It's Called 'International' for a Reason: I-Drive's Surprising Best Bets

Alright, no one's going to argue that Orlando's I-Drive is ground zero for the city's zillion or so annual tourists, but with what seems like a zillion or so restaurants to match, is it possible to find an ethnic culinary gem amid the chain buffets and ubiquitous pancake houses? Indeed. In fact, if you dig a little deeper you might come to the conclusion that they named it INTERNATIONAL Drive for a reason. Did you ever imagine you'd find authentic Japanese or Ethiopian food in the heart of this tourist corridor? Such treasures surprise many an Orlando native, never mind the visitors. Of course, "chain" doesn't have to be a dirty word. There's something to be said for the fun and familiar when it comes to quality dining, especially if you're traveling with a diverse or picky group. Venues like Fogo de Chao offer fine food in lovely surroundings with the family-friendliness and ease of an all-you-can-eat buffet. Hotel-ensconced eateries like Spencer's provide elegant oases ideal for special evenings out, well away from the Disney-bound hordes. And restaurants like Tapa Toro, a new gem at the foot of the Orlando Eye, do up both succinct small plates for dates and succulent paella vats for family-reunion celebrations. 

Fogo De Chao, the well-known Brazilian steakhouse chain, could be described as something of an upscale all-you-can-eat option. Offering the I-Drive crowd – and a preponderance of locals keen on churrascaria, the Brazilian tradition wherein...  Read More

Photo courtesy of Q'Kenan

Though tucked into the confines of an unremarkable shopping center, for Venezuelan comfort food, Q'Kenan is tops. Cachapas, arepas and empanadas are just three of the stars on a vast menu that's drizzled with smooth crema and dressed with rice,...  Read More

What's the burning question on the minds of Pio Pio patrons, you wonder? Perhaps it's how they serve such generous portions in the tourist zone for such reasonable prices. Perhaps, if they're locals, it's a disbelief that it's taken them so long...  Read More

Locals (those in-the-know) and visitors alike visit Spencer's for Steaks and Chops, and its location inside the Hilton Orlando, which is also connected to the Orange County Convention Center, likely garners this venue a steady stream of...  Read More

Vincenzo Cucina Italiana is a hybrid of sorts, a superb restaurant that melds family-run warmth with a fine-dining vibe, making it a wonderful place for a date night, a client dinner, a post-work glass of Chianti or a special occasion dinner....  Read More

From the folks who brought you Taverna Opa, another of our I-Drive favorites, comes Tapa Toro, a beautiful addition to the I-Drive 360 complex, where the paella pit beckons, flamenco dancers stomp and sangria – particularly at happy hour –...  Read More

Consistently ranked as a Greek favorite in the City Beautiful, Taverna Opa is something of an all-encompassing experience, as diners are immersed in authentic, satisfying Mediterranean fare – along with a steady stream of flying napkins and...  Read More

Serving up tasty fast-casual eats from its comfortable Dr. Phillips digs, this cheery "paninery" does up a multitude of classic pressed sandwiches with fresh, locally made bread and house-roasted meats, which makes a big difference when it comes...  Read More

Let the fact that Hanamizuki's website is in Japanese clue you in: this I-Drive dining experience may be atypical compared with Japanese restaurants you've frequented in the past. And that's definitely not a bad thing. Hanamizuki serves sushi to...  Read More

The Nile ain't just a river in Egypt, as the saying goes (sort of). In Orlando, it's one of a handful of independent restaurants amid I-Drive's sea of chain offerings, one serving up authentic Ethiopian fare in traditional style. What does this...  Read More


Meet A.D. Thompson

A.D. Thompson has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and roughly 15 as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum.

A roller coaster enthusiast,...  More About A.D.

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