Head to OBTown in Oakland for authentic Korean fried chicken

When you tell a fellow American that you lived abroad in Seoul, South Korea they usually ask a few questions about kimchi, bulgogi, and bibimbap and whether you visited North Korea or ate dog…but most people in the United States are comfortably unaware that some of the best fried chicken in the world is made in South Korea. Boy are they missing out.

Example: Korean fried chicken (KFC) chain Bonchon is quickly eclipsing Kentucky Fried Chicken (insert irony), but even Bonchon can’t compare to the local friend chicken establishments. It doesn’t surprise me though.

Chicken and beer restaurants are some of the hottest concepts in Seoul and charge premium prices for quality chicken, pickled radish, potato wedges, and beer. Craft beer’s growing popularity in Seoul has also brought new pubs that are pairing the beers with specialty chicken such as Brew 3.15 Korean Fried Chicken and Craft Beer by popular Seoul Eats blogger Daniel Gray. Luckily, there are options inside the San Francisco Bay Area that can be enjoyed.

OBTown or Oriental BBQ Town in Oakland, California serves some of the most authentic Korean fried chicken that I have enjoyed since leaving South Korea. The restaurant doesn’t like anything special from the inside and the inside blasts Korean Pop songs from the early 2010s including many I loved while studying abroad at Yonsei University.

One of my friends who I dined with regularly in Seoul introduced me to OBTown and I make it a point to head there every single time I visit California. The chicken is moist and succulent. KFC is double-fried and cooked to perfection. Secret recipes of seasonings vary from establishment to establishment but these chickens are not dry or plain. The only restaurants that compare are in Duluth or Koreatown in Georgia (I’m sure L.A. probably also has some good choices).

You’ll want to share with a friend as most Korean food is made for group dining (something Americans often ignore when they dine at Korean restaurants).

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Spontaneous post-exam fooding last night 🍗

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The Korean name is called Yang Nyum Chicken (양념 치킨) and can come spicy, sweet & spicy, or plain. Personally, I enjoy every type of Korean Friend Chicken but your preferences can certainly be satisfied. The various chicken dishes will run you back about $20.

The really great thing about Korean Fried Chicken is that it can be paired with almost any food and still taste great so feel free to also order from the other plentiful Korean options on the menu or just order more chicken because it is truly incredible. I do recommend a Korean lager beer with it such as CASS to wash it down.

OBTown has a late-night happy hour from 9PM to 11:30PM that is also a MUST.

Do yourself a favor and get to OBTown in Oakland as soon as possible for some excellent Korean Fried Chicken and you will be hooked. You will not regret it.

Restaurant Name: OBTown (Oriental BBQ Chicken Town)

Cuisine: Korean, Fried Chicken

Neighborhood: Rockridge, North Oakland

Address: 6101 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, CA 94609

Phone Number: (510) 595-5338

Cost:$$

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Eating Cubans in San Francisco: Isla Vida

I was born and lived in San Francisco until I was 8 years old. During my childhood Caribbean restaurants were far and between. Caribbean culture in general was mostly hidden from public view.

Most food media was limited back then as well since it was the 1990s and media did not have the multicultural voices of today. My exposure to Caribbean cuisine growing up was mostly from home cooking until we moved to Florida where it thrives.

Now that I am back in San Francisco I see a number of restaurants taking root in the direction of this food and I welcome it.

Today I decided to check out Isla Vida (Island Life) after finishing an article about The International Cuban Sandwich Festival and making myself crave a Cuban nearly 3,000 miles from home. Isla Vida has a Miami-like vibe to its interior with floral features (without the house music) although there is still room for growth in the interior. It has only been around for a few months.

The menu is fairly simple with Cuban and Jamaican influences and Isla Vida proudly refers to itself as Afro-Caribbean. The signature items are the smoked chicken and sandwiches as well as the Guava BBQ Ribs.

The restaurant is fast-casual but feels similar to a sit-down restaurant. If it was in South Florida, there would be a DJ inside spinning music, but the playlist was pretty enjoyable regardless.

Chef and Co-Owner, Jay Foster, and Co-Owner, Matthew Washington, are one of the only black business owners in the Fillmore which is a historically black neighborhood once called “Harlem of the West”, according to KQED.

There are many recent cases of chefs and restaurateurs moving into specific neighborhoods throughout the country and world with a mission to enrich them with history and culture in the last few years, a renaissance of a past when immigrants and minority groups formed powerful neighborhoods filled with music, art, and food. Food is a powerful way to create change. That is the San Francisco I remember as a kid.

I went for the Cuban Sandwich or Cubano ($13) as they call it. The Cuban Sandwich is originally from Tampa so I wanted to compare and contrast how people in San Francisco are enjoying their Cubans compared to my home city.

The Cuban Sandwich at Isla Vida comes with oven-roasted and wood-fired pork, ham, manchego, mustard, and a pickle on bread and comes with a helping of mixed greens, dressing, and shoestring fries.

The first thing I noticed is that the sandwich does not have salami. Salami is included in a traditional Cuban in Tampa due to influences from Italian immigrants that goes back to the 1800s and a is a foundation of the sandwich. Although I did find myself missing my salami, I was quite happy with the additions added by the chef.

The second thing I noticed is the swap of dijon mustard which is something that might have people from Tampa fuming, but for me the dijon mustard worked really with the smoked pork stacked on top of the sandwich. The swap of Swiss cheese for Manchego wasn’t noticeable in my opinion due to the bold flavors throughout the sandwich.

I admit that I am much more open-minded than some of my fellow diners in the East Coast who expect their roots to be maintained exactly that way, but to me food is always evolving and chefs should be respected for taking risks and rewarded when it works well.

Isla Vida Cubano or Cuban Sandwich with smoked pork.

One of the biggest differences is the addition smoked pork. Isla Vida is not the first place to use smoked pork in the country, however restaurants in Tampa move towards pulled pork as a topping on their Cuban. The smoked pork really worked on Isla Vida’s Cuban and it has a very unique and flavorful finish that is perfect when you hit the aftertaste of ham, mustard, and crunchy bread as you take each bite.

The only thing I would add is more ham to the sandwich to better balance the smoked pork, it is great but personally I would add more ham to taste it more.

The smoked pork almost made me want Guava BBQ sauce on my sandwich, but I feel I would have completely betrayed my sandwich and roots if I fully entertained that so I ruled against it.

Fries at Isla Vida

The portion size was generous. I could have easily have split the sandwich with someone and ordered some more sides, but I hardly can ever finish a Cuban in general. Your mileage may vary. The salad and fries were plentiful.

I would like to try the tostones and maduros in someday to see how they line up to my experiences. Isla Vida is also offering brunch and I am interested in giving that a shot in the future as well.

Hopefully they also add some cocktails in the future as that would be a major add. I also found myself craving a Cafe con Leche with my sandwich and I think it would be a powerful addition to the menu if done right.

I will return to Isla Vida in the future for more food and am happy to recommend it as a former judge to the International Cuban Sandwich Festival.

Isla Vida San Francisco

Restaurant Name: Isla Vida

Cuisine: Caribbean, Cuban, Jamaican

Neighborhood: Fillmore

Address: 1325 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115

Phone Number: (415) 678-5171

Website: http://www.islavidasf.com

Cost: $$

Menu: http://www.islavidasf.com/#menu

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/islavida.415/

Instagram: @islavidasf

Twitter: @islavidasf

Jubao Palace Noodle Bar at Hard Rock Tampa

Full disclosure: I was invited to Jubao Palace Noodle Bar at Seminole Hard Rock & Hotel Tampa for a complimentary meal tasting in exchange for my opinion. These opinions are my own and do not reflect Seminole Hard Rock & Hotel Tampa.

Thai Tea is my favorite and probably one of the main reasons why I go to Jubao Palace. The one at Jubao tastes as authentic as you’ll find at the best places in town including The Wat Thai Temple. Totally worth it and delicious.

As if that wasn’t enough, we had Vietnamese coffee as well. Vietnamese coffee is guaranteed to keep you up at night when you need cram. I’ll warn that the caffeine dose is high. It’s delicious though and I highly recommend it.

What would Asian food be without fried rice? The fried rice at Jubao Palace is completely filling and a great option if you need to fill up before having a few drinks and hitting the slots. One thing I appreciate is that it isn’t too salty, some places go overboard with soy sauce.

All the starters at Jubao are delicious, but the favorite of the evening is The Spicy Garlic Cucumber dish. This one I highly recommend. It is has a nice finish with red pepper flakes.

My favorite thing on the menu? The pork belly! The pork belly is crispy and delicious. My friend Natalie Kass who has lived in Macau as an English teacher said it is comparable to her experiences abroad in Macau and China.

It’s a generous portion so you may want to share and order some appetizers with it. The duck is also excellent and made traditionally. The chef has plenty of experience in local Chinese cuisine and has worked at big names around town.

For those of you that like noodles. Jubao has pho and a variety of different styles of soups that you can enjoy. Broths are rich and filled with flavor. Personally, I can never finish my soup – but I know many people who can down this in minutes. The portion is larger than some Vietnamese places around town.

We topped it all off with some noodles which was probably much more than I can handle, but still quite delicious.

The best part about Jubao is that it is open late! You can grab your Asian fix well into the wee hours of the morning and there is almost nowhere else in town that you can do that. Most Asian restaurants in Tampa close by 10PM or 11PM at the latest. Jubao is open til 4AM and sometimes 5AM on the weekends.

Overall, Jubao has a good-sized menu of Chinese and Vietnamese food. There is much more seating space now that they added a whole new wing to it and it was much needed as the place is constantly busy with customers.

Now when you get that late-night craving, you’ll remember this post and go on over for your fix at Jubao Palace Noodle Bar.

Restaurant Name: Jubao Palace Noodle Bar

Cuisine: Chinese, Vietnamese

Address: 5223 N. Orient Rd., Tampa, FL 33610

Cost: $$

Phone Number: (866) 388-4263

Menu: http://bit.ly/2D6ckIK

Website: http://www.seminolehardrocktampa.com/tampa-contemporary-dining.htm

Restaurant News: Sparkman Wharf now open

Image via Strategic Property Partners

Sparkman Wharf is now open in the latest Water Street Tampa completion.  I had the pleasure of going to a blogger preview this Tuesday of the new food destination. 

After visiting I can say it is more of an outdoor food hall with multiple vendors selling different kinds of food and drinks. 

Continue reading “Restaurant News: Sparkman Wharf now open”

Review: Amy’s Organic Soups Golden Lentil Indian Dal

I have been shopping for some new soups lately and came across Amy’s Organic Soups Golden Lentil Indian Dal. I found the soup at Sprout’s Farmers Market on-sale for about $2.50 per can.

I was really surprised with how great the flavors were in this soup.

You can really taste the organic tomatoes, organic carrots, and organic red lentils and it isn’t spicy besides a little organic black pepper. I have a bit of spice sensitivity and I was just fine with this soup. The ingredients tasted rich and full of flavor. It tasted savory and I gobbled it down.

Many store-bought soups are too watery and that wasn’t my experience with this product.

I would recommend getting some Naan bread or pita bread on the side. This soup would pair well with any dish and was quite filling on its own. The soup also has no trans fat and like the rest of their line is Non-GMO as well as gluten-free, dairy-free, lactose-free, soy-free, corn-free, tree-nut free, vegan, and kosher. Their cans have non-BPA lining too.

The sodium level is 56% of your daily value or 1,360 milligrams with 2 servings or 1 can so if you’re watching your salt intake this soup may not be for you unless you’re going to balance the rest of your diet out. It is low sugar with only about 6 grams in a can.

I recommend Amy’s Organic Soups Golden Lentil Indian Dal. Great flavor and quality for the price.

Sabor A Cuba – Excellent Cafe con Leche and Cubans

I visited Miami a few weeks ago and have been craving a Cafe con Leche since then. I asked around and tried some recommendations such as La Segunda and Bodega, but neither of them had that bold coffee that I grew to like during my trip in Miami.

During my visit last weekend to Dunedin for ice cream my sister’s husband suggested Sabor A Cuba.

Sabor A Cuba is a little house on the north side of Downtown Dunedin that sells Cuban cigars, coffee, and sandwiches. The owners give you that mom and pop vibe. No pretentiousness. I knew I was going to need to have a coffee the minute we stepped inside.

The Cafe Con Leche? Excellent. Bold coffee flavors going down my throat. I had a nice rush of energy right afterwards and the Cuban Sandwich? I LOVED it. This isn’t a Tampa Cuban Sandwich, but Miami style (no salami folks). I understand that some people in Tampa will not appreciate that, but I am a man that enjoys the variety in life.

What makes a good Cuban Sandwich to me? It’s not a specific thing inside the sandwich, but the combination of everything together. When you take a bite there should be crunch and as the ingredients move around in your mouth, you should feel some happiness and pleasure on your taste buds. This Cuban did that.

The sandwich will run you $8, but it’s a purchase I would make in the future again.

If you haven’t stopped by Sabor A Cuba, I recommend giving them some love. They regularly have live music outside and this is the real deal.

Restaurant: Sabor A Cuba

Cuisine: Coffee, Sandwiches

Neighborhood: Dunedin

Address: 828 Highland Ave., Dunedin, FL 34698

Phone: (727) 238-5368

Cost: $

Website: http://www.saboracubainc.com

Ice & Cream Creamery – delicious scoops in Dunedin

Yesterday I visited an ice cream shop with my family in Dunedin that was truly phenomenal called Ice & Cream Creamery. They have a few locations on Clearwater Beach and Madeira Beach for those of you hitting the sand this summer.

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The shop is beautiful on the inside and feels like a blast to the past. The shop features 36 premium flavors from sherberts and sugar-free ice creams to candy-filled sweet spots. Some of the flavors include watermelon sorbet, pistachio, sugar free mint chip, key lime sherbet, and butterscotch bomb.

According to their signage they are committed to fresh and local ingredients and are a big community player with a focus on the local arts.  We were promptly greeted upon entering and proceeded to enter the line and make our move for ice cream.

My favorite ice cream flavor is chocolate chip cookie dough. I wasn’t in the mood for a scoop so I asked for a root beer float and it was excellent.

They stacked the cup all the way with ice cream and gave me the whole can of soda to take with me. You could really taste the quality in the ice cream, it was very creamy and also the cookie dough and chocolate chips were plentiful and tasty.

I would really recommend giving this place a try if you find yourself in Dunedin or their sister store on Clearwater Beach.

Milkshakes are hand-spun so that might be a future option for me if I’m in the area.

We caught the sunset at the Dunedin Pier nearby afterwards and it was a beautiful evening.

Restaurant Name: Ice & Cream Creamery

Neighborhood: Dunedin

Address: 200 Main St. #109, Dunedin, FL 34698

Phone Number: (727) 223-8742

Cost: $

Website: http://www.iceandcream.com

Terra Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse serves excellent meat

Full disclosure: I was invited to Terra Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse for a complimentary tasting in exchange for my opinion. Any opinions displayed here are my own and do not represent Terra Gaucha. 

Brazilian Steakhouse concepts have had mixed success in Tampa Bay. Boizao disappeared one day without an explanation. Texas de Brazil has managed to be successful elsewhere on Boy Scout Boulevard. Now, Terra Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse is open on South Dale Mabry in a former GrillSmith location.

My experience at Texas de Brazil when I’ve visited was nothing to write home about. The meat is plentiful, but extremely salty and sometimes completely dry. I’m happy to report that is not the case at Terra Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse. I visited for a tasting this week and was impressed with what I found.

I brought along a friend who lived in Brazil for a year as my point of reference and she agreed that this is perhaps one of the most authentic experiences she has had since she left Brazil.

Our favorite meat cut during our visit was the Picanha or beef sirloin-cap. It was so juicy and flavorful. The perfect taste in your mouth.

The close second was the Linguiça or pork sausage. This is usually not my favorite dish, but I enjoyed it quite a bit at Terra Gaucha. I was a big fan of the Cordeiro or lamb, but lamb is certainly one of those things that isn’t for everyone.

terra1

Like most Brazilian steakhouse concepts servers come around and cut meat tableside. You use something called a “brasa card” to indicate if you want food or not. Red means stop and green means go. The servers constantly flood the floor with food and you can get full just watching them cut the meat.

The buffet bar or salad bar as some might call it has numerous options for diners including bacon, prosciutto, cheeses, soups, and more. Personally I try to focus on the meat when I go to Brazilian steakhouses so I can get the best bang for my buck, but I know that will vary for some people. I can report that the bacon was delicious.

Terra Gaucha is doing many things right. The cuts of meat were all great quality, flavored just right, not too salty. The service staffed was prompt and attentive, I observed the other tables and watched the servers regularly checking on customers around me.

The cocktail menu was great and I loved my Caipirinha which is Brazil’s national cocktail made with cachaça, sugar and lime. Good cachaça is a little difficult to come by in Tampa and I was delighted to find that the cocktail at Terra Gaucha was up to par. The rest of the cocktail menu looked good and the wine list was extensive.

It’s easy to get stuffed beyond control at these kinds of all-you-can-eat spots, but we paced ourselves and I felt just right at the end of the meal.

For dessert I had the Papaya Creme dish which is a throwback to the 90s in Brazil. The classic dessert was refreshing after a meal filled with meat and tasted almost like yogurt, which reminded me of the little yogurt drinks I have when I finish chowing down on some Korean BBQ.

My friend ordered a Creme Brulee and enjoyed her dessert. It was light and airy. Not super sugary, but just enough for my palate.

Bossanova music was playing in the background on the speakers and I liked that.

One thing that could be improved at Terra Gaucha is the decor of the restaurant and ambiance in the dining room. Brazilian steakhouses are not cheap affairs and will easily run you $50 per person at dinner and the dining room inside Terra Gaucha didn’t match that kind of spending level.

The restaurant was mostly casual, which can be a plus for people who like that, but I think people dining in this area expect a little more. Decor is not a hard thing to improve though, the entrance is beautiful (as pictured above and below) and the bar is also nicely setup. Perhaps some lighting changes and something around the tables would change the vibe some.

I think adding some live music on the weekends would be a plus, maybe some Samba music or Bossanova cover artists.

Terra Gaucha has excellent food and I would really like to go here in the future for a meal again. I think its a great place to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, or have a business meeting and that the food is truly unique in this area.

The bar has a daily happy hour on weekdays with $5 Caipirinha cocktails so I know I will be returning for that no matter what.

Restaurant name: Terra Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse

Cuisine: Brazilian Steakhouse

Neighborhood: South Tampa

Address: 1108 S. Dale Mabry Hwy., Tampa, FL 33629

Phone Number: (813) 999-4332

Price: $$$

Website: http://www.terragaucha.net

Prost Kitchen is Tampa’s best new restaurant

After a few visits to Prost, I am happy to say that Prost Kitchen + Bar is Tampa’s best new restaurant.

The owners of Prost have shown a true dedication to quality food and drinks. Out of all the restaurants in Tampa, Prost is showing strong promise and dedication to providing a great experience for customers.

The story behind Prost is an interesting one that starts with a college bar called The Study. The owner there and his roommates decided that they would open a restaurant with some of the money he made on that venture. After heading to Germany for research, they found a great cook and made plans to open Prost Kitchen on Bearss Avenue.

It isn’t the most sophisticated neighborhood in town, being located smack dab between New Tampa and USF’s University Area. Don’t let that stop you though, there is plenty of parking in their parking lot and ample seats both inside and outside Prost.

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Image Credit: @prosttampa

The menu is obviously inspired by Germany, but also features modern American cuisine and the burgers are a MUST. I had the Maple-Bourbon Burger on my first visit and was blown away by the quality and attention to detail that Prost uses. It features bourbon bacon jam, cheddar cheese, a fried egg, and hash-brown served on a pretzel bun.

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So this past weekend I decided to visit @prosttampa for a bite to eat. I kept seeing friends check-in there and I couldn’t tell if it was hype or the real deal. This restaurant was great. Truly quality food and service. Everything from the pretzel bun to the quality of the beef and the egg inside were all perfect in this Maple-Bourbon Burger ($12). The tavern chips were excellent. Shoutout to Bourbon Bacon Jam! This might be my new favorite restaurant in Tampa and the price wasn’t ridiculously high either – I actually am wishing I lived by USF again just so could come here more…well sorta haha. #carloseats #tampa #burgers #foodies #tampabayfoodies #tbeatsout #hiddentampa #choosetampa #igerstampa #usf #university #newrestaurants #food #tampaflorida

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Let me start by saying the burger was cooked exactly as requested. The fried egg was cooked to perfection – no burnt edges. All the toppings enhanced the burger instead of distracting from it.

The meat quality in the burger was above your typical burger joint. Eggs on burgers are always messy, but this was a good messy and the incredible pretzel bun did not suffer at all from the ingredients moving around inside of it.

Oh and the tavern chips and beer cheese served with it? Completely delicious. The cost? Only $12. Oh so worth it.

It was during this visit that I met the bar manager who comes up with their cocktails and drink menu. He has put lots of thought and emphasis into their bar selection. It is far above your typical college bar list and they offer a cocktail flight every month that is centered around a certain country. During this visit they were doing Britain so there was a butter beer cocktail on the list made with vodka.

Their craft beer list is quite solid as well and they made sure to source some German beer. It isn’t quite the caliber of Mr. Dunderbak’s, but maybe there is an opportunity there for a collaboration?

One thing I’ll say is Prost still has lots of room to grow with the growing beer and bartender community we have in Tampa.

My next visit was for Taco Tuesday where Prost offers deals on tacos and 2-4-1 Margaritas. The tacos were far from traditional, but were still delicious, savory, and packed with ingredients.

Prost offers deals most days of the week obviously understanding their college student base. This is a good thing for everyone though – Tampa isn’t the highest paying city in the world and a good deal is always a great way to try something.

$8 bottomless mimosas on the weekends and a brunch menu also are not a bad thing. I still need to make a visit for that.

On my most recent visit I tried the Jager Schnitzel. You can’t really review a German business without trying their actual German food. The schnitzel was excellent. There was no dryness to it and the mushrooms and gravy topping were great.

The price was still fair compared to other German spots in town.

The attention to quality has been clear on ever one of my visits to Prost. I am happy to say that it is the best new restaurant in Tampa. If you haven’t been to visit yet, you should be making plans soon.

Restaurant name: Prost Kitchen + Bar

Neighborhood: USF, New Tampa

Address: 2802 E. Bearss Ave., Tampa, FL 33613

Phone Number: (813) 466-5249

Website: http://www.prostkitchen.com

Inay’s Kitchen serves delicious Filipino Cuisine in West Orlando

Filipino food is one of my all-time favorite cuisines. The mixture of Asian and Spanish cuisine speaks to me. Unfortunately, Filipino food is not too popular in Florida and has experienced much difficulty catching on in Tampa Bay. I saw Inay’s Kitchen opened in Orlando and bookmarked it a few weeks ago.

I finally made it over today. The restaurant is a mom-and-pop dive that clearly is family-run. They have a small cafeteria-like setup in the back. You can order 2 meats and a side for $10.99, but I opted for 1 meat and a side for $6.99 (Filipino food is filling). An order of Shanghai Lumpia was added on for $2. I can’t pass that up. My friend also ordered the pancit noodles.

The server brought out our food fresh and warm and we dug in. The lechon kawali (crispy fried pork belly) was perfectly crispy on the skin and was incredibly juicy. It beat out any other business I have eaten at in Tampa Bay or Orlando so far. We enjoyed it with some Mang Tomas sauce which is similar to a gravy sauce and available upon request.

The shanghai lumpia was perfectly rolled and delicious. The pancit was flavorful and not dry at all. This restaurant was a really simple setup and nothing complex was going on inside, but everything was done well and the price was right. I would return in the future for more food and recommend it to people who love Filipino food.

There was ample seating inside and from talking to the owners it seems the weekends are their busiest time. They add more menu items on the weekend such as Dinuguan and Kare-Kare.

Check out Inay’s Kitchen – you won’t be disappointed with their food.

Restaurant Name: Inay’s Kitchen

Cuisine: Filipino

Neighborhood: West Orlando

Address: 1097 S. Clarke Rd., Ocoee, FL 34761

Phone Number: (407) 601-2126

Menu: http://places.singleplatform.com/inays-kitchen-0/menu?ref=google