There’s a strip shopping center along Aloma Avenue in Winter Park (in an area that feels more like Casselberry) that once housed a Publix and several other businesses. The Publix moved to a newer location ten minutes up the road, and most of the other tenants moved out. I thought the entire strip was dead for sure, but a gym moved in, and now some restaurants have opened in there. One of them is essentially two restaurants in one: a new Vietnamese restaurant called Pho Cali (https://www.facebook.com/phocalialoma/menu/), connected to an interesting chain called Quickly Boba. They share the slick, modern dining room, but Pho Cali has table service, while you order at the counter at Quickly Boba. They just opened in late August.
The night I stopped by to check them out, I ended up bringing home some takeout from both. Pho Cali has a pretty typical menu for a Vietnamese restaurant, but a little more expensive than most of the restaurants in Orlando’s Mills 50 neighborhood. My wife asked for grilled beef with rice vermicelli, her go-to standard when she doesn’t order pho. It even came with three spring rolls, which were a pleasant little bonus.
I’ve been to a few other Quickly locations in Orlando, and they’re all a little bit different. They usually offer boba teas, smoothies, and slushes with a long list of flavors, macarons, and sometimes they have food menus with spicy popcorn chicken, Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches on baguettes, or even poke bowls. This location had a lot of bakery items and desserts I’ve never seen at other Quickly stores, displayed in attractive glass cases.
This is where they customize your boba drinks, and dig the multicolored macarons on top of the glass.
I was thrilled to see that this location had banh mi, because sometimes I crave those sandwiches, my previous favorite banh mi shop Mai Bistro closed recently, and the current reigning contender, Nha Trang, is much further from home than this place.
A good thing about banh mi sandwiches is that they’re usually cheap, like in the $5 range. In addition to whichever sandwich filling you choose, as the crusty baguettes are typically dressed with butter or mayo, pork liver pate (similar to liverwurst or braunschweiger, but less smoky-tasting), crunchy pickled carrot and daikon radish, cucumber spears, sprigs of refreshing cilantro, and slices of fresh, crunchy jalapeno peppers, which are much hotter than the pickled jalapenos most people are used to. I was impressed to see this Quickly had an open area where you could watch your sandwiches being made and request custom ingredients, a la Subway. Most places just disappear into the back to make them.
I usually get a cold cut combo sandwich, but I noticed this Quickly location had crawfish on the menu, so I decided to get one of each, have half of each when I got them home, and save the other halves for the next day. I don’t know why I was expecting breaded and deep-fried crawfish tails, but these were chilled and marinated, like a tangy crawfish salad. I like seafood salads, so I figured I would try it.
The cold cut banh mi:
The crawfish banh mi:
Both were very fresh and tasty. They’re always much lighter and more refreshing than most subs or hoagies, and a good banh mi should taste very fresh, with a variety of textures and flavors: crunchy bread and vegetables, soft meat fillings, some tangy, some spicy, and richness from the creamy mayo and smooth pate. I don’t know if they dethrone Nha Trang or the late, lamented Mai Bistro, but they hit the spot, the price was right, and I’m glad I have the option much closer to home.
I also picked out a bun from the Quickly bakery case, with strands of salty, soft shredded pork baked on the top. It was a savory bun with the slightest hint of sweetness, very buttery, and much softer and lighter than you would expect.
It’s an interesting combination, and maybe just what this desolate shopping strip needs to revitalize itself. I’m happy to provide some good word of mouth to help send business their way, and I wish them the best over there on Aloma. It’s a very nice, cool dining room, reminiscent of Bento, a local favorite. I think if people check it out, they will be pleasantly surprised. Even if Pho Cali is a little more expensive than the Mills 50 stalwarts that have been serving Vietnamese food for far longer, I suspect it will win over folks in Winter Park, Winter Springs, Casselberry, and Oviedo that don’t want to drive all the way out there.
And next time I’ll actually try the pho!