I recently met a friend at the Chinese restaurant Ming’s Bistro (https://www.mingsbistro.net/), in the heart of Orlando’s Mills 50 district, full of Asian restaurants, markets, and shops centered around the busy intersection of East Colonial Drive and Mills Avenue, near downtown Orlando. This was our first time at Ming’s Bistro, but we had both heard for years that it specialized in dim sum, and that’s what lured us out there — better late than never.
What is dim sum, you ask? It’s a Cantonese tradition that started in teahouses that served little snacks with the tea, now most commonly served as brunch (yum cha). A lot of restaurants push carts around the dining room, allowing diners to point and grab what they want, while other places have you check off your choices on a paper menu, like how some sushi restaurants do it. Ming’s Bistro mostly does it the latter method, with an illustrated menu to give you ideas and a paper menu you check off next to each item. The prices are listed, which helps, since you can get in some real trouble grabbing too many dishes off the rolling carts. But they push some carts around too, and we picked a few random things that came by our table, just because they looked good. And just to clarify, Ming’s also offers a whole regular menu of Chinese food to choose from, in addition to the dim sum menu. So all your usual favorites are probably available here, too.
Ming’s opens at 10:45 AM (every day except Thursdays, when it is closed), and I was there right when it opened to grab a table. We didn’t have to wait at all, and it was slammed by the time we left, a little after noon. I have written many times that I’m not a brunch person, but dim sum is a unique brunch experience, where you ideally go with a group, hang out for a long time, order a bunch of small plates, and share everything, including good times. Even though it was only two of us, we shared nine different dim sum items, and we chose wisely. There wasn’t a dud in the whole bunch!
We started out with an order of steamed roast pork buns (top; $4.50) and an order of baked pineapple buns (bottom). The roast pork buns are a dim sum classic for good reason. For the uninitiated, the steamed buns are kind of like soft, bready rolls, and the pork inside is in a red sauce, savory but also slightly sweet.I love pineapple anything, and these baked pineapple buns were a subtly sweet treat that would have been ideal as a dessert, but they came out early, so we enjoyed them early in the meal. I was expecting something more like sticky pineapple preserves in the centers, but it was creamier than I thought. Still good, though.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Two sharp-eyed Saboscrivnerinos confirmed my suspicion that dim sum pineapple buns don’t contain any pineapple, but get their name from the crackly crust. I still liked them, but thought it was odd they were generically sweet without any obvious pineapple!
We didn’t even order these, but a nice lady wheeled a cart next to our table, loaded up with several dim sum dishes already on plates, and asked if we wanted any. These looked like jalapeño peppers stuffed with something, which is all good with me, so we went for it. It turned out to be a shrimp filling, but the shrimp was processed into a soft, savory paste, and the peppers were lightly roasted. I make similar roasted jalapeños once or twice a year, stuffed with light cream cheese and sometimes topped with bacon, chorizo, or prosciutto. They are a delicious, keto-friendly snack, and these were equally delicious. I’m not sure what the sauce on top was, but it added to the experience of flavors and textures without overpowering the shrimp or the peppers. They weren’t very spicy at all, so don’t worry about that if you’re the type who sweats when the heat is on.
These are pan-fried pork pot stickers ($5.50), which had a wonderful crispy shell and a strong ginger flavor inside. I always appreciate pot stickers, but my friend liked these even more than I did, so I only had one.
Another foodie friend introduced me to rice paste dim sum during a feast at another great local Chinese restaurant, Peter’s Kitchen, a few years ago. I probably never would have tried them on my own, but now I recommend them to everyone else. This is beef rice paste ($4.75), where the rice paste itself is kind of a slippery, chewy crepe wrapped around a filling — almost like a thicker and more slippery manicotti pasta. I’m not a fan of things that are too chewy and starchy, like certain bao buns and Jamaican boiled dumplings, but these are terrific, especially swimming in the soy-based sauce. It’s a challenge to keep them from sliding out of your chopsticks, but we both persevered like the functional adults we are!
We also randomly picked these off a later cart that came by our table. Some kind of fried dumplings that are both crispy and chewy. I think they are crispy taro dumplings ($4.75), and they were yet another pleasant surprise.
Here’s a cross-section of one of them. They were stuffed with shrimp and green vegetables, and we joked that these were the healthiest part of our dim sum brunch, despite obviously being fried.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A sharp-eyed Saboscrivnerino informed me these might have been pan-fried chive dumplings ($5.50).
I always like beef short ribs — I rank them up there near oxtails on a list of favorite meats. This was beef short ribs with black pepper ($5.80), which I enthusiastically ordered, despite not knowing exactly what to expect. It was great. It was a relatively small portion, like so many of these diverse dishes, but still plenty for two people to share. The short ribs came chopped into tiny chunks of rich, succulent, moist, fatty meat, braised until they were very soft and easy to pull off the shards of bone. They were extremely flavorful and easier to eat than I expected. I wished I had saved some of the doughier buns and dumplings to dip into the short ribs’ sauce.
I ordered us the pan-fried sticky rice ($5.50) because the couple at the table next to us got it, and it looked good. That was another pro move on my part. It was sticky and savory, with maybe the tiniest bit of subtle sweetness you get from Chinese five-spice powder, a blend of Chinese cinnamon, fennel seed, star anise, cloves, and peppercorns (or sometimes ginger). It also would have been good to soak up some of the short rib sauce, but the rice was so flavorful, we ate it on its own.
The last dim sum dish we ordered was another winner: fried meat dumplings ($4.75). I can’t tell you if the meat was beef or pork, or maybe a combination of both, or something else entirely. It was ground, spiced (but not spicy), and saucy, and served in these awesome dumplings that reminded me of Indian batura, Native American fry bread, hand pies, lightly fried empanadas, or even funnel cakes at a fair. That perfect flaky dough that is lightly crispy but mostly soft, that leaves your fingers greasy and your soul happy.
Like I said, not a bad dish in the bunch. It was a great meal, and while we probably could have done more damage, it was the perfect amount of food for two people, with some leftovers at the end. I’m guessing most of my readers are already familiar with the joy of a communal dim sum brunch, and many know the wonders of Ming’s Bistro. But if you don’t know, now you know! I hated crowds and lines long before there was a pandemic, so in addition to recommending all these delicious dishes we tried, I also strongly suggest getting to Ming’s early — ideally in that golden half hour between 10:45 and 11:15 AM — to beat the lunch rush and avoid having to wait.