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

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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.

Pho K5

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phok5 pho

It was a pretty quick turnaround for the former Medina’s Market and Cafe. It’s now been transformed into a Vietnamese restaurant called Pho K5. Most of us now know that Pho is the beef soup that so many of the local restaurants specialize in. The K5 in the name is a reference to Kink 5, which is the name of an agricultural village in southwestern Vietnam. 

Pho K5 was previously in the Chinatown complex on West Colonial Drive in Orlando. The owners moved to the Bumby Avenue location and also recently sold a business in Buffalo, New York, called 99 Fastfood. I’m thinking restaurant names aren’t their strong suit. That’s OK. They have a pleasant new restaurant with delicious food.

Pho Hoang Minh

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Pho Hoang Minh

Oviedo has another Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Hoang Minh, and it has become quite popular since its September opening. So popular, in fact, that it has a hard time dealing with the crowds. At least that was the case when I stopped in for lunch earlier this month.

The small restaurant, located in a strip mall on Alafaya Trail north of UCF, was bustling with a late lunch crowd, and the dining room staff -- which appeared to consist of two young men -- had difficulty serving food, ringing checks, and turning the tables. I stood and waited a fairly long time for one of the vacated tables to be readied. I would have left to go somewhere else, but I had already walked out of another nearby restaurant  because it was so crowded (I’ll tell you about that one another time -- apparently it’s worth revisiting).

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.

Vietnam Cuisine

Written by Scott Joseph on .


 Vietnam_platter

 

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.

Yum-mi Sandwiches

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Yum-miI stopped by to check out the new Yum-mi Sandwiches on Mills Avenue. This is where Ba-Le, a chain-ish Vietnamese cafe used to be. The block of buildings that incorporates Yum-mi has just been renovated and spiffed up, and the interior of the restaurant has also been redone and given a clean if spartan look.

The name is a play on the popular Vietnamese  sandwich called a banh mi. With banh mis showing up on trendy menus all over the country, the sub-like sandwich is something of a sandwich du jour. And using a French term is entirely appropriate because the traditional bread of the banh mi is a French baguette, something acquired during the French colonization of Vietnam. Besides crusty bread, a banh mi usually holds meat and vegetables, such as cucumber, daikon and pickled carrots, garnished with fresh cilantro. Some of the ingredients might be a bit spicy, but heat is not a distinguishing factor.

Yum-mi offers a full roster of banh mi, but I figured I would get the one labled “original” so that I could have a touchstone.

I can’t say I’m impressed. The baguette was good and crusty (crum-mi?), but the meats were so thinly sliced and layered on so meagerly as to be negligible (and unidentifiable, though I’m sure they were variety of pork products). The pickles had good flavor, but they were too large to be inside the sandwich.

The shredded pork and pork skin spring roll from the list of Yummitizers, wasn’t much better. There was a finely chopped substance with the texture of sawdust inside translucent wrapper that I suppose was crackling, but I could see nothing that looked like shredded pork. Couldn’t taste any pork, either. It was mostly just noodles.

Yum-mi is fast-casual -- order at the counter then find a seat and someone will bring your order to you. My food was delivered with impressive speed.

I’ll probably give Yum-mi another try. I like the concept, and I’m a fan of a good banh mi. So if they can produce one, I’ll be there.

Yum-mi Sandwiches is at 1227 N. Mills Ave., Orlando. It’s open for lunch and dinner daily. The website is listed as yummisandwiches.com, but the link takes you to the restaurant’s Facebook page. The phone number, which is not on the Facebook page, is 407-894-1808.

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Anh Hong

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Anh_hongI’m happy to once again place Anh Hong on the recommended side of Vietnamese restaurants. Several years ago, it was at the top; I even awarded it my Critic’s Foodie for best Vietnamese.

But then something happened. A visit a couple of years ago found the place worn and grungy, the service even grungier (as in the type of music that was played, apparently for the enjoyment of the staff, not the guests) and the food less than average. I removed it from the list of restaurants I recommend, and because I had touted it previously, I even included it in my 2011 edition of Scott Joseph’s Orlando Restaurant Guide, one of the few negative entries in a paperback mainly devoted to the area’s best.

Saigon Flavors

Written by Scott Joseph on .

saigon_flavorsThe first thing you’re likely to notice about Saigon Flavors is that it isn’t in downtown Orlando or anywhere near the intersection of Mills Avenue and Colonial Drive. That neighborhood, which locals have unofficially called Little Saigon for years, has the city’s greatest concentration of Vietnamese restaurants.

Now Saigon Flavors is taking Vietnamese cuisine farther afield, to the northeast and Oviedo, where it has set up in a new, small strip mall. SF is not totally divorced from the downtown Vietnamese community: the owner, Charlie Tang, was the proprietor of Viet Garden in that old neighborhood (officially dubbed the very non-ethnic Mills50).

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