February 11 is Lunar New Year Eve, the celebration by Asian countries of the beginning of another calendar cycle and the beginning of spring. Each year of the Asian calendar is represented by an animal. This year is the year of the ox, or buffalo.
Last year, by the way, was the year of the rat, which so sums up 2020.
In Vietnam, the New Year celebration is called Tet, so I thought it might be a good time to try out Viet-Nomz’s new ghost kitchen operation west of downtown Orlando.
Actually, I came to visit the new operation circuitously. I was looking for another restaurant that had a West Pine Street address, but when I got there, no restaurant could be seen. Talk about a ghost kitchen. As I circled the block to head back home, I passed Dollins Avenue. That sounded familiar, so I pulled over and soon found that I’d seen the address in a post by Viet-Nomz.
I pulled into the parking lot at 18 N. Dollins Ave., searched for Viet-Nomz on my phone and placed my order online. It was simple, intutitve, I was able to prepay, with a tip, and when I finalized the order I received a text message saying it had been received and telling me to stay in my car until it was ready. It’s like they knew I was sitting right outside. Eerie.
If you’re unfamiliar with Viet-Nomz, you really need to fix that. As I said in my review of 2016, the year that partners Phillip Nguyen, Chris Chen, and Mike Cho opened the first location on University Boulevard, “Viet-Nomz might just be serving the best Vietnamese food in the area.” You can remove the word “might” now. The readers of Scott Joseph’s Orlando Restaurant Guide confirmed that by voting it the 2019 Best Vietnamese Foodster Award for Independent Restaurants. It’s getting close to being disqualified for future Foodsters now that it has three locations.
But does a ghost kitchen qualify as a location? That’s something for the Foodster Board of Governors to consider. There is no place to dine in here; it’s strictly takeout or delivery. But the food is every bit as good and expertly prepared as at the other locations.
The food was all nicely packaged, including the pho, the beef broth packaged separately from the meats, which were separated from the add-ins. I skipped over the build-your-own pho section of the menu and ordered the pre-ordained What the Pho?!, a tongue in cheek name when you know the correct pronunciation of pho.
This one had a chicken broth base instead of usual beef and came with dense Vietnamese beef balls already in the broth and noodles, shredded chicken and raw eye round steak to add to it. Other accouterments included rings of raw onion, chopped scallions, sliced jalapeño, bean sprouts and fragrant basil. The broth was smooth and well seasoned and the noodles quite slurpable.
I also ordered the Surf n’ Turf, a bowl of jasmine white rice and greens topped with small but plentiful chunks of beef and battered and deep fried bits of fish. And on top of it all, a fried egg, the yolk of which remained soft and runny through the run home. I loved stirring it all together and pouring the sweet and spicy sauces over it all.
For an appetizer, I chose the summer rolls, two fattly rolled wrappers filled with steamed pork, shrimp, vermicelli noodles and lettuce. Quite filling by themselves.
The building that holds the ghost kitchen is nondescript, painted grey with blue accents and has a sign with the numbers 18 on top and two icons – one either a fork or Neptune’s trident and the other most likely a knife – below it. Lettering on the side of the building directing people to the door for pick-up or takeout is the only real clue that there’s food inside.
When I entered the building after receiving my text that told me my food was ready, a humorless young man told me to check in at one of the smart tablets on the wall. But the check-in choices did not include Viet-Nomz. (They are apparently for people who order through a third-party app.) Once it was cleared up, I was handed my food and I was on the way.
Viet-Nomz was the first quick-serve or fast-casual restaurant in the area to feature Vietnamese cuisine. It was a smart move for the three young entrepreneurs back then and the move to a virtual kitchen is a smart move today.
Viet-Nomz downtown is at 18 N. Dollins Ave., Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-543-6449.