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If you’ve ever strolled around Midtown Manhattan you’ve noticed the numerous food carts. There’s one on just about every corner. And some of the most recognizable – and most popular – are the ones known as The Halal Guys. They’re all over the city and have been around for more than three decades. I first encountered one of their carts at 53d Street and 6th Avenue in the early nineties.

The concept was started by three Egyptian men who sold hot dogs from the corner carts, mainly for Muslim taxi drivers who had few choices for a quick meal with food certified halal. To oversimplify it, halal is to Muslims what kosher is to Jews. The Koran specifies which foods are permissible (halal) and which are forbidden (haram). So a place that certified the food was halal and served around the clock (see: sleeps, city that never) made it very popular. It wasn’t unusual to see long lines snaking down the block with people waiting for the food, especially after The Halal Guys expanded beyond hot dogs and included other meats and rice platters.

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We have a plethora of casual Italian restaurants – pizza and pasta houses and red-sauce eateries – that offer a good meal, especially for families. But there is a dearth of fine dining Italian restaurants that serve traditional Italian regional classics in a a more upscale atmosphere suitable for a romantic night out, with fine white tablecloths instead of checkered. Among those few restaurants, Rocco’s Italian Grille & Bar is one of the best.

Owner Rocco Potami is in his 16th year of serving classic Italian cuisine in his Winter Park hideaway spot. The Italy native is a stickler for details and always insists on the finest quality.

Which makes Rocco’s Italian Grille & Bar a great choice for Magical Dining, running this year from Aug. 26 through Oct. 3. Potami has put together a fine representation of his regular menu for the three-course table d’hote. And priced at $40 per person plus tax and gratuity, there are some bargains to be found.

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Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining, the annual restaurant promotion now in its 17th year, officially begins Friday, Aug. 26 and continues through Oct. 22. That gives you 38 days to try as many of the 104 participating restaurants as you can.

You can’t do them all – we’ve had this talk before; no, you can’t – so you’ll need to do some research and homework to narrow your choices. I’ll explain my strategy in a moment.

For those new to town, or the otherwise uninitiated, Magical Dining, MagDin for short, first began as Magical Dining Month (MagDinMo) and was confined to the month of September. That was the time of year that Visit Orlando had determined was the slowest month for restaurants, and MagDinMo was initiated to generate business for the organization’s member restaurants.

The promotion has always operated the same, with a few tweaks here and there. Restaurants, which pay a fee to Visit Orlando to be a part of the marketing initiative, agree to offer a special prix fixe three-course table d’hote comprised of a soup, salad or appetizer, a main course, and dessert, usually with three or four choices in each category. This year’s cost is $40, which is a new high but in line with general inflation costs.

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Bacon BitchBacon Bitch

A Miami breakfast and brunch restaurant with the unfortunate name Bacon Bitch (no comma between the two words, please) plans to open Friday on Collegiate Way near collegial UCF. The restaurant’s menu has offerings such as Main Bitch, Naked Bitch, Cafe Bitch and extras known as Side Bitches. I feel the need to mention that this isn’t one of those doggie dining concepts. I guess the casual use of the word is a generational thing. You’ll recall that last year a restaurant called Japango opened on Colonial Drive with a bento offering known as a Bitch Box. As I’ve said many times, coming up with a name for a restaurant can be really hard, but sometimes it can be an absolute...well, you know.

Here’s a good name: John & John’s. No, it’s not a port-a-potty business, it’s a pizza shop that opened last week in the former Mediterranean Blue Cafe space in SoDo. The Johns in question are Markaj and Cavallini. The latter is also the owner of Cavo’s Bar & Kitchen in Thornton Park.

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EvrBar Takeover

Cafe La Trova from Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood is planning a takeover (non-hostile) of the EvrBar at JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes on Sat., Sept. 3, from 6 to 10 p.m.

La Trova, number six on the North America’s 50 Best Bars list – and number one in the South – is known for its cantinero style of bartending, which harkens back to the golden days of pre-Revolution Cuba. The word cantinero generally means bartender, but cantinero style is much more than a job title.

La Trova’s founder, Julio Cabrera, is trying to keep alive the cantinero style, which includes bartenders dressed in white shirts, bow ties and vests who know the Cuban classics like the El Presidente, the Hotel Nacional, daiquiri and mojito. He’s especially focused on teaching his bartenders how to properly make those last two, which are too frequently done using shortcuts.

What’s more, a proper cantinero will be skilled in the practice of throwing drinks. No, that doesn’t mean he hurls cocktails at unruly patrons crowded at the bar (that’s known as Miami Beach style). Throwing a drink means that instead of shaking the ingredients, the cantinero tosses the beverage from one mixing vessel to another. Actually, it’s more like a a high vertical pour from a mixer held high above the bartender’s head to another container held below the waist.