Illustrated by Nate Chappell

Lakeland holds a special place for the culinary arts to be celebrated and supported through its local businesses. If you’re looking for your next date night or outing, check out these local spots that offer a uniquely flavored dining experience.

No matter what city you travel to, food tends to be the element in your visit that beckons your attention the most. Whether it’s Southern homestyle cooking or French-inspired delicacies, food brings people together and sets the tone for any outing.

Over the years, Lakeland’s culinary scene has boomed by welcoming in new, diverse concepts that embrace the passionate creativity and genius of putting together unique flavors. As you step into this new year and slowly begin to make plans again with your partner or friends, we’ve come up with a tour of some of our favorite local spots that you must check out.


You start off the day looking for something on the lighter side accompanied by a fresh cup of coffee. As soon as you step foot into La Imperial Bakery, you’re met with the aroma of hot, fresh Puerto Rican pastries aligned perfectly behind the glass counter. You put together a box of pastries and hit the lake for a walk as you catch up with your friends/your date. The Florida sun is beaming, and it’s the perfect day to take a few pictures, too.

At lunch, tacos from Gallito at The Joinery call your name. You snag a few non-gmo tacos and reminisce with your friends about your last family vacation to Mexico. A day out isn’t complete without something sweet. So, you head to the eclectic dream that is The Poor Porker for beers and beignets.

La Imperial
The Joinery | Tacos Gallito
The Poor Porker


You’ve reserved tickets for the next showing of a movie you’ve been dying to see at Lakeland’s Cobb Theatres. But scratch the popcorn, because you’re in the mood for an international dining experience.

Thailand may not be as far away as you think. Thai Oishi offers a wide variety of sushi and other culinary favorites tailored to cultural tradition. You start with freshly brewed Thai tea and share a chicken sauté — which lets you roast the chicken yourself over a stone burner. Rice noodles take your taste buds to a whole other world, so you try the hearty pad Thai. It’s quite a warm evening, so something to quench your thirst would make the perfect dessert before you head to the show. You make your way over to Saigon Bistro to order one of their incredible boba teas — a tapioca tea paired with creamy milk. It’s showtime!

Thai Oishi
Saigon Bistro


It’s time for sushi! Fancy Q Japanese Restaurant is open, and you’re ready to try something new from their selection. The crazy tuna roll and sweet potato roll catch your eye, so you order to share and pair it with a hibachi bowl. After you finish, you make your way downtown to walk around the shops. You love the local music scene in Lakeland, so you take your friends for a good beer at Yard on Mass. The courtyard is lit by charming stringing lights and makes for a great atmosphere to relax and hang.

Fancy Q
Yard On Mass


You’re all dressed up and ready to toast the night away. As you’re greeted by their valet parking, you walk up to the elegant Nineteen61 restaurant to enjoy craft cocktails and delicious appetizers at Bar61. With their Latin-infused variety, you and your date order their classic 61Cosmo featuring fresh lime, cranberry juice, and Wheatley vodka. But the fun doesn’t stop there, because you’ve ordered tapas for your table –– the shrimp ceviche to share!

Then, nothing says fancy like the romantic flavors of Italy at your fingertips. You reserve a table at Scarpa’s, a local family-owned Italian restaurant, because you’re craving a plate of homemade pasta. You and yours order a refreshing plate of bruschetta as you wait for your main entree of fettuccine alfredo to arrive. Each table setting is adorned with candles and wine glasses that set the mood for great conversation. And you, of course, save room for dessert. More crème brûlée, please?

Scarpa’s Italian


There’s something quite special about starting your day off at Black & Brew Bistro. It could be the lively atmosphere. It could be the friendly staff. But today you’re in it for the delicious coffee, because who doesn’t love their vanilla latte? Someone recently told you about the new exhibition in town, so you spend the day gazing at art from all over the world at our very own Polk Museum of Art. You take in all the beauty of every stroke of paint and every dimension within the piece. After spending the day getting inspired, you dive into a creative dish at Red Door Lakeland.

Black & Brew
Red Door Lakeland


You never miss bottomless mimosas and spicy chicken and waffles. In fact, you look forward to it every week. On this breezy day, you take a seat at Frescos for Sunday brunch with your entourage. You order your usual and enjoy their flavors of the deep South. This area is perfect for a stroll. You walk downtown and check out the local boutique shops. For dessert, also known as the most important meal of the day, you walk to The Terrace into one of the loveliest dining rooms featuring tall, French windows that light up the area. You sit for a few cocktails and enjoy their Orange Hazelnut Chocolate Bombe with a Gold Luster Dust.

The Terrace


You love being up before the sun, so you meet at Concord Coffee to grab an espresso before starting the day. Once you feel the rush of caffeine waking your body, you’re ready to bite into a crumbly pastry. You place an order ahead at Born & Bread Bakehouse for a breakfast sandwich and specialty cruffin. This week, they’re featuring a flavored cruffin that infuses your favorite citrus fruit and makes you feel refreshed with every bite. In the mood for a little antique shopping? Within walking distance, you’ll find yourself at June Taylor or The Shop Across the Street. After walking around Dixieland, you and your date/friends check out Cob & Pen and bask in the sun as you cheer to weekend mimosas.

Concord Coffee

Born + Bread Bakehouse

Cob & Pen


You’re craving the sweet, tangy taste of Southern cooking. Polk County is home to some of the best BBQ hubs around! Granger & Sons BBQ is nothing short of a delicious must. So, you grab a table for lunch and enjoy an order of their BBQ ribs — sweetly tender on every bone. Because of work, you’re always indoors, so you decide to take a natural hike at Lake Crago Park to get some fresh air and enjoy the sight of nature’s bloom. After the explorations, you go to Brewlands for some spirits and a game of billiard.

Granger & Sons Bar-B-Que


Some of the most artful musicians are always playing shows in Lakeland throughout the week. You check out Hillcrest Coffee’s lineup and curl up in a corner table with a hot latte. The live music is soulful — setting a warm, cozy feel as you dive into small talk. Before the evening escapes you, your reservation at Patio850 is ready! You sit down and are greeted with another live music scene. This time, your table has a freshly poured cup of pinot grigio and a bowl of bacon truffle popcorn. A delicious chef’s-choice style dinner is served, and every bite leaves you wanting a little more as your entree is packed with flavor. But the night isn’t over just yet, because, after dinner, you head over to Union Hall for another live music show to support local talent and enjoy a refreshing cocktail to top off the outing.

Hillcrest Coffee
Union Hall
1980s Nostalgia

You’re one to look back at the “good times” that made you who you are. You enjoy things that remind you of your childhood. Take a trip down memory lane with some comfort-food favorite spots in our Swan City. Kick off the night with Palace Pizza’s deliciously crafted slices of pepperoni, tomato, basil, and garlic. For dessert, you score a scrumptious strawberry mint sorbet with homemade sprinkles and a yummy waffle gallete on top at Mayday Ice Cream. Growing up, going to the arcade with your friends was always a fun activity. So, you head to the Rec Room to enjoy cocktails and play a few rounds of arcade games. A little friendly competition makes for a good night out.

Palace Pizza
The Joinery | MayDay Ice Cream                                    
Rec Room

You don’t have to go to Tampa or Orlando to have a one-of-a-kind culinary experience. Lakeland holds many unique places that exhibit delicious flavors from all over the world. It’s this city that continues to offer you something new on every street corner. Wherever you go, you’ll find a reason to love the timelessness of our Swan City.