How can such a little place have so much flavor?
Tako Cheena is the new concept from Pom Moongauklang, owner of of the popular Pom Pom’s sandwicherie. The name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the type of food featured, tacos, and Moongauklang’s Asian heritage (she was born in Thailand). She combines Latin and Asian into true fusion cuisine.
It’s also pretty darned tasty. Moongauklang has a talent for making complex foods look simple, and for taking simple flavor combinations and giving them layers and textures that make them seem complex. It isn’t surprising that she worked at New York’s famed Nobu restaurant.
The menu is short. It offers a featured empanada and a roster of takos. I sampled an array of takos, and I liked every one of them. My favorite was the panko crusted cod, which had bite-sized nuggets of fish in the soft flour tortilla garnished with scallions and mixed cabbage. What really brought out the flavors, though, was the lusciously thick sweet and sour sauce that not only gave it a great taste but also made it look so pretty.
My second favorite was the Chinese barbecue char shu pork belly, with mixed cabbage, fresh cilantro and ginger oil, all topped with a crisp ribbon of crackling. I also liked the Thai peanut chicken, with its velvety peanut sauce, topped off with crunchy crushed peanuts.
Tofu is featured in the Indian yellow curry tako, along with slivers of fresh celery. This is a good choice for vegans.
I appreciated that each tako had its own array of toppings, designed to complement the meat. Not such a difficult thing to do, but it makes each one distinct and gives a small menu the illusion of being more diverse.
The empanada was a broccoli and cheese. I liked the flakiness of the pastry, but the filling wasn’t what I would call exciting. It did offer another vegetarian option, though it probably would qualify as veganic because of the cheese.
Tako Cheena occupies a storefront space that has been home to a number of short-lived ventures, including, most recently, a catering company. Previously, it had also been called My Beautiful Luncheonette and, in the mid ‘90s, Piro-Chinos, which sounds a bit similar to the current tenant. I seem to recall an Italian restaurant in there somewhere, but the name eludes me.
The problem for many of the previous occupants was that the space didn’t have much of a kitchen. Moongauklang expanded the cooking space into the dining room and created a show kitchen with a food bar so folks could watch their takos being prepared. There are also a few tables and chairs, apparently purchased from a neighboring restaurant that went out of business. Although painted over, the chair backs clearly say Vietnam Town Restaurant on them. The space is bright and colorful and also features original artwork on the walls.
Oh, and let’s talk about prices. You can eat very well for not a lot of money. Empanadas are two for $1.75; most takos are $2.50.
People who know Pom Pom’s will not be surprised by the quality of the food here. This is how more restaurants should operate, offering a manageable menu of simple but delicious foods served by friendly people who are happy you’re there.
Tako Cheena is at 932 N. Mills Ave., Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday, until 4 a.m. on weekends. There is a website, but it doesn’t yet have any information on it. A phone has not yet been installed.