An Inside Look...
Sure, tourist-area strip centers such as Crossroads (which is lit up like Cinderella's castle and home to nearly every chain restaurant imaginable) offer easily accessible - and familiar - dining. But who wants to eat like a tourist? Instead, indulge like a local and grab a table at one of these favorite spots. By Rona Gindin

Early-Bird Special

The indisputably best pancakes in town are at a restaurant called the Old Spanish Sugar Mill. You cook the regular or whole-grain flapjacks on a griddle right in the center of your table. Be sure to get some smoky bacon on the side.

601 Ponce DeLeon Boulevard, DeLeon Springs
(386) 985-5644

Lunch of the Day

In the Little Vietnam district, Vietnamese-Americans cram into this bare-bones corner restaurant, where every steaming bowl of soup is served with a "salad" - a plateful of herbs still on their branches. For the perfect mix, add a leaf of culantro, a rip of mint, and a sprinkling of cilantro, and then add a spritz of lime and toss it all into the bowl.

1124 East Colonial Drive
(407) 999-2656

Merely blocks away from the Orange County Convention Center, this truly authentic restaurant employs waitresses who speak very little English and caters to a crowd mainly consisting of Japanese businessmen. Order the sukiyaki, which is cooked right at your table, or sample the grilled rice balls with plum, the fermented soybeans with tuna, or the Asian seafood salad.

8255 International Drive, Suite 136
(407) 363-7200

Dinner Is Served

At this bistro, where stylish downtowners congregate from dawn until the wee hours, the people-watching is as good as the food. But there's a dilemma: Albert's Benedict, made with latkes and lox instead of with English muffins and Canadian bacon, or hearty osso buco, a fork-tender stewed lamb shank with farm-fresh vegetables?

100 South Eola Drive
(407) 481-2251

The same family has been serving up smothered pork chops, fried chicken, and sweet-potato pie here for years. The digs are kind of spiffy because the restaurant moved into a new building, but that hasn't hurt the old-time flavors one bit.

595 West Church Street at South Terry Avenue
(407) 841-0717

When it's time to get fancy - without fanfare - cuddle into teensy Journeys (wedged into a suburban shopping center) for creative meals like juniper-berry-crusted venison loin with five-spice sweet-potato mash and blackberry-Madeira reduction.

1831 West State Road 434, Longwood
(407) 629-2221