Mai Bistro

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Mai sticky

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.

Pho 4 U

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Pho4u pho cu

I've never quite had a challenge like the one I faced with the noodles at Pho 4 U, a new Vietnamese restaurant in Longwood apparently aimed at the texting segment.

There was something immediately recognizable as different with the noodles in my pho -- number 41 on the menu, with eye round steak, flank and meatball chunks. They were flatter and wider than the noodles you usually see, more like fettuccine than the usual vermicelli-like noodles. And they were quite unchopstickable.

Viet-Nomz

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Vietnomz sign

Let me just put this right out there at the beginning: Viet-Nomz might just be serving the best Vietnamese food in the area. Those of you who know me know that I don’t make such statements lightly.

I put off visiting this small, fast-casual restaurant for a long time because too many other businesses in this spot opened and closed too quickly. I didn’t hold up much hope for another newcomer, especially one with such a cutesy name. But after six months of seeing more cars in front than I ever did for any of the other restaurants that have occupied the University Boulevard space, I decided to pull over and try it myself.

Pho & Roll

Written by Scott Joseph on .

 

Pho and Roll cu pho

I popped in to check out Pho & Roll, which recently replaced Pho Curry Ford (and whose name, as Faiyaz of the Orlando Weekly pointed out, was a bit dirty sounding if you pronounced pho correctly).

The menu for Pho & Roll says that it is “Vietnamese food with a modern twist.” Don’t know what that twist might be, except to offer fewer options than the older, more traditional Vietnamese restaurants in the area. And I don’t count that as a negative.

Saigon Noodle & Grill Bumby

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Saigon Noodle Bumby vermicelli 2

Saigon Noodle & Grill has taken over the space on Bumby Avenue that for a short time was Pho K5 and for a very long time Medina’s Market and Cafe.

This is a second location for SN&G. We visited the original, on Goldenrod Road last year as a suggestion for celebrating the Lunar New Year. This year Lunar New Year begins on Feb. 8, signaling the Year of the Monkey, which is just perfect for this particular election year. You may want to consider the new Saigon Noodle & Grill for your celebration again this year, but you might not want to wait two weeks to go.

Da Vi Vietnamese Cuisine

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Da Vi Interior

The Mills 50 district, which has historically been home to a majority of Vietnamese restaurants, so much so that it was once known colloquially as Little Saigon, has a new outlet for pho, rice platters and other Southeast Asia specialties. It’s called Da Vi, and it opened on Colonial Drive in mid November.

As compared to other Vietnamese restaurants in the neighborhood, including the one called Little Saigon, one of the oldest in the area, Da Vi is smaller, both in size and in menu. I see that as a plus — too many of the Viet restaurant menus are multipage tomes with over 100 items, most just mathematical variations on the same ingredients.

Da Vi’s menu tops out at 41 items, including appetizers, vermicelli and rice platters, phos and House Specialties. I’m usually drawn to consider whatever a restaurant touts as a speciality, but when I asked my server if I should be looking at that list — which had such things as Purple Glazed Squid, Clay Pot Fish, and even something called the Little Saigon Seafood — or at the pho offerings, he steered me to the latter.

Pho Curry Ford

Written by Scott Joseph on .

pho curry ford pho

There's a new pho restaurant on Curry Ford Road. It's called Pho Curry Ford. I'm wondering if the name might be a bit confusing to people not from these parts. They might think the restaurant is part Vietnamese and part Indian, so you can have the beef noodle soup or maybe a curry dish.

Maybe not.

Saigon Noodle

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Saigon Noodle interior

February 19 marks Lunar New Year, often mistakenly, or at least incompletely referred to as Chinese New Year. It's the New year for the Chinese, but other Asian countries observe it, as well.

As you probably know, each year is represented by a revolving stable of animals. This year is the year of the goat. Or the year of the sheep. It's a little unclear, actually. It sort of alternates, which may explain why some restaurants that serve mutton, which most of us know as lamb, is really goat, which most of us know as goat. Either way, happy goat or sheep year.

I know many of you, including non-Asians, will head out to a favorite Chinese restaurant, but as I said, the Lunar New Year is observed by other Asians. The Vietnamese, for example. So if you want to join in the celebration to ring in the new year you have many more options.

Consider Saigon Noodle, a Vietnamese restaurant on the Eastern side of town.

Banh Mi Nha Trang

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Banh mi sandwich

When we look at the Vietnamese restaurants in the area we tend to get a little too focused on the beef noodle soup, or pho they often feature. And by we I mean me.

So today I want to focus on another popular Vietnamese food item, the banh mi, the distinctly Vietnames sandwich. Banh mi basically means bread, and just like the Louisiana po’boy or just about any other sub sandwich you can name, the bread is the key element. It is essentially a mini baguette — the banh mi’s roots stem from the French colonization. I could describe to you what a perfect baguette for a banh mi would look and taste like, but instead, just go to Banh Mi Nha Trang and see for yourself.

BMNT is a well-hidden little shop among the many other Vietnamese owned and focused businesses in in the Mills 50 district. The tiny storefront is tucked inside an alcove of about a dozen shops. The signage is not great — I walked past it twice while trying to find it. And once you’re inside, it doesn’t look much like a restaurant. It’s almost like a slapdash operation or a pop-up sandwich shop.

Miss Saigon

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Miss saigon exterior

Miss Saigon was one of the many businesses that was displaced a while back when the University Shoppes strip mall at the corner of Alafaya Trail and University Boulevard was demolished to make way for some apartments. I mean, there was no helicopter involved in the evacuation, but it was a disruption nonetheless.

The apartment complex, which is now getting a facade to make it look as though it was built with something more substantial than the ticky-tacky-looking wood frame that was visible in the earlier phases of construction, will also feature some retail businesses, and perhaps even some restaurants. But none of the displaced businesses wanted to wait around that long. Some, like Mama Millie’s Caribbean and Anmol Indian, simply went out of business. Others, Lazy Moon Pizza, took the opportunity to move to better digs. Miss Saigon was one of the first to get out and get set up elsewhere.