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    College students and cheap, ethnic eateries seem to go hand in hand. Where there's a school of higher learning, you'll usually find a stable of offbeat, funky restaurants where the young and impoverished can chart untried culinary territory.

    For sure, the University of Central Florida area needs more of these type of restaurants. But for the last nine years, while the surrounding area exploded with cookie-cutter subdivisions and food chains, the low-key Falafel Cafe has been dishing out a taste of the Middle East to students and others hooked on the culture's culinary favors.

    Falafel Cafe is quite small, with less than two dozen tables. There's no view to speak of, but an enormous painting dominates the entrance, capturing a scene from the Beirut waterfront. Back in the 1970s, that's where chef Hind Dajani perfected her recipes as a mother of four. Piped-in Middle Eastern music enhances the cuisine. And while service isn't always fast, it's usually friendly.

    Descriptions of each dish make the menu reader-friendly. And if you can't commit to any one item, skip the entrees and fill up on tapas-style appetizers, which are in the $2 to $5 range.

    Vegetarian dishes are a Middle Eastern strength, and Dajani is particularly deft with the namesake falafels ($3.99) – fried croquettes made with crushed garbanzo and fava beans, onions and a mixed bag of seasonings. They're delicious by themselves or dipped in the accompanying tahini sauce, a thick paste of ground sesame seeds. Kibbe balls ($4.99) are similar, except they're made with bulghur wheat and seasoned ground beef.

    Falafel Cafe's hummus ($2.49) is creamy and tempting, made with pureed garbanzo beans, sesame sauce, olive oil and garlic. A splash of lemon brings out the naturally nutty flavors. Baba ghanoush ($2.49) gets a similar treatment, made of eggplant mashed to a pulp and mixed with yogurt. Use it as a dip for pita bread, or better yet, ask for the garlic bread pita ($1.99), which is brushed with butter and minced garlic.

    The success of the simple "cedar salad" ($7.99) is in the fresh ingredients. Bright greens are topped with herb-crusted chicken kababs, olives and peppers. Pickled turnips add hot-pink color.

    When you're in the mood for warm, hearty Middle Eastern cooking, you'll find it here.

    They're heavy on the Philly at Famous Phil's: names of city landmarks on the wallpaper, photos of the city everywhere, recent issues of Philadelphia magazine on the tables. The connection's even in the slogan, just in case you missed it: "Real Philly people making real Philly cheese steaks." (The editor in me wonders: Are they real people from Philly, or are they people who are really from Philly?)

    So these had better be some fine cheese steaks, right? After all, one does not invoke the hometown of the cheese steak lightly.

    On that score, Phil's is hit and miss. The cheese steaks themselves ($2.99 to $5.25) are good; not great, but a notch above the cheese steaks you'll get at, say, a sub shop. They crank 'em out right out in the open on a big flat grill, and the smell of searing beef and frying onions brings back fond memories of carnivals past. I found the meat flavorful but dry, not sopping and juicy the way a memorable sandwich should be.

    Then there's everything else at Phil's. I had an all-American hoagie ($3.99) that was the most uninspired sub I've encountered outside of a Subway. The Italian wedding soup ($1.99) was indistinguishable from canned, and the onion rings ($1.89) were mushy on the inside and left a puddle of grease in the bottom of the container.

    The place was packed with Full Sail students, and most of them were eating cheese steaks; the wise move is to do the same and not stray too far down the menu.

    I wasn't thrilled with the prospect of eating an entire meal at a pub. Past experiences with pub grub – here and abroad – led me to believe that "authentic" doesn't necessarily mean "great." But the proprietors of Fiddler's Green prove that a focus on flavor, presentation and service can spell "gourmet" for traditional Irish cuisine.

    The restaurant retains the cozy atmosphere of its predecessors, Mulvaney's and Prince of Wales. It's got the same ornate woodwork, dart boards, Irish-themed knickknacks and entertainment stage. Now, there's a separate dining room that's upscale and intimate in a country-inn sort of way.

    Fiddler's Green offers a full selection of draft ales, lagers and stouts, which you can order by the pint or half-pint. While my guest and I waited, our server brought us a basket of thick, crumbly scones, which nicely offset the beer.

    We split an order of lightly browned potato pancakes with grated cheddar and scallions ($6.50; $5.95) topped with smoked salmon or sour cream and chives. Other appetizers include steamed mussels ($7.50) and smoked fish spread ($5.50). Dieters will be glad to know that the menu also includes your basic salad assortment.

    Along with a variety of sandwiches and burgers ($5.25-$8.95), Fiddler's entrees include standbys like corned beef and cabbage ($9.95); fish and chips, and "bangers and mash" (both $8.95). Among the more gourmet fare: grilled salmon with champagne sauce ($14.95) and roast duck ($15.95).

    I ordered the "Hen in a Pot" ($7.95), a scrumptious variation on chicken pot pie. Instead of pie crust, the "pot" was topped, hat-like, with a flaky pastry. The stew below was piping hot with big chunks of tender chicken and vegetables, seasoned just right.

    My companion stuck with another basic-but-hearty dish, Irish stew ($9.95). Once again, the seasonings – thyme, in this case – made this dish a standout. Presentation of both entrees was excellent, with extras like huge plates, fresh herbs and doilies. Desserts include bread and butter pudding, and blackberry/apple crumble ($3.95-$4.50). We were way too full to sample them.

    Great service and excellent food mean Fiddler's Green is not like most Irish pubs; it's better.

    Offbeat a.m.. fare ranges from a California vegetarian frittata to the meanest sausage-and-potatoes platter outside of Bavaria. Cheery, with generous portions and a limited lunch menu.

    Offbeat a.m.. fare ranges from a California vegetarian frittata to the meanest sausage-and-potatoes platter outside of Bavaria. Cheery, with generous portions and a limited lunch menu.

    Fish on Fire
    If you’re into fishing and boating around the Conway chain of lakes, you’re sure to make friends here – a lot of the patrons are Belle Isle and Conway residents who appreciate this place for its completely unpretentious, laid-back Florida fish camp kind of feel.

    How many guys does it take to flip the perfect burger? The answer's five, in case you haven't already guessed, and Orlando-area beefeaters are just beginning to learn what their D.C.-area counterparts have known for a long time: Five Guys makes the best burgers around, greasy hands down. And the profusion of accolades and superlatives ensconced on the walls underscore the sentiment ' 'Willy Wonkas of burgercraft!â?� raves the Washington Post; 'Five Guys is in a class by itself!â?� shrieks the Old Town Crier.

    Sure, the sterile interior of red-and-white-checkered tile may fall about 10 urinals short of the men's room at Union Station, but if you can manage to get your peanut shell'wedged flip-flops past the 50-pound bags of potatoes and to the counter, you'll find a quintet of red-capped burger-flipping artistes grilling patties to perfection. (Be sure to grab a Styrofoam cup and dig into the giant sack of salted peanuts before picking up your grease-speckled paper bag of food.)

    'Five Guys� is a reference to founder Jerry Murrell's five sons, all of whom play a part in the family business, and what a simple business it is: burgers. The never-frozen, 100-percent-fresh, lean ground-beef patties come in four burger varieties ' regular, cheese, bacon and bacon-cheese ' and come standard with two juicy, well-done patties, though you can downsize to the 'little� version with just one which, frankly, is filling enough. Best of all, you can crown those beef-filled, sesame-seed buns with 15 available toppings, such as fried onions, sautéed mushrooms and A-1 sauce, at no extra charge. But if you tend to get topping-happy, you'll have a goopy mess on your hands after your burger disintegrates.

    I ordered my 'littleâ?� cheeseburger ($3.29) with fried onions, lettuce, tomatoes, jalapenos and hot sauce, and it held its form nicely. A look under the bun revealed that they forgot the hot sauce, but the miscue failed to spoil my utter enjoyment of this near-perfect, three-quarter-pound burger. It's the kind of sandwich that gets you salivating at the very thought of it. In fact, a couple of nights later, as I sat to write the very words you're reading, a craving for a Five Guys burger overcame me and I just had to have it. You WILL crave a Five Guys burger days, weeks or even months later, and when that hunger hits, you'll drive like a maniac to get to one of their locations (besides the Dr. Phillips store, there's one in Altamonte Springs and another on the corner of Sand Lake Road and John Young Parkway) before the posted closing time of 10 p.m.

    The skin-on hand-cut fries ($1.99 regular; $3.79 large), soaked in cold water, blanched in cholesterol-free peanut oil, then crisped when ordered, cry for a splash of vinegar, though you can also get 'em Cajun-style. Word of advice: Unless you're a family of four, the regular order of fries is plenty. A whiteboard advertises the origin of 'Today's Potatoes,â?� and the half-dozen or so times I've eaten there, it's always read 'Rigby, Idaho.â?� Fries are cut French-style, and a pinchful with every burger bite is the best way to enjoy your meal.

    Damn, I think I'm getting another craving.

    Tucked in a corner of the Dr. Phillips Marketplace, this humble eatery may not have the cachet of its neighbor Anatolia, but as a kebaberia, it more than holds it down. The exclellent rice complements flavorful kafta kebab, shish tawook and rack of lmb. Traditional starters are all worthy, but consider crunchy fattoush sala and pizza-like safiha for a change. Baklava is served cold, but Turkish coffee is properly steaming,.


    Teaser: Tucked in a corner of the Dr. Phillips Marketplace, this humble eatery may not have the cachet of its neighbor Anatolia, but as a kebaberia, it more than holds its own. The excellent rice complements flavorful kafta kebab, shish tawook and rack of lamb. Traditional starters are all worthy, but consider crunchy fattoush salad and pizza-like safiha for a change. Baklava is served cold, but Turkish coffee is properly steaming.

    For around 50 bucks, our table was quickly loaded with more than enough to feed a hungry fivesome – and that's the best thing I can say about a recent visit to Mama Fu's Noodle House in Lake Mary. The rest of the experience – from the food to the service to the ambience – ranged from OK to laughable.

    Interestingly, the randomly numbered laminated cards – ours read "one billion 92" – that diners post on their tables (so orders can be matched up) read: "Laughter can make friends remember ... and enemies forget." Everybody's gotta have a gimmick these days, an approach that is working like gangbusters for 38-year-old entrepreneur Martin Sprock of Raving Brands Inc. Dipping into Florida, his ventures include Mama Fu's, Moe's Southwestern Grill and Planet Smoothie, and there are more concepts on the way. While this Mama Fu's is the first in town, fast expansion plans already call for 13 more. It's a good bet that they'll show up in other Stepford-style shopping malls, such as this one, Colonial Town Park, which has the new Dexter's.

    Interestingly, the randomly numbered laminated cards – ours read "one billion 92" – that diners post on their tables (so orders can be matched up) read: "Laughter can make friends remember ... and enemies forget." Everybody's gotta have a gimmick these days, an approach that is working like gangbusters for 38-year-old entrepreneur Martin Sprock of Raving Brands Inc. Dipping into Florida, his ventures include Mama Fu's, Moe's Southwestern Grill and Planet Smoothie, and there are more concepts on the way. While this Mama Fu's is the first in town, fast expansion plans already call for 13 more. It's a good bet that they'll show up in other Stepford-style shopping malls, such as this one, Colonial Town Park, which has the new Dexter's.

    Walk through the glass doors and you're at the order counter under the wall-board menu of appetizers, salads, entrees and noodle bowls that can be juggled with choices of chicken, beef, shrimp and tofu and veggies. They are not really Asian dishes, but more like a corporate fusion of American tastes and Asian influences, with everything a little too sweet, even the noodles. After ordering a sampling of items, we headed to an outdoor table to avoid the cavernous echo inside – the kind that numbs your senses (and is perfect for letting kids run wild).

    Walk through the glass doors and you're at the order counter under the wall-board menu of appetizers, salads, entrees and noodle bowls that can be juggled with choices of chicken, beef, shrimp and tofu and veggies. They are not really Asian dishes, but more like a corporate fusion of American tastes and Asian influences, with everything a little too sweet, even the noodles. After ordering a sampling of items, we headed to an outdoor table to avoid the cavernous echo inside – the kind that numbs your senses (and is perfect for letting kids run wild).

    On the OK side of the meal were the seared ahi tuna ($5.99 "mama" size/$6.99 "big mama") and "Bangkok basil rolls" ($3.99/$5.99) appetizers. The sesame-encrusted ahi was served on a bed of fresh spinach with a sharp ponzu dipping sauce. There was an odd spice in the peanut sauce, but the rolls were filled with the finely grated crunchiness of carrots, cucumbers, spring lettuce and rice noodles. And the "Mongolian" with beef ("soy glaze with mushrooms, yellow onions and fresh scallion sticks") was ordered with noodles for an additional 99 cents, instead of the usual rice, at the helpful recommendation of the order-taker. Noodles are the definitely the way to go.

    On the OK side of the meal were the seared ahi tuna ($5.99 "mama" size/$6.99 "big mama") and "Bangkok basil rolls" ($3.99/$5.99) appetizers. The sesame-encrusted ahi was served on a bed of fresh spinach with a sharp ponzu dipping sauce. There was an odd spice in the peanut sauce, but the rolls were filled with the finely grated crunchiness of carrots, cucumbers, spring lettuce and rice noodles. And the "Mongolian" with beef ("soy glaze with mushrooms, yellow onions and fresh scallion sticks") was ordered with noodles for an additional 99 cents, instead of the usual rice, at the helpful recommendation of the order-taker. Noodles are the definitely the way to go.

    The "spicy basil" noodle bowl with tofu ($6.99) also benefited from the noodles, and the tofu was nicely sliced and fried for a crispy effect. This is one of the spicy-hot dishes, and it did leave a burn on the lips but without any depth to back it up. The "spicy General Fu" with shrimp ($8.99) was served with rice and featured the battered and fried variety that you buy frozen at the grocery store, and its sauce was an overly sweet and sour one.

    The "spicy basil" noodle bowl with tofu ($6.99) also benefited from the noodles, and the tofu was nicely sliced and fried for a crispy effect. This is one of the spicy-hot dishes, and it did leave a burn on the lips but without any depth to back it up. The "spicy General Fu" with shrimp ($8.99) was served with rice and featured the battered and fried variety that you buy frozen at the grocery store, and its sauce was an overly sweet and sour one.

    On the unpleasant side of the meal, the Thai coconut soup ($1.99/$3.49) and the red Thai curry were curiosities. The base of the soup had a cloying thickness, more like a bisque, and there was not much in the way of the promised black mushrooms and tomatoes. The red curry with chicken ($6.99) had the veggies (carrots, broccoli, zucchini, white mushrooms and red bell peppers), but the sauce was watery and oddly seasoned.

    On the unpleasant side of the meal, the Thai coconut soup ($1.99/$3.49) and the red Thai curry were curiosities. The base of the soup had a cloying thickness, more like a bisque, and there was not much in the way of the promised black mushrooms and tomatoes. The red curry with chicken ($6.99) had the veggies (carrots, broccoli, zucchini, white mushrooms and red bell peppers), but the sauce was watery and oddly seasoned.

    As for service, we moved dirty dishes off our table and shooed away flies. The items were delivered in the order they came out of the kitchen, so appetizers, soups and entrees all piled up at one time. Then we had to track down missing items from the student-age servers, who looked unhappy. The fictitious Mama Fu isn't fooling anyone with this venture.

    With more than 20 locations across the country, Fleming's Steakhouse is another in the "upscale chain" concept of restaurants coming from the popular Outback Steakhouse folks (whose other partnerships include Roy's and Bonefish Grill). Paul Fleming, founder of the restaurant bearing his name, came into the business by opening a Ruth's Chris Steak House franchise in Beverly Hills, then moved on to start P.F. Chang's ("P.F.", get it?).

    Ironically, Fleming's is sited on the high-traveled intersection of Lee Road and Orlando Avenue, a hop, skip from Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and P.F. Chang's in the Winter Park Village.

    Steak was the food of choice for businessmen back when I walked the corporate corridors, and judging by the number of suits in this atmospheric dining room of dark wood and leather, it remains so.

    The distinguishing ingredient of the Fleming's chain is its multipage wine menu, with every vintage available by the glass, one that's the size of your head. And since everything is big here in Steak-house Land, the cuts of meat range from a four-inch-high "petite" filet mignon ($23.95) to a humongous 22-ounce bone-in rib eye.

    The miniature mignon came to the table as rare as any red-meat lover could hope, an aged hand-cut as thick as a brick that was almost fork-tender, except for a cord of gristle that ran down one corner (which probably only proves that the meat wasn't processed). A starter of "wicked Cajun" shrimp ($10.95) found four large, slightly undercooked shrimp bathed in a pleasingly spicy garlic butter.

    As is the fashion, side dishes are extra and, like everything from entrées to desserts, enormous. The platter of sautéed spinach, cooked in brown butter with red onion, is enough for four people; and a smooth and spicy creamed-corn dish with two cheeses would take a family to finish (both $4.95). The baked potatoes are big enough to have Wilson stamped on the side.

    Those taking a break from beef can find a select offering of fish or chicken. The "tuna mignon" ($24.95) was just as thick as the petite filet, perhaps too thick to do such a lovely piece of fish justice, as the center was not just rare but ice-cold.

    Our waitress was friendly and casual, albeit terribly busy, which pretty much describes the room itself. At least while Fleming's is a new draw for the culinary curious, reservations are mandatory for timely seating. But full service is offered at the booths in the bar area, and at the bar itself, so you might be able to sneak in past the waiting throngs. Steak lovers won't be disappointed.

    There's an abundance of painfully obvious jokes to be endured when you invite a bunch of wise-asses to lunch at a hospital cafeteria. But the superspread at Florida Hospital Orlando had them eating their words and more.

    It's no secret on the health-food circuit that vegetarian and generally healthy food can be found here, thanks to the dietary observances of the founding Seventh Day Adventists. But faux-meat dishes, real chocolate brownies and coffee with caffeine (refills encouraged) can also be found in the dizzying spread that starts with a pizza/pasta station.

    It's no secret on the health-food circuit that vegetarian and generally healthy food can be found here, thanks to the dietary observances of the founding Seventh Day Adventists. But faux-meat dishes, real chocolate brownies and coffee with caffeine (refills encouraged) can also be found in the dizzying spread that starts with a pizza/pasta station.

    At the wok station, a steaming medley of green beans, mushrooms, yellow squash and onions ($1.40) tasted as good as it looked. Seasonings are predictably mild, even in the "vegetarian-chicken" chimichanga ($1.40). And the mauve-colored mystery meat(less) in the Reuben made for good conversation.

    Seasoned shoppers will tell you that if you plan to tackle the holiday madness in any of Orlando's major malls, a good pair of walking shoes is just as important as strict adherence to the 3 Ps ' patience, perseverance and pancakes. Yes, pancakes. Or waffles, eggs, cereal, yogurt ' whatever your breakfast meal of choice happens to be. A good start is critical, even essential, when the time comes to elbow a septuagenarian or two out of the way for that marked-down sweater at the Gap.

    So, if the Mall at Millenia happens to be your credit-leavener of choice, consider popping into this area brekkie joint for some pre-shopping sustenance, though judging from the quick closure of the previous tenant ' Mama Fu's Noodle House ' and the demise of the neighboring Storehouse furniture store and the Testa Rossa Caffe, you'd better hurry.

    The interior hasn't veered much from its Mama Fu's days; in fact, even some of the waiters are holdovers, as is the maddening '80s and '90s pop music playing overhead. The coffee-colored walls, suspension lighting and floor-to-ceiling windows tender a level of slickness a step above your local First Watch or IHOP, and the breakfast fare, though not dazzling, is properly satisfying.

    Where else to start but with the classic Belgian waffle ($5.59)? The signature from Brussels is light, crispy and simple. The lone square-shaped hotcake is a refreshingly minimalist breakfast portion, served in a square dish with an orange slice and a wee bowl of butter. But the only available liquid topping is table syrup, which is essentially super-thick high-fructose corn syrup. Is it too much to ask for a breakfast joint to serve real 100 percent maple syrup instead of this fabricated goop? Yeah, it's a tad more expensive, but if I'm paying six bucks for a waffle, I'll gladly foot a few extra cents for real maple syrup. Until that day comes, your only choice is to head over to your nearest supermarket, purchase some fancy grade-A Canadian maple syrup and carry it with you the next time you dine at this or any other pancake/waffle house. It'll make your meal considerably more gratifying and, really, it's no different than bringing your own hot sauce to a restaurant.

    My dining partner opted for the granola crunch waffle ($6.69). For $1.10 more than the Belgian waffle, you get a sprinkling of rolled oats and raisins along with a plate of whipped cream. I have to admit, it just didn't look very appetizing. Perhaps it was because the granola looked like chicken feed scattered over a subway grate, or that waffles and granola seem about as culinarily mismatched as foie gras and Cheerios. No matter, traditionalists can select from other, less health-food-y options such as chocolate chip, baked pecan and strawberries with cream.

    Similarly flavored pancakes are also offered, as are a range of omelets in time-honored ingredient combos, but I was more intrigued by the Florida french toast ($6.79). Though I expected to see wheat germ, bananas, strawberries and powdered sugar dusted over thick slabs of Franco-American-inspired toast, our austere waitress set down a plate of four fluffy slabs of regular french toast ($5.79). Though I was disappointed by the lack of Floridian embellishment, my frustration was tempered by the aesthetically appealing plating and the savory cinnamon-tinged eggy bread, which I ravenously devoured.

    The Florida Waffle Shop also has a selection of burgers, sandwiches, salads and other lunchtime faves on hand, all of which can be enjoyed until 3 p.m., and their 'you've got to love it guaranteeâ?� ensures customers are satisfied with their orders. But until I can pour real maple syrup on my griddled cakes, complete customer satisfaction will evade me. Guess what's on my shopping list?

    My friend had a theory: The walls were bugged at the Flying Fish Cafe. We couldn't figure out how else the waiters seemed to read our minds when we had dinner at the restaurant at Disney's Boardwalk. As the wait staff roamed through the dining area, stopping by this or that table to bring food or answer questions, they always seemed to wind up at our table at the precise moment when we were thinking of asking for more (and more) of the moist, rich and chewy sourdough bread or wondering, "What's in this sauce?"

    It's rare to find a restaurant staff that anticipates your needs without becoming a distraction or invading your space. But Flying Fish Cafe has this one down. And the menu – new American cuisine with a seafood spin – is creatively and attentively prepared, though most of the entrees are in the $20 range. This is luxury dining that becomes affordable by virtue of the quality and value. Cooking guru Julia Child had visited two days before we were there, and she proclaimed it the best restaurant in Florida, our waiter told us.

    Located along the waterfront collection of clubs, shops and restaurants, Flying Fish has a whimsical atmosphere inspired by the golden age of rollercoasters, the 1920s. There is a faux ferris wheel and a collection of fish sculptures parachuting from the ceiling. The colors throughout the dining area are watery blues and oceanic greens.

    The menu changes daily to reflect what's indigenous and in season in the United States, which amounts to a constant logistics challenge for head chef John State. He consistently and successfully pulls off his synchronized fresh selections.

    For appetizers, we chose the "Flying Fish sampler" ($11) and had "snapper escabeche," which was cured in a spicy vinaigrette of olives and capers. There also was a chilled "rock shrimp roll" of sushi rolled up with wasabi, scallions and mayonnaise. But our favorite was the "peeky toe crab cake." It was so packed with premium crab meat, and just enough peppers, onions and parsley to bind it, that we wished we'd ordered this one as a full appetizer ($10-$20). Meanwhile, we stayed busy with a delicious bread basket that was so alluring we couldn't stop dipping in.

    The evening's entrees included pan-roasted golden tilefish ($23), a Florida fish that takes its sweetness from swimming deep and living on shrimp and lobster. Teamed with a subtle chervil créme fraèche, which had anise undertones, it was a real treat. Another entree, the red snapper ($24), is so popular that it has become one of several standard items on the menu. It was gorgeous in its presentation: The moist, flaky fillet was delicately wrapped in a crisp potato casing and served with leek fondue and cabernet sauvignon reduction.

    Desserts were equally impressive. We took the waiter's advice and had "banana Napoleon" ($7), a concoction of cinnamon crème brûlee, caramel sauce and whipped cream. Also delicious was a warm crepe filled with hazelnut praline and Granny apples, topped with vanilla-bean ice cream ($7).

    A tall crystal mug of Spanish coffee warmed our bones, thanks to a shot of Tia Maria. It was a perfect end to a perfect dinner.

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