Ellie Lou’s Brews & BBQ

Pork platter

Exterior

Interior

Sauces

***** (5 stars)

Orlando is an excellent town for barbecue, with many great choices, and a lot of different styles, from Southern to Midwestern and more. I like the barbecue here better than almost anywhere I travel to, because of that diversity. And I have to say, of all the great Orlando barbecue places I patronize, Ellie Lou’s is the best.

I had the pork platter with two sides. I was expecting sliced pork, so I was pleased when something more like burnt ends appeared: succulent chunks of lean, moist pork, with a nice charred crust on some of the pieces. It was a generous serving, too.

I liked all four BBQ sauces on the table: Kansas City (sweet), Memphis, Hot, and Mustard. The combination of the first three was my favorite. All of them are made in-house, and it shows.

Also made in-house are the sides. The baked beans were loaded with chunks of meat; a squirt of sauce and they were perfect. One of my favorite parts of the whole meal was the potato salad, which was also obviously homemade, with big chunks of potato, a creamy dressing and lots of herbs.

The two slices of garlic bread were also excellent: fresh, crispy and with lots of garlic butter.

Perhaps the thing that most distinguishes Ellie Lou’s is the environment. It’s not crowded and is actually quite pleasant inside. And even though you order at a counter, the staff is very attentive once you’re seated, so it’s like a real restaurant. A real GOOD restaurant.

Ellie Lou’s Brews & BBQ
336 Moore Rd
Ocoee, FL 34761
(407) 347-9515
http://www.yelp.com/biz/ellie-lous-brews-and-bbq-ocoee

Soupa Saiyan

Line

Chicken wings

Beef broth, ramen, brisket, veggies, lime, basil

Exterior

Interior

Menu

**** (4 stars)

This is a true Asian noodle place, common in big cities like Chicago, but fairly rare in Orlando. It’s a quick-serve operation where you order at a counter and they bring it to you–assuming you can find a seat. The place is very popular, and a line forms within minutes of opening.

The menu is extremely clear, enabling you to build your dish step by step. You start with a broth flavor, select a noodle type, and then two ingredients. I had beef broth with ramen noodles, beef brisket and mixed vegetables. The serving was really huge. The basic flavors are fairly subtle, so I was happy I’d asked for lime and basil as fresh accompaniments. These came in a separate bowl, and were generous helpings.

I also tried the chicken wings, which were simple fried wings and legs served with duck sauce packets.

Service was fast and friendly, but be sure to arrive early if you want to eat there.

Soupa Saiyan
5689 Vineland Rd
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 930-3396
https://www.yelp.com/biz/soupa-saiyan-orlando-2

Restaurant BT

***** (5 stars)

Based upon the reviews I was expecting some fairly extraordinary food, and I was not disappointed. Everything we had was top notch. The complexity of the recipes and quality of the ingredients is definitely far above most Vietnamese restaurants I’ve been to.

At a recent lunch we worked our way through many appetizer courses, beginning with the fresh shrimp rolls and the mini crispy spring rolls. Both were elevated by the inclusion of very flavorful and fresh herbs.

Tuna Tai Chanh was a wonderful tuna tartare that was mixed with an unusually large amount of chopped fresh herbs that gave it a complex flavor, elevating it far about the tuna and sesame oil base.

We also tried two special. Pheasant pate was an excellent rough country style pate served with traditional French accompaniments of mustard, gherkins and chopped onions. Truffled burrata cheese was also nicely done, with a sort of pesto or chimichurri accompaniment.

For an entree I had the grilled pork banh mi. I’m a particular fan of that sandwich, and this one was as good as any I’ve had, with lots of fresh herbs, a savory soy marinade, and just the right amount of creamy mayonnaise.

I’m not sure I’d describe anything I had as “fusion” cuisine. Most of the dishes are gourmet Vietnamese, and the two specials we had were French, but I didn’t detect any fusing going on.

The wine list is reasonably priced and offers some nice choices. The Puligny Montrachet went well with the food, although not as well as the Chateau Carbonneau that we brought. The $30 corkage seemed a bit steep, but otherwise I thought the food pricing was very reasonable. I can only assume those complaining about the prices were expecting Vietnamese sandwich shop and the ingredients here mark this as a very fine dining restaurant that happens to serve lunch, too.

Restaurant BT
2507 S MacDill Ave
Tampa, FL 33629
(813) 258-1916
http://www.yelp.com/biz/restaurant-bt-tampa

Banh Mi Nha Trang Subs

***** (5 stars)

The house special here is not only the best Banh Mi sandwich I’ve ever had, it is the best sandwich I’ve ever had. The bread is incredibly fresh, and perfectly toasted around the edges. The meats are smokey and flavorful, and the vegetables incredibly fresh and piquant. Just an absolutely sublime combination of ingredients.

Located at the back of a court surrounded by old shops, the place looks pretty decrepit from the outside, and no better inside. There are no tables, and not even a register. You simply pick what you want from the list and wait for it to be handed to you.

Nevertheless, it is an awesome sandwich, and I will be back here often. See you tomorrow!

Banh Mi Nha Trang Subs
1216 E Colonial Dr
Ste 9
Orlando, FL 32803
(407) 346-4549
http://www.yelp.com/biz/banh-mi-nha-trang-subs-orlando

Pho-Real

**** (4 stars)

It’s nice to find an Asian restaurant in this are that isn’t Chinese or sushi. The menu has a limited offering of Vietnamese staples including Pho and Banh Mi sandwiches.

I had the Special, which turned out to not be Pho, but rather a bowl of rice topped with beef chunks and an optional egg. It was good, but my friend’s Pho was better, a generous serving, with all the usual ingredients.

The Banh Mi was good, although at over $6 it’s one of the more expensive versions in town–not that that’s a lot for a sandwich, but for some reason this sandwich is traditionally really cheap most places.

Although it’s counter service, the interior is rather nice. Service is friendly, but the kitchen takes a while at lunch time, so don’t be in a hurry.

Pho Real is quite hard to spot from the street. It’s not on the main sign at the entrance to the strip center, and the combination of the name and logo make it look like a real estate office, so don’t give up.

Pho-Real
2910 Maguire Rd
Ste 1006
Ocoee, FL 34761
(407) 614-1684
http://www.yelp.com/biz/pho-real-ocoee-2

Lac Viet

***** (5 stars)

We had a great meal here, made all the more memorable because the night before we ate at Morimoto Asia. The food a Lac Viet was substantially better, and one third the price.

The interior of the restaurant–which I remember from decades ago, when it was Le Cordon Bleu–is bright and open, divided in to many intimate rooms.

We started with the Tom Yum, which had a thinner and less tomato-based broth than the Thai version I’m used to, but despite it’s clarity, it was the most flavorful Tom Yum I’ve ever tasted, with just the right spice level.

The seafood crepe was also good, although not quite what I was expecting. Fried to a crispy gold, it looked more like a giant taco, filled with bean sprouts, shrimp and other goodies. This is a giant appetizer, so plan ahead.

The Vermicelli bowl is always my favorite at Vietnamese restaurants, and this was no exception, the combination of charred pork, cucumber, sprouts, vermicelli, and greens was delicious, especially with some added fish sauce, hoisin and Sriracha.

The other entree we tried was a massive assortment of pork, beef and chicken. The pork and chicken had each been sautéed with different sauces and vegetables, and were absolutely delicious. This one dish is plenty for sharing, but we were happy to have lots of all three preparations to take home for later. This dish really emphasized the light touch of Lac Viet, because it was similar to Chinese stir fry, and yet there was none of the heavy oiliness that turns me off of Chinese food. Really great stuff.

There is a small but well thought out list of wines and beers. Service is attentive and helpful.

There are quite a few good Vietnamese restaurants in Orlando, particularly in the Mills 50 area, but Lac Viet is the best I’ve been to anywhere.

Lac Viet
2021 E Colonial Dr
Orlando, FL 32803
(407) 228-4000
http://www.yelp.com/biz/lac-viet-orlando

Le Colonial

**** (4 stars)

This popular restaurant serves well prepared and beautifully presented Vietnamese food in a French Colonial setting. Don’t expect French fusion cooking, as there is little French culinary influence, but the setting will definitely transport you to 1950s French Colonial Vietnam.

We put ourselves in our waiter’s hands, and he knocked it out of the park, serving us two appetizers, two salads and two entrees. Nearly all of them were something we would not have ordered, but will definitely order again. We preferred the appetizers and salads to the entrees, and would concentrate on those areas of the menu on our next visit.

We began with a ravioli that was made from amazingly thin and delicate layers, and bursting with flavor. This was probably my favorite dish. We also had the wok seared monkfish, which was slightly spicy, and served with crisp sesame crackers.

Our salad course consisted of a filet mignon and watercress salad (reminiscent of Thai waterfall beef) and a lotus root and crispy tofu salad that was a knockout. Not being a big tofu fan, I would never have ordered this, but it was my other favorite.

Our entrees were a sautéed shrimp dish, and sautéed filet mignon with yams and green beans.  These were both good, but not as good as the previous dishes.

For dessert we had an ice cream and macaroon dish that was fine, but not special.

A nice selection of wines designed to accompany the food is available, with a particularly fine selection of Champagnes by the glass.

In addition to the downstairs space, there is a bar and clubbier upstairs dining room.

Obviously we enjoyed the service, as our waiter created this excellent meal for us!

Le Colonial
937 N Rush St
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 255-0088
http://www.yelp.com/biz/le-colonial-chicago

Huong Viet

***** (5 stars)

I’ve been looking for great Vietnamese food on the west side of Orlando and at last I’ve found it!

Ignore the decrepit shopping center locale of this place; inside it’s nicely decorated, and the servers are friendly and helpful.

There is an extensive selection of vermicelli bowls, pho, and banh mi sandwiches.

My grilled pork vermicelli bowl was delicious, and it was no problem to substitute the summer roll instead of the included egg roll. The fish sauce served with the vermicelli bowl was particularly tasty, and the summer roll included very flavorful basil leaves.

Pricing is very reasonable, with sandwiches starting at under $4, and all the bowls well under $10.  I’ll definitely be back soon to check out their other offerings.

Huong Viet
5286 W Colonial Dr
Orlando, FL 32808
(407) 730-9835
http://www.yelp.com/biz/huong-viet-orlando

Pho 88 Noodle

**** (4 stars)

I like the bright, open, bustling feel of this place, lined with plate glass windows facing onto Mills Ave. The servers and many of the customers are Vietnamese, and I take that as a sign of the authenticity of the food. My favorites are the spring rolls, banh mi sandwiches, and the noodle dishes with mixed vegetables. The crispy noodles are good. They form a nest around the dish, and slowly soften as they sop up the gravy.

Pho 88 Noodle
730 N Mills Ave
Orlando, FL 32803
(407) 897-3488
http://www.yelp.com/biz/pho-88-noodle-orlando

Rice Paper

***** (5 stars)

I go here every few weeks for lunch, and it’s amazingly consistent. My favorites are the noodle bowls, a tasty mixture of noodles and salad topped with your choice of protein. My favorites are the grilled pork and grilled salmon. They come with a fried spring roll, but I prefer to request the steamed on, which is served chilled with a delicious peanut sauce.

Service is reliable, and the place is pleasant for a strip mall, with pretty cool blue halogen lights and airy woodwork.

Rice Paper
7637 Turkey Lake Rd
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 352-4700
http://www.yelp.com/biz/rice-paper-orlando