Mills 50 District

Happy 2018, Food Friends!

Can we all agree that glitter and unicorn desserts are so 2017? Well maybe not, but a girl can dream.

I caught up with some of Orlando’s coolest chefs to find out what they see coming to a table near you in 2018, and here’s what they had to say.

The Verdict:

  • Crazy desserts are out; smaller, savory sweets are in
  • Asian eats are here to stay
  • RIP to unnecessary gluten-free dishes
  • Say hello to veg cuisine, it’s here and it’s not playing

HAWKERS Asian Street Fare – Kaleb Harrell 

“Ethnic desserts – We are revamping our entire dessert line because we feel customers are ready. Desserts that have a savory edge, are fruit-based, or just have ingredients outside of mainstream will gain popularity as the size of desserts decreases. Today’s customer would rather have a few bites of something amazing to end their meal than a bowl of corn syrup.

Savory cocktails – This one has been on the fringe for a while, but I think 2018 is the year for savory cocktails to take hold.  Think meat stocks, dry rub ingredients, and vegetable instead of fruit juices. 

Fast and fresh – This is the mecca for market share in lunch business.  A few companies are doing well and expanding quickly, but it’s a race to see who keeps consistency. Virtually every diner is looking for a fast, and ultra fresh lunch option. How many days can you eat a Chick-fil-A salad for lunch?

Vinegars and sours – Fermented flavors are gaining more popularity and will continue in the next year. Look for pickling, fermenting, gourmet mustards, and generally bold flavors in small quantities to continue.  Cheese and charcuterie are amazing, but the accoutrements are starting to take center stage.”

Black Rooster Taqueria – John Calloway

“I think we will see a lot of cauliflower. Gluten-free has reached its peak, so we will see more artisan and/or rustic breads and people milling their own flours.

Mexican will still be everywhere, but I believe Indian food is the next big cuisine.

Food as medicine will also be a big focus. From all of the juice bars to doctors and nutritionists prescribing specific foods and diets, we’ll be getting back to our roots with the earth healing our bodies.”

K Restaurant – Michelle Hulbert

“I think there will continue to be interest smaller desserts – that are portion-control friendly. Over-the-top, gigantic desserts will be a thing of the past. The healthier sides of sweets will include more seasonal fruits.  I think in general we will see a larger focus on vegetables as the star and less starch-heavy dishes.”

K Restaurant –  Ryan McLaughlin

“I think in 2018 we will see a continued movement toward more vegetable-forward dishes, a dedicated focus on limiting food waste, and an even stronger movement within the chef community to support small, sustainable farms that are focused on the ethical treatment of animals.”

Tapa Toro – Wendy Lopez 

“I see familiar foods becoming more prominent on menus at restaurants. Think pork rinds and hot dogs. They will be reimagined with new ingredients and presentations.

I think we’ll start to see lesser-known cuts of meat appear on menus around town – like Vegas strip and Oyster steak. We’ll start to see more family-style dining options at restaurants. At Tapa Toro, we see groups of people passing plates around the table. Why commit to one entree when you could try a little bit of everything?”

Pizza Bruno – Bruno Zacchini

“I’ll start with pizza! For me, I see Neapolitan pizza still going strong but new styles and types will become the next thing from Detroit squares to Roman thin crusts and artisan slice pies with farm-to-table ingredients. Pizza has so many styles most people have never seen so it’s really wide open.

Overall fast casual is going to keep happening and moving forward with counter service places and places focusing on singular dishes done extremely well.  Flavors for me are Middle Eastern, more regional Asian (think Bangrak), and Italian, of course! I also think that in 2018 we’ll continue to see veg-centric cuisine making its way onto more menus.”

Valhalla Bakery + Valkyrie Doughnuts – Celine Duvoisin 

“I see a bubble bursting of the stuff on stuff on stuff on stuff. (Not that I’m not going to do excessive shit until it dies.)

I think that more Asian popularity will happen, I foresee a rise in proper ramen coming to town and possibly Asian desserts. We’ve hit this wall of sugar hell, with no one hitting the less sweet almost savory desserts.

Hopefully an end to the gluten-free obsession.

My fingers are crossed for more Mediterranean-type places that focus on macro-based foods as fuel instead of insanely over designed places that don’t have the food to seal the deal.”

Is this roundup missing something, or are you seeing a trend worth sharing? Comment below and cheers to new year!

Snack on,
Chauniqua Major, but we’re friends so call me Major!


Hey, food friends!

You’ve seen the news, you’ve watched videos of families in need on Facebook Live, and you’ve probably heard about celebrities dropping big money.

As Orlandoans, helping Texans may feel out of arm’s reach, but there’s so much that we can do collectively.

Here is a growing list of restaurants that are doing their part to aid Texans.

Let’s explore how to eat responsibly.  

Where to Eat

  • Chuy’s | All Locations
    • With 9 locations across Houston and Corpus Christi, this brand is definitely feeling the impacts of Hurricane Harvey. To help, it is selling a limited edition T-shirt at all locations for $10. 100% of the proceeds will benefit Chuy’s Redfish Relief Fund, which supports employees experiencing financial hardships due to disasters, emergencies, and other life-changing circumstances

  • Sonny’s BBQ | All Locations
    • Nothing says Texas like barbecue… On September 6, all 113 locations will donate 10% of sales to Operation BBQ Relief, an organization that mobilizes pitmasters and barbecue enthusiasts to areas in need to help prepare and serve barbecue
  • Peterbrooke Chocolatier of Winter Park
    • $1 from each chocolate star lollipop sold until September 10 
    • 10% of chocolate covered popcorn sales during the week of September 4-10
    • The store will also be collecting cash donations, and anyone who donates at least $5 will receive their choice of a free chocolate covered Oreo or pretzel rod

Safe Bets

There’s often a little bit of confusion and trepidation about donating to large charities. Oftentimes, only a small percentage funds actually hit the homes of the people you indeed to help.

Here are some that are collecting funds and donations responsibly.

Feeding Children Everywhere

With FCE, you can donate, start a fundraiser and know that 100% of proceeds raised through this fund will be used for Harvey disaster relief! And if you purchase this shirt, 40 meal will be donated. That’s a deal! 

Second Harvest Food Bank | Orlando, Daytona Beach, West Melbourne

All locations are accepting non-perishable food donations for Texas flood relief

Undies For Everyone 

1. Purchase new underwear here

2. Collect new, packaged underwear and mail it to the address below. If you’re purchasing, they recommend Hanes or Fruit of the Loom. UFE doesn’t process or give out anything but underwear!

Undies for Everyone
1700 Bissonnet St.
Houston, TX 77005

3. Give cash and Undies for Everyone will purchase wholesale

The Emeril Lagasse Kitchen House | Orlando

Chef Kevin Fonzo is partnering with Chef Tiffany Derry to raise money via the Edible Schoolyard and Kevin Fonzo Foundation. On Sunday, September 10 from 12-3 p.m., visit The Emeril Lagasse Kitchen House and Culinary Garden as they host a kid-friendly “Lemonade Stand and Bake Sale”! They will have fresh lemonade available for sale, as well as some incredible baked goods donated by some amazing local pastry chefs!

Go Fund Me

Check out the different families and organizations that are sharing their stories in order to get help.


There are so many organizations in need of a hand.  Orlando Vegans is partnering with Clean The World tomorrow, Saturday, September 2. Sign up here!

 Words of Encouragement 

All too often we talk about people impacted by natural disasters as victims. We have to remind ourselves and the people impacted that they are victors. They need to be reminded that they are strong, resilient and able to overcome. I’ve started a Google Doc for everyone to share the love by writing encouraging notes. The hope is that we can share with charities and outlets in Texas to pass along to locals!

Here’s to foodlantrophy and lots of love.

Snack on,

Chauniqua Major, but we’re friends so call me Major!


At Hawkers, the founders Kaleb Harrell, Allen Lo, Wayne Yung and Kin Ho – all traveled the world to curate a menu of handed-down family recipes and hand-picked popular street foods from all over Asia – Korea, China, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Japan to be exact.  Today, all of the original founders are active in restaurant operations ranging from chefs to brand and operations managers.

Since the brand’s inception in 2011 with the Orlando – Mills 50 location, it has opened three additional Florida locations in Jacksonville, Neptune Beach, and St. Petersburg.  New locations are under construction and slated to open in Windermere (located in the Greater Orlando area) in November 2017 and in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward in March 2018, marking its expansion outside of Florida.  Four additional locations are slated to open throughout the Southeast in 2018.

The restaurant’s name is inspired by street vendors found throughout the streets of Asia known as hawkers.  They depend on locally grown ingredients to create dishes sold from mobile carts and stands.

“We are on a mission to disrupt the restaurant industry, and essentially redefine what it means to “eat Asian” in America.  People often ask me who our competition is, and I can’t come up with one–and, for us, that’s a positive thing.”

A place where sharing is not just caring, but the way to eat, Hawkers offers a fresh take on today’s Asian street-fare experience with dishes that are always made to order using local and imported ingredients.  Hawkers is considered a “local’s favorite” and has been featured in Delta SkyMagazine, Florida Trend and Orlando Magazine, and Food & Wine as Andrew Zimmern’s number one pick on his list of “12 Places to Stay, Eat & Shop in and Around Orlando.”

The tables are communal and are inlaid with newspaper to resemble the way street food is often served wrapped in newspaper from hawker stalls.

All Hawkers locations have a weekday happy hour and a wide selection of imported and local wine, beer, and saké.

The menu changes with the seasons and features house favorites such as Roti Canai and award-winning Pad Thai and more common items such as Yi Yi’s Chicken Dumplings and Miso Pork Belly Ramen.  The diverse menu offers options for various palates with vegetarian-friendly dishes, gluten-free and a variety of pescatarian offerings.

(Source credit: Hawkers Asian Street Fare)

We had the opportunity to try some of their new menu items + some classic dishes and we are so excited to share them all with you!

* indicates a new menu item.

*#dimsumcrunchyballs – shrimp, pork, crispy spring roll batter.  This is a traditional Chinese dish using ground up shrimp thrown across the table to get air pockets out, then coated with egg wash and shredded spring rolls wrapper, and finally fried and served with a hot oil-soy sauce.  It has a bounciness to it.

*Crispy Chicken Skin – Hawkers’ version of skewers that can be found in Asia cooked over coals.   They get all of the protein fat scrapped off, season it with Szechuan style seasoning, bake it in oven, then finish it over a grill burning charcoal.   This dish is suppose to be eaten with lime sprinkled over it to accentuate its smokey flavors.

*’Nam Nem Rolls – chilled rice wrap, fried rice paper, chicken sausage, lettuce, cucumber, basil, mint.  Nem in Vietnamese means sausage.  This dish is traditionally made with pork, however, they make theirs with chicken because less people eat pork.  The chicken is baked in the oven then finished on the grill.  The sauce is a Vietnamese vinaigrette consisting of fish sauce, Coco Rico, and red chilies.

*Singapore ‘Chili’ Crab – national dish of Singapore, soft-shelled crab, house-made chili garlic sauce, and fried bao bun.

*Tiger Salad– poached octopus, cilantro, carrots, green onions, celery, cucumber, rice wine vinaigrette, and lemon juice.  A light and refreshing salad.

Roti Canai – Malaysian flat bread served with a side of their signature curry.  Chef Allen Lo describes the bread as “if a croissant and pancake made a baby”.   He ate this dish every day growing up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Wok-Fired Lettuce – shiitake mushrooms, red chilies, light hoisin soy sauce, lettuce.  This staple dish makes a great side dish with every meal.

Chicken Dumplings – hand-rolled in-house daily, wok-seared (pictured) or steamed.  Hawkers makes their dumplings at 7am every morning; it is the first thing they make.

Pad Thai – rice noodles, shrimp, chicken, eggs, scallions, bean sprouts.  Pad Thai is a staple dish in Asia.  At Hawkers, they let their sauce simmer for eight hours before serving it over the noodles.

Vietnamese Iced Coffee  – available in iced (pictured) or French drip.

Mocha Trio – Green tea, lychee colada, and Thai tea.  Made at the Mochidoki shop in New York.

Be sure to check out the launch of the new menu items this Wednesday, August 16, at a Hawkers near you!

Hawkers Asian Street Fare
1103 N Mills Ave
Orlando, FL 32803
(407) 237-0606



Bad As’s Sandwiches was originally founded as a food truck but now includes a brick and mortar restaurant, taking over the space once occupied by Se7en Bites Bakery in the Milk District of Orlando.

Founded by Chef John Collazo, whose resume includes KASA and Raga restaurants, Bad As’s Sandwich was his first operation run by himself. He wanted to ‘wow’ food truck lovers in Central Florida with their wild and frankly, badass sandwiches.

Some of their sandwiches include the Big Boy, a huge sandwich sure to please the inner fat boy in each of us, made with Adobo roasted pork, bacon, pepperoni, tater tots, and more.

I ordered the special of the day: El Anormal, with adobo roasted pork, chorizo, chipotle jack cheese, pickled fried onions, topped with savory aioli and drizzled with a sweet guava glaze. It was a spectacle behold, oozing with meat and cheese and sauce, but was so, so satisfying of a sandwich. Make sure to ask for wet naps to go with this though.

Bad As’s Sandwiches
207 Primrose Dr, Orlando, FL 32803
Phone: (407) 757-7191

Bad As's Sandwich Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hey, hey!

So you want to eat cleaner, huh? Every year, millions of Americans head to the gym with the hopes of dropping the holiday pounds, but as many of you know – the secret in the weight loss sauce is really what you consume. For a moment, let’s picture a new you — a you that likes kombucha, tea instead of a frappé and sometimes maybe a salad instead of the fries (blasphemy, I know!)

If you’re reading this, you probably love to eat just as much as I do, so consider committing to make small, but impactful changes every week until they become habits.

Let’s raise a smoothie to the new you in 2017 and explore my favorite places to eat clean in and around Orlando. Because hey, a little kale salad here and there never hurt anyone.


Eats: Mixed, raw and clean options 

1. The Sanctum | Colonialtown North

Major’s Pick: Shiva Salad (Half Salad) Massaged kale, roasted butternut squash and house-seasoned tempeh with pink lady apples, celery, carrots and raisins. All tossed in curried peanut dressing and finished with candied walnuts, toasted chickpeas and flaked coconuts

2. Dandelion Communitea Cafe | Mills 50 District

Major’s Pick: The Giddyup ($6 on Mondays!): tempeh chili topped with blue corn chips and fresh diced tomatoes. Served with vegan queso or organic dairy cheddar cheese. Get in a bowl or wrap, and check out the new menu! (Tell them Major sent you.)

3. Infusion Tea | College Park

Major’s Pick: Nut & Honey wrap: local honey, organic cashew nut butter, bananas, strawberries, and granola for a sustaining wrap

4. Create Your Nature | Winter Park

Major’s Pick: Nutty By Nature bowl: blueberries, banana, organic granola, almonds, walnuts, pecasn, chia seeds, hemp seeds and local raw honey


Drinks: Cold-pressed, blended and over ice options 

1. Juice Bar | The Milk District

Major’s Pick: Hale to the Beet Down: apple, kale, orange, lemon ginger

2. Juice’d | Thornton Park

Major’s Pick: Kale Smoothie: apple, banana, ginger, kale, mango, pineapple, spinach *add coconut water

3. Grounding Roots | College Park

Major’s Pick: Sweet Potato, Pineapple & Red Apple

4. New Moon Market | College Park

Major’s Pick: Cheeky Monkey: almond milk, banana, oats, almond butter with maca powder

5. Skyebird | Audubon Park

Major’s Pick: Thai Hot: spinach, celery, cilantro, orange, apple, lime, lemongrass and jalapeño

Share your food adventures with us on Instagram! I’m so excited to see what you let your palate explore in the year!

Snack on,

Chauniqua Major, but we’re friends so call me Major!

Churro Bread Pudding by Tapa Toro

Hi, food friends! Did you know that in August 2016, 7.1 trillion gallons of water fell during the Louisiana floods? Lives were lost, and more 140,000 homes were destroyed. I was deeply impacted and decided to create Good Through Food, a new Orlando-based organization that strives to make lives better through food-related efforts. This past Monday, we launched the first initiative to help called Project 001. Louisiana, which includes local restaurants creating and selling Louisiana-inspired dishes and desserts to help raise funds for those in need.

From October 24  through October 31, local restaurants are selling a Louisiana-inspired dish to help raise funds for the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, a Louisiana-based charity that seeks to assist South Louisiana residents, which make up the majority of the 30,000 people that were displaced from their homes because of the floods, only to return to neighborhoods they couldn’t recognize. Chefs and restaurants will donate 25, 50 or 100 percent of proceeds to the charity.

5 Participating Restaurants: (Eat one dish or eat them all to give back):


1. Tapa Toro: Churro Bread Pudding

2. Taverna Opa: Loukomades (Greek Beignets) — check out how to make them here!

Audubon District

3. P is for Pie: P is for Pecan Caramel Hand Pie + Coffee

Historic Longwood 

4. Collette’s Clean Eats: Shrimp, Blue Crab & Turkey Sausage Gumbo with Organic Brown Rice

Mills 50 District 

5. Black Rooster Taqueria: NOLA Pork Belly Taco

Please share your dishes on Instagram using the hashtag #GoodThroughFood. For more information, visit Restaurants can still sign up, so spread the word.

Connect on social media on Facebook and Instagram. Check out the video below to learn more.

Thank you so very much for your support, it means everything!

Let’s do good together…

Snack on,
Chauniqua Major, but we’re friends so call me Major!

Shareable Images for Social:do-good eat-and-give join-us lets-do-good


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King Bao is holding court in the former Raphsodic Bakery location at 710 N. Mills Ave, serving up tasty little Taiwanese style Gua Baos with an Asian fusion flair. Gua bao also known as steamed bao, is a Taiwanese snack food consisting of a slice of meat and other condiments sandwiched between flat steamed bread.

The menu here is pretty budget friendly, with vegan and vegetarian baos starting at $3.00 and going up to $3.75 for seafood bao. Tater tots are also a popular item here and there is even a section for dessert bao, filled with ice cream and nutella bananas.

My favorite bao here has got to be the Hogzilla, the pork belly bao served banh mi style with pickled carrots, daikon radish, honey roasted peanuts, and cilantro.

King Bao Menu
King Bao Menu
Inside King Bao
Inside King Bao
Chef Hoi Nguyen of King Bao
Chef Hoi Nguyen of King Bao
Fire Tots with Sriracha Aioli
Fire Tots with Sriracha Aioli
Inner Harbor Bao
Inner Harbor and OH MY Grouper Baos
Kickin Chicken Bao
Kickin Chicken Bao
Nutella Bao
Tarzan – Banana and Nutella Bao

King Bao
Address: 710 N Mills Ave, Orlando, FL 32803, United States
Hours: Open today · 11:30AM–10PM
Phone: +1 407-237-0013

0 2018

We dropped by the new Mia Supermarket on Bumby and Colonial the other day shortly after their opening. It formerly was home to Winn Dixie for many, many decades.

A few first impressions – still coming together as a market – but there is a nice selection of fruits, vegetables, and seafood, and I think the highlight is the Formosa Bakery inside.

They are a sister bakery to the Sun Pearl Bakery located in the Chinatown plaza on Colonial and Pine Hills, specializing in Taiwanese bakery items and pastries.

I love the smell of the baked goods wafting through the store as they are baked. I had, for the first time, a taro stuffed pineapple bun – and it was glorious.

Mia Supermarket

2415 E Colonial Dr
+1 407-228-9899

Photo Jun 04, 10 17 18 AM Photo Jun 04, 10 17 34 AM Photo Jun 04, 10 17 51 AM Photo Jun 04, 10 17 56 AM Photo Jun 04, 10 18 37 AM Photo Jun 04, 10 19 19 AM Photo Jun 04, 10 19 51 AM

These are molds for little black bean stuffed taiyaki style pastries.
Photo Jun 04, 10 20 23 AM

Baking fresh.Photo Jun 04, 10 19 27 AM Photo Jun 04, 10 20 46 AM Photo Jun 04, 10 21 21 AM

Incense and rice – essentials.Photo Jun 04, 10 22 00 AM

DumplingsPhoto Jun 04, 10 22 34 AM

Ramen wall.Photo Jun 04, 10 25 25 AM

Classic red bowls
Photo Jun 04, 10 25 55 AM

There is a whole section with Goya / Latin grocery goods, too.Photo Jun 04, 10 26 49 AM

A whole aisle dedicated to dried mushrooms and Chinese herbsPhoto Jun 04, 10 28 24 AM

Soy sauces, try them all.Photo Jun 04, 10 28 45 AM Photo Jun 04, 10 29 24 AM Photo Jun 04, 10 29 31 AM Photo Jun 04, 10 29 58 AM

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Fried La Zi Tofu

We’ve posted extensively about our favorite Chinese (Sichuan and otherwise) restaurant in Orlando – Chuan Lu Garden – and continue to be surprised and delighted about the depth and diversity of the menu at Chuan Lu.

They recently published an easier to read menu including a new hot pot menu so I thought it would be good to share here.

See below, as well as some photos of our favorite dishes to order.


Beef, tendon in chili sauce – CA1


Eggplant with garlic sauce in clay pot – CH1SONY DSC

Pan Fried Green Beans with Ground Pork – CV9SONY DSC

La Zi Fish Fillets – CZ8IMG_0797 IMG_0798 IMG_0799 IMG_0802 IMG_0800 IMG_0801

Cucumber with red pepper
Cucumber with red pepper
Szechuan wontons
Szechuan wontons
Beef and chicken dry hotpot
Beef and chicken dry hotpot
Fried La Zi Tofu
Fried La Zi Tofu

When most folks think of authentic Chinese cuisine, it’s often the Cantonese regional cuisine that comes to mind as many of the first immigrants to America came from that region, hoping to strike gold in California during the 1800s, only to be hired as low waged rail workers building the Transcontinental Railroad.

From char siu roast pork to shrimp wonton dumplings and all the wonderful little bites from dim sum, Cantonese cuisine’s strength lies in its use of fresh ingredients from the sea and land. Canton, or Guangzhou, is a coastal region near Hong Kong known for its seafood and great harbors.

In Orlando, when I want Cantonese cuisine – particularly noodles and Chinese barbecue, I usually choose Tasty Wok or Ming Bistro.


At Tasty Wok, you will see a classic familiar scene of roasted ducks and barbecued pork and squid hanging from hooks in a display case near the counter. Recently, I learned there is a difference between the types of roast duck – ask for the hanging roast duck as it has been double marinated in duck juices. SONY DSC

Roast duck can be fatty, but is a great dish served with rice. SONY DSC SONY DSC

Shrimp wontons, little dumplings served with egg noodles in a chicken broth soup. SONY DSC

Three meat platter – roast duck, Char siu – or Chinese barbecue pork – and soy sauce chicken on rice. SONY DSC The fish with black bean sauce, stir fried with vegetables.

Chinese roast pork – char siu – with shrimp and noodles.

Salt and pepper fried trio of scallops, shrimp, and squidSONY DSC

Not the most refined nor the most healthy, it serves its purpose – it’s Chinese soul food.

Tasty Wok
1246 E Colonial Dr, Orlando, FL 32803
+1 407-896-8988
Hours: 10:30 am – 9:30 pm

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Known for their Latin – Asian fusion tacos, empanadas, and burritos, Tako Cheena is a perennial favorite especially among the late night crowd. It might be best to get things to go here as the restaurant is a bit tight in the seating area. Prices are cheap, and reasonable all under $10.00.



Marinated bulgogi, Kimchi fried rice, scallions, Sriracha and cilantro.SONY DSC

Chinese sweet sausage. Avocado, wasabi, cucumber, spicy mayo, cabbage, fumi and scallions.
Served in a sweet and sour onion sauce, with mixed cabbage and scallions.
Served with a key lime condensed milk.
Click to add a blog post for Tako Cheena by Pom Pom on Zomato

This Latin, Asian, and Southern American BBQ fusion joint in Orlando’s Mills 50 district has a nice list of bites, including Matambre smoked brisket sandwiches topped with egg, Indian Butter chicken tacos and the Latin plantain and fried yuca sides.

But it’s all about the Oakwood Smoked St. Louis Barbecue Ribs here. Succulent. Juicy. Sweet, yet refined. Delicious. When you can get it, it’s really good. The problem is that it is can sell out fast, so call ahead and make sure they’ve got some ready for you.

Founded by Thomas “Tito” Ward Esteves, the founder of the Treehouse Truck, one of the first so called gourmet food trucks in Orlando, Pig Floyd’s Urban Barbakoa is a an ode to his family’s deep love for food. Barbakoa is a form of cooking meat that originated in the Caribbean with the Taino people, from which the term “barbecue” derives.

The menu consists of sandwiches, tacos, platters, and sides, all done very well.

The Oak-smoked St. Louis ribs (half-rack $14.99, full $22.99) are truly among the best, if not the best, ribs in all of Orlando – slow-cooked with a crispy surface yet tender, fall of the bone meat within and a nice sweet flavor. Try it with the crispy sweet fennel apple salad.


The Indian butter chicken ($2.95), flavored in Indian an orange tikka currry sauce and topped with pepitas, jalapeno and cilantro – this was a favorite and definitely would order again.


The open faced Matahambre sandwich ($8.99), features slices of Oakwood smoked brisket with dabs of chimichurri sauce,  grilled tomatoes and topped with an over easy fried egg – and slathered a bit too much with mayonaisse. Accompanied with grilled corn on the cob, smokily charred and sprinkled with pepper, lime and salty Mexican cotija cheese



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I may have written off this place as just your typical run of the mill, if not tired, Vietnamese restaurant, having not visited in maybe 10 years since my days in college.

Maybe it’s because I had a secret bias against restaurants that serve dual cuisines – you know, like those dual Chinese / Sushi take out places you see around town. Often times when restaurants end up dividing attention among more than one cuisine, they end up neglecting one or the other or both cuisines, resulting in substandard fare.

I have to apologize to Viet Garden (which tauts its Vietnamese and Thai cuisine) for it does Vietnamese cuisine quite well. The restaurant is one of the oldest Vietnamese restaurants in the Mills 50 District but definitely deserves another look.

I particularly was surprised and delighted to see the breadth and depth of the Vietnamese cuisines offered, in addition to your typical dishes, they had quite a few unique and seldom seen noodle soups and home style Vietnamese family plates that are hard to find elsewhere.

I ordered their dumplings, which aren’t really Vietnamese, but excellent nonetheless – home made with plenty of delicious pork filling and a nice dumpling skin that had the right amount of chewiness to it. I ordered the special rice platter for my main and really enjoyed the thit nuong, or grilled Vietnamese pork, as well as the crispy tofu shrimp skin that came along with the plate.

Overall, definitely would return. My dining companions from WMFE would agree.




Dumplings – quite fabulous, home made dumplings


Fried Spring Rolls


The Pho – Beef Noodle Soup


SONY DSCSpecial Rice plate 

SONY DSCBun Dac Biet


Click to add a blog post for Viet Garden on Zomato

One of my favorite Cajun restaurants in town, King Cajun Crawfish on Mills Avenue has some of the best fresh crawfish and fried shrimp and oyster poboy sandwiches in Orlando with reasonable prices and friendly staff.

I love their crawfish with shabang sauce – owner and chef Ha Nguyen adds orange rinds to the mix of garlic, butter, and spicy peppers for that extra bang in the sha bang.

Mrs. Nguyen ran a Cajun restaurant in Louisiana for over 15 years before moving to Orlando to be closer with her family after Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast in 2005.

I love their fried oysters and fried shrimp po boys as well. Jambalaya and gumbo are both hearty and delicious.

Definitely save space for dessert – get the beignets, fried donuts topped with heapings of powdered sugar – just don’t choke on it. Wash it down with a hot or iced cup of Vietnamese coffee.

King Cajun Crawfish of Orlando on Mills Ave
King Cajun Crawfish of Orlando on Mills Ave


Gumbo with shrimp
Gumbo with shrimp
Jambalaya rice
Jambalaya rice
Fried Shrimp Po Boy
Fried Shrimp Po Boy
Fried Shrimp plate
Fried Shrimp plate
Oyster Poboy sandwich
Oyster Poboy sandwich


Crawfish with Shabang sauce
Crawfish with Shabang sauce


Look into the Fried Oyster Po boy sandwich
Look into the Fried Oyster Po boy sandwich


Mrs. Ha Nguyen shows off her fresh live crawfish delivered straight from Louisiana
Mrs. Ha Nguyen shows off her fresh live crawfish delivered straight from Louisiana
Beignets - New Orleans' very own powdered sugar donuts
Beignets – New Orleans’ very own powdered sugar donuts
Beignets served best with some hot or iced Vietnamese coffee
Beignets served best with some hot or iced Vietnamese coffee
Live crawfish
Live crawfish
Mrs. Ha Nguyen interviewed by Matthew Peddie and Brendan Byrne of WMFE
Mrs. Ha Nguyen interviewed by Matthew Peddie and Brendan Byrne of WMFE for the What is Little Vietnam series.

King Cajun Crawfish
914 N Mills Ave, Orlando, FL 32803
(407) 704-8863

Don’t judge a book by its cover – This tiny restaurant has served as home to quite a few different restaurants over the year – I think due to its small space, but this iteration is a winner. It is tiny, just maybe 8 tables, seat maybe 40 in the whole building.

Tucked between a nail supply shop and a Vietnamese owned wedding cake shop, just a few doors down from Saigon Market and Tasty Wok, I love Vietnam Cuisine for their banh cuon, velvety smooth rice crepes stuffed with woodeared mushroom and ground pork, pork sausage, Vietnamese sweet fish sauce. pour it over.

Known for their take on northern Vietnamese dishes – other than Lac Viet, most other Vietnamese restaurants in town specialize in the southern cuisine of Vietnam. The cha ca thanh long is a popular dish, a type of fish patty with tilapia spiced in turmeric and herb (what herb) =, I think it is a play on a fish becoming a dragon. Also, bun cha ha noi, a rice vermicelli dish with pork meat balls and sweet fish sauce for dipping. It’s like tsukeman Vietnamese noodles – Vietnamese rice spaghetti and pork meatballs ? Also, great pho here with lots of meat cuts and ox tail. Generous portions.

On the way out, I get a few banh bao, a type of stuffed pastry stuffed with pork meat, hard boiled egg, Chinese sausage. It’s known as a poor man’s meal and popular street food – you can get full off of just one bao. It was popular in Hong Kong years ago, but I guess owners got smart and cut back on it so their customers wouldn’t get full off of just one pork bun.


Get the banh cuon – velvety smooth rice crepes stuffed with woodeared mushroom and ground pork, pork sausage, Vietnamese sweet fish sauce. pour it over.


Cha Ca Thanh Long



Beef Noodle Soup aka Pho

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Special Rice plate with egg, grilled pork chop, pork casserole

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Bun bo hue, with blood pudding

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Stir fried noodles

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More Pho

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Rare to find blood pudding in Bun Bo Hue in Orlando – very authentic!



Bun Cha Ha Noi


It’s a Chinese family tradition – while some folks sip on mimosas and munch on French toast on the weekends, others hit up one of the few dim sum restaurants in town for some steamed shrimp dumplings and a cup of Jasmine tea.

Dim sum, which means a little bit of heart, is the term used for the collection of small plates made of dumplings, sweet buns, and other little delectable bites, all eaten of course with tea and shared around a table with family and friends.


One of the best dim sum restaurants in Orlando has been Ming Bistro. They recently went under new ownership changes and have even had some interior decoration changes. Gone are the chandeliers, replaced with lowered, black painted ceilings and dim lighting, giving the restaurant a slightly more sophisticated feel. Quality remains about the same, though some friends have noted a slight decrease.

Same are the long lines at the door of customers waiting for a table to clear (you can avoid this by going on the off hours – outside the 12pm-2pm peak hours on the weekends). They serve dim sum all day here, but you can only get the push cart service on the weekends. I prefer ordering my dim sum dishes by the menu a la carte – where you are guaranteed hot and fresh plates coming out from the kitchen, rather than something that may have been sitting out for a while.


Service at Chinese restaurants have historically been quite lacking. It is a little better here, where a manager made the rounds asking how things were and the waitresses made sure the tables stayed clear.

How to Order Dim Sum

  • Make sure to order some tea, like Jasmine or Heung Pin, as well as a glass of water as it can get salty
  • As the carts make their way around the room, wave one of the ladies down to showcase her wares from the carts – one is steaming, the other not.
  • Each dish has a certain price range, from $3 to $5 depending on the size.
  • Drizzle a dab of soy sauce and some chili sauce on your dumplings to taste.
  • The shrimp rice paste can be ordered separately as can any of the dishes on the regular menu, such as beef chow fun.


Typically, we order shrimp ha gow dumplings, siu mai pork dumplings, fried taro shrimp balls, chicken feet, steamed spare ribs, a plate of beef chow fun, salt and pepper calamari, and some egg custart tart pastries for dessert. Typically the bill comes out to be about $12 a person, great value.

My favorite dim sum dish here is the fried turnip pudding cubes, crunchy and salty, perfect with some hot chili.




SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC Fried Turnip Cake Cubes

Beef Chow fun noodlesSONY DSC

Here are photos of the menu:




Exactly 40 years ago on April 30, 1975, the capital city of South Vietnam, Saigon fell to the forces of the communist North. There was panic in the streets as countless Vietnamese sought refuge at the American embassy, many who had worked along side the US – as soldiers, journalists, hairdressers, and more – during the decades long war. Fearing reprisals from the North, deservedly so, many fled that day airlifted out by helicopters and later, by boat – becoming refugees with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Thus began the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese – all in search of freedom and democracy, and a better future for their children, many of whom ended up in places like Australia, France, and right here in Central Florida.

My parents were both Vietnamese refugees. My mom, orphaned at age 12, escaped by a small rickety fishing boat headed out to the unknown wide ocean, leaving her brothers behind, with nothing but her unyielding dream of a new world beyond the Vietnam she had left behind. Eventually reaching Malaysia at a refugee camp, living there for a year before being sponsored to the United States by a kind family in Indiana. She met my father in South Florida where I was born and raised before moving to Orlando 13 years ago.

The Vietnamese American community in Orlando has grown through the decades along the Mills 50 District, starting from a small Asian grocery store to a restaurant to more and more. Now, Asian immigrants from other countries have settled in the area and opened up even more restaurants – from Malaysian to Sichuan Chinese and more.

I was honored these past few weeks to help lead a guided tour through the “Little Vietnam” area in our Mills 50 District for WMFE for their series on “What is Little Vietnam?“, helping to share stories from the Vietnamese American community, how they came to Central Florida, and what lays ahead for the community after 40 years.
WMFE’s What is Little Vietnam? Series

Orlando’s Hon Viet DanGroup keeps Vietnamese Culture through Dance

Vietnamese vets still fighters forty years after fall of Saigon

Family business continues to thrive since first settling in Orlando’s “Little Vietnam”

New development changes face of Orlando’s Little Vietnam

Chasing traditional medicine in Little Vietnam

Central Floridians remember Vietnam War

For Vietnamese, heritage endures at places of worship

New cultural center reflects diverse Asian community, including Vietnamese

Orlando’s Little Vietnam preserves its history to enrich its future

Two generations of Vietnamese-Americans, three decades apart

The young ones: Vietnamese youth redefine their community


Trays of small bites from Vietnamese grocery store Tien Hung Oriental Market – one of the very first markets in the district – many of the businesses along this strip come from the family of Tien Hung.SONY DSC

Cecilia Nguyen, also Miss Vietnam Florida 2004, is the owner of the Tien Hung Jewelry Store – she takes cares of customers and is in charge of the store, taking over for her parents. SONY DSC

Wall art at Chewy Boba Company – Quang Vu, a UCF alumni, and his family started Lollicup many years ago and were the first in Orlando to sell boba or bubble tea, a popular drink with roots in Taiwan, where little tapioca pearls are slurped through large straws.

Steven Thach Luu mans the register at Chewy Boba Company, where they also sell macarons.


One of my favorite dishes, Banh Cuon, a rice crepe noodle dish stuffed with mushrooms and ground pork – velvety smooth – found at Vietnam Cuisine restaurant. SONY DSC

A look above from the meal – banh cuon, bun thit nuong, and bun rieu all at Vietnam Cuisine.SONY DSC

Bun Thit nuong cha gio – rice vermicelli noodles with veggies, egg roll, grilled pork and shrimp at Vietnam Cuisine.SONY DSC

Bun rieu, a special tomato, pork, and seafood noodle soup at Vietnam Cuisine.


In recent years, more restaurants and shops from other Asian countries have sprouted up in the Mills 50 District. Mamak Asian Street Food specializes in Malaysian and pan Asian cuisine.SONY DSC

Traditional Eastern medicine shops and acupuncturists dot the corridor in Mills 50 District.


Crawfish in garlic, butter shabang sauce, fried shrimp, jambalaya, po boy sandwiches, gumbo – all found at King Cajun Crawfish run by Ha Nguyen. Mrs. Nguyen worked in Louisiana and ran a cajun restaurant there for 15 years before moving to Orlando after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to be closer to her family. Many Vietnamese who immigrated to the US were sent to the gulf coast region and became fishermen and shrimpers, some facing discrimination from the KKK at the time. There is still a large community of Vietnamese Americans in New Orleans today in the neighborhood of Versailles.


Brendan Byrne and Matthew Peddie of WMFE 90.7 FM News on location, digging into the crawfish.

Chelsea, enjoying her crawfish at King Cajun CrawfishSONY DSC

Mrs. Ha Nguyen, the Queen Cajun at King Cajun.SONY DSC

Beignets – fried dough with powdered sugar


Pho at Viet Garden, one of the oldest Vietnamese restaurants in OrlandoSONY DSC

Dumplings as recommended by Crystal ChavezSONY DSC

The staff of WMFE with some of the personalities in the What is Little Vietnam series.

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I tend to break down Chinese restaurants into three categories:

Chinese take outs (you’ll see the neon signs saying New York Style Chinese Takeout at these places – New York meaning “Americanized – often a miss in terms of quality and a menu full of general tso’s chicken and pork fried rice with chicken wings combos ),

Traditional Cantonese sit down restaurants (you’ll find some form of beef chow fun, salt and pepper squid, and possibly dim sum at these establishments),

and the increasingly less rare,

“Other Chinese cuisine” restaurant (Sichuan, Shanghainese, Taiwanese, etc).

I’d file Chan’s under traditional Cantonese sit down restaurant —
1. Dim sum on the weekends? Check.
2. Lazy susans on the tables for family style banquets? Check.
3. Seemingly callous waitresses? Double check.

The decor is rather minimal, like walking into someone’s house for a dinner party and there’s not really enough space for everyone.

The food here is solid Cantonese fare – you’ve got your pan fried noodles to dim sum via cart on the weekends. For dinner, it gets a bit fancier with dishes like Cantonese style pan fried steak, salt baked chicken, sweet and sour pork chops, and even abalone, the exceptionally pungent mollusk that the Cantonese go crazy for.

I was at Chan’s recently for a banquet with some friends – the brothers of Pi Delta Psi Fraternity at the University of Central Florida to be exact – who held an end of the semester banquet at the restaurant with quite a list of about 7 banquet dishes for just $25. Call ahead to find out if you can organize something like this there because it’s got great value if you have a group of 10 or so per table.







Seafood Pan Fried Noodles
Seafood Pan Fried Noodles
Sweet and Sour Peking Pork Chops
Sweet and Sour Peking Pork Chops
Fried Crispy Chicken
Fried Crispy Chicken



Chan's Chinese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

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In 2008, Gigi Butler founded Gigi’s Cupcakes after her brother suggested she do so in Nashville with her delicious cupcakes. Although she struggled in the beginning, it is now a dream come true. We were invited, happily, to attend a tasting event at the Gigi’s Cupcakes located in Orlando, FL.


Gigi’s Cupcakes have their own bakers and decorators at least location every day to customize each cupcake however you wish. For instance, you could have a single layer of icing in a rose pattern, two layers or three. Gigi’s Cupcakes is known for their three layers of icing as well as their gluten cupcakes that are as delicious as “regular cupcakes”. The new Gluten Free cupcakes offered every day means there are at least 3 flavors offered each day rotating in and out. The cupcakes can come in sizes from mini to large. Not only do they sell cupcakes, but also cookies, cakes, cheesecakes, candles, lip balm, aprons, mugs, etc.


Gigi’s Cupcakes switches up their cupcakes everyday, but do have some that are consistent throughout the week. If you read the pamphlet about the cupcakes, you’ll see how the descriptions there are very similar to my descriptions. That is because their descriptions are on point to what I experienced and was cute to see how similar it is after I’ve written down my own descriptions!


The Lemon Dream Supreme is sweet, moist and soft with a hint of lemon. Neither sweetness nor the lemon flavor overpowers your taste buds. Prepare yourself before taking a bite because you’ll feel like you’re floating in mid air with lemon cupcakes dancing all around you. It’s a dream come true when it comes to lemon and cupcakes.


In the description on the menu for Miss Princess, it says this is made with fresh strawberries. The menu does not lie to you, as you can taste how delectable it is. You also get a creamy frosting and a fondant crown on top. This is a favorite for the little kids to believe their little princes and princesses.

Even though I don’t fancy this combination, the Chocolate Salted Caramel (not photographed individually) has a luscious taste in each chew. Once you’re done, all of the flavors linger in your mouth and makes you want another bite because it messes the tastes of saltiness and sweetness really well.


The Midnight Magic cupcake is crispy on the outside and moist as ever on the inside. Each taste of the frosting gives a hint of semi-sweet chocolate fresh to the mouth as if you took a sip of cold chocolate milk, which is a nice touch.


The Wedding Cake cupcake has a very light taste. I think the one I tried was drier than other cupcakes, but the core is still moist as promised. This is vanilla cupcake with nothing really exciting. It is great if you’d like a simple cupcake for the day.

The Triple Chocolate Torte (not photographed individually) is one of my favorites because it has rich, dark chocolate with a fudge brownie texture for each bite I took. It is also gluten free (flourless). Although you’re eating a cupcake, you don’t have to feel too guilty because it’s made of dark chocolate, which is good for your health.


In the Strawberry Shortcake cupcake, I found bits and pieces of fresh strawberries inside the cupcakes. This is so precious and delicious! I recommend buying this for yourself and your kids.


The Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cheesecake is so creamy. There isn’t an overpowering taste of cheesecake like what you may have experienced from other cheesecakes outside of Gigi’s Cupcakes. These are small, cute and a nice portion size although they are a bit dense.


Have a preview of the other cheesecakes offered at Gigi’s Cupcakes from Turtle and Classic Cherry to Chocolate Chocolate Chip.

Gigi’s Cupcakes will be on Undercover Boss on CBS Friday, February 13th, 2015 at 8pm EST. This episode will showcase employee interviews, photos, promotions and special offers on Gigi’s products.

For more inquiries of cupcake flavors, please visit the online site for Gigi’s Cupcakes here:

For Valentine’s Day, Gigi’s Cupcakes offers a special menu for all to order gifts for that special someone. Please see the site for more details and all the options. Gigi’s Valentines Special Menu will be available Friday, February 13 – Sunday, February 15, 2015; however, pre-orders are recommended.

Gigi's Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

A lot of comparisons have been made with the newly opened Mamak to another local Asian street food restaurant in town – namely, Hawkers Asian Street Fare just up the road on Mills Avenue.

The menu of small plates and craft beers look awfully familiar, and there is some history among the owners of which we do not know the full details. But, there are plenty of cases of restaurants having similar menus – examples range from the many local Vietnamese pho shops to Italian and Indian restaurants.

The main crux and differentiation of each lies in their execution of the dishes.

For that reason, I am happy to have Mamak in town because of the very distinct and robust flavors in their dishes, particularly in their curry dishes.

Their decor is modern and chic, with dark woods and a long communal table perfect for a night out with friends – more like a scene out of New York City than Orlando, but if it were to be in any place in Orlando, it would be in Mills 50.


Here’s what we recommend to get at Mamak:

Top 5 Dishes to Try at Mamak

1. Mamak Roti Canai – Start off with this Malaysian roti toasted till golden brown, crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and served with an addictive spicy curry sauce.
2. Wonton with hot sauce – plump little wonton dumplings bursting with flavor in a nutty, spicy wet sauce.
3. Maggi Goreng – Stringy, bouncy Maggi noodles, stir-fried with shrimp, chicken, eggs, and veggie, in a spiced brown sauce. This dish reminded me the most of the nasi goreng noodle dishes I had while in Indonesia recently.
4. Malaysian Coconut Kari – Malaysia’s most popular dish, your choice of chicken, beef, or tofu and veggies, tossed in a fragrant curry cooked with freshly ground spices and chunky potatoes, served with jasmine rice and sliced cucumber.
5. Seafood Haw Fun – This rift on the popular beef chow fun is topped with piping hot seafood and veggies instead of beef and scallions. The thick rice noodles and the seafood make for a wonderful combination and tastes so authentic and real, you’d think you were on the streets of Southeast Asia after trying.

BONUS  – Here are some other dishes at Mamak, though good, not as essential to our list of top 5:

Nasi Goreng Indonesia - hot Spicy sambai fried rice with shrimp, chicken and onions, topped with a fried egg. I think the nasi goreng kari fried rice may be a better option - that kari sauce is so good on everything.
Nasi Goreng Indonesia – hot Spicy sambai fried rice with shrimp, chicken and onions, topped with a fried egg. I think the nasi goreng kari fried rice may be a better option – that kari sauce is so good on everything.
BBQ Roast Pork - better else where in Mills 50, these tasted a little off on our visit.
BBQ Roast Pork – better else where in Mills 50, these tasted a little off on our visit.
Malaysian Asam Kari - Your choice of protein, tamarind infused coconut curry cooked with freshly ground spices, tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots and onions, served with jasmine rice and sliced cucumbers. This dish was a bit mild compared to the coconut kari version, so it's a good choice if you like mild flavors
Malaysian Asam Kari –
Your choice of protein, tamarind infused coconut curry cooked with freshly ground spices, tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots and onions, served with jasmine rice and sliced cucumbers. This dish was a bit mild compared to the coconut kari version, so it’s a good choice if you like mild flavors
Char Kway Teow -Malaysia's most popular street dish, wok-fried rice noodles, with shrimp, chicken, eggs, bean sprouts, and chives.
Char Kway Teow -Malaysia’s most popular street dish, wok-fried rice noodles, with shrimp, chicken, eggs, bean sprouts, and chives.

Mamak Asian Street Food on Urbanspoon

Last year, the long standing Chuck’s Diner, known as a local, little diner specializing in British breakfasts, closed in the Mills 50 District.

Taking its place on the corner of Mills Avenue is The Strand – a hip, yet humble new concept featuring a menu of American classics with a modern twist. From my visit, it seems like they are undertaking an ambitious feat considering the small kitchen space that still hearkens back to its diner days – ultimately, despite a small kitchen, The Strand weaves together dishes with a lot of heart.


The name, The Strand, represents the restaurant’s hope to be a thread forming a unity with a larger weave in the Orlando community…a philosophy that reflects the intricate diversity of the Mills 50 district itself. All different parts and “strands” making up the same fabric.

The menu is small, featuring less than 20 items, but it helps to keep everything in focus especially in the early days of the restaurant. Don’t want to be overly ambitious and fail to execute properly, especially for a small kitchen. So do a few things and do them well – and that is what they succeed at during my visit with a few dining companions.


It was Friday afternoon for lunch, and it seemed a bit empty at first in the small dining room, which feels a little like visiting a diner mixed with an old friend’s city apartment dining room in a way.

Soon after we sat down, the crowds began to pour in, filling the restaurant with ladies lunching, co-workers meeting up for a bite, friends catching up, all walks of life in the community taking up seats until there was a small waiting area that formed near the bar area. That’s one thing about the ritual of eating – it’s not just about the food we eat, but also the friendship and fellowship of those with whom we eat.

My dining companions and I of course wanted to try a little everything on the menu so we ordered three different things to split and share.


The Porkzilla sandwich

For my lunch, I ordered the “Porkzilla”, a rather tame pulled pork sandwich that tasted quite delicious, topped with kale coleslaw on a toasted brioche bun and served with a side of fries. The waitress told me that there was a pineapple glaze to the pulled pork, but I could not detect it and it would’ve been a nice touch to have the pork a little less dry.  The fries could use some nice spice to make it stand out more, but it did have a nice crisp texture to it.


The Strand Burger

One of my dining companions ordered the signature “Strand Burger”, a solid burger topped with bacon, blue cheese dressing, the standard lettuce, tomato, and onion, and a little less standard, roasted jalapeno that gave the burger a nice spicy, and unexpected, kick.


The Grilled Meatloaf Sandwich with pesto quinoa side

The favorite of the bunch was the “Grilled Meatloaf Sandwich,” a thick cut of savory, gloriously-diner-greasy meatloaf stuffed with pimento cheese and sautéed onions sandwiched between potato-chive buns with a refreshing quinoa pesto side – the daily grain.

Service was good, though needed a little bit more time on training and communicating between the servers as things got a little confusing with two servers coming by asking the same questions, but  very friendly and accommodating.

Overall, very impressed with the offerings at The Strand, and would definitely return again and again.


The open humble kitchen at The Strand



The Strand Orlando
Mills 50 District
807 N. Mills Ave, Orlando, Florida 32803
(407) 920-7744

The Strand on Urbanspoon

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Update: Our readers and friends ask us what are some good choices out of the quite extensive menu at Chuan Lu Garden. Here is a sample menu for a group of 5-8 friends to try from family-style around the lazy susan.


Pan fried pork buns!
Pan fried pork buns!
Feng Bao La Zi Fried fish Fillets - Like the Chongqing La Zi Ji Chicken, but better!
Feng Bao La Zi Fried fish Fillets – Like the Chongqing La Zi Ji Chicken, but better!

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Authentic Chinese cuisine in Orlando (not counting all the “American Chinese” take out spots out there) has long been dominated by Cantonese style Chinese restaurants (most popular for their dim sum and seafood dishes). Recently, a few new places specializing in other regional Chinese cuisine have opened, including Taiwanese cuisine (Teriyaki House) and Shanghai cuisine (Magic Wok).

Chinese Sichuan (often spelled Szechuan in North America) cuisine has taken a foothold this year in Orlando with the arrival of Chuan Lu Garden.

Originating from Sichuan province in southwestern China (whose capital Chengdu was named a “city of gastronomy” by UNESCO in for its thousands of years of culinary innovation), Sichuan cuisine is known for its sophisticated use of spicy Sichuan peppercorns, chili peppers, garlic, ginger, and peanuts.

Sichuan Peppercorns via
Sichuan Peppercorns via

To be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of Sichuan peppercorns – maybe I am a little afraid of them. They’re little prickly bombs of spice and numbing flavors.

It is definitely an experience for the adventurous though, and it may even grow on you after a while. The spice is a member of the citrus family and there is a little acidity that you can taste when crunching on the peppercorn.

At first, there is a fragrant, flowery taste, and then slowly a spicy, tingly, metallic numbness (a flavor called “ma-la” in Chinese) starts at the area of impact on your tongue. The Sichuan peppercorn is prominent in Sichuan cuisine, and can be found in several of the dishes served at the new Chuan Lu Garden restaurant in Mills 50.

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Built adjacent to the Ginza Japanese steakhouse in the Mills 50 District, and connected by a hallway, Chuan Lu Garden serves up refreshingly authentic and tasty Sichuan style dishes not found any where else in Orlando.

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The dining room is a bit small, and walking through the hallway made it feel like going into a secret speak easy kind of a place, but I was told you could order the same menu if you sat in the larger dining room area inside Ginza. I liked the tight feeling of the place though, like eating in some small nook in Manhattan’s Chinatown, except we’re in Orlando.

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Sliced Roast Beef, Stomach, and Tendon with chili sauce

Our dinner party started with an appetizer: CA13 – Sliced Roast Beef, Stomach, and Tendon with chili sauce and topped with scallions, cilantro, and garlic. Served slightly chilled, the cuts of tendon and beef were fun to eat, with a nice simmering spice level not too hot to be overwhelming. There was almost an addicting flavor to it, with our dining companions continuing to pick at the dish despite their own spiciness tolerance levels.

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The hand pulled Lanzhou style beef noodle soup (a very popular dish in New York City’s Chinatown) was next. I had the chance to watch the master chef in the kitchen prepare the noodles by hand.

Called “Lamian” in Chinese, these noodles are made by stretching and folding the dough into strands of noodles. The chef here surprised me with hour fast and adept his handwork was in making the noodles, which are made and prepared to order. The Lanzhou style ordered is named after the city of Lanzhou in northwestern China where these noodles (as well as the chef here at Chuan Lu Garden) originated.

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The Lanzhou noodles were exceedingly tender and delicious to eat, and the broth and slices of beef brisket were very good as well. I would come here just for the noodles alone if I had the chance.

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Fei Teng Yu Xiang – Fish Fillets with bean sprouts and tofu in a special spicy sauce – a nice slow burn

The next dish ordered is said to be the most popular here at Chuan Lu Garden the CS16: Fei Teng Yu Xiang – Fish Fillets with bean sprouts and tofu in a special spicy sauce consisting of dried red chillies and Sichuan peppercorns. This dish was beautiful to look at with contrasting reds from the chilies, greens from scallions, and the white flesh of the fish fillets and tofu slices, and tasted very fresh and authentic with a nice level of spiciness to it. The sichuan peppercorn…like I said, kind of grows on you…especially when you accidentally eat some hidden ones folded in the layers of fish.

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Gan Gou Liang Yiang, an authentic Sichuan beef and chicken dish stir-fried in a dry pot

Our waitress, who was very kind and accommodating despite language barriers, suggested to us the Gan Gou Liang Yiang, an authentic Sichuan beef and chicken dish stir-fried in a dry pot, made with veggies, dried chilies, garlic, and ginger. The beef and chicken were very tender and was good and slightly spicy, but not too spicy. It tasted like a dish that would be eaten with a family at home with bowls of rice and soup.

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Lastly, we had the cumin lamb, a very tender lamb dish with onions and dried chillies, and also one of the favorites of the night.

Overall, the dishes tried were some of the best Chinese style dishes I’ve had in Orlando and would definitely warrant a return trip to try their other dishes, like the ChongQing La Zi spicy fried chicken.

You can find their menu on

Shout out to Feng E. for the great scoop on Yelp!

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Chuan Lu Garden on Urbanspoon



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Update – Saturday April 20, 2013
I visited a few more times to Chuan Lu Garden to try out more items from their expansive menu, particularly the more unique items I have yet to find anywhere else in Orlando. What I found was that Chuan Lu Garden not only had really good authentic Sichuan style dishes, but also some of the best Chinese overall dishes I have had in Orlando.

The following are my top favorites at Chuan Lu Garden including must tries for those who are unsure of what to get:

1. Kou Shui Ji – literally Saliva Chicken or Mouthwatering chicken, it’s similar to Hainan chicken steamed and served cold but topped with a special spicy sauce

2. Chong Qing La Zi Chicken (Spicy Fried Chicken with Sichuan Peppercorns) – if you are wanting to try the Sichuan peppercorns for the first time, or like spicy food, this spicy La Zi chicken is a signature dish and chock full of the peppers…just be ready to ask for more water.

3. Handmade pork and cabbage dumplings, steamed – the best dumplings I have had in Orlando, the meat is tender and you can tell they didn’t just boil some from a bag because the dumplings are all uniquely shaped, a result of having been made by hand.

4. Ma La Niu Rou – Spicy Beef Hand Pulled Noodle Soup –  Topped with crunchy peanuts, cilantro, spicy chili, savory beef brisket slices, the tender, hand pulled noodles go well with all the toppings and the deep, earthy broth

5. Cumin lamb – a spicy, tender delightful dish

6. Salt and Pepper shrimp or calamari – both very crispy and deliciously fried.

7. Feng Bao La Zi Fish Fillet – Fried fish fillets done the ChongQing La Zi sichuan style, with plentiful Sichuan peppercorns all over, delicate and delicious.

8. Pan Fried Pork Buns

9. Sliced Roast Beef and Tendon in Spicy sauce


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Handmade pork and cabbage dumplings, steamed – best dumplings in Orlando

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Chuan Bei Liang Fen – Northern Sichuan style Bean Gel appetizer with spicy black bean sauce – jelly like noodles, interesting textures and a nice spice sauce, but overall not a favorite item for me.

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Hong Yao Chou Shou – Szechuan Wontons

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Gan Lao Niu Rou – Sour and Hot Beef hand pulled Noodles

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Yu Xiang Rou Si – Shredded Pork with Garlic Sauce – maybe my least favorite dish as it was a bit too familiar, though good, it was boring after having a few bites of the dish.

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Salt and Peppery Calamari – tenderly fried, and deliciously breaded

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ChongQing Lazi Chicken – Spicy Fried Chicken with Sichuan Peppercorns and Dried Chillies

Watch out when eating this dish, as a few of my friends half-choked from the unexpected spiciness infused into the fried chicken.

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Ma La Niu Rou – Spicy Beef Hand Pulled Noodle Soup topped with peanuts, cilantro, spicy chili, beef brisket…so good

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Szechuan Double Cooked Pork Belly Slices with Hot Sauce

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Salt and Peppery Shrimp – these shrimp are delicately fried and topped with fried garlic and jalapeno peppers, but make sure to ask for a side of chili oil (Thanks Chirag for the tip!) to add a nice hot flavor to the shrimp

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Dan Dan Noodles – these noodles are prepared with “hand cut” noodles, a type of wide noodle resembling chow fun, and topped with ground pork and chilli pepper paste

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Jumbo shrimp with Szechuan sauce – This is shrimp with tofu and veggies, topped with the familiar spicy flavor of Sichuan peppercorns

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Sauteed Potatos with long hot pepper – This dish was not very memorable, just cuts of potato sauteed with pepper as the description says

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Szechuan Double Cooked Pork Belly Slices with Hot Sauce – a popular item at our dinner table, and very fatty 🙂

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Ma Po Tofu – this dish was good but otherwise very standard Chinese fare

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Kou Shui Ji – literally Saliva Chicken or Mouthwatering chicken, it’s similar to Hainan chicken steamed and served cold but topped with a special spicy sauce

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This little seafood shack in the Mills 50 District used to be a banh mi (Vietnamese Sub sandwich shop) by the name of Saigon Subs (located a few doors down from Tasty Wok). Boiling Crab and Seafood is still Vietnamese owned, but they take their cues from the Cajun south…hot sha-bangin sauces and steamed garlic crabs. A large population of Vietnamese Americans live in New Orleans, and as families started to spread out from the gulf region, they brought their love of seafood and cajun spices with them. Over a course of a few trips, this restaurant has earned a special place in our foodie hearts not only for their fresh seafood but also the friendly service of the owner and staff despite being understaffed at times.

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The menu consists of snow-crab legs, head-on shrimp, crawfish, and Maryland blue crabs as well as more than 13 types of poboy sandwiches filled with everything from fried oysters to catfish. My favorite items consisted of the snow crab legs, very fresh and flavorful, dipped in butter garlic sauce, as well as the jumbo head on shrimps. There are a few Vietnamese items here as well like the seafood laden bun rieu noodle soup with crab and tomato, as well as pho. The prices are very reasonable for the fresh seafood that you get and I hope they keep it that way.

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Chef’s seafood-platter meal for four consists of:

One pound of snow-crab legs and dungeness crab legs
One pound of shrimp
One pound of crawfish
Two blue crabs
Four ears of corn and four potatoes
Four nonalcoholic drinks

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Magical sha bang spicy sauce

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Boiling Crab and Seafood’s rendition of the gumbo soup – beware it is extremely spicy!

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Blue crabs bathing in garlic butter


Definitely check them out if you are a big fresh seafood fan!

Check out their website here:

Business Hours:

Monday-Thursday 10:30-9:00
Friday-Saturday 10:30-10:00
Sunday 9:00-9:00

Boiling Crab and Seafood on Urbanspoon


There’s a new banh mi shop in town, complete with new bar seats and tables and modern lighting. Where Ba Le bakery once sat, a new and trendy sandwich shop now occupies in its place, completely remodeled on the inside and out with a fresh new look.

yum-mì sandwiches focuses on bringing a modern twist to the traditional Vietnamese banh mi. The Phans (sisters Linda and Rosa, and brother David) all UCF alumni, came together with a passion for the Vietnamese culture to share their food with the community. Growing up they always talked about having a business together (they come from a family with roots in the restaurant business a la Pho 88 down the street). This common love of food inspired them to create Yum-mi sandwiches.

Having upbringings in a Vietnamese family, the Phan’s inspirations came from the traditional flavors  acquired growing up and with an open mind for the cultural diversity surrounding the Orlando area. Most of the prices range from $2.75 to $7.95, very affordable.

“It was very exciting for us to come together and see our dreams come to life. The most challenging obstacle was to target the right audience while staying true to our Vietnamese roots. When we were younger, we noticed our friends were always hesitant to go into some of the traditional sub shops. So we wanted to create a place that was more inviting to the young crowd while still satisfying our traditional Vietnamese customers.” explained Linda Phan.

“We serve the traditional banh mi dac biet which is different cold cuts served on a French bread spread with pate and top with cucumber, cilantro, pickled daikon and carrots and jalapeños with splash of soy sauce, but also have yum mi specialities like the V.P. which is our version of Vietnamese philly steak n cheese with two fried eggs on top,” Rosa Phan added.

Some other must try’s also include the Lost Tofu (made with lemongrass spiced tofu)for the vegetarians out there and their custom fresh fruit boba tea freezers. The bread is baked fresh on the premises each day as well.

On a recent visit, I admired the new digs at yum-mi and ordered a VP with the two fried eggs and thit nuong (grilled beef) inside. The sandwich was filling and enjoyable and the eggs over easy oozing yolk onto my banh mi made my lunch divine. My friend had the Ms Piggy with pork belly, lettuce and tomato and noted that although it was a great banh mi, he wished that there was more meat to the sandwich. I think filling is a very important part to the banh mi, as the bread and the meat ratio has to be a respectable amount so that one does not overpower the other. I believe this will improve as time goes on. Overall, it was a fun trip to visit yum-mi and it is definitely a welcomed addition to the new banh mi landscape in Orlando.

You can sit inside yum-mi sandwiches at the new bar stool area, watching the cars race by on the concrete paved Mills Avenue.
Delicious Vietnamese street food: banh bao, steamed buns filled with pork and hard boiled egg.
Mango-lychee freezer boba drink
Miss Piggy: The Pork belly, tomatoes, and lettuce banh mi
The VP – Vietnamese Philly with two eggs
PhotobucketYum-Mì Sandwiches on Urbanspoon

yummi sandwiches are yummy

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Hawkers Asian Street Fare – Mills 50 District – Orlando


Hawkers Asian Street Fare is a brand spanking new restaurant that opened recently on Mills Avenue in the Mills 50 district in the same building as the old Chinatown restaurant. Although I enjoyed the food from the former occupants, I think I enjoy Hawkers much more. I think what they are doing at Hawkers is one of the best things to happen to the Asian food scene in Orlando in a long time.

A hawker is a person who travels around selling goods, typically advertising them by shouting. Although you won’t see any yelling about here at Hawkers, the cuisine is heavily influence by the food peddled by street hawkers in Asia, particularly from Malaysia. The owners of Hawkers actually have family in Malaysia who are street hawkers. They brought these street hawker recipes over and adapted them for the Hawkers menu. The curry dishes, skewered beef, noodles, and more all show this influence.

If you look carefully at the Chinese-like symbol adorning the Hawker building, you can tell its made from the shape of a person carrying two baskets on a wooden pole stretched across his/her back. This is how street food is done in Asia with old ladies and men carrying their wares to market and plopping on the street to start selling their creations.

The decor at Hawkers is similar to the urban warehouse feel of Chipotle, with walls accented by corrugated metal sheets and high bar top stools. Photos of street food scenes from Vietnam to Malaysia decorate the walls. Chinese newspapers are laminated into the table tops, reminiscent of street stalls in Asia.


To start off, street food is often best eaten late at night with a round of beers and drinks. Hawkers has a impressive beer selection including some beers that come from local Orlando Brewing Company downtown. I’d recommend getting some beers to go along with the street food theme.

The roti canai is one of the signature dishes from southeast asia, a crispy crepe like roti that you dip in the curry sauce. It was pretty delicious and would taste even better if it came with 2 rotis instead of just one.

Another popular appetizer were the Hawker wings, made with Asian spices and served with a sweet chili Sriracha sauce.

Hawkers is best for their noodle dishes, noodle soups, and roast duck items. I thought their five spiced pork choppetes could use some work, maybe include a bowl of rice to balance the flavors.

One of my favorite items was the char kwa teo, a Malaysian dish from the teochiu people who immigrated from China, sort of like a Chinese influenced pad thai.

The curry chicken dish that I had was okay, I thought it needed some more hot pepper to bring the spices up a notch.

The roast duck in the roast duck banh mi sliders that we ordered was awesome, crispy and tasty to the bite. The roast duck udon noodle soup was another popular item; the broth was very light and mild tasting and went well with the flavors of the dish.

The fried fish with black bean sauce was a dish that was good, and would be better if served with a side bowl of freshly steamed rice.

My friend ordered the five spice fish tacos and he enjoyed it thoroughly.

On another occasion, I ordered the very spicy prawn mee noodle soup, a satisfying bowl made with a shrimp and pork based spicy soup, topped with slices of hard boiled egg, chinese vegetables, and shrimp. The curry laksa, a similar type of noodle soup, but with more curry flavors of course.

I thought the prices were reasonable, with most of the dishes under $6.00. Its important to note that the portions are much smaller than at traditional Chinese restaurants, but I think of it more like dim sum or tapas portions and prices that are meant to be shared. My friends and I ordered about 10 dishes and it came out to be about $15 per person for the meal.

Overall, I would definitely recommend checking out Hawkers, especially with a group of friends to share in good food and good times.

Click here for their menu!


Roti Canai at Hawkers


Hawkers Wings


Hawkers Hot Iron Mussels


Hawkers Five Spice Pork Choppettes 
Five spice fish tacos


Curry Chicken


Beef Chow fun


Char Kwa Teo noodles


Crispy Cantonese noodles


Roast Duck banh mi sliders


Roast Duck udon noodle soup


Prawn mee noodle soup


Fish filet with black bean sauce


Chilled spicy tofu


Hawkers Asian Street Fare on Urbanspoon


A few months ago, as part of the epic Orlando Weekly Banh Mi Battle, I got the chance to visit Banh Mi Nha Trang to pick up some new banh mi from their shop for the first time to enter them into the competition. Although they did not win 1st place (the honors went, to the deserving Boston Bakery across the street), Banh Mi Nha Trang which just opened a few days prior placed 2nd for best banh mi in Orlando. 

It is a bit hard to find Banh Mi Nha Trang as it is tucked away in a courtyard on Colonial Drive just to the east of the intersection with Mills Avenue. I like to tell people its in the strip between Lollicup (now renamed Chewy Boba Company) and Saigon Market with the big yellow flag on the flag pole. You have to park in the rear and walk through to the courtyard to reach Banh Mi Nha Trang. Its an unassuming hole in the wall of a place to say the least, but its these holes in the wall that most often have the most heart in their food.  The place is a mom and pop type joint, run by a lovable, friendly and always smiling Vietnamese lady. Her English is not good at all yet but you can pretty much order the same banh mi you can as the other banh mi joints. They also sell home made nem chua pickled meat and cha lua pork roll meats.

They specialize in banh mi Nha trang, a banh mi from the south central coastal region of Vietnam and topped with a special garlic fish sauce and peppery goodness. The sandwich is full of various cuts of Vietnamese deli meats like cha lua pork roll, cha siu roast pork, and pickled carrots and daikon veggies. The bread is also different from the other banh mi places as it is a bit softer and more chewy.

The banh mi dac biet Nha Trang is $2.50 (the cheapest price you’ll find for banh mi in Orlando) and if you buy 5 you get 1 free.  Tips: its cash only for the moment so remember to bring some when you go.



The Banh Mi Nha Trang Dac Biet – a great sandwich for $2.50~


Scenes from the Orlando Weekly’s Banh Mi battle

Banh Mi Nha Trang on Urbanspoon

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