We don’t mean to be dramatic, but it really is that difficult. Orlando’s Asian offerings are many. Like, many. You could start perhaps, with Vietnamese – as one of the things that makes the City Beautiful beautiful is its large Vietnamese population…which makes choosing a favorite Vietnamese joint a process in itself (note to editors: a 10Best Vietnamese list could be in order!) Two such goodies on this list: Saigon Noodle and Pho 88 are well known and loved, but certainly not the only game in town for pho and beyond. This list is Asian, though, which covers a vast swath of culinary goodness. Case in point: Tamarind’s Indian goodness, Thai Purple Orchid’s well priced and authentic offerings or Mamak Asian Street Food’s mouthwatering menu which starts with Malaysian, but runs its delicious tendrils into the likes of India, Korea and more. And speaking of Korean, Mills 50’s Korea House brings a whole new level of Y-U-M to the idea of D-I-Y.
You don't have to go all-you-can-eat at Korea House, but it's particularly fun if you're new to Korean barbecue and want to sample the vast variety available. Thin cuts to thick, you'll have a blast grilling your own meats. Be sure to ask servers for helpful hints to avoid overcooking and get the most out of your experience in general. Yummy offerings like tongue give way to heavy hitters like short ribs, ribeye and more. But if you're not into heavy duty bulgogi, no worries, a host of Korean deliciousness in the form of bibimbap (mixed rice, a classic from Korea) tteokbokki (a spicy offering of rice cakes and fish cakes) and a host of savory stir-fry options await. (407-896-5994)
A fixture in the ground-zero area of Mills50 for more than a decade now, Pho 88 is family-run with a truly vast menu of Vietnamese dishes from appetizers to sizzling entrees to the brothy-delicious delicacy for which it is named: pho. Don't know pho? It's noodle soup! Giant, steaming, noodle-filled bowls for the novice or traditionalist (chicken, beef) or the adventurer (tendon, tripe, squid) – take your pick. In addition, Pho 88 slings banh-mi – traditional Vietnamese sandwiches – simmering hot pots, sauce laden fish, left whole on the platter. It would take you ages to go through the entire menu. But you may want to try. ((407) 897-3488)
Chuan Lu Yuan
Sophisticated, spicy and authentic are words you'll often hear associated with Chuan Lu Yuan, a Mills 50-outpost that operates as part of the larger Ginza steakhouse. We'd add colorful, flavorful, aromatic and delicious, though it's likely all been said before. Chuan Lu Yuan serves Szechuan dishes, many of which will seem delightfully new to folks more accustomed to Americanized Chinese fare. Hot pots, hand-pulled noodle soups, an array of dishes for the adventurous culinary explorer. While there are options available for those less interested in straying outside their comfort zones, we recommend you bring several bold dining companions (more people = more dishes to sample!), ask lots of questions and taste, taste, taste. (407-896-8966)
Thai Purple Orchid Cafe & Grocery
Lots of restaurants say they've got a family vibe but the mother-daughter proprietresses at Thai Purple Orchid Cafe, a modest little gem in an aging Colonial Drive strip center, serve it up with just the right amount of eastern spice. Sonia (a UCF grad) and mom, Nisa (a former pharmacist) welcome all walks of customers – UCF students and well beyond, who come for very reasonably priced and authentic fare in a clean, cute place that feels sort of like your friend's mom's kitchen. Which it sort of is, we suppose. A small attached grocery (about an aisle's worth of foodstuffs) sells Thai staples. Feel free to ask questions about goods or dishes; staffers here are affable and the food is first-rate. ((407) 203-3891)
For authentic Chinese dine-in or delivery, you won't go wrong with Tasty Wok. A long standing favorite in Colonialtown North (the Mills 50 neighborhood is a hotbed of so many Vietnamese gems that other Asian delights are often under-reported) this unpretentious little restaurant is well known for its scallion pancakes, noodle soups, congee, roast duck and chow fun (a dish you don't all that often in the 407), all of which are served up in heaping portions for beyond-reasonable prices. A word to those looking for a plush, upscale venue to impress a date, future in-law or potential client: this ain't it. (407-896-8988)
Tamarind Indian Cuisine
Not all of Winter Park's great restaurants are ensconced in tony digs. Many are hiding in plain sight. That's the case with Tamarind, where great South and North Indian cuisine surmounted the obstacles of strip-mall obscurity to become a local favorite. Open for lunch and dinner – it closes in between – regulars and those soon-to-be revel in the flavors and textures of tandoor meats, delicious masalas, chewy naan, massive dosas and a wide array of vegetarian selections for those who forgo the meat. Waits are not uncommon during peak evenings, but that's because Tamarind's following knows precisely what it's hanging around for. The Indian classics are done right. ((321) 207-0760)
Bao. Fun to say. Fun to eat. And at King Bao, a Mills 50 purveyor of this trendy, if ancient, Asian steamed bun delicacy, cheap. King Bao's fluffy, doughy handhelds are beyond reasonable – $7 for a two-bao combo, $9 for three – and stuff loads of fatty, crunchy, crispy, creamy and a whole bunch of other adjectives into their tender buns. And we didn't write that sentence just to use the phrase "tender buns." Mostly. Try the Inner Harbor (Maryland-style crab cake, Old Bay mustard aioli and scallions) alongside the Glenn Rhee (marinated Korean short rib, Asian pear salsa and cilantro). Glenn Rhee, by the way is actor Steven Yeun's Korean character on "The Walking Dead." Add a side of tots, exotic'd up with items like truffle oil, braised pork or vegan-friendly faux bacon or save room for a dessert bao. Good stuff here. Bao-wow! (407-237-0013)
It's hard to call Sapporo "fast food" Japanese. Fast it is, but somehow it seems wrong to lump an eatery with rich, flavorful food � big nod to its brothy ramens � in with a genre that includes $1 menu drive-through burgers. Sapporo Ramen is located in an Asian-heavy strip mall on Colonial Drive called "Chinatown Plaza" (amusing for an eatery that serves Japanese). Head to the counter and order up some katsu, udon or octopus-stuffed takoyaki or craft yourself a bowl of steamy ramen. Choose your broth, choose your ingredients, add extra if you like and pay � then wait for the feast to arrive. If your only experience with ramen is the four-for-$1 variety you ate in college, stop in and give your palate an education. ((407) 203-6777)
Saigon Noodle & Grill
Just about every Orlando local has a favorite spot for Vietnamese and competition among eateries is stiff, particularly in the Mills 50/Colonialtown neighborhood where the concentration of Vietnamese restaurants – and other businesses – is dense. Saigon Noodle & Grill is located outside this urban ground-zero for pho and other Vietnamese delights – in an unassuming strip-mall on Goldenrod. Parking is ample, as are the portions of their well regarded food. Huge birds nests (a house specialty), steaming pho, crisp spring rolls and a host of meat-and-rice-based dishes await. Its welcoming owners are generally on-site and happy to accommodate customers with diet restrictions, pointing out gluten-free dishes as well as modifying others to suit. ((407) 658-1967)
Mamak Asian Street Food
It's air-conditioned confines may be miles away from the sultry Southeast Asian climes in which one would enjoy the layered flavors of the Malaysian food stalls for which it is named, but Mamak Asian Street Food's plates – small and large – are an exotic journey without the plane fare. From the familiar (spring rolls, street tacos) to items the less adventurous might deem out-there (fish balls, curry gravies) its menu culls from various Asian nations creating a mix of flavors that beg to be sampled. A central location in Mills 50 makes exploration of the neighborhood a pleasant to-do, pre-dinner or post-lunch. (407-270-4688)
About A.D. Thompson
A.D. Thompson has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and roughly 15 as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum.
A roller coaster enthusiast, A.D. readily admits there is fun to be had amid the madness of the theme parks, but has found there is magic, as well, in the outer-lying reaches of Mickey’s long shadow. She is delighted to share with you the spoils of her adopted city.
Visit her colorful compendium at www.amydrewthompson.com.
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