Ha Long Bistro

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Ha LongVinh’s, one of Orlando’s oldest Vietnamese restaurants, is no more. I first reviewed Vinh’s in 1990, shortly after it opened, and for the last 22 years it has been a fixture among the other Vietnamese and Asian restaurants and retailers.

Now, suddenly, in its place is Ha Long Bistro. It was startling to see the new signage, or, more likely, to not see the Vinh’s sign after all these years. But early indications are that Ha Long will be a worthy replacement.

I stopped in to Ha Long recently at 8 p.m. on a weeknight. I stepped through the front door onto wet tiles; a worker was giving the entire restaurant a mop down. It looked as though the restaurant was closed, and I asked a man nearby if indeed that was the case. The fact that there were no other patrons in the restaurants was another clue. But I was assured the restaurant was open, and I was shown to a table in the front window.

I started with the goi cuon, big, fat summer rolls stuffed with rice noodles and pork, served with a sweet vinaigrette (even though the menu said they would come with a peanut dipping sauce). They were much more substantial than many of the summer rolls served in neighboring restaurants.

For my entree I selected the bun cha Ha Noi from the list of house specials. As you might guess from the name, this is a dish from Hanoi in the north. It features a sort of sausage patty as well as barbecue pork, both marinated in nuoc mam (fish sauce). The meat had an appearance of being greasy, but it was not. It did have a wonderfully salty taste.

The meat was topped with pickled carrots and daikon and served in a separate bowl to be scooped on to the stack of vermicelli noodles on the plate. Next to the noodles was a massive stack of fresh herbs and lettuce. You might be tempted to use the leaves of lettuce as roll-ups, and no one will scoff at you if you do, but the appropriate use is to tear the lettuce and the basil and mint and mix it with the meats and vermicelli. It was all quite delicious, and at $8.50, a bargain of a dish.

Service was at first aloof -- odd for an empty restaurant -- but quickly turned welcoming and helpful. The dining room is vast and slightly impersonal, but ultimately neat and clean (see reference above to mopping).

When Vinh’s first opened the community of Asian business owners were trying to get the city of Orlando to officially designate the neighborhood Little Saigon. Instead, many years later, the city came up with Mills 50, a designation derived from the two intersecting thoroughfares, U.S. Highway 50 (Colonial Drive) and Mills Avenue. It probably isn’t insignificant that today there are no Vietnamese or Asian restaurants among the Mills 50 membership. But the area is no longer exclusively Vietnamese, either. There not only are Japanese, Thai and Chinese restaurants in the mix, but also American and even Turkish.

But for many of us, this will still be our Little Saigon, especially with so many good Vietnamese restaurants. Nice to have Ha Long join them.

Ha Long Bistro is at 1231 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando. It’s open for lunch and dinner daily. There is no website, but this link will take you to Ha Long’s Facebook page. The phone number is 407-894-5007.

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