One of Orlando’s culinary highlights is its burgeoning Vietnamese restaurant scene. The Mills 50 neighborhood near downtown Orlando (the intersection of Mills Avenue, AKA Highway 17-92, and Colonial Drive, AKA State Road 50) might be the best part of town for dining out, period. We have the most Vietnamese restaurants centered around there, plus lots of Vietnamese and other Asian markets. Vietnamese cuisine carries some French influences, from delicate pastries to banh mi, sub sandwiches with various cured meats and pickled vegetables on perfect crisp baguettes. Even Vietnamese iced coffee, or cà phê sữa đá, is a strong dark roast served over ice with sweetened condensed milk — ooh la la, hon hon hon! So rich and sweet, refreshing and delicious. I like my coffee like I like my women: rich and sweet, refreshing and delicious.
Amid all our other Vietnamese options, we have a new choice that just opened recently and is getting plenty of well-deserved foodie buzz: Paris Banh Mi Cafe Bakery (https://parisbanhmicafebakery.com/). It’s not a full-service, sit-down restaurant, but a casual cafe, wide open with modern decor, specializing in banh mi sandwiches, baked goods, and tasty beverages. You order at the counter, but first you have to run the gauntlet of all those beautiful, fresh-baked pastries on display.
I arrived after the lunch rush on Independence Day, after treating myself to a mid-morning showing of the new Spider-Man sequel on a day off work. The baked goods were picked over, but there was still plenty to choose from:
When you enter, grab a tray and a pair of tongs, because you can start serving yourself on your way up to the counter. A hungry or sweet-toothed person can do a lot of damage, but at least these pastries aren’t expensive, so you can make some choices and have a good time with a mostly-clear conscience.
I had been warned to not miss these flaky round pastries stuffed with savory seasoned ground beef. They were kept in a separate glass case on top of the front counter, being kept warm. As soon as I saw them, I knew I would have chosen one anyway. I can’t recommend them highly enough, especially at only $2:
I selected an assortment of five pastries to bring home to share with my wife, but a kind gentleman who worked there advised me of their special deal of buying five and getting a sixth free. How could I refuse? So I walked out with a flaky margherita pastry with tomato filling (top left; $3), a cheese croissant that was much more like a cheese danish (top middle; $2), a sweet cheese blueberry croissant (top right; $2.80), the warm, meat-stuffed pastry that rang up as a pate chaud (bottom left; $2), a mozzarella and tomato sauce-filled pastry that was kind of like a really good pizza Hot Pocket (bottom; $3), and a sweet, buttery, flaky kouign amann (the round one on the right; $2.80).
Here is the banh mi menu, at last! These are a bargain at $5 each, and they are extremely high-quality, especially the fresh-baked baguettes, so crispy outside and so soft inside. I’ve had some banh mi served to me on stale baguettes that shatter when you bite into them, and a couple you could use as baseball bats, but I can’t conceive of such a thing at Paris Banh Mi. I ended up choosing a B1 special combination, with several different cold cuts (served cold), and a B2 grilled pork (served warm), both to go.
Here they are, unwrapped back at home. I’d definitely rank them among the best banh mi in a city blessed to have lots of good ones to choose from.
Here is the drink menu, also posted above the counter. The Paris By Night latte looked beautiful, and you can never go wrong with iced coffee or Thai iced tea, but I chose a drink I’ve been hearing about for months but haven’t had a chance to try yet: milk tea with cheese foam ($5).
This was my cool, creamy milk tea with cheese foam. It’s not as weird as it sounds, I promise. The milk tea is sweet and refreshing, and never tastes too much like tea to me, but I’m okay with that. The foam at the top is kind of like a sweetened cream cheese, but not thick and solid like cheesecake. It’s sticky and frothy and a little salty — more like thicker, sticky, salty whipped cream. Go ahead and giggle — get it out of your system — but I swear it works. I enjoyed this drink and would totally order it again.
On my way out, I took some more photos of the beautiful cakes, eclairs, napoleons, macarons, tarts, and other pastries in their glass cases up front. Things like this never tempt me that much, but I have no doubt each one would be wonderful. My parents, who are definitely not adventurous eaters, go gaga over French pastries like these, so I’d love to take them here if they ever make it up from Miami to visit us. No pressure, though! (I know they read my blog and wonder how I got this way.)
Best of all, on this visit — my first visit — someone called my name, and it was three friendly and delightful regulars from the Orlando Foodie Forum, the Facebook group that inspires my food blogging, and hopefully I inspire some of them with my recommendations right here. Even on a national holiday and a day off work, after seeing Spider-Man and picking out delicious food to bring home, the biggest treat of all was meeting Rasha, Brian, and Yousuf. They were warm and welcoming — fellow foodies I had never met before, but they recognized me and were kind enough to introduce themselves and make that connection. This was their second time getting food from Paris Banh Mi Cafe Bakery, and I think they’ve even returned since last week. I can’t blame them. I already knew they had impeccable taste, and this place is GOOD.
When you make it to Mills 50, it’s hard to choose where to eat. You can have spicy Szechuan Chinese at Chuan Lu Garden, cool and refreshing Hawaiian poke at Poke Hana, or endless Vietnamese restaurants like Pho 88 — all reliable recipients of the Saboscrivner Seal of Approval. But no matter where you go for lunch or dinner, consider saving some room for a sweet dessert, a snack to go, or some frothy milk tea (and don’t forget the cheese foam!) at Paris Banh Mi Cafe Bakery, or make a special trip there for some of the best banh mi in Orlando. It’s a welcome addition to the neighborhood, and I’d be shocked if anyone visited and couldn’t find something to love.