Mai Bistro, a Vietnamese restaurant, has opened in the Mills 50 district, bringing a bit of difference to the Asian-restaurant-rich neighborhood. Not only different, but very good.
The menu features street foods of Vietnam -- nothing new there, Hawkers and Mamak are also in the street food business. But Mai brings a combination of fast- and quick-serve. And instead of the small-plate, Asian-style tapas servings, Mai Bistro offers full sized portions.
You’re going to want a complete serving of the Sticky Rice, one of Mai Bistro’s specialties and a dish that is surprisingly hard to find locally. (A new restaurant called Sticky Rice is due to open soon in the same area, so maybe we’ll have more opportunities.)
I love sticky rice and it’s one of my go-to street foods whenever I’m in New York’s Chinatown. In Vietnam, it’s known as xôi and can be had in sweet or savory versions, though given that coconut milk is one of the ingredients that adds to the stickiness even the savory has a bit of sweetness.
I probably would have gone right for the Sticky Rice anyway, but as I looked over the menu board next to the ordering counter a gentleman approached and offered me a sample to try. (Later I heard him introduce himself to another table as Dat Dang, who is the owner.)
It was actually more than just a taste — like I said, they give you good portions here. Mine had a mix of some of the available toppings, including shredded chicken and a dried Vietnamese sausage, topped with fresh chopped scallions. It was all delicious, and I could have made a meal of it, but it would have been wrong to walk out after eating only a free sample.
So I went overboard. I had an appetizer of Steamed Bun, as big as a snowball, filled with seasoned pork, served hot and chewy.
And a Bánh Mì, the one designated B1 on the menu, that featured a combination of cold cuts, including pork, ham and headcheese. The roll for a bánh mì is one of the most important factors and Mai Bistro bakes its own right in the back. It had the perfect combination of fresh breadiness with a crispy crust (thanks to a bit of grilling before stuffing). Inside, along with the ample portions of meats, were the pickled vegetables and fresh cilantro (coriander, if you prefer) that give it its distinctive taste.
As I paid for my food at the counter before finding a seat in the bright and tidy dining area, I was also offered a tall plastic cup filled with iced Vietnamese coffee. I probably wouldn’t have ordered it on my own — just not an iced coffee fan — but this was wonderfully refreshing and tasted a bit like a chocolate shake. I took it with me to sip on the way home.
Foods that aren’t dished out as you wait, such as the Sticky Rice, are brought to your table when ready by one of the friendly staffers.
Mai Bistro moved in to the space that had previously been the offices for a Scientology chapter. And if you think I’m going to make a joke about that then you aren’t familiar with the litigiousness of the Scientologists.
But you should really clear your schedule to get by and try Mai. It’s a welcome addition to the district.
Mai Bistro is at 1830 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando. It is open for lunch and early dinner (closes at 7 p.m.) Wednesday through Monday. The phone number is 407-730-8538.