ceviche.com/orlando/
Rusty Spoon — The Rusty Spoon was voted the ‘best farm to table’ restaurant hands down, and critics even credit Blake for being famous for that ‘farm to table’ tagline long before it was cool. The Blake’s focus continues to be on locally sourced food, simply prepared, in a comfortable environment. A very beloved chef among the locals, Blake is also a 2013 and 2015 James Beard Award Nominee, Best Chef South, 2013 Best Chefs America Southern Region, and nominated for both Golden Whisk and Community Service Awards by Women Chefs & Restauranteurs. http://www.therustyspoon.com/
Kres Chop House– The present and past pair beautifully at Kres Chophouse, a classic, top tier Steakhouse with a modern eclectic flair. This premier Steakhouse embodies the heart of Orlando’s historic district, featuring chic and elegant décor within the striking architecture of a 1930’s landmark. A thoughtful layout with luxurious banquettes and private dining options create an intimate dining atmosphere. http://www.kresrestaurant.com/
One 80 Grey Goose Lounge –This Amway Center rooftop lounge affords fantastic views of the skyline and serves up great specials on Grey Goose cocktails along with a DJ and a hot crowd. http://www.180downtown.com/
Latitudes –Orlando’s largest roof top bar situated high above historic Church Street in downtown. The relaxing and tropical atmosphere makes Latitudes the perfect place to party year round in Orlando. The large wooden planks that make the floor of Latitudes and the lush tropical plants situated throughout give the venue a tropical atmosphere. The walls of Latitudes are comprised of the tall buildings that surround it and the roof is the beautiful Central Florida sky. Latitudes is well known as Orlando’s venue for classic alternative, Top 40 and party songs. http://www.churchstreetbars.com/latitudes
Big Belly– Originally a speakeasy during prohibition, this venue is still a favorite watering hole with a wide selection of craft beer, multiple TV screens and a dance floor. Big Belly is located on the second floor between Chillers and Latitudes. It is rumored that J.E. Nicholson and Bernard Dreyfus ran a speak-easy in 1922 above their then-clothing store. Their secret bar was codenamed “Bernie’s Buffet Club”, and it was situated within the same walls that Big Belly now occupies. J.E. Nicholson was known to be fond of beer and his catch phrase was “belly up” when inviting friends out for a pint. http://www.churchstreetbars.com/big-belly
Vandy Pacetti-Donelson is a Library Media Specialist. She is a Florida Native, library advocate and Board Director for the Florida Association for Media in Education (FAME). Find her online at www.eliterateandlevelingup.com or follow her on Twitter @VandyPD.