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Orlando foodie district face-off: Mills 50 vs. I-Drive



Both neighborhoods are packed with restaurants, but which you choose has a lot to do with what you’re craving – hyperlocal flavor on the cheap or cha-ching! pampering. To the north, there’s Mills 50, a haven for mom-and-pop ventures, international eats and the hottest spots to find nom-nom-nirvana on a dime. To the south, International Drive has transformed itself from a tourist trap to avoid into a restaurant hub worth frequenting, especially on an expense account.


BAO CHICKA WOW You can eat an amazing dinner for less than $10 at King Bao. Two pillowy rice-flour buns stuffed with Korean fried chicken, braised pork belly or lobster plus a soft drink will only set you back about seven bucks.

NEW + OLD If there's one place on the Mills 50 strip for a fancy dinner, it's The Strand. The pocket-sized restaurant and bar specializes in small-batch classic comfort food with a contemporary twist, so it's not too far outside the comfort zone for less adventurous diners. The waitstaff will steer you to a killer bottle of wine within your budget.

PHO SHO' Sometimes only soup will do. Good thing Pho 88 has 40 different ones to choose from, all served in giant bowls with your choice of accoutrement – thai basil, bean sprouts, jalapeño slices and lime wedges. Vietnamese parents all swear by a big bowl of bun bo hue, a steaming, lava-red bowl of beef and noodles, for whatever ails you.

A LITTLE OF A LOT When chef and TV host Andrew Zimmern came to Orlando, he couldn't say enough good things about Hawkers Asian Street Fare. Same goes for the small plates at Mamak Asian Street Food. At these two Mills 50 restos, it's encouraged to order a bunch of things and order progressively from the menu until you've reached your desired satiety.

BANGIN' BANH CUON It's a tiny, tucked-away Southeast Asian spot on the south side of the street, but Vietnam Cuisine has killer banh cuon – slippery rice crepes folded over pork and shrimp – that belie the humble digs. Get you some with a Vietnamese iced coffee to shake off that hangover.

SUM-THING GOOD There's no rule that says Saturday and Sunday mornings are just for bacon and eggs; Mills 50 folk go for dim sum instead. Sit down at Lam's Garden, Chan's Chinese Cuisine or Ming's Bistro – after you've waited in line a bit – to feast on dumplings, chicken feet and roasted pork.

HOT, HOT HEAT Orlando's only authentic Sichuan-style restaurant, Chuan Lu Garden, started out as a run-of-the-mill hibachi hut, but soon the owners learned we couldn't get enough of those numbing peppercorns and turned the whole place into a veritable sweat lodge where patrons slurp dan-dan noodles and spicy hot pots.

TWO IN ONE Noodles, be they hot, cold, soupy or stir-fried, are the, ahem, mein attraction at this Mills Avenue resto – whether it's ramen, udon, soba, pad thai, chow fun or lo mein that bubbles your bowl, you'll find it all at Noodles & Rice. Or try the Hong Kong style barbecue (duck is surprisingly absent), or snag a hot pot table.

COUPLE'S COOKING John and Juliana Calloway created Black Rooster Taqueria to fill a need for an elevated, authentic Mexican taco stand. Since the storefront opened in 2015, it's become a neighborhood must-visit. Come for the tacos, but stay for the pork pozole verde and chocolate-chipotle flan.

QUEENS OF CANTON If you've ever walked Main Street in Flushing, Queens, you'll recognize the roast whole ducks and five-spice aroma wafting from Tasty Wok. You can still find kung pao and orange chicken here (done better than most NY-style spots, too), but the stars are the whole sole with black bean sauce and beef with pickled vegetables.

DIY DINNER Shin Jung Korean Restaurant has been through several updates, but we think the most recent one, which added Korean BBQ grills to each and every table, is just the tops. After you've wrapped your last bulgogi or slurped the last of your kimchi jjigae, don't forget dessert: the epic patbingsu.

MMMMMM ... MUDBUGS A large number of Vietnamese refugees made the Southern states their home during the 1960s and '70s, and adopted Cajun seafood as part of their culture. King Crawfish and L.A. Boiling Seafood are two spots to get your hands really, really dirty in Mills 50, elbows deep in crawfish, corn and melted butter.

THE TAO OF TACOS Tako Cheena, a bustling Latin-Asian burrito and taco spot, has reached certified local must-eat status. We can't wait for it to move into new digs just down the street in the former Forbidden City building.

DON'T-MISS MEATS Until recently, when the Lake Nona outpost opened, Pig Floyd's Urban Barbakoa on Mills Avenue was the only place to find the pork belly bánh mì – a Latin-Asian sammy that's an ode to the 'hood – or the Matahambre, translated as the "hunger killer," a monster layered with smoked brisket, chimichurri, mayonnaise, picked vegetables and an egg on toasted baguette.


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