Remember when all of Orlando’s Vietnamese restaurants (OK, both of them) were located within a block of the intersection of Colonial Drive and Mills Avenue? Even today with our much larger collection of restaurants specializing in the cuisine of Vietnam, most are still in that immediate vicinity.
But back in 2003 (and I for one am having a hard time believing it was that long ago) Pho Hoa opened on Primrose Drive. Sure, it was only a mile away, and just south of Colonial Drive, but I saw it as a bold move to step away from what most locals referred to as Little Saigon.
Now Pho Hoa has a new Vietnamese restaurant neighbor (a Littler Saigon?). Pho Vinh is the new kid on the block, and it’s already a favorite Vietnamese restaurant of mine. The decor is bright and tidy, the servers are friendly and efficient, and the food I sampled was first-rate.
Long-time residents will remember this space as the home of 4-5-6 Chinese restaurant (which later, under new owners who apparently didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a new sign, was called 4-5-9 — so much for the “Lucky Number” theory of naming restaurants).
Pho Vinh’s name might cause a bit of confusion. There are a couple of other restaurants with Pho in the name (besides neighbor Hoa there’s Pho 88). And then there’s Vinh’s, another Vietnamese back in the MillsOnial district. Pho, of course, is the term for beef soup, the large bowls of broth that are such a staple of Vietnamese restaurants in America. Vinh is a person’s name, and in this case not the same person who owns the other restaurant. Pho Vinh is independently owned.
Like most of the other Vietnamese restaurants in the area, Pho Vinh’s menu is larger than you would think it would need to be. With over 180 items, the menu is a lot to take in and, well, digest. I knew I wanted soup when I visited, so instead of wading through the various pho, metaphorically speaking, I zeroed in on the section of the menu labeled “House Soups Specials.” How can you go wrong there?
I selected the bun mang vit, or what is more commonly referred to as ol’ number 72. It was a beef-based soup with slender rice vermicelli noodles, the meat of a duck leg (sans bones) and miniature planks of bamboo shoots. Accompanying the soup were stacks of crunchy bean sprouts and fresh, green basil, plus some slices of jalapeno for heat and limes for tartness. A good, filling soup — especially nice on these cold days.
On another visit I ordered the bun nem nuong thit nuong. Actually I ordered it by its number, 119, because I was concerned about my pronunciation of thit. This was a nonsoup item of rice vermicelli topped with crispy charbroiled pork and a sort of meatball/bologna made with grilled pork. Each meat had a distinct flavor and texture, both quite good. Interestingly, it came with the same accouterments the soups, plus a sort of tossed greens salad.
It also had something else that wasn’t on the menu: peanuts. With so many restaurants becoming more aware to the concerns of people with peanut allergies it seems an egregious omission. (It should also serve as a reminder to those with allergies to always ask about an ingredient of concern, whether it’s listed on the menu or not.)
Pho Vinh’s dining room is much more pleasant than I remember 4-5-6 (or4-5-9 for that matter) ever being. Although it fronts Primrose Drive and there is an entrance there, most guests will access the restaurant from the rear door off the parking lot. That’s where the host stand, a large canopied structure that was meant to be a bar, is situated.
The floor is tiled and tables are of a highly varnished wood, set with the requisite bottles of sauces. The walls are decorated with paintings of Vietnamese women in various poses that appear to be of the same artist (they’re certainly of the same framer).
I liked Pho Vinh a lot. Its pleasant surroundings and staff — and food — could put it in the running for the area’s best Vietnamese restaurant, a title that currently is up for grabs.