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For all the mediocrity wreaked by line-up-to-the-trough Chinese buffets with gloppy sweet-and-sour sauces and soggy takeout containers, spanking new P.F. Chang's China Bistro stands in stark contrast.

Enter the eye-popping, postmodern interior of the high-profile debut of this restaurant chain at the still-developing Winter Park Village, and you'll think you've fallen through a pan-Asian rabbit hole. This is a world of silky Chinese murals, Ming-style vases, stacked-stone walls, a bustling show kitchen and pumped-up music.

Enter the eye-popping, postmodern interior of the high-profile debut of this restaurant chain at the still-developing Winter Park Village, and you'll think you've fallen through a pan-Asian rabbit hole. This is a world of silky Chinese murals, Ming-style vases, stacked-stone walls, a bustling show kitchen and pumped-up music.

But it's the consistently enjoyable menu that will lure you back -- and you'll have lots of company, too. We stumbled into a one-hour wait for a table on a Saturday night. As for a seat at the bar? Forget it. We settled for standing with the rest of the herd, and while we sipped a glass of house Chardonnay, we spied the captain's tables at the perimeter of the kitchen. These are the only two tables in the house for which reservations are accepted. It was fun to watch as a tag team of waiters brought platters of glistening delicacies.

But it's the consistently enjoyable menu that will lure you back -- and you'll have lots of company, too. We stumbled into a one-hour wait for a table on a Saturday night. As for a seat at the bar? Forget it. We settled for standing with the rest of the herd, and while we sipped a glass of house Chardonnay, we spied the captain's tables at the perimeter of the kitchen. These are the only two tables in the house for which reservations are accepted. It was fun to watch as a tag team of waiters brought platters of glistening delicacies.

When our turn finally came, General Tso and his chickens were nowhere to be found on the innovative menu. Instead, we tried and loved the weirdly wonderful "Chang's chicken in soothing lettuce wraps" ($5.95). Spicy chicken and vegetables were folded into watery iceberg leaves, burrito style. The spiciness was heightened by a spoonful of mustard-based sauce, which was prepared tableside by our waiter. "Pan-fried Peking dumplings" ($4.95) were a savory counterpart, stuffed with pork and vegetables.

When our turn finally came, General Tso and his chickens were nowhere to be found on the innovative menu. Instead, we tried and loved the weirdly wonderful "Chang's chicken in soothing lettuce wraps" ($5.95). Spicy chicken and vegetables were folded into watery iceberg leaves, burrito style. The spiciness was heightened by a spoonful of mustard-based sauce, which was prepared tableside by our waiter. "Pan-fried Peking dumplings" ($4.95) were a savory counterpart, stuffed with pork and vegetables.

"Mu shu chicken" ($8.95) was light and crisp, stirred with vegetables that crunched. A delicate hoisin sauce added plummy accents. The sweet, meaty mixture was wrapped in pancakes as thin as crepes. Crispy honey shrimp ($12.95) were plentiful, lightly battered and quick-fried.

"Mu shu chicken" ($8.95) was light and crisp, stirred with vegetables that crunched. A delicate hoisin sauce added plummy accents. The sweet, meaty mixture was wrapped in pancakes as thin as crepes. Crispy honey shrimp ($12.95) were plentiful, lightly battered and quick-fried.

All of the servers were well-trained and forthcoming with smart suggestions, despite being overtaxed by the volume of customers. Our waiter steered us in the right direction again and again, including his favorite, "macadamia nut pie" ($4.95), which became our favorite, too. This is a piece of glorified chocolate turtle pie with macadamia nuggets adding interest.

All of the servers were well-trained and forthcoming with smart suggestions, despite being overtaxed by the volume of customers. Our waiter steered us in the right direction again and again, including his favorite, "macadamia nut pie" ($4.95), which became our favorite, too. This is a piece of glorified chocolate turtle pie with macadamia nuggets adding interest.

P.F. Chang's China Bistro injects excitement into the Chinese dining milieu. It's a pleasure to experience the chic trappings and sophisticated service that are taken for granted with other cuisines.

Paddy McGee's, which is located in the beautiful city of Winter Park, prides itself on upholding Irish tradition with an American flair. Once you experience Paddy McGee's, you will realize why it is referred to as "your neighborhood bar."

It's a generally accepted fact that the best Cuban food is found in South Florida, not Havana, so when one of Broward County's most well-received franchises expands into Orlando, Central Floridians have cause to rejoice.

Mario and Nayade 'Cookieâ?� Padrino carry on a tradition that began in Pinar del Rio, the westernmost province in Cuba, where Diosdado Padrino ran a small market and winery. Fast-forward a few decades to the present and the Padrino clan has four restaurants in Boca Raton, Plantation, the flagship locale in Hallandale and now Hunter's Creek, all of them inspired by family matriarch Rosa Padrino's recipes. The handsome bistro, according to Cookie, is a notch above the others in terms of interior design, and the subdued tropical motif creates an air of comfort, while the faceless, 'hands-freeâ?� paintings by Dixie Miguez add a little color (and political commentary) to the dining room.

Having graduated from culinary school, Cookie oversees menu development, and the creations coming out of the kitchen are a testament to her guidance. The varied selection of criollo standards and signature dishes are remarkably consistent, if not exceptional.

Take the finely minced picadillo empanadas ($6.99), for example. Two ground-beef pastries, halved and crowned with a guava chutney, are superbly seasoned and crisp, and undoubtedly would be a top-tier tapas item anywhere in the city. Black bean soup ($2.99), a true gauge of any Cuban kitchen's worth, strikes a delicate balance of cumin to garlic, with subtle flavoring from bay leaves. Only the fiesta tostones ($7.99) failed to arouse: Pressed green plantains topped with a lackluster mishmash of cheese, chorizo sausage and a cilantro-tomato salsa resembled a gooey cross between nachos and pizza. A glass of sangria ($4.50) helped offset the parching effects of the appetizer.

For mains, I chose a traditional and a signature plate, both of which underscored the kitchen's competence and proficiency. Ropa vieja ($12.99), a Cuban staple, was simple, succulent and savory ' delightful strands of flank steak stewed in a zesty tomato sauce and served with rice, beans and caramelized plantains. Comparatively speaking, blackened mahi mahi ($15.99) was a more sophisticated offering, fusing Creole spices with a refreshing mango-pineapple chutney. The flaky fillet was served over so-so sweet-potato mash; crispy yuca fries with garlicky mojo made for a more harmonious starch.

Custards dominate the dessert menu, and when that eggy goodness is involved, trust a Cuban kitchen to get it right. Rum-chocolate crème brûlée ($5.99) was expertly prepared ' a crusty layer, a rich custard base and a nice infusion of rum. A dense wedge of flan de queso ($4.99) was enormous and filling enough to feed a family, but that still didn't preclude me from ordering a sweet, dark shot of café cubano ($2), a perfect finish to any meal.

Those lucky enough to work in the Hunter's Creek area will find some bargain lunch options, with dishes ranging from $7.49 to $11.99. And if you're bemoaning the drive to south Orlando, consider this ' Padrino's refined Cuban dishes negate the need for a three-hour trip to South Florida for the real deal.

At some point in any discussion of the new Palm Restaurant at the Hard Rock Hotel, the 75-year history of the original and its 22 other branches are bound to come up.

Yes, the first Palm, circa 1926, was opened in New York as a Northern Italian restaurant, and, yes, the corporation is still run by descendants of the original owners. It's impressive that the business is still thriving, but I want to be wowed by the food, not the resume.

Yes, the first Palm, circa 1926, was opened in New York as a Northern Italian restaurant, and, yes, the corporation is still run by descendants of the original owners. It's impressive that the business is still thriving, but I want to be wowed by the food, not the resume.

Notwithstanding the celebrity caricatures stenciled seemingly everywhere on the walls, Palm describes itself as a "white tablecloth restaurant." What goes on the tablecloth is a mixture of fine, uncomplicated dishes and slight near-misses. Try the "Monday night salad" ($8.50) to start. The name came from whatever was left over from Sunday getting finely chopped and served on Monday, and it's a great blend of tomato, ancho-vies, pimentos and greens in a perfect balsamic dressing. Save some bread for spreading.

Among the appetizers, a sampler combo of "shrimp Bruno" and crab cake ($12, but not listed on the menu) was not as successful: The plentiful serving of sweet lump crab was way too loose to qualify as a cake. As for the breaded fried shrimp served with mustard sauce, I liked the shrimp and the sauce but could have done without the breading.

Among the appetizers, a sampler combo of "shrimp Bruno" and crab cake ($12, but not listed on the menu) was not as successful: The plentiful serving of sweet lump crab was way too loose to qualify as a cake. As for the breaded fried shrimp served with mustard sauce, I liked the shrimp and the sauce but could have done without the breading.

In a day when chefs like to layer flavor upon flavor until it's impossible to tell what you're eating, Palm sticks to simple combinations. The mackerel ($30) -- one of that night's specials -- came sitting atop a smooth and subtle lobster velouté sauce and dressed with spicy fresh tomato and cilantro salsa. The fish was moist and mild, perhaps seconds from being overcooked but certainly enjoyable.

In a day when chefs like to layer flavor upon flavor until it's impossible to tell what you're eating, Palm sticks to simple combinations. The mackerel ($30) -- one of that night's specials -- came sitting atop a smooth and subtle lobster velouté sauce and dressed with spicy fresh tomato and cilantro salsa. The fish was moist and mild, perhaps seconds from being overcooked but certainly enjoyable.

If you like a good cut of meat, Palm is up there with the best. The double-cut lamb chops ($29) are done to perfection and, like everything else, come in a very large serving. Steaks are enormous and, with true New York daring, are served with a side of Hollandaise.

If you like a good cut of meat, Palm is up there with the best. The double-cut lamb chops ($29) are done to perfection and, like everything else, come in a very large serving. Steaks are enormous and, with true New York daring, are served with a side of Hollandaise.

This isn't the most expensive place in town, but it ain't cheap either. Entrees can run up to $60 for the 36-ounce New York strip "double steak," designed to serve two, and side veggies are priced separately.

The original Palm always had a reputation for waiters with attitude; although efficient at bringing your dinner, they weren't always happy about it. I don't know if that's still true in New York. But service people at Palm Orlando are quick, pleasant and well trained, with a level of casualness that is more friendly than intrusive. And in a break from standard Universal fare, free valet parking is right at the door. Don't be put off by the rock-memorabilia theme of the hotel environs; the Palm's well-prepared food is worth checking into.

There are still times when you can feel the flavor of old Park Avenue. One is in the civilized morning hours, when parking spaces are plentiful and the aroma of fresh coffee is strong enough to follow into Palmano's Espresso Bar

This "coffee roastery" owned by Richard and Teresa Palmano sits in the back of the complex that fronts the avenue, in the same block as Park Plaza Gardens. (Look for the shoe-shine stand.) The classy storefront spreads onto a breezeway, where ceiling fans kick up the air, tables and chairs are invitingly arranged, and people mingle.

This "coffee roastery" owned by Richard and Teresa Palmano sits in the back of the complex that fronts the avenue, in the same block as Park Plaza Gardens. (Look for the shoe-shine stand.) The classy storefront spreads onto a breezeway, where ceiling fans kick up the air, tables and chairs are invitingly arranged, and people mingle.

Oh, and the coffee -- it's meticulously fresh-roasted and packaged by the bean (starting at $9.75 per pound) or by the cup; the basics are covered, with specialties such as the summer-friendly "café mocha frost." The raisin-pear scone by Old Hearth Bakery was an added old-school charm.

In practically every neighborhood in Orlando, you'll find a Chinese restaurant feeding residents' pangs for kung pao chicken, pork-fried rice or beef lo mein. Such restaurants garner little to no fanfare; like fast-food joints, they occupy the lower rungs of gastronomic options. So when Panda Bistro opened its doors on the Colonial'Alafaya corridor, it seemed like no big deal. But then I realized the appealing eatery is the brainchild of Maggie Lee, proprietress of Winter Park's Tatáme. I've always liked Lee's tea-and-sake house, but wouldn't go there if I were craving a meal to accompany my lychee-infused sake. So naturally, I was stoked at the prospect of dining at a Maggie Lee'branded restaurant. At first blush, it was pretty much as expected, with original art by Lee and other local artists setting it apart from other strip-mall noodle houses.

A couple of fresh faces stood behind the counter juggling takeout and dine-in orders, while an older chap who appeared quite deft at handling a wok anchored kitchen responsibilities. Given the sheer number of items available (close to 150 on the menu), he probably has one of the thickest, strongest wrists in Orlando.

A picture menu will hold your attention while you hold up the line forming behind you, so it's best to grab a bill of fare, peruse an assortment more varied than characters in the Chinese alphabet while you're waiting, and then order. A majority of the patrons here are students, and Panda Bistro seems to straddle the line between catering to undergrads with unsophisticated palates and ministering to neo-hipsters who fancy themselves connoisseurs. As at Tatáme, that's Lee's target demo ' and they're literally eating it up.

The pair behind the counter seemed so inundated with carry-out orders that it was a while before our order was taken. All was forgotten when the egg drop soup ($2.95) arrived, its clear yellow broth, suspending silken strands of golden yolk, making a comforting start to the meal. Edamame ($3.95) appeared to be overcooked, but the soybeans remained full and plump. Mains, as you can imagine, run the gamut. We opted for the Hunan Double ($9.95), an altogether ordinary stir-fry of beef, chicken and the requisite vegetables in a thick, broccoli-heavy sauce. The dish lacked that seasoned-wok essence that separates a good stir-fry from a great one (like Tasty Wok's); if you want it spicy, better ask for some sriracha and chili oil. Pan-fried noodles ($9.95) came served with a lighter sauce that was a little more flavorful than the Hunan, but it was the perfectly crisp egg noodles that made this dish worth ordering again. I'm not sure I'd order the boneless Peking duck ($13.95 half; $23.95 whole) again. The shiny slabs of dark meat looked nice sitting on a bed of scallions, accompanied by mu shu pancakes and hoisin sauce. But the duck was a bit too greasy and the sauce a tad too gluey for our liking.

When diners are presented with scores of options, the fare is bound to be hit-or-miss. A more focused menu would certainly help, but when you sustain a student body with diverse backgrounds and tastes, variety can take precedence over a concentrated approach. And Lee is the key. She knows her audience, and as ambitious, creative and determined a gal as she is (she often delivers food herself), Lee's sure to make Panda Bistro a success ' even if she has to grin and bear it.

The overwhelming smell of garlic, the barely-20-something staff and the fluorescent glow coming from Panino's Pizza and Grill, on the corner of Orange Avenue and Pine Street, suggests just another pizza joint with faux'New York slices and soggy wings. Not so. With more than 14 by-the-slice variations and many others available in whole-pie form, it's easy to be enchanted. From their loaded seafood pizza teeming with calamari, shrimp, baby clams, mussels and tuna ($18.95 for a large), to the rich and cheesy chicken cordon bleu version slathered with white garlic sauce and pancetta ($3.90 for a slice) there's a pie for every preference. The multitude of bankers and court reporters that flood in around lunchtime and the partiers and bike-hipsters who trickle in for a midnight snack don't fear the wings, either. The morsels ($6.95 for 10) arrive gloriously hot, slightly crispy, garlicky and bathed in the appropriate amount of Frank's RedHot sauce. Open until 5 a.m., Panino's is one of the few choices in Orlando for late-late-night grub, a perk for a city with night life but very little night food that doesn't involve pancakes. After hitting the bars, order a Phillyboli ($7.25), a stromboli-esque pocket of folded dough filled with cheese, steak, sautéed onions and peppers. The only downside: It's served with marinara sauce instead of something more appropriate, like jus or mustard or even horseradish mayo. If you want to keep drinking, the specials at Panino's rival those of any Church Street hotspot. Draft beers are $2 every day, all day (Bud Light, Budweiser American Ale and Miller Lite are all on tap); order a slice and get a draft beer for $1. Or order two and get a draft beer free. It doesn't get much better on steamy Orange Avenue nights. dining@orlandoweekly.com

Next door to Netto Ice Cream sits Pão Gostoso Bakery, a bustling cake and pastry shop where expats and visitors alike can be found downing açai, cashew or fresh cane juice while chomping on assorted “salgadinhos,” or small baked goods. Of note are the traditional condensed milk and cheese breads and the scrumptious éclairs, puddings and cakes beckoning from the large glass display case. You’ll also find fried chicken sticks, empanadas and kibbeh-like meatball patties, as well as hearty sandwiches oozing creamy catupiry cheese. Though English is spoken, it wouldn’t hurt to brush up on your Portuguese.

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