Vietnamese

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First, in full disclosure, the three young men who started Viet-Nomz are old friends of mine from college. But even if I did not know these three foolish friends who decided to take on the food industry, I would wholeheartedly feel the same about Viet-Nomz.

Phillip Nguyen, Chris Chen, and Mike Cho began this journey just a few years ago when they started to brainstorm about how to bring their collective love for Vietnamese food together. Phillip, who is of Vietnamese descent, traveled around the world and America, most notably in the Vietnamese enclaves of Southern California as well as the motherland in the streets of Saigon in south Vietnam, to taste and try dishes to bring back to their project in Orlando. With this inspiration, the three friends, each with their own years of experience in the restaurant industry, opened up Viet-Nomz in late June and has hit the ground running ever since.

The space is quite hip, with natural wood ambiance. Order at the counter and your dishes will be brought to you. I visited on multiple occasions and enjoyed everything I had, from the plump, fried pork egg rolls to the grilled beef banh mi sandwiches drizzled with spicy “nom nom” sauce, to the delicately nuanced and flavorful bowls of pho, the staple of Vietnamese restaurants every where. In some ways, Viet-Nomz is the Vietnamese version of a ramen-shop, with piping hot bowls of pho beef noodle soup instead of ramen emanating from their open kitchen.

There are some updates to the Vietnamese menu here, brought on by the founder’s own upbringings. Chris Chen, who is of Taiwanese descent, brought some of the doughy, steamed white buns that make the famous gua baos in Taiwanese street foods, and married them with Vietnamese banh mi ingredients like pickled daikon and carrots and grilled pork. There are also banh mi tacos on the menu, something that was a favorite on our visits.

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Everything is made to order, and you can watch as they assemble and grill the dishes for the rice bowls or noodle bowls, and pour soups from the huge vats of pho beef noodle soup that have been simmering for hours and hours that day. For vegetarians, do try their vegetarian pho, one of the most flavorful renditions I’ve ever tried, made through a special combination of bok choy, mushrooms and vegetables that just speaks volumes of “umami”.

Instead of Vietnamese coffee made by the drip cannisters, the coffee here is made via an espresso machine with a unique house blend of coffee beans. Must try.

The only complaint is the heat from the grills and soup pots that emanates from the open kitchen area – it can get quite uncomfortable, but some say it does bring memories of the hot summers of Vietnam. I hear the heat issues will be remedied soon.

Located just outside of Full Sail on Goldenrod and University, they plan on opening late nights on the weekend in the future for the university crowd.

Overall, I do recommend nomming down on Viet-Nomz soon,  and bring a friend.

Viet-Nomz Vietnamese Pho & Street Fare

7581 University Blvd, Winter Park, FL 32792
Corner of University Blvd & Goldenrod Rd
(Across from Winn-Dixie/Tijuana Flats)
Phone: +1 407-636-6069
http://vietnomzfl.com/

HOURS
Sunday – Thursday
11:00 AM — 10:00 PM

Friday & Saturday
11:00 AM — 3:00 AM

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Grilled Pork Bao
Grilled Pork Bao
Fried egg rolls
Fried egg rolls
Grilled beef rice bowl with fried egg
Grilled beef rice bowl with fried egg
Herbs and veggie station
Herbs and veggie station – The Herb Bar
Banh mi tacos
Banh mi tacos
Banh mi topped with egg
Banh mi topped with egg
Chris Chen and Phillip Nguyen
Chris Chen and Phillip Nguyen
Pho beef noodle soup
Pho beef noodle soup
Vietnamese iced coffee
Vietnamese iced coffee

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It’s that time of year again! Seems like only yesterday.

The local Asian American community here in Orlando will be celebrating the Lunar New Year once again – one of my favorite times of the year, not just for the festivities but also for the great food that goes along with the holiday celebrations.

I remember gathering around at home growing up with my uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandma around the family dinner table having a huge feast, praying to our ancestors and the gods of fortune for a lucky and healthy new year. My favorite dishes were the fried egg rolls and roasted duck, Hakka style, filled with Chinese spices, herbs and wild mushrooms.

This year the Chinese/Vietnamese Lunar New Year’s Official Date (which changes each year because – surprise – it follows the cycles of the moon) is Monday February 8th, 2016 – but the celebrations begin much earlier and last almost all month.

This is the year of the Monkey and those people born in the year of the Monkey are said to be “smart, clever and intelligent, especially in their career and wealth. They are lively, flexible, quick-witted and versatile. In addition, their gentleness and honesty bring them an everlasting love life. Although they were born with enviable skills, they still have several shortcomings, such as an impetuous temper and a tendency to look down upon others.”

Luckily for us here in the Central Florida community, we are home to the largest ethnic enclaves of Asian Americans in the entire state, particularly around the Mills 50 district with shops, restaurants, and markets all getting ready to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

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Lunar New Year Traditions
  • Eating dinner together as a family – people journey from wherever they are, to come home and have dinner. Every year this time marks the largest mass migration of people when workers in the cities travel home to their home villages to visit their families again.
  • Giving/Recieving Red Envelopes – filled with lucky money from elders to the young. Asian culture is big on karma so want to start off the year doing good things for others and hope for good things to happen to you in return later in the year. Universal balance.
  • Clean the house before the new year start the year new, and pay off all your debts
  • Big parades with lots of firecrackers. The loud noise “scares” away any evil spirits so you can start off the new year fresh.
  • On that Monday, February 8th if you have lunch in the Mills 50 area, you will see the Wah Lum Kung Fu Lion Dance team “blessing” each business with their lion dance and fire works. Last year we had lunch at Chuan Lu and they came with fireworks and a dancing Buddha and two lions – quite the festive sight!

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What to Order – Traditional Chinese Dishes for New Years

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Eat
  • Noodles – The longer, the better – the noodles represent longevity and long life
  • Dumplings – They are shaped like little gold nuggets, symbols for good fortune and wealth
  • Fish – The word “yu” sounds like “abundance” in Chinese, so your new year will be abundant with good luck – eat whole fish so that your whole year is full of good luck
  • Fried Spring Rolls – The name also sounds like “good fortune” in Chinese, eat it for a lucky new year
  • Oranges are also plentiful during new years because the name and look of the orange is similar to gold. So giving oranges as a gift is also quite common, as it the giver is seen as wishing prosperity on the receivers.
  • Vietnamese Banh Tet – Bánh tét is a Vietnamese savoury but sometimes sweetened cake made primarily from glutinous rice, which is rolled in a banana leaf into a thick, log-like cylindrical shape, with mung bean or mung bean and pork fillings, then boiled. It is a must have traditional food in Vietnamese Lunar New Year. It demonstrates the importance of rice in the Vietnamese culture as well as historical value. During Vietnamese Tét, family members would gather together and enjoy feasting on bánh tét, the central food of this festive Vietnamese holiday to celebrate the coming of spring.

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Drink
  • Wash it all down with a glass of Baijiu
  • Baijiu – traditional clear grain spirit made from sorghum and wheat
    • The number one drink in the world at about 40-60% alcohol
    • Like Vodka to the Russians, Rum to Puerto Rico, Baijiu is to the Chinese
    • It’s drank at almost all meal gatherings in China.

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Chinese baijiu - Credit-PassportsandCocktails-com

Say Happy New Year!
  • Vietnamese – Chuc Mung Nam Moi
  • Cantonese – Sun Lien Fai Lok
    or Gung Hay Fat Choi (Literally : Congratulations on your Prosperity – have a prosperous new year)
  • Mandarin – Xin Nian Kuai Le
Places to Celebrate:
Local Orlando Restaurants:
    • Ming Bistro – Chinese Dim Sum – Great for Families/Friends/Groups
      1212 Woodward Street #6, Orlando, FL (407) 898-9672
    • Chuan Lu Garden – Authentic Sichuan cuisine – for spicy food lovers
      1101 East Colonial Drive, Orlando, FL – (407) 896-8966  http://chuanluyuan.com
    • Tasty Wok – Chinese street food / barbecue and noodles
      1246 East Colonial Drive, Orlando, FL  (407) 896-8988
    • Chan’s Chinese Cuisine – Dim sum and traditional Chinese cuisine 
      1901 East Colonial Drive, Orlando, FL (407) 896-0093
    • Golden Lotus Chinese – Dim sum and traditional Chinese cuisine
      8365 South John Young Parkway, Orlando, FL (407) 352-3832

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Local Markets – Pick up New Year goodies
  • Saigon Market
    1232 East Colonial Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, United States
    (407) 898-6899
  • Tien Hung Market
    1112 East Colonial Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, United States
    (407) 849-0205 http://tienhungmarket.com/
  • 1st Oriental SuperMarket
    5132 West Colonial Drive, Orlando, FL 32808, United States
    (407) 292-3668 http://1storiental.com
  • Phuoc Loc Tho Super Market
    2100 E Colonial Dr, Orlando, FL 32803, United States
    (407) 898-6858

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Street Food Festivals/Events

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Vietnamese New Year Festival by the Vietnamese Catholic Church
Saturday January 30 and Sunday January 31 at the Central Florida Fairgrounds
Orlando Foodie Forum facebook group meet up on that Sunday January 31 at 10:30AM
– Try the pork meatballs, sugarcane juice, Vietnamese banh mi, other street foods
http://www.philipminhparish.org/

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Vietnamese New Year Festival by the Vietnamese Community of Central Florida
Saturday February 6th – Sunday February 7th at the Central Florida Fairgrounds
– Street food and also Miss Vietnam of Florida Pageant on Sunday

See below for last year’s schedule for an idea of what will go on –

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Vietnamese Vegetarian Food Festival at Bao An Temple

Sunday October 31st –   8am – 2pm (local cultural acts, lots of vegetarian Vietnamese food for sale)
and the new years eve celebration is the night of February 7th (they have singers, performers, food for sale)
Bao An Buddhist Temple – 5788 North Apopka Vineland Road, Orlando, FL 32818, United States

Last year’s flyer below for now –

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Other temples such as Chua Phap Vu Temple on Dean Road will also have a Vietnamese new year celebration / ceremony on the eve of Lunar New Year – Sunday February 7th, usually around 8pm.

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Dragon Parade and Lunar New Year Festival
at the Orlando Fashion Square Mall – Sunday February 14 at 11am
http://www.centralfloridadragonparade.org/

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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.

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Dumplings – quite fabulous, home made dumplings

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Fried Spring Rolls

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The Pho – Beef Noodle Soup

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Click to add a blog post for Viet Garden on Zomato

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.

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

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Cha Ca Thanh Long

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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!

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Bun Cha Ha Noi

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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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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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This past weekend, the Vietnamese Catholic Church of Orlando, St Philip Phan van minh hosted their annual Vietnamese New Year Festival at the Central Florida Fairgrounds for 2015 – the year of the goat/sheep. The actual Lunar New Year is not till Thursday February 19th this year so there are still lots of great events to come. (See Guide to Celebrating Chinese/Vietnamese New Year Festivals in Orlando Post for the lowdown).

Here are 39 photos showing why the Vietnamese New Year Festival rocks:

Entrance to the Festival
Entrance to the Festival – here, a recreation of the famous Cho Ben Thanh market in Saigon, Vietnam
The festival is fun for the entire family - here in the background, a recreation of Cho Ben Thanh Market in Saigon, Vietnam
The festival is fun for the entire family – here in the background, a recreation of Cho Ben Thanh Market in Saigon, Vietnam

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Shout out to the Orlando Foodie Forum on facebook for coming out to the event!

Church Festival Volunteers snap a quick photo
Church Festival Volunteers snap a quick photo
Inside the festival building
Inside the festival building – some families stay all day watching the shows, eating their way around the building halls
Inside the festival building
Inside the festival building
Serving chao long, rice porridge with offal
Serving chao long, rice porridge with offal
Chao long, rice porridge with offal
Chao long, rice porridge with offal
Goi cuon, summer rolls
Goi cuon, summer rolls
Bun rieu, a seafood crab and pork noodle soup
Bun rieu, a seafood crab and pork noodle soup
Curry goat and sauteed boar
Curry goat and sauteed boar
Bun Bo Hue Spicy Beef Noodle soup
Bun Bo Hue Spicy Beef Noodle soup
A Vietnamese Catholic boy scout buys some banh tieu
A Vietnamese Catholic boy scout buys some banh tieu
Banh tieu, Vietnamese hollowed donut fry bread topped with sesame seeds
Banh tieu, Vietnamese hollowed donut fry bread topped with sesame seeds
Grinding sugarcane to make sugarcane juice
Grinding sugarcane to make fresh sugarcane juice
Hu Tieu Mi, a pork and chicken noodle soup
Hu Tieu Mi, a pork and chicken noodle soup topped with hard boiled quail eggs
Steaming  pots of bun rieu pork and crab noodle soup
Steaming pots of bun rieu pork and crab noodle soup
Rolls of banh tet, kind of like Christmas yuletide logs, but with sticky rice and beans to celebrate the new year
Rolls of banh tet, kind of like Christmas yuletide logs, but with sticky rice and beans to celebrate the new year
Lion dancers scare away evil spirits and welcome in the new year
Lion dancers scare away evil spirits and welcome in the new year
Scenes from the street food
Scenes from the street food

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Hot Vit Lon - the fearsome Duck fetus eggs
Hot Vit Lon – the fearsome Duck fetus eggs
Sauteed goat
Sauteed goat
Scenes from the street food
Scenes from the street food
Scenes from the street food
Scenes from the street food
Fried Eggrolls and pork sausage meatballs on a stick
Fried Eggrolls and pork sausage meatballs on a stick
Scenes from the street food
Scenes from the street food
Banh Cuon rice crepes
Banh Cuon rice crepes
Scenes from the street food
Scenes from the street food
Bun thit nuong
Bun thit nuong
Banh Xeo Vietnamese pan cakes
Banh Xeo Vietnamese pan cakes
Carnival games and things for kids area
Carnival games and things for kids area
Pew pew - Carnival games and things for kids area
Pew pew – Carnival games and things for kids area
Bounce area
Bounce area

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Orchids for sale
Orchids for sale
These Vietnamese ladies are getting ready for a cultural performance on stage
These Vietnamese ladies are getting ready for a cultural performance on stage
Pearl White Events, a local wedding planning business, markets their services
Pearl White Events, a local wedding planning business, markets their services
State Farm Insurance
State Farm Insurance is a sponsor, too
Mai tree, the symbol of spring for the Vietnamese
Mai tree, the symbol of spring for the Vietnamese

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I traveled to my hometown on a recent weekend. My family usually cooks dinner and Vietnamese food so it’s rare for us to go out, especially to a Vietnamese restaurant in West Palm Beach.

Some family came into town to visit and we decided it’d just be easier to head out to Pho 16, a new Vietnamese restaurant that we all wanted to try. We all know how parents can get, especially Asian parents, when it comes to judging and critiquing others, so I was well prepared to hear about all the little dislikes about this place or how it’s just not good as home made.

Located in a little plaza off of Military Trail and Community Dr, slightly hidden, Pho 16 would be easy to miss. Inside, the place reminds me of a cafeteria restaurant that you could find off the roads in Vietnam. The menu is simple, full of noodle soups, noodle bowls, and rice platters that those of us in Orlando have become familiar with.

For starters, we order the cha gio, or fried spring rolls. Stuffed with pork, wood eared mushrooms, and served with a fish sauce dipping sauce, the cha gio is pretty good and tastes like it was home made.

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We also ordered the bo la lot, grilled beef wrapped in wild betel leaves. Betel leaves are high in antioxidants and have been used in Asia for medicinal healing, stimulants, and even breath fresheners. In Vietnamese there is a saying that “the betel begins the conversation”, referring to the practice of people chewing betel in formal occasions or “to break the ice” in awkward situations. When grilled, the leaves give a peppery, minty flavor to the beef which I thought was quite nice.

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My order was the bun thit nuong cha gio, rice noodles with grilled pork and egg rolls in one of the largest bowls I’ve ever had. It was very filling and very satisfying, and overall a great value for the quantity of food.

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Bun thit nuong cha gio Vietnamese photo DSC00800_zps5a7d0aec.jpgBun thit nuong cha gio, rice noodles with grilled pork and egg rolls

My sister ordered the banh canh, a kind of Vietnamese thick noodle similar to Japanese udon, in a seafood broth base, that sadly was a bit bland. “Nothing like mama’s banh canh,” she muttered underneath her breath.

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Banh Canh

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Hu Tieu

Most of the table ordered the signature pho, which I had a taste of and thought, not as good as home made but pretty good for Vietnamese restaurant pho…definitely as good as some found here in Orlando, that’s for sure.

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Overall, a very satisfying place to get your Vietnamese fix on while in West Palm Beach. The prices are decent and the quality is not bad…will definitely return.

Pho 16 on Urbanspoon

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Saigon Noodle and Grill recently opened in the same location where Pho Pasteur has been for quite a few years, in the plaza on the southwest corner of Lake Underhill road and Goldenrod road. I had visited Pho Pasteur a few years ago and thought it to be okay but not that memorable.

Pho
Pho

The new Saigon Noodle and Grill is a big change from the previous Vietnamese incarnations in this place. Gone are the murals of Vietnamese jungles and rivers, replaced by a more placid light green wall color.

The menu, still undergoing changes, has some of the faithful Vietnamese dishes like bun thit nuong (rice vermicelli noodles with grilled pork), com dac biet (rice platter with grilled meat, pork casserole, tomato, etc.), and of course pho, the Vietnamese national dish of beef and rice noodles in soup.

Mr Vincent Nguyen with Brendan Byrne of WMFE
Mr Vincent Nguyen with Brendan Byrne of WMFE

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Vietnamese food holds a special place in my heart, and I often find Vietnamese restaurant renditions of some dishes to be lacking at times, especially those who try to take short cuts or use less quality ingredients.

The pho here is quite exceptional and filled with cuts of meat. The broth is as good or even better than the ones found in the Mills 50 area where competition runs high. I would say the pho here ranks among my favorite pho in Orlando.

Bo Tai Chanh - Vietnamese Carpaccio
Bo Tai Chanh – Vietnamese Carpaccio
Shrimp Papaya Salad - Goi Tom
Shrimp Papaya Salad – Goi Tom
Fried Tofu
Fried Tofu

Service is also quite nice, run by Mr. and Mrs. Nguyen, long time restauranteurs and owners of Saigon Noodle and Grill. They are very friendly and gracious every time I’ve visited, and were accordingly accommodating to their other guests as well.

For those living on the east side of Orlando, this is the best bet for some great Vietnamese food. Even if it were downtown, it would probably do well and best even some of the longstanding Vietnamese restaurants in the Mills 50 area.

Below are photos from a recent visit:

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 Cafe sua da – Vietnamese iced coffee – a bit strong, so you may need some water to help lighten it up

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Delicious fried Vietnamese spring rolls – cha gio

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A savory bowl of pho

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Com Suon – Rice with pork chops

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Goi cuon – summer rolls made with translucent rice paper

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Saigon Noodle and Grill on Urbanspoon

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UPDATE: April 7, 2013

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

I finally got to try the new Asian bbq sandwich from Publix! (Seen above) though not too much to do with a Vietnamese banh mi sub, the sandwich itself was not too bad. I enjoyed the pork but it could be improved with some more hoisin bbq sauce. They should make a spicy option of this sandwich with optional sriracha hot sauce. Overall, not too shabby Publix!

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As described first by TheDailyCity.com here, Publix has unleashed their newest creation the Asian BBQ Sub sandwich, inspired by the Vietnamese banh mi sandwich.

The official post on the new sandwich can be found here: the official Publix post on new Asian BBQ Sub sandwich.

The banh mi inspired sandwiches is nothing new, there have been many mainstream restaurants as well as local food trucks such as Big Wheel Food Truck who have put their own touches and homages on the Vietnamese street food dish.

Publix is a local Central Florida institution and is well renown for their deli sandwiches. Is this move to an “Asian” inspired sandwich another step towards the bastardization of Vietnamese cuisine, a simple way to cash in on a cultural phenomenon, or just an evolution of American cuisine?

The Publix Asian BBQ sandwich features roasted and shredded pork in a sweet chili BBQ sauce, topped with cucumbers, matchstick carrots, and fresh cilantro.

If this was a true banh mi, traditionally they would use sweetly pickled cucumbers and carrots and there would be a liver pate and butter spread on a French baguette.

I wouldn’t be so bothered by it all if they only spelled “banh mi” correctly on their site (incorrectly as “bahn mi”) or if they could get rid of those signs in Vietnamese that say “no parking” at their Publix store at Shine Avenue and Colonial, in the heart of the Vietnamese district in Mills 50.


Signs in Vietnamese – literally “Parking for Publix Customers Only” – I think that would be nice if they changed to “Feel free to park here we love the Vietnamese community and their banh mi sandwiches”

So including Publix, there is Banh Mi Nha Trang, Boston Bakery, Yum-Mi Sandwiches, Pho 88, Vietnam Cuisine, Hawkers, among many other local restaurants in the area who currently serve up banh mi.

Try them all and let me know what you think!

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The Vietnamese New Year, also known as Tet or Tet Nguyên Dán, is one of my favorite times of the year. This is the time when friends and family from throughout the Central Florida community come out and enjoy local cultural performances put on by fellow members of the community as well as more famous Vietnamese singers and performers, and also enjoy the wonderful home made Vietnamese food that you would normally not find at the local restaurants.

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As the Vietnamese New Year is based on the Lunar new year calendar, similar to the Chinese New Year, the actual date changes each year depending on the moon cycles. This year it falls on the night of Sunday February 10th and is the start of the year of the Snake. To avoid stepping on each others’ toes, the local Vietnamese community organizations, temples, and churches try to sparse out their festivities so that they would be on different dates.

On Sunday February 10 Asia Trend Magazine and Mills 50 District will host the annual Orlando Dragon Parade for the 2013 Lunar New Year Festival. Celebrate the Year of Snake with Dragon and Lion Dances, Martial Arts, Japanese Taiko, Acrobatic Performances, Cultural Dances, Arts and Crafts and Exotic Asian Food

On Saturday – Sunday February 16-17, the Vietnamese Community of Central Florida (Cong Dong) is hosting their annual event at the Central Florida Fairgrounds. The Sunday event includes the Miss Vietnam of Florida pageant.

Also on Sunday February 17, CAACF Chinese New Year Dinner Celebration 2013 takes place at Koy Wan buffet at 5:30pm. For more info visit http://asiatrendmagazine.com/AT_events.html

This past weekend, St. Philippe Phan van Minh Catholic Church hosted their Vietnamese lunar new year festivities at the Central Florida Fairgrounds. I took a visit and captured some photos of the scenes at the fairgrounds. The proceeds of the sales went to the church organization in supporting its works in the community.


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Volunteers making banh mi Vietnamese sub sandwiches

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A bowl of the spicy bun bo hue, the other beef noodle soup in Vietnam, stemming from the central region of Hue.

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An elderly woman pours some “chao” or rice porridge/ congee into a bowl. Traditionally a breakfast item or a cure for a cold day in Vietnam

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Ingredients for hu tieu noodle soup, including quail eggs

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Che Ba Mau, a type of dessert with beans and sweets

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A gentleman places sugarcane sticks into the machine, crushing the juices out to make sugarcane drink.

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A lady sells the delicacy hop vit lon, or fermented duck fetus eggs, also known as balut in the Phillipines.

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Nem nuong, Vietnamese grilled pork patties

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Ca ri de, curried goat

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Preparing Mi Quang, a Vietnamese noodle dish that originated from Quang Nam Province in central Vietnam, made with rice noodles tinted yellow with the use of turmeric.

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Mi Quang, made with rice noodles tinted yellow with the use of turmeric.

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Pho Hoa restaurant prepares Pho for sale

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Cha Lua, Vietnamese pork deli meats, used in preparation of banh cuon

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Bánh cu?n is a rice noodle roll made from a thin, wide sheet of steamed fermented rice batter filled with seasoned ground pork, minced wood ear mushroom, and minced shallots, served with cha lua

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Bun rieu seafood noodle soup with fried tofu

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Bun Moc – Vietnamese Pork and Mushroom Noodle Soup

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Friends enjoying the festival

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Youth performing a rendition of “Gangnam Style” on the main stage

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The Vietnamese Lunar New Year or Tet or Tet Nguyên Dán is upon us here in Orlando again! A time to spend with family, friends, and welcome in the new year.

Last weekend St Philp Phan Thanh Minh, the largest Catholic Church in Orlando, hosted their annual Tet Festival at the Central Florida Fairgrounds to bring in the new year of the Dragon.

This weekend, the Vietnamese Community of Orlando is hosting their own Tet Festival with a Miss Vietnam of Florida Pageant starting at 1pm on Sunday. Entrance is $5 but I definitely recommend going especially for the food. Here at the festivals, you get a chance to taste different authentic Vietnamese dishes and street food that are usually not available at local Vietnamese restaurants. The prices are a bit steep, especially for the noodle soups, but a lot of the foods here are home-made and go to a good cause usually. Address is 4603 West Colonial Drive Orlando, FL 32808-8158.

If you can’t make it out this Sunday, next Sunday on February 5th there is the Dragon Parade Lunar New Year event hosted by the Chinese American Association of Central Florida and the Mills 50 District starting at 11:00 AM – 3:00pm. More details here: http://www.facebook.com/events/136825883100048/

 

Below are some scenes from last weekend’s Tet Events:

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Orchids and flowers and plants for sale, welcoming in Spring.

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Vietnamese high schoolers doing traditional Vietnamese rice hat dance for the festival

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The Vietnamese rice hat dance

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Chim cut roti or roasted quail

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It gets busy here at the Vietnamese New Year Festival!

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Nem nuong and thit nuong, or meat balls and grilled pork on a stick. A favorite street food item of mine!

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Banh teo, a kind of Vietnamese fried donut pastry

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Vietnamese calligraphy. The Vietnamese language was romanized by the French centuries ago, previously things were written in chu nom, a kind of Chinese character system used by the elites.

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Bun bo hue, the Hue style spicy beef noodle soup

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Watching the show!

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Grilled pork

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Hop vit lon, or balut in the Phillipines, boiled fertilized duck fetus eggs

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Pate a choux, meat filled pastries, and banh bao, pork and egg filled buns, relics of the French and Chinese influence on Vietnamese cuisine.

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Bun rieu, a seafood crab tomato noodle soup dish.

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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.

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

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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.

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



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Scenes from the Orlando Weekly’s Banh Mi battle



Banh Mi Nha Trang on Urbanspoon

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Saigon Flavors opened not almost a year ago and has already won Best Vietnamese in the Critic’s choice in this year’s Orlando Sentinel Foodies Awards. That is quite the accomplishment for the “new kid on the block”, and indeed quite the achievement being located so far from the Mills-50 district area where the majority of Vietnamese restaurants are clustered.

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Goi cuon / summer rolls with shrimp and pork

Saigon Flavors is located in Oviedo, Florida right off of Aloma Avenue and SR-417 just east of Tuscawilla Road. Although the restaurant is new, the owner Charlie Tang has a long history in the Vietnamese restaurant business, having previously owned Viet Garden on Colonial Drive near Mills Avenue in the “Viet Town” area. He is very much active in Saigon Flavors, manning the front desk and checking up on guests quite regularly during meals.

I enjoyed Saigon Flavors on quite a few occasions and though the flavors are a bit toned down from what I am accustomed to, I do understand as the clientele is a bit more “American” and have differing tastes. I’ll take what I can get out here I suppose.

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Bun thit nuong cha gio / Rice Vermicelli Noodle bowl with spring rolls and grilled pork

My favorite item on the menu are their goi cuon / summer roll appetizers ($3.50) filled with shrimp, pork, vermicelli rice noodles, and herbs wrapped in rice paper and served with a hoisin/peanut butter dipping sauce. The bun thit nuong cha gio (rice vermicelli noodles with grilled pork and egg roll) are also fantastic. I did notice however that the cha gio / fried egg roll had much more vegetable filling than I am accustomed to in a Vietnamese egg roll which I did not like. It was tasty though even without alot of meat. The quintessential Vietnamese dish “Pho”, beef noodle soup, is decent here as well, although it did seem to need a tad bit more flavor. Maybe the soup needed to simmer for a little longer.

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Pho noodle soup!

The service here is decent, much more accommodating than the usual brusque attention that you would get downtown. The decor here is a bit of a fusion of modern and traditional Vietnamese, with tall wooded pillars, colorful walls, and some murals of temples and Vietnamese markets.

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chicken fried rice~

Overall, Saigon Flavors definitely was not a disappointment and is a welcome addition to the growing offerings in the Oviedo area. I hope it will achieve continued success, but also hope that it can continue to stick to the traditional Vietnamese cuisine and keep bringing the “saigon flavors”.

Note: Saigon Flavors is closed Mondays.

Saigon Flavors on Urbanspoon

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Pho Vinh – Vietnamese – Orlando

One of the newest contenders to throw their hat into the Vietnamese restaurant ring: Pho Vinh. Coming onto the scene with strong traditional Vietnamese offerings, Pho Vinh is a restaurant where attention must be paid.


Sitting in the remodeled building that once housed 4-5-9 Chinese restaurant on Primrose, the decor is elegant and simple, with pink orchid decor and paintings of Vietnamese women and children along the walls ( a la Lac Viet nearby). Right next door is Pho Hoa who also provides decent Vietnamese fare for our area. It’s a shame that not more people know about these two restaurants, despite being only a few blocks away from the busy Mills Avenue / Colonial Dr corridor.
Among the many dishes I have tried on various visits here with friends and loved ones, a few things stood out for me. The flavor of the Pho here at Vinh is deep and tasty, and the meat is plentiful. The thit nuong (grilled pork) is exceptional, where I once thought that all the Vietnamese restaurants used the same meat or recipe, the grilled pork here is actually quite delicious.
The service isn’t too bad here either as the waiters on all occasions have been considerate and thoughtful during our meals, bucking the trend of brutish service at our local establishments.
Overall, Pho Vinh is a pleasant surprise and welcome addition to the Orlando food scene.

Banh Xeo – A Vietnamese crepe/pancake dish stuffed with shrimp and pork
Banh Xeo – A Vietnamese crepe/pancake dish stuffed with shrimp and pork
(make sure you dip it in the fish sauce provided) 


I like to wrap my egg rolls in lettuce and dip it in the sauce yummy 

( it makes me feel like its healthier that way )
Bun Bo Hue – a mildly spicy noodle soup from the city of Hue
 

 

Com Thit Nuong – Rice platter with grilled pork 

Pho Vinh on Urbanspoon

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Pho 88 Vietnamese Noodle Shop – Mills 50 District
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[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsSiA-JHm0U]
Anthony Bourdain: Search for Pho in Vietnam – Food Porn

It is an age-old remedy passed down from generation to generation: a nice large steaming bowl of pho after a night out to cure a cursed condition: “the hangover”. Its common wisdom that the soup – simmered over hours with ox tail, Saigon cinnamon, star anise, charred ginger, charred onions and garlic cloves – is a elixir to make those alcohol-induced headaches go away with each slurp of the rice noodles. Its a tender dish, it sooths and washes out all the bad demons of the previous night with every spoonful.

I don’t know why we keep coming back to Pho 88, located on the left side of Mills Ave just north of Colonial Drive; there are plenty of other Vietnamese restaurants to pick and choose from out there in the Mills 50 District to satisfy our pho fix.

Maybe its the big open spaces in their dining room that gives us room to breathe and slurp freely as we scour our bowls (offered in regular, large, or xe lua – super sized- size).

It isn’t the service, as most Vietnamese places aren’t known for the greatest friendliest service and the waiters at Pho 88 are no different, each of them no-nonsense, straight to the point types.

What we enjoy at Pho 88 is the low prices (seriously where else can you get such a huge meal for $7.50? ) the quality (Pho is the namesake of the place, and you better make it good) and the lightning speed of the food delivery to the table (literally less than 5 minutes from order time).

Pho at Pho 88 is a cut above the rest. Their noodles are slender and tasty, their broth is layered with flavors from the spices and beef that have been simmering for hours, and the meats are pretty good. In Vietnam, you take a small sauce tray and put hoisin and chili sauce in it and then dip your meats in the sauces to taste. Their pho, although still no match for my mother’s, is a close contender.

For appetizers, on this occasion, we chose the cha gio or vietnamese fried spring rolls. I like to wrap my spring rolls in lettuce before dipping it into the fish sauce, providing it a soft texture to contrast with the crunchy crisp of the egg roll shells.

In addition to Pho at Pho 88, they serve delicious Vietnamese subs known as banh mi. It tastes really good and I recommend it here if you are extra hungry. In the phillipines, they are known to dip the french breads into pho to soften it before chowing down on the delectable banh mi. They have a wide range of offerings too from meat balls to eggs to the traditional dac biet with all the special deli meats.

If you’re not in the mood for pho or banh mi, try some of their delicious rice plates with pork chops and egg, or other noodle soup specialties.

Tasty Chomps Rating
4.5 out of 5 Tasty Chomps!!!!

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Graffiti art on the southern wall, always different and beautiful.
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A glass of iced Vietnamese lime-ade (nuoc da chanh), sweet and crisp
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Garnishes for the soup, basils, bean sprouts, mint, slices of lime, jalapenos
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Various meat cuts in the soup including flank steak, beef tripe, tendon, etc.
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dip sauces : sirarcha chili sauce and hoisin bbq sauce
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Pho – must be eaten hot immediately or the flavors will disappear!
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Crispy Spring Rolls aka cha gio
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Inside the cha gio is vermicelli noodles, wood eared mushroom, pork, carrots
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Wrap it up.
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Banh mi is found here at Pho 88
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Take a bite.
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Phó 88 on Urbanspoon

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