Updated to include link to website.
I came across a little place that specializes in the cuisine of Vietnam. It’s called Vietnam Cuisine. Not surprisingly, it’s in the vicinity of the intersection of Mills Avenue and Colonial Avenue, also known as U.S. Highway 50, that has been dubbed Mills 50 by the City of Orlando’s Main Street program. Few locals call it Mills 50; it’s known more colloquially as Little Saigon, even though there is a restaurant by that name, which also, coincidentally, specializes in the cuisine of Vietnam. And what does it say that on the website mills50.org there are no Vietnamese restaurants listed in the membership directory? But I digress.
If you enter Vietnam Cuisine from the back of the building, which most people will do because that is where the parking lot is and there’s no easy way around to the front and the entrance on Colonial Avenue, you may feel the urge to turn around and run. The area is not exactly pretty, and the entrance to the restaurant is circuitous. A sign points to a cinder-block passageway with old terrazzo flooring and walls papered with handwritten flyers, mostly in Vietnamese; the corridor leads to a door to the restaurant. But when you go through the door, you find yourself in a narrow dining area that is actually overflow from the main dining area. Keep going and you’ll find yourself in a small but brightly lit room with about eight glass-topped tables and lots of mirrors.
You’ll also find yourself warmly greeted, most likely by one of the women in the kitchen, which is fully visible through a large open window. At first I wondered if I was to order my food there, but one of the women cheerfully led me to a table and handed me a menu.
The menu is less extensive than many of those you’d find in the neighboring restaurants, some of which have over a hundred options. But like those other restaurants, several of the items on the menu are variations of the same dish. For example, of the seven dishes listed under the heading “House Specials,” five were essentially the same dish with a different lead protein. All had fried shrimp, deep-fried shrimp-and-pork cake wrapped in bean curd skin, shredded pork skin, and grilled shrimp. You could get that with grilled pork, chicken, grilled beef, grilled “ribs of the beef,” or grilled rib.
I chose the latter, which turned out to be a pork chop. And a good one at that, slightly charred but moist inside. The shrimp-and-pork cake was especially tasty with the fried bean curd skin. And the platter was filled out with a large mound of white fluffy rice plus some lettuce, sculptured carrot slices, cucumber and a ring of jalapeno. There was also a dish of sweet and sour vinaigrette to pour over the rice. It was all very good and very filling, even if the two grilled shrimp were, well, shrimpy.
The shredded pork skin looked at first like little noodles with some sort of sawdusty topping. It was less chewy than you might think, but it was quite garlicky (apparently the sawdust was garlic).
The shredded pork skin was also featured in the spring rolls that I started with. Again, rather garlicky, but amply stuffed with rice noodles and bok choy.
Service was absolutely delightful. The young woman who waited on my table was genuinely gracious and had an easy smile. So, too, another woman I assumed to be the owner who came by my table to see how I liked my meal.
Very much indeed, thank you.
Vietnam Cuisine is at 1224 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. My platter was $11.95, but most other entrees are under $8. Here is a link to the website; the phone number is 407-228-7053.