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Cuban with first-class kick

When two of the best Cuban restaurants in town get together under one roof, expect a lot of spicy, savory, delicious things to happen. That's what's going on at Rolando's Cuban Restaurant in Casselberry -- easily the best Cuban on the east side. And as the eatery enters into its second decade, it's in no danger of losing its reputation after a recent ownership change. There's a new partnership between longtime Rolando's chef Faufto Rodriguez and his wife, Maria, and Numero Uno proprietors Isidro and Carmen Paulina, who will maintain their other restaurant on Orange Avenue, south of downtown Orlando.

Outwardly, none of the changes are evident. Rolando's is looking a little more formal and dressed up these days, but that's about it. Tables are draped with flowing cloths and decorated with vases of roses. Wait staff are friendly but reserved and decorous. More importantly, the food remains terrific.

Something as simple as a Cuban tamale gets impact from spicy beef picadillo on top; it's silky and scented with sweet cornmeal, and the meat topping is spiced so expertly that it resembles finely crumbled chorizo. Topped with a bright-yellow pepper, it's beautiful and delicious ($1.95).

True to Cuban tradition, there's a heavy representation of seafood. Everything from lobster to shrimp to king fish are sautéed in wine sauces and garlic sauces. Red snappers are fried and served whole, too. We passed on that variation and opted instead for a snapper fillet that was breaded and fried, then topped with crisp onions and multicolored bell peppers ($10.25). The fish was clean, odorless, firm and sweet, just the way seafood should be at its prime.

Game entrees range from lamb to rabbit fricassee ($9.25), and there's even Havana-style fried rice with corn fritters. Though there are only three pork selections, at least one of them is excellent. Fried pork chunks are brushed with garlic sauce and garnished with onions ($9.25). The results are flavorful through and through, vaguely salty and quite juicy.

Entrees come with a choice of side items, the best of which are a deep yellow rice that is boosted by a whisper of garlic and a shot of white wine. Also not to be missed: Fried plantains, especially the ripened ones, which are much sweeter than the green plantains.

We counted nine dessert choices, including grated coconut concoctions and papaya sweets. But we opted for a tres leches sponge cake that was soaked with three kinds of milk for a heavy, succulent effect that contrasted nicely with a fluff of meringue on top ($2.95).

Across Orlando, there are dozens of options for good Cuban food, but remember: Rolando's is in a whole other league.

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