EDITOR’S NOTE: At some point in late 2022, Zero Degrees in West Orlando closed, but another location near Orange Blossom Trail and Sand Lake Road remains open.
The other day I drove further west than I’ve ever driven before, in my almost 15 years in Orlando. There’s a whole “Chinatown” west of downtown, even past Taste of Chengdu, with lots of Asian markets and restaurants, as well as a Caribbean supermarket. It felt like I unlocked a new level in a video game, venturing to an unfamiliar new area and discovering all kinds of exciting, even legendary places to eat and explore in the future.
I went out that way on a quest for a certain kind of hot sauce, after coming up empty at three much closer Asian markets. I finally found it at the Tan Tien Oriental Market, and a few doors down from it, I stumbled upon Zero Degrees (https://zerodegreescompany.com/). It immediately felt like a Southern California sort of place due to a lot of Mexican and Asian fusion food and beverages, and the website confirmed it was founded in (that other) Orange County.
Zero Degrees has an eclectic menu full of frosty, sweet, refreshing (non-alcoholic) drinks, including fruit slushes, sweet shakes, limeades, milk teas (including Thai iced tea), green teas, Vietnamese iced coffee (with sweetened condensed milk, so good!), and Mexican horchata (sweetened rice milk), which can all be ordered with or without chewy boba pearls made from tapioca. They even have a Splitcup: a cup split down the middle into two separate compartments, so you can order two drinks in the same cup without having them mix together, for $5.50.
The food menu is snack-focused, featuring different variations of fries, nachos, elotes (Mexican street corn), chicharrones (pork rinds), and macaroni and cheese with a variety of toppings, including cheese, carne asada beef, and crushed Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. I knew carne asada fries is a real L.A. thing. They also have wings and crispy popcorn chicken bites, in salt and pepper or honey barbecue flavors.
I was in a hurry and had a hard time deciding, but I went with the garlic noodle dish (a larger entree, but still only $6), stir-fried in butter and garlic, with melty Cotija cheese and topped with grilled carne asada beef (a $3.50 upcharge). You can also get it with shrimp (also $3.50) and/or an egg ($1.50). It was great. Really rich, probably horrible for me, but it hit the spot. The beef had a hint of lime to it, and I’m sure it would be great over the other items on the menu, like the fries.
I also ordered Zero Degrees’ signature drink, the Mangonada ($6), a fresh mango slush with chamoy (a salty-sweet-sour sauce made from pickled plums or apricots that made its way to Mexico from China), Tajin (a spicy chili-lime spice powder that is popular sprinkled on fruit in Mexico), and topped with chunks of fresh mango. They asked me if I wanted my Mangonada spicy or not spicy, and I chose spicy. It has a lot of nice flavor, but it wasn’t “burn your tongue” spicy in the least. We have a bottle of Tajin at home, and we’ve found it is great on certain fruit, especially melons. It worked beautifully with the mango in the drink. And this was my first experience trying chamoy, so now I want to try it in other things, too!
If that straw looks weird, it’s because it is coated with spicy-tangy-fruity-sweet-sour-salty-chewy tamarind candy, making a unique sensory and taste experience. The tamarind candy straw was also a $1 upcharge, but I figured “Why not?”, especially since I live so far from this place. I admit the straw was more hassle than it was worth, especially since it didn’t extend past the plastic lid when touching the bottom of the cup. Also, it was messy, sticky, and hard to bite the chewy candy off the plastic, especially while driving. I don’t think I’d bother to get that straw again, but I’m glad I tried it.
I returned to Zero Degrees a few days later, even though it’s quite a distance away, because I wanted to explore the Chinatown area further. (Stay tuned, Saboscrivner Society of America!) I also really wanted to try the strawberry limeade and strawberry horchata, so the SplitCup was the perfect solution to my dilemma. Apologies for the pic, dear readers — it was an unseasonably hot January afternoon, and I drank most of the limeade before I got it home to take a (not even that) decent photo. They used fresh strawberries in both beverages that tasted just like my homemade strawberry smoothies do, with no extra sugar or sweet syrup added to them.
I also brought my wife an ube milkshake. The purple yam, popular in Filipino desserts, tasted more like vanilla to both of us, but it was a beautiful purple color (her favorite color), so I knew (hoped) she would like it. It came garnished with a toasted marshmallow (she loves those), some rainbow-colored sour belt chewy candy, and glittery purple sugar. If I actually used Instagram like a normal food blogger in 2019, this would be the kind of thing I’d be ‘Gramming about. But instead, you’re hearing it here first!
I don’t know when I’ll return to Zero Degrees because it’s literally across town, but I’m so glad I accidentally discovered it and took the time to try it twice in the same week. I’d love to go back and get the mac and cheese covered with Flamin’ Hot Cheeto dust, but I’ve done enough damage for this week. Eating healthy in 2019, yea yea!