35+ Things you Must Eat and Drink in Downtown Sanford, Plus Recommendations To Enjoy an Epic Foodie Weekend!
Curious where to eat and drink in Historic Downtown Sanford? I hope my “Must Eat and Drink” List will inspire a drive to this charming historic town, 23 miles north of Orlando. Located along the banks of Lake Monroe, at the head of the St. Johns River, Sanford has experienced its ups and downs since becoming the Seminole county seat in 1913. It’s now on the upswing and booming. Not surprising, the reason for the boom: The Food Scene!
I spent an Epic Foodie Weekend exploring many of the area’s delicious eateries and bars and enjoyed it so much I’ve returned several times since. Historic Downtown Sanford has become a foodie destination in the past few years. And rightfully so. It was surprising to find it has all the elements for a fun foodie scene without the pretentiousness of well-known food destinations. Explore local craft breweries, creative craft cocktail bars, chef-driven restaurants, great coffee and artisan treats.
Downtown Historic Sanford has plenty of small town charm, style and local character with lots of International influences thrown in for a vibrant diverse foodie scene.
What is “Sanfording”?
Are you ready to go #Sanfording? This is what the locals call their custom of strolling from one end of downtown to the other, enjoying everything Sanford has to offer, from gastronomy to craft breweries, local art to live music. Sanfording is a way of life. I think you’ll like it!
This list is by no means final. There’s still much more to discover, more places to visit and more delicious treats to enjoy. Please share your recommendations in the comments so I can add to this list. Pin it and bookmark it for reference as I will update as I go back time and time again.
Craft Beer in Downtown Sanford:
Celery City Craft
With over 51 beers dispensed from celery-shaped taps, every beer lover will find a favorite at this popular Downtown Sanford beer garden. Picnic tables line the expansive patio for a great place to chill under the giant shade trees. Enjoy live music, old school games like shuffleboard and darts, all chased with your favorite pint. Florida craft brews feature prominently as well as beers from all over the US. The 34ft bar inside offers a nice alternative to get out of the heat.
I opted for #18 on my last visit. Sanford’s own Wop’s Hops Tipsy Trip C Citrus Wheat Ale. My friend enjoyed Central 28 Three Songs Imperial Stout from DeBary, Florida.
Be on the lookout for monthly pop ups from area chefs. During my visit we enjoyed Thai wings, spring rolls and curry from Spice & Rice Thai Street Kitchen as well as a fantastic brunch the following day from The Pass Progressive.
If you wondered about the name, Sanford is known as “Celery City.” A moniker earned after celery became the main farming crop of the area in the late 1800s. There’s not much celery around anymore unless you count the celery with your wings and the taps at CeleryCityCraft.com
Wop’s Hops Brewing Company
Sanford’s first micro-brewery has an Italian flair. Co-Owner Greg Piecora named the place Wop’s Hops as a mischievous reference to his Italian heritage. No surprise the menu features pastas and pizzas. But the Must Eat is the giant “Wop-Sicle” – a flavorful and “meaty” meatball drenched in tomato “gravy” speared like a popsicle. The perfect pairing for one of the many micro-brews on tap.
Located in the D.O. Brown Building, old home to the Stokes Fish Market, the building’s history is just as interesting as the variety of beers on tap. If you dare, ask about their ghost stories. The building is rumored to be one of the most haunted in Florida. The food, the stories and the beer – everything from a robust Scottish Ale and Red Roman IPA to a refreshing Venetian IPA finished on mint leaves, Sweet Potato and Orange Vanilla Cream Ales – makes this a special place. WopsHopsBrewing.com
I haven’t had the chance to check out the other craft breweries in Sanford: Deviant Wolfe Brewing, Inner Compass Brewing and Sanford Brewing Company. As soon as I do, I will let you know more about them.
Craft Cocktails in Downtown Sanford:
The Imperial at Washburn Imports
Step inside this antique furniture store for one of the most unique bar settings you’ll find in Sanford, or in all of Florida. And if you think the bar is secondary to the furniture store, think again. Craft cocktails and a selective wine and beer list whet your whistle in style. They serve the classics like Corpse Reviver, Manhattans and Gimlets. Unlike The Imperial’s counterparts in Downtown Orlando and Winter Park, the one in Sanford serves all liquors!
Purchasing a new armoire or dining room set in the process could make this the most expensive drinks night out you’ve ever had. But just think of the story you’ll tell. Your impulse buy could actually end up being the most interesting piece of furniture you’ll ever own. ImperialWineBar.com
Craft Beers, Wine and Cocktails
Owners Yellymary and Sascha Weyer call Luisa’s Cellar “a wine bar with a beer problem” but their avid local following finds no problem at all with the eclectic bar / wine shop / coffee shop / bookstore hybrid. The space perfectly reflects the tastes of this fun, world-traveling couple, from craft beers and boutique wines, to coffee and books with plenty of 90’s nostalgia mixed in for good measure. German-born Sascha is the beer geek. Puerto-Rican Yellymary is an avid wine lover, lawyer turned sommelier. Each has carefully curated their favorite offerings available to enjoy at the bar, the outdoor patio or second floor quasi-library.
Want coffee? Try a Harry Potter Butterscotch Latte made with local Golden Hills Roasters coffee. Want cocktails? Find the hidden Wolfgang’s Speakeasy in a back room. You’ll only gain access with a password, secured after you make friends with the bartenders on the first floor. Due to only a beer/wine license, you’ll find potent craft cocktails made with sherries and vermouths. Take advantage of daily specials like Tuesday’s bottle of wine and charcuterie board for $30, Tasty Trivia Wednesdays, All night Happy Hour Thursdays, plus guided wine tastings and other special events. LuisasCellar.com
Gastropubs and Chef-Driven Eats in Downtown Sanford:
Inside a 100-year-old building on Second Street, you’ll find this classy gastropub with an evolving menu of American lunch and dinner favorites. I met co-owner Brad Plummer during a recent visit and you can tell he’s committed to a great experience as he zipped around from table to table. Enjoy a refreshing “Sanford Smash” with Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Lillet Blanc, and fresh strawberry and basil puree or classic “The District” Old Fashioned with Old Forester and Orange Blossom honey. Take advantage of $1 off cocktails during Happy Hour.
If you’re hungry for a nosh at the bar, share the Green Eggs & Ham, a creative take on deviled eggs filled with whipped avocado topped with candied pecan bacon. Yes! The bacon is the perfect touch!
For the main course, the Bourbon Bone-In Pork Chop topped with a sweet savory mission fig, apple and onion jam over boursin mashed potatoes is so good you’ll want to gnaw on the bone.
For a lighter option, Mahi Mahi with maître d’ butter over a nicely executed tomato basil risotto was superb. I rarely order fish or risotto when dining out because of a tendency to over-cook, and was pleasantly surprised. Oh and the Australian wagyu special was so good I hope it takes after a boomerang and makes a come back. DistrictSanford.com
The Old Jailhouse Restaurant
The “new” kid causing a commotion on the historic block is The Old Jailhouse Restaurant. For the most unique, and casually chic, historic setting to eat and drink in Sanford, step into this beautifully refurbished 1890 building which once served as the site for a blacksmith and wagon shop, livery feed and sales stables, dry cleaners and most notably the Seminole County Jail, from 1914 to 1959.
Get ready to be booked, processed and captivated by inventive dishes in a fun setting. For groups of 6-8, you’ll want to dine in “The Solitary” cell or the “Visitation” Room. Al fresco dining is available in “The Yard”. Start with a light Brussels Sprout Petal Salad with tangy berry vinaigrette and don’t miss the braised Pork Belly with tomato chutney over buttermilk cornbread.
The Low Country Shrimp and Sausage Skewer brings a unique presentation to traditional southern Shrimp and Grits. They’ve since changed the presentation but the flavors are all there!
The Creole Lamb Braised Shank is fall off the bone tender. And a hearty portion also!
Let me warn you, it would be a crime not to save room for the decadent Bananas Foster Bread Pudding with banana rum sauce. (Sorry but there’s too many jail puns to ignore!)
The craft cocktails pair up nicely with the cuisine and the polished setting so if you feel like just hanging out at the bar and noshing you’ll be right at home. Grab a seat at one of three reclaimed wood communal tables, or even at the bar overlooking the kitchen. Try the “O.B.O.F”, their version of an Old Fashioned with Old Overholt Rye, “The Yard” with Deaths Door Gin and house strawberry shrub or “Hard Thyme” with thyme infused Bulleit Bourbon. The wine list offers a thoughtful selection of interesting old and new world wines. Take a few minutes to stroll around the place and enjoy the design details and a bit of history. TheOldJailhouseSanford.com
The Tennessee Truffle
What started as a pop up is now a full fledged farm to table experience for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Chef/owner Nat Russell offers a fresh spin on southern cuisine and you’re guaranteed to say “I’ve never had it like this before” no matter what you order off the ever-changing menu.
The Biscuits and Gravy made with housemade sausage are some of the best in town. Not kidding. I’ve had my share of biscuits, few compare.
The Culinary Institute of America graduate makes simple dishes exciting. A Southern Bread Salad doesn’t sound like much until you dig in to a mound of Frisée and arugula perfectly dressed in a light sherry dressing, dusted with Old Hearth Bread Company pumpernickel, alongside heirloom tomatoes, fresh peaches, and the most scrumptious Humboldt Fog chèvre panna cotta. Add Local Canaveral Shrimp for a perfect protein boost.
For dinner he serves up another unique take on the popular Shrimp & Grits with grilled Florida shrimp, Antebellum Anson Mills grits sous-vied, Lake Meadow Naturals farm egg and orange and celery salad. (You gotta have celery on the menu in “Celery City”!)
For dessert, order Rob’s Root Beer Float with housemade Brown Butter Ice Cream. Seriously, you’ve never had a root beer float like this. You’ll thank me later. The prominent use of local purveyors and farmers is also part of the local charm. TheTennesseeTruffle.com
International Eats in Downtown Sanford:
Take your taste buds around the world without leaving a few square blocks in Historic Downtown Sanford.
Belgian: Buster’s Bistro
Sometimes there’s nothing better than a great plate of fries and a cold beer. At Buster’s Bistro, the hand-peeled frites and truffle fries alone are worth the visit. The thick-cut potatoes were perfectly crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, then topped with a rich white truffle cream, parmesan cheese and black truffle. Oh my! Chase them with one of the 18 Belgian beers on tap and over 100 bottled selections representing the best of Belgium’s hundreds of breweries. They’ll serve them in the corresponding glass from goblets to tulip shaped because that’s what you do in Belgium.
This no frills pub is warm and inviting with a fun vibe. Owners Paulii and Christine De Waele Buster from Belgium, came to Sanford chasing the American Dream and I’m so grateful they decided to share their food culture with us. I was introduced to a taste of Buster’s as one of four stops on the Sanford Food Tour “Around The World” experience. The menu looked great so I need to go back for another visit, and you can guarantee a plate of those frites will be on the table. (The Sanford Food Tour is a “Must Do” Experience for anyone who wishes to sample a variety of Sanford’s food offering and learn about the area in a relaxed way). BustersBistro.com
Mexican: El Zocalo
If you’re in the mood for Mexican while “Sanfording”, family-owned El Zocalo is the place for you. We enjoyed a variety of dishes during the Sanford Food Tour and guaranteed nobody left hungry. From tortilla chips with a fresh and fiery salsa, to traditional tacos, burritos, enchiladas and fajitas, everything was flavorful and well prepared.
The Hibiscus Margarita with Maestro Dobel Tequila was delicious, not too sweet or too tart. Just right.
Sometimes you just want classic comfort food. The giant Zocalo Burrito filled with choice of chicken, pastor, beef or veggies will satisfy.
When you want something a bit more elevated, the Shrimp stuffed Poblano peppers was fantastic. ElZocaloSanford.com
German: Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe
Ask locals for the best German restaurant in Orlando and the answer is always “Hollerbach’s.” Theo Hollerbach, his wife Linda and daughter Christina have built an empire taking up what is now known as the “Hollerbach Block” of Downtown Sanford. Since 2001, and way before Sanford had foodie cred, they’ve been highly respected ambassadors for this community. But let’s talk about the experience and why it’s a must visit. First, you must drink from “Das Boot!” – choose a 2 or 3 liter of their large selection of German beers from Bitburger Pils to Hefeweizen.
You must come hungry and fill up on giant Bavarian pretzels and all the wurst you can imagine. Bratwurst, weisswurst, mettwurst, knockwurst and even Cajun wurst. Go for “The King’s Feast” to get a sampling accompanied by signature Heaven and Earth potatoes, Käse Spätzle, Sauerkraut, and sweet Rotkohl, it’s an Über-feast for four to six! As you fill your belly, don’t hold back singing along with the band “zicke, zacke, hoi, hoi, hoi.” Hollerbachs.com
German: Magnolia Square Market
I told you the Hollerbach family owns the whole block and a stop in their Magnolia Square Market for deli sandwiches made with their house roasted meats and sausages, and the best cake balls I’ve ever had is a must! Guaranteed you’ll want to try all of them – I sampled the rum, raspberry and German Chocolate and will drive back just to get more. The jam filled cookies were delicious too!
Stock up on German products as the shelves are brimming with all sorts of imported goodies – from Ritter chocolates to seasonings and condiments.
Irish: The Sullivan Public House
One of the newest additions to the downtown Sanford food scene is The Sullivan, an Irish pub owned by the folks from Washburn Imports. You’ll find a growing selection of Irish Whiskeys (their goal is to have the largest collection in the city) and of course a variety of beers from Guinness and Harp and more.
I sampled the Banger’s & Mash during the Sanford Food Tour and it was nicely done with a flavorful stout gravy. The menu created by Chef Josh Oakley (formerly of The Smiling Bison) is nicely executed classic Irish pub fare – not fancy but much better than typical bar food and all with an Irish flair. Stop in for live Irish folk music and a bite. Sit in ‘The Snug Pub’ and learn about this Irish pub tradition. Website.
Coffee Culture in Downtown Sanford:
Palate Coffee Brewery
Satisfy your caffeine cravings with beautifully crafted, rich, delicious lattes and cappuccinos at Palate Coffee Brewery. The coffee will bring you in but their “Love Missions” is what truly makes them an excellent spot to chill and catch up with friends or work on your laptop. The baristas are volunteers from the local community and all profits go towards fighting human trafficking, sadly a personal cause of owner Tina Kadolph, a survivor herself.
My go-to java of choice is a classic Vanilla Latte but their signature Sanford Fog Latte made with Earl Grey tea, local honey and lavender syrup is truly delightful. The space is bright and comfortable with a rustic charm. The walls and coffee bar were made using repurposed wood pallets. The reason for the name? Palates tend to be thrown out after use and yet they can be beautiful and useful, a feeling that Tina wants other survivors of this horrible crime to feel themselves. A cup of coffee with a Love Mission is now my new favorite. SanfordCoffee.com
Artisan Treats in Downtown Sanford:
Owner Nathan Clark didn’t know a simple candy thermometer he bought his wife as a Christmas gift would change their lives for good. And I mean really good! Wondermade artisan marshmallows based in downtown Sanford and are now known around the world, even featured by Oprah and Martha Stewart. Try a classic s’mores marshmallow or their boozy options flavored with bourbon, champagne, or rose!
Ice cream flavors include the traditional like rocky road but for those adventurous, try the sweet cornbread or avocado. They have vegan options too. The GIANT Krispwich and torched S’mores Pop are over the top.
This is a great spot to dip into and cool down mid-day or at the end of the night for after dinner treats. Marshmallows available to order online although a visit to the shop is much more fun. Wondermade.com
Must Do Foodie Activities:
Sanford Food Tours
For those of you who want to check off a few of these Must Eat and Drink places in one afternoon, Sanford Food Tours is a great option. Not only do you get to nosh your way around town at various stops, you’ll learn a bit of history and interesting stories about this charming historic town as you stroll around with a fun tour guide. Tours are open to the public every Saturday at noon, but also available for private group bookings which can customize your experience. The same company also owns Limo Cycle so you can choose to walk or pedal your way around Celery City on a variety of tours from brews to international eats. SanfordFoodTours.com
Sanford Food Truck Fiesta
Food truck fans, don’t miss the Sanford Food Truck Fiesta, held the third Saturday of every month. 12+ food trucks gather on the streets of historic Downtown Sanford, between West End & Celery City. Enjoy live music, outdoor bar and seating areas. The event is kid & pet friendly. SanfordFoodTruckFiesta
Make it an Epic Foodie Weekend! Where to Stay:
As you can see, there’s an abundance of Must Eat and Drink options around Downtown Sanford. My advice, make it an Epic Foodie Weekend so you can eat and drink to your heart’s content.
Higgins House Bed & Breakfast
A stay at this charming B&B is equally foodie worthy. The historic 1894 home is a beautifully maintained home away from home. Owner and caretaker Lisa Hurt, the great granddaughter of James Higgins, the house’s original owner, is meticulous about every detail. Breakfasts are well thought out and presented. The airy frittata was one of the best I’ve had anywhere. The blistered cherry tomatoes topping was the perfect touch. She customizes it to suit your dietary needs, either all veggie or including ham or bacon.
The almond Skillet Coffee Cake was so good, I begged for the recipe. Lisa was even kind enough to save me a piece for later which I happily enjoyed with a nightcap.
She generously offers beer, wine coffee, fresh baked cookies as afternoon treats as well as a nice selection of after-dinner drinks and spiced nuts for a nightcap. Reserve one of three well appointed guest rooms in advance and enjoy the charm of downtown Sanford to the fullest. HigginsHouse.com
For more information about Downtown Sanford visit HistoricDowntownSanford.com and Sanford365.com.
Hope this guide has inspired you to go #MakeSomedayHappen one bite, sip and trip at a time in Downtown Sanford!
Have you visited historic Downtown Sanford? What are your favorite Must Eats and Drinks I need to add to this list? Pin this and bookmark it for later because I will be updating this list as I check out new places.
Disclosure: I have been hosted as a media guest for promotional purposes. I am under no obligation to share this post. As always, all opinions are my own. I only share with you products and experiences I love to inspire you to safely get together with family and friends, celebrate life, and go #MakeSomedayHappen one delicious bite, sip, and trip at a time! You can read more about my guidelines in my disclosure policy. Cheers!
Leon Konieczny says
What a great article about historic downtown Sanford’s secret: we have amazing restaurants and bars here! You’ve done a great job of capturing the best of the best. As a food writer myself and a resident of Sanford’s historic district, I can agree that you have highlighted the best we have. The only problem we have is that there are so many great places right in downtown, that deciding where to go is often a challenge. I’ve been to every place you mention, and frequent a few. I know most all the owners and staff at many of these places. For great food, drinks, service, and atmosphere, they are all top-notch. Thanks for letting your readers in on our little secret.
Christina Thomas says
Thank you very much Leon. I hoped to be able to convey how special Downtown Sanford is. I’m so happy to get validation from a resident! Food is love and Sanfordites have shown a lot of love with all these wonderful options. I would love to hear of your favorites that I haven’t covered as I’m planning my next visit. There’s still more to explore in your lovely town. Cheers!