Orlando’s oldest restaurant has been a family affair for 67 years.
Linda’s La Cantina today
Q: What is the oldest restaurant in the Orlando area?
A: Linda’s La Cantina on East Colonial Drive takes the crown. The restaurant got its start in 1947 when Rudy and Edie Seng bought an Italian restaurant called La Cantina, eventually turning the focus to steaks. Son Al and his wife, Linda, bought the restaurant from Edie after Rudy died in 1972 and it was renamed Al and Linda’s La Cantina. After Al and Linda divorced a few years later, his name came off the sign and the place has been known as Linda’s La Cantina ever since.
Linda’s La Cantina today (top) and in the 1970s, when it bore the names of both Al and Linda Seng.
Courtesy of Karen Hart
The restaurant is still in its original location, although it has been through several structures. The first building was razed in 1979. Then the bigger, better replacement burned down in 1994 but was quickly rebuilt.
Linda Seng died in 2011, and La Cantina is now run by Al and Linda’s daughters—Karen Hart, Debra Tassoni and Lori Dixon. Hart has been working there since her teens; her husband, Steve, is the chef; and two of their daughters are servers. Meanwhile, members of the fifth generation are getting their start working in the kitchen or busing tables. Among other employees, one hostess, Evelyn Murray, has worked there since 1961. As for customers, local businessman George Stuart may hold the longevity record: He made his first visit to the restaurant 67 years ago, when he was 3 months old.
La Cantina’s menu and service are predictable—and that’s a good thing. Orders are written down (no fancy point-of-sale computers here). What’s not written down are the recipes: Those are embedded in the collective family memory.
“We try to keep it as old school as possible,’’ Hart says. “We’ve added a few things, but the basic menu has stayed the same over the years.’’ The most popular item among men is the T-bone (a 2-pounder is available); for women, it’s the filet. And La Cantina’s menu still has traces of its early days as an Italian restaurant: eggplant, veal or chicken Parmesan, manicotti and spaghetti.
Trivia break: Al and dad Rudy were watchmakers by trade, hailing from Louisville, Ky. And up until La Cantina’s move into its second space in 1979, the restaurant served pizza on Fridays and Saturdays and included a drive-up window.
Speaking of drive-up, second place for oldest restaurant in Orlando goes to Goff’s Drive-In, which has been serving yummy sundaes and soft-serve ice cream since 1948 in a tiny block building at South Orange Blossom Trail and West Church Street. Other Orlando old-timers and the year they opened include Lee & Rick’s Oyster Bar (1950), Gabriel’s Sub Shop (1958), Rossi’s Pizza & Pasta (1965), and Beefy King (1968).