BY LEON KONIECZNY
Sanford’s Historic Downtown has more award-winning, locally- owned food establishments than anywhere in the country — and maybe even the world, it would seem. This year’s presentation of the Best of Sanford 2018 awards made this a proven fact. As voted on by readers of My Sanford Magazine, the awards showcased the multitude of locally owned establishments that can be found in Sanford. When making your next selection for dining out, be sure to check out one (or more) of these award winners!
Winning one or more awards each year,the King of all is Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café (Best European Cuisine). Open over 18 years now and currently undergoing another expansion, “The Tree” (as locals know it) is a nationally recognized, award-winning German restaurant that draws people from all over. Hot on The Tree’s innovative cuisine tail is The Smiling Bison (Best Burger/Best Dining Experience). This establishment’s gastropub menu and craft cocktails have been drawing the attention of locals and area foodies alike for over three years now. Be sure to try their signature bison burger! Another creative winner in the foodie scene is The Tennessee Truffle. Best Chef Nat Russell delights with his gourmet southern cuisine and The Truffle is arguably the best Date Night place in town. If you go for breakfast, make sure to try the grits or the sausage gravy and biscuits. You can thank me later for that tip. Within easy walking distance is The District (Best Happy Hour). Try the happy hour fish tacos, they are fantastic, or the steak on the dinner menu — awesome.
These restaurants are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to award-winning options. Sanford boasts many great outdoor dining experiences. Chief among them is The Breezeway (Best Outdoor Dining), a place known not only for its ambience but also great food and wonderful sandwiches. Craving pizza? There are a number of great places downtown, but newly opened Mr. Z’s Sanford has been voted Sanford’s Best Pizza — and deservedly so. I suspect lots of folks voted for them due to their fabulous cheesesteaks, as well as for their late-night hours, 11 AM to midnight, 5 days a week (Wed-Sun). At the other end of the historic downtown area is Shantell’s Just Until… (Best Southern Cuisine). A local favorite for a number of years now, Shantell makes a to- die-for southern fried chicken and the collards are tops, bar none.
For those who like Mediterranean food, Zorba’s Greek Restaurant (Best Mediterranean Cuisine) has excellent Greek and Italian food. No wonder Sanfordites vote for them year after year. Have a hankering for some wings? West End Trading Co. (Best Wings), while primarily a bar, has the best wings around. Owner Paul Williams is very much deserving of his Sanford Promoter/Visionary award. Nary a month passes in Sanford without some event happening that Williams has envisioned, supported, and/or promoted.
For brunch, check out the Colonial Room diner (Best Place for Breakfast or Brunch). And let’s not forget about dessert. Wondermade (Best Place for Sweets) has you covered. Do you know that Wondermade holds the Guinness world record for the greatest number of people eating s’mores at one time? Not only a marshmallow place, they make their own ice cream, as evidenced by the lines in the summer evening. For coffee, head on over to The Palate (Best Place for Coffee, Tea, Juice, or Smoothies). As a bonus, know that all the profits at The Palate go toward fighting human trafficking, and they run on an all-volunteer staff. And finally, check out the ever-popular Corner Café, winner of Best Caterer award.
Now to be honest, there are some very good restaurants that are not in the downtown area, as chosen by our readers. Colorado’s Prime Steak (Best Steaks) has the best steak around. Chick-Fil-A (Best Sandwich) is always packed, and usually has a long drive-thru line for a reason. Ichico Ichie Buffet (Best Asian Cuisine) boasts a popular Asian buffet. Our readers give a big thumb’s up to Bahama Breeze for their Best Latin/Caribbean cuisine. And Miller’s Ale House was voted Best Sports Bar.
Sanford is fortunate to have a number of award-winning bars that also serve great food. Prime among them is Sanford Brewing Company (Best Brewery), and Buster’s Bistro (Best Overall Bar), both of which are very popular for their food as well as their drinks and entertainment. Buster’s also boasts Sanford’s Favorite Bartender, Percy JP Buster. The Alley (Best Live Entertainment) is known for its great live jazz, but is also attached to Fuel, a great place for real BBQ.
Sanford is a craft beer paradise, and the Best Beer Selection can be found at Celery City Craft — with over 51 options on tap. Not a beer drinker? Head over to Luisa’s Cellar, (Best Place to have a Glass of Wine). Ask for the password and visit their speakeasy, too. If a cocktail is more up your alley, head over to The Imperial (Best Place for Cocktails). And finally, the award for Best New Restaurant or Bar goes to Tuffy’s Bottle Shop & Lounge. With their huge outdoor area, it’s quickly becoming a Sanford favorite.
Not everyone can be a winner each and every year, but I challenge you to find a downtown eating (or drinking) establishment that has not won an award from the Best of Sanford Awards in the past three years. We are a downtown packed with award winners. With so many options, you cannot make a bad choice.
Leon Konieczny is a local Central Florida foodie and food blogger who’s been writing about Sanford and Seminole County area “good eats” restaurants for the past seven years. He’s big into eating at local mom ‘n’ pop shops where high quality ingredients, love, and a dose of home cooking make all the difference. While he occasionally eats at the big chains, he claims it’s only to remind him where a real quality dining experience lurks — in the small restaurants which are the heart and soul of every neighborhood and community.