Discover flavors to savor when dining along I-Drive

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Fennel, chili and thyme marinated roasted pork belly, house-made sauerkraut, Chef T's thousand island dressing, pretzel bun, German-style bacon-infused fingerling potato salad.
ORLANDO, Fla. —

It’s inevitable for those of us who live in a town that is a destination for tourists that sooner or later (sooner, usually) some of those tourists will be people we know coming in from other parts of the country. And, of course, they’re going to want to get together to catch up on old times. “Let’s have dinner,” they’ll usually say. “Our treat,” less frequently. And then, “We’re staying on the International Drive; what can you recommend in this area?”

For those of you from outside Central Florida, International Drive, known as I-Drive locally, is the main tourist corridor and is home to the massive convention center and many of the area’s largest hotels as well as a number of budget priced motels. In any given week, that stretch of road is teeming with hungry masses.

The problem is that whenever there is a large number of people to feed, there is a tendency for that need to be filled by restaurants with varying degrees of quality. That’s a polite way of saying that there are a lot of mediocre restaurants in the I-Drive area, including a number of chain restaurants.

But look beyond the chains and franchises and you’ll find some fine independently owned restaurants that would be perfect to meet your friends at. Here are some of my favorites:

Nile: The area’s only Ethiopian restaurant is a wonderful cultural experience as well as a fine meal.

Hanamizuki: One of the area’s best Japanese restaurants. The sushi is good, but I think it excels in its “kitchen foods.”

Taverna Opa: Terrific Greek food in a festive atmosphere that often includes dancing on tabletops with the resident belly dancer. This is a good choice if you are afraid you don’t have a lot of things to talk about with your visiting friends. (In other words, it’s very loud.)

Cafe Tu Tu Tango: An artist’s garret is the setting for this tapas style restaurant, and there is usually an artist painting or sculpting or doing something else artistic. (Also very loud at times.)

Oceanaire Seafood Room: Technically a chain, though part of a very small one, Oceanaire serves some of the best seafood in the area.

For more recommendations, visit the International Drive listings at ScottJosephOrlando.com.