Experiencing A Piece of Multicultural Orlando: The ViMi District
One of the areas that I was most excited to visit during our tour of the Orlando culinary scene was Orlando’s Vimi district. The name ViMi comes from the two main streets, Virginia and Mills, that intersect there. Located in the northeast of downtown Orlando, the district has changed over the years, with many fighting for a more identifiable name (though I believe this one has stuck) and best known for the Vietnamese influences, its politically vocal gay community, and its ever-growing art community.
Though the area continues to have a mostly Asian-American influence and look (with restaurant and store fronts displaying Vietnamese, Korean, Thai and Chinese signage), I also saw the presence of other multicultural groups, with a British shop and Russian market proudly displaying and selling cultural favorites, some of which I have never seen in my life.
Across the street from both these markets, is the family-owned Pho 88, where we had the opportunity to enjoy some authentic Vietnamese dishes. We were joined for lunch by Orlando foodie celebrity Scott Joseph of ScottJosephOrlando.com. Joseph, a former food critic and restaurant reviewer for the Orlando Sentinel has continued to have a strong presence and influence in the foodie travel scene for his work with organizations such as The James Beard House, where he has been an integral part in helping to showcase Orlando chefs and food purveyors with events both in NYC and most recently in Orlando.
I love listening to locals and their vast knowledge of their hometown, how things came to be, and why things are a certain way. It was truly a golden moment to have Joseph at our table, that is until the food came and he was completely upstaged by it all.
We had orders of Bún Bò Huế (Spicy Beef Noodle soup), Bún Thịt Nướng Bì Chả Giò (Grilled Pork, Shredded Pork Skin, and Egg Roll on Rice Vermicelli), Gỏi Cuốn (Spring Rolls with Shrimp and Pork), Bì, Thịt Nướng, hoặc Bò Nướng Cuốn (Shredded Pork Skin, Grilled Pork, or Grilled Beef Rolls), and assorted garnishes.
That was just our table. The other table had an array of soups as well, all of which smelled fabulous. This locale is not anything high end. But the real sign that gave us a hint that this was going to be a great eating experience was the large number of Vietnamese families dining there.
Had we not JUST had brunch at Bull and Bear less then 2 hours before, I would have easily devoured the entire bowl of spicy beef noodle soup, which by the way, I highly recommend.
We topped it all off with a Sinh Tố Bơ (Avocado Shake). All natural, no preservatives or food coloring, this drink was packed with flavor, yet light and refreshing.
Pho 88 is not a participating restaurant member of Orlando’s Magic Dining month, but if you find yourself in the area this month or anytime in the future, definitely check this casual, inexpensive eating destination. The multicultural scene in Orlando ranges a lot farther than ViMi, but the eclectic feel of the area, both as a community and as a foodie destination is really exciting to experience.
I thank Scott Joseph for sharing his time and knowledge with our group. In addition to his “flog” (food blog), he has just published Scott Joseph’s 2010 Orlando Food Guide ($14.95), a treasure of information for any traveler visiting the Orlando area wanting to experience all it has to offer culinary-wise. Stay tuned as well for his upcoming smart phone app!
Disclosure: This review is based on a complimentary, all-expense paid visit to Orlando, FL by the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, including complimentary meals in featured restaurants. I received no other compensation and no requirements that I express a particular point of view.