Thursday, August 09, 2012

Looking for a lovely hidden gem on International Drive? Got one!

It's not that there isn't a wealth of restaurants to choose from on International Drive. You can certainly find it all there, from fast food to high-end (that latter bit thanks largely to the Pointe Orlando upscale shopping and dining center). But the real trick is finding the places that even the locals will go to -- and let me tell you, there are few things Orlando locals hate more than driving on I-Drive. One of those things is Ciao Italia.

The Ciao Italia family, photo courtesy

The intimate, family-owned and run, authentic restaurant has been awarded a number of honors, including a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence, a consistent Zagat rating of Very Good to Excellent, AAA recognition, and high praise from both food critics. Orlando magazine called it "a shocker, a revelation, an amazing secret." My family - including my picky, Sicilian-born grandfather - have known the secret for twenty years. They may kill me for telling you. So, uh, you're welcome. 

The menu at Ciao Italia features standard Italian favorites (all delicious) alongside more adventurous (and also delicious) fare like wild boar, sautéed (never fried) calamari, and homemade giardiniera (Italian pickled veggies). Nearly everything is house-made, including the meat in the sausages. This is the place to feast on carbs -- the pasta is flawless and the bread is fluffy and warm and crusty on the outside. Save room for dessert, even if you have to share. Their tiramisu is almost as good as my grandmother's. 

Ciao Italia offers seasonal menus as well. Currently, their summer menu features an absolute steal with an early prix fixe menu of three courses for $29, served from 5 pm to 7pm daily. And if that wasn't temptation enough, you can often grab certificates for super savings (50% off, anyone) at Seriously? Mangia. As soon as you can. (Oh and please do tell them Dawn and Jamie sent you!)



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