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Meaty history

You know a restaurant must be doing at least one thing right when it lays claim to being the oldest family-owned steakhouse in Orlando. That one thing would be steaks, and you'll definitely find beef on the menu -- if not a lot of other attractions -- at Linda's La Cantina Steakhouse, which dates back to 1947. It's been in the same location for more than half a century at 4721 E. Colonial Drive.

In the old days it was called Al and Linda's La Cantina. But it's Linda Seng who runs the place after all these years (she prefers not to discuss the particulars behind the name and ownership transition), and her family joins her in running the restaurant.

A casual observer would never guess the restaurant's history: It looks virtually new. That's because the old La Cantina burned to the ground three days after Christmas 1994 and rebuilt by the following summer. The spiffy updated digs include a bilevel dining area and a gleaming new bar that is built around a distinctive "water-fire" fountain -- a pool of water that has an undulating flame as its centerpiece. The whole effect is that of a typical, dimly lit family steakhouse, but more upscale.

We weren't expecting a revolutionary dining experience, so we weren't disappointed. We enjoyed expertly prepared steaks, with the exception of one appetizer -- the too-chewy "bourbon bites" ($5.95) tinged with whiskey and brown sugar. The shrimp cocktail ($6.25) featured a half dozen Gulf shrimp that were simply presented on a bed of greens with chilled, tangy marinara sauce. But for an opener, we preferred the toasty, warm baguette that came with the bread basket.

My guest's huge "surf and turf" dinner ($28.95) was fantastic and flawless. A 14-ounce snapper fillet was blanketed in Cajun spices (chosen by Seng after excursions to New Orleans). There also was an 8-ounce filet mignon that was sizzled outside and deep-red inside with a silky texture throughout. Juicy, succulent and tender, with hints of smokiness, the mammoth T-bone steaks ($23.45) cover the better part of an oversized dinner plate.

Among the side items, skip the spaghetti; it's lackluster next to such a fabulous cut of meat. Dinners like this call for jumbo baked potatoes smothered with all the trimmings and a simple house salad ladled with freshly made Roquefort "blue cheese" dressing.

Despite the high-end prices, you won't find any waiters putting on airs here. Service is strictly casual. Linda's La Cantina Steakhouse is just the place to thoroughly relax over a fine steak dinner.

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