My Top Five Dishes of 2018 list made the Orlando Weekly!

I’ve been a huge fan of the Orlando Weekly ever since I first moved here in 2004.  Now this city is my home, and if my finger is ever on the pulse of local culture, the Weekly is a major reason why.

In 2017, they offered me my first professional gig as a food writer when they asked me to list my Top Five Dishes of 2017.  It was a huge honor for me, and I’ve been coasting on it all year.

I recently had the opportunity to make a new list for the Orlando Weekly, with my Top Five Dishes of 2018, and they were kind enough to even link to this very blog!  Please check it out, and check out my Saboscrivner reviews of these excellent local restaurants as well:

LaSpada’s Original Cheese Steaks and Hoagies

Kai Asian Street Fare

Cappadocia Turkish Cuisine

Poke Hana

Orlando Meats

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Top Ten Movies of 2018

“Heeeey, I thought this was a food blog!”
“Don’t encourage him — maybe he won’t post any photos if he’s doing movie reviews!”

Since I’ve already posted my list of my Top Ten TV Shows of 2018, I thought I’d squeeze in my Top Ten Movies list before the year is out.  Why?  Because I love to make lists and share information about stuff I enjoy.  So here you go:

10. Murder on the Orient Express — beautiful film, great cast, good mystery told well. I’m glad I didn’t already know the story. It was a delight to watch completely fresh and unspoiled.

9. Sorry to Bother You — an important film that everyone ought to watch, but I guarantee most people won’t like it. It’s uncomfortable, angry, and has an audacious twist in the middle that turns it into a whole different genre. Definitely watch this one with as little information as possible. It’s the most pro-union, anti-capitalist piece of media I’ve ever seen, and you could write a thesis critically analyzing every bit of it.

8. Black Panther — a superhero movie that was so much more. This Afrofuturistic sci-fi fantasy epic meant so much to so many people, and it was a crowd-pleaser for all. Wakanda Forever!

7. Bad Times at the El Royale — this should have been my favorite movie of the year. A neo-noir mid-Century period piece with a large cast — all strangers — trapped together at a remote location that is practically its own character, full of mysterious, interlocking backstories, twists, turns, and fake-outs. But it turned into a very different movie for its third act, with the introduction of a final character that never fit, and it didn’t end nearly as strongly as it started.

6. Mission Impossible: Fallout — I finally got into the entire series in 2018, binge-watched them all leading up to this sixth installment, and marveled at how they kept improving. This one is the best of all of them. The Mission Impossibles are what I always wish James Bond movies were, with incredible action set-pieces, death-defying stunts, gorgeous locations, much-needed comic relief, and a hero who balances badassery with empathy. Ethan Hunt would never trade one innocent life to save a million, making him more like Superman or Captain America than Bond. Say what you will about the controversial Tom Cruise, I finally realize he’s a consummate entertainer who literally puts his life on the line filming these movies. You can go into this one cold, but I strongly suggest watching MI 3 (which gives you backstory that makes Fallout more emotionally impactful), Ghost Protocol (4; my second-favorite in the series), and Rogue Nation (5, which leads directly into Fallout) first.

5. Blindspotting — another film about race relations in Oakland, this one makes a fantastic double feature with Sorry to Bother You. It’s full of dread, but it’s ultimately the more fun and hopeful film. Daveed Diggs, from the original cast of Hamilton, co-wrote and co-stars in this, and he is an A-list superstar in the making. He even raps in this one, and you’ll see how incredible and multi-talented he is. (I saw him live last year with his noise-rap group clipping., which isn’t for everyone, but this movie ought to be.)

4. A Simple Favor — I loved every moment of this movie. A sexy neo-noir thriller that’s also a comedy? Hell yes. Anna Kendrick is an adorably awkward national treasure, and Blake Lively impressed me as an actress for the first time ever. This reminded me of two wonderful movies I also love, but it would be a spoiler to name them.

3. Blackkklansman — probably Spike Lee’s best movie since Do the Right Thing, and definitely my favorite. A mostly-true story about an African-American cop tricking the KKK into thinking he was a new racist recruit after several phone calls with David Duke himself, and his Jewish partner showing up to the live Klan meetings to further fool them. I’m a fan of anything that denigrates and mocks racists, since that takes their power away. But we needed this movie more than ever in 2018, with bigots, xenophobes, and racists emboldened by the president and operating in the light of day, in public, with impunity. Despite how fun and funny this movie often was, the chilling ending reminded us that this battle is far from over.

2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — the best Spider-Man movie ever, one of the best superhero movies ever, and one of the best animated films ever. Absolutely gorgeous, creative, imaginative, hilarious, heartfelt, sad, and sweet. This movie had it all. I can’t imagine anyone seeing it and not loving it. Along with Black Panther, it showed that representation matters so much. I’m so glad Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy exist as new, young, hopeful heroes, especially for kids. Also, I absolutely have to have a Spider-Man Noir follow-up movie starring Nicolas Cage spouting ’30s slang, drinking egg creams, and punching Nazis, whether it’s animated again like this, or a live-action movie.

1. Avengers: Infinity War — a culmination of a decade of Marvel Studios releases, cynics could say this movie was an excuse to smash the action figures together and earn multi-billions, but it had so many great team-ups and payoffs, so everything felt EARNED. And that ending! We nerds knew to expect it, but I was loving seeing it in the theater on opening weekend, with all the “civilians” losing their damn minds, not believing it could end that way. Let’s hope we all make it to the end of April, so we can see the true conclusion of this sensational superhero saga.

Cappadocia Turkish Cuisine

Cappadocia Turkish Cuisine (http://www.cappadociaturkishcuisine.com/) is mere minutes from the job I’ve been at for over a decade, but I never made it there until this year.  Better late than never, because it was outstanding both times I’ve visited so far.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Turkish food, ever since discovering Bosphorous in Winter Park, which I’ve reviewed on The Saboscrivner before. But even though the restaurant is not as fancy as Bosphorous, the food at Cappadocia is easily as good and possibly (probably) even better, and also a little cheaper.

The first time I went, it was for a festive lunch with several members of the Orlando Foodie Forum. I met a bunch of interesting, cool, funny, and smart fellow foodies with excellent taste, and I’m happy to say I’ve even become friends with some of them since that lunch. We ordered a lot of food and shared almost everything. I ordered one of the best things I ate all year, braised lamb shanks in a rich tomato sauce. These lamb shanks were fork-tender and just melted in my mouth. I cannot rave about them enough!

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I was also lucky enough to try the fluffy, puffy lavas bread, the moussaka, and soslu patlican, a dip made of sauteed eggplant, tomato sauce, onions, garlic, and red and green bell peppers.  We also passed around baklava and another dessert called kunefe, shredded phyllo dough pastry stuffed with warm, sweet cheese and topped with pistachios and sugary syrup.  Each dish I tried was better than the last. I had fallen in love with a new restaurant, literally moments from work.  And the best thing about that lunch was the friends we made along the way.

More recently, I brought home takeout so my wife could finally try Cappadocia, since she’s a fellow Bosphorous fan. I over-ordered so we’d have a few meals from everything, and we started with the “hollow bread” (like Bosphorous’ lavas bread, except this bread deflated a bit on the way home) and the “cold combo” mixed appetizer platter. That included babaganoush (smoky roasted eggplant dip), parsley-heavy tabule salad, pan-fried mixed eggplant dip, a strained yogurt curd dip called lebne, and a grape leaf, rolled and stuffed with seasoned rice. They were kind enough to substitute my favorite dip from last time, the soslu patlican, for the regular hummus. I like hummus fine, but I buy it at Publix often, and it’s usually the least-interesting item in these types of sampler platters.

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I ordered the gyro platter for my wife, since we both love gyros, and I learned that Cappadocia makes its own seasoned gyro meat, as opposed to the processed (BUT DELICIOUS) meat a lot of gyro joints use. The lamb was salty and garlicky, with a crispy crust from being cooked on a grill after being shaved off a spit. It was a little dry, and I wish it had been juicier, but it was still good.  It was served over rich, buttery rice pilaf that we both loved, and it came with a small, freshly-baked pita bread.

IMG_0022I ordered an old favorite I’ve loved before at Bosphorous, iskender kebab, sliced lamb cooked in a spicy tomato-yogurt sauce and served over pieces of crispy, buttery grilled bread that gets softer as it absorbs the sauce. It also came with rice pilaf on the side, fresh pita, and a small salad of lettuce, red onion, and delicious, crispy, tangy pickled red cabbage that I was a huge fan of, tossed in a light vinaigrette.

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As if that wasn’t enough, I also ordered us the moussaka I had enjoyed so much at the previous lunch: a baked casserole of ground lamb with layers of eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, bechamel sauce, and melty kashar cheese. It was very different from Greek versions of moussaka I’ve had before, which aren’t nearly as tomatoey, but I preferred Cappadocia’s version.

IMG_0025Needless to say, we both got several meals out of this bounty, although the hollow bread loses something over a 25-minute drive and is certainly best enjoyed at the restaurant. Cappadocia Turkish Cuisine has been one of my favorite finds of 2018, an unassuming location in a part of town you’d normally just drive through without lingering. I had attempted to try it over the years, but had the bad luck of finding it closed every time, to the point where I wondered if it was a front. It was totally worth the wait, and I can’t rave about the food enough. It’s a hidden gem on Semoran Boulevard, in a sketchy stretch between East Colonial Drive and the 408, and totally worth the drive from wherever you are.  It’s all good, but those lamb shanks I had on my first lunch there (sorry about not having a photo) are still my favorite dish I’ve tried so far.

LaSpada’s Original Philly Cheese Steaks and Hoagies

Sharp-eyed Saboscrivner readers (Saboscrivnerinos? Can I use that?) know there’s nothing I love as much as a good Italian sub. This year alone, I’ve reviewed two excellent new sub shops in Orlando: Stasio’s Italian Market & Deli (where I enjoyed the namesake Stasio sandwich) and Manzano’s Deli (where I raved about the Rocco). My Orlando Weekly list of the top five dishes I ate in 2017 included the Capone, the excellent Italian sub occasionally offered by Bad As’s Sandwich.

But my first love has always been LaSpada’s Original Philly Cheese Steaks and Hoagies (http://laspadas.com/), which I’ve been a devoted fan of ever since I first heard about it from a mechanic when I was getting my oil changed, two cars ago. Thank you, Tuffy mechanic, wherever you are! (Probably Tuffy.)

LaSpada’s is a little mom-and-pop establishment on Lee Road, just off I-4, and only ten minutes from Winter Park Village. The website lists other locations in Sanford and Orange City, which I have never been to, but people near them are lucky and should try their local ones. There are some completely unaffiliated LaSpada’s hoagie shops in South Florida, but they have their own website, different (smaller) menus, and are not connected in any way that I can tell.  I went to one in Davie once, and it was good, but not nearly as good as the LaSpada’s we are lucky to have here in Orlando.

Anyway, this might be heresy, but I think cheesesteaks are just okay — I’d rather order almost any other kind of sandwich. They can be tasty, but a lot of the time they’re greasy and boiling lava hot, to the point where your tongue and the inside of your mouth are blistered beyond belief so you don’t get to taste the meat and cheese. That said, if you want a cheesesteak in Orlando, I would be shocked if you could find a better one anywhere else. I know they offer provolone and American cheese as options; I’m not sure if you can get it with the regional favorite of Cheez Whiz.

What I go to LaSpada’s for is a particular Italian hoagie called the LaSpada’s Famous, a gargantuan architectural marvel featuring genoa salami, pepper ham, capicola, sopressata, prosciutto, and sharp provolone on an overstuffed soft roll. It smells like heaven and tastes even better than it smells. Lettuce, tomato, and onion come standard, and if I had one tiny complaint, it’s that the onion is chopped rather than sliced paper-thin. You can add hot or sweet peppers for a slight upcharge, which I usually do, but I forgot to ask for them on my latest visit, when I ordered my LaSpada’s Famous hoagie to go.  Since I took it home, I added my own hot pepper relish, sliced cherry peppers, and a drizzle of balsamic glaze to make a great thing even better.

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This is the large, which costs $12.50 — a bargain at twice the price, given how staggeringly large it is.

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I have a regular feature on The Saboscrivner called Ring the Alarm! whenever I review onion rings. I am always on a quest for good onion rings, as well as Italian subs, and LaSpada’s onion rings are among my favorites anywhere. They have a crispy beer batter coating that imparts a good flavor, doesn’t get soggy with grease, and doesn’t crumble or fall off. Remember I ordered these to go, and even though grease soaked through the bag a bit, they were still crispy and perfect by the time I got them home, 20 minutes later. These are the gold(en brown) standard of onion rings, as far as I’m concerned.

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Because LaSpada’s doesn’t have dinner hours and is far from where I work, I only make it over there two or three times a year.  My little tradition is to go see a movie by myself at the Winter Park Regal theater and then treat myself to a LaSpada’s Famous afterwards (although I only eat half at a time because it’s so huge).  I’m so glad it’s there, and as good as it is.  It’s a real treasure, and definitely one of Orlando’s hidden gems that not enough people know about.

Top Ten TV Shows of 2018

“What the hell is he doing?  This is a FOOD blog!”
“Ostensibly.”

Folks, I’m a nerd.  I already warned you I love movies, television, music, comedy, comics.  The name of my blog, The Saboscrivner, is even taken from the Chew comic book series.  It refers to a character who is a food writer, whose readers can literally taste everything she writes about, due to her vivid mastery of language.

So at the end of every year, I make lists of my favorite things, and the longest list is always my Top Ten TV Shows.  If my constant readers aren’t TV watchers, feel free to skip over it.  If not, bask in my excellent taste as I bring you:

THE SABOSCRIVNER’S TOP TEN TV SHOWS OF 2018!

10. The Venture Bros. (Season 7) — I’ve been watching and loving this show since it debuted in 2004. Since then, it has moved away from being a Jonny Quest parody and a “show about failure.” Instead, it has delved deeper into its complicated mythology that mines some deep cuts from throughout geek culture, developing the main characters into three-dimensional people that grow, change, screw up (a lot), and feel fully realized, despite being a crazy cartoon. Creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer have never been afraid to shake up its status quo, which always impresses me. With multi-year gaps between its short seasons, there are a lot of details to keep track of, and I know I’ve forgotten a lot, even after reading their gargantuan behind-the-scenes book that also came out this year. But if you have Hulu, all the early seasons are currently available to stream, so it’s never too late to catch up.

9. Sharp Objects (Season 1) — Set in depressing small-town Missouri (more like Misery, am I right?), it was part neo-noir murder mystery and part Southern gothic family drama. Amy Adams (one of my favorite actresses) did most of her acting in this by reacting, as an alcoholic and former cutter with severe PSTD, returning to her hometown and terrible family as a reporter, investigating the murders of two local girls. But nothing will prepare you for the almost campy evil of her mother, played by Patricia Clarkson, or the off-putting banality of evil that Adams’ character encounters from everyone else trapped in Wind Gap. I hate awards shows, but these two women deserve the G.D. Emmys right now.

8. Big Mouth (Season 2) — The only other cartoon on my list, this Netflix show can be raunchy, perverted, and gross, but it’s also hearfelt, warm, and true. Puberty was a horrific time for pretty much all of us, and these writers haven’t forgotten what it felt like. It’s also probably the funniest show around right now, with so many tightly-packed jokes per minute that my wife and I laughed nonstop, binging through the ten new episodes in two days and feeling sad afterwards. I never cared for Nick Kroll unless he collaborates with John Mulaney (my favorite stand-up comedian), but both of them are in great form here, providing voices along with the hilarious Jenny Slate, Jessi Klein, and Maya Rudolph, among others. Don’t let the stylized (okay, UGLY) animation put you off — if you’re not a complete prude, there’s nothing funnier you can stream right now.

7. Better Call Saul (Season 4) — A slower season where ultimately not a lot happened, but still a tour de force for heartbreaking writing, brilliant editing and music selections for montages, and some of the best acting on television from Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, and especially the great Rhea Seehorn as patient, kind, competent, probably-doomed Kim Wexler. As a prequel to Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul is using more Breaking Bad “fanservice” than ever before, and at this point, I can’t imagine watching Saul without having seen Breaking Bad first. But unless it completely screws up its final seasons (which I doubt), I think this is going to end up being the superior show.

6. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Season 2) — A charming, funny, and well-made show that only starts to fall apart when I think about it too deeply. It won all the awards for its first season and deserved many of them, but it hit so many buttons for me, about the mid-century New York Jewish experience and the history of stand-up comedy. Rachel Brosnahan is truly a superstar as “Midge” Maisel. She lights up the screen and pulls off the largely improvisational-feeling stand-up routines, which are generally hysterical. You can see why her character is dazzling late-’50s audiences, even if it seems like she time-traveled there directly from 2018. The show would be a worthless piece of crap if Brosnahan and the writers couldn’t make that happen. But Midge is surrounded by far too many characters who aren’t interesting or likable (especially her snobby, elitist parents), and she had far more unlikable moments herself this season, where she treated her burgeoning comedy career like one more disposable hobby for a dilettante to dabble in. It also lost points due to an interminable three-episode arc set in a Catskills mountain resort, which seems like the absolute worst vacation ever.

5. Killing Eve (Season 1) — A gripping, clever, and often hilarious cat-and-mouse thriller between a sociopathic (yet whimsical) assassin and a bored, underutilized analyst who first discovers her global trail of death, this was a brilliant show about two strong, smart, capable women who become obsessed with each other. Excellent acting from Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer as Eve, the analyst, and Villanelle, the killer. It reminded me of one of my favorite shows ever, Hannibal, with its depiction of the complicated relationship between a murderer and the one person who understands him enough to possibly take him down, but develops an emotional attachment along the way.

4. The Americans (Season 6) — A show I’ve stuck with since the beginning, it never made a huge pop culture impact due to being a character-driven drama about Soviet spies living deep undercover in the Virginia suburbs in the ’80s. It’s always well-written and excellently-acted, but tends to get overshadowed a lot. Well, this was the final season, and it was one of the best. The series finale was damn near perfect, with a climactic scene in a garage featuring some of the best acting I’ve ever seen from Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, and Noah Emmerich. If it took seven years to build up to that confrontation, it was totally worth it.

3. Daredevil (Season 3) — What can I say? Daredevil is my favorite Marvel superhero, it was the best of the Marvel Netflix shows, Season 3 was a return to greatness after the just-okay Season 2, and now it’s canceled, along with Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Daredevil was so perfectly-suited for a serialized TV show, with so many decades of great stories by brilliant writers to draw from, blending crime-noir, brutally-choreographed fight scenes, and legal drama. But due to behind-the-scenes drama between Marvel, Disney, and Netflix, this is why we can’t have nice things. This summer I wrote a law review article about Daredevil (mostly the comics, but also the show) and the lessons they teach non-lawyers about heroic lawyers and the legal system. It will be published in 2019, and unfortunately, one of my main arguments was that the show WILL continue to adapt comic book storylines and get people thinking more about the law and how good lawyers can make a difference. But we still got three seasons, there are still plenty of amazing Daredevil comics to read (seek out writers Miller, Bendis, Brubaker, Waid, and Soule, or ask me for “greatest hits” recommendations), and at least my article is still coming out… for now.

2. The Good Place (Seasons 2 and 3) — Okay, maybe THIS is the funniest show currently on television, but it’s so much more than just a network sitcom. If I had to compare it to another show, the closest would be Lost, with regular, not-so-special people thrust together into weird, fantastical, metaphysical circumstances beyond their understanding, their destinies now bound. It’s a smart show that has taught me more about philosophy and ethics than I ever dreamed possible, and a fearless show that packs more plot development into a single episode than others do in entire seasons, then completely shake up the status quo, writes itself into corners, and flawlessly figures new ways out. The stakes are high, and there are twists and turns galore to thrill you when you aren’t cracking up. If you haven’t seen this yet, the first two seasons are on Netflix. Give it two or three episodes in case you aren’t hooked immediately. They’re short, and midway through Season 1, you’ll probably be obsessed, like we were when we binged the whole series this year.

1. Atlanta (Season 2) — What can I say that critics and other fans haven’t already said? The multi-talented Donald Glover can do no wrong. With director Hiro Murai as his right-hand man, a hip and woke writers’ room, and excellent co-stars in Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield, and Zazie Beetz, Atlanta is almost a whole new show every week. You never know what you’re going to get, if an episode will be hysterically funny, like one man’s wasted day when all he wants is a haircut from the flakiest barber ever, or if it will be a harrowing nightmare, like a violent armed robbery, a chase through the woods, or a trip to a madman’s mansion. You might have heard something about “Teddy Perkins,” which is probably the most memorable and singular episode of television to air in 2018. You can watch it out of context even if you’ve never seen Atlanta before, and I guarantee you won’t forget it anytime soon.

Mee Thai

Happy holidays, folks!  Sorry it has been a while since my last review, but I have written a few new ones I’m getting ready to stuff down your chimneys.

I rarely eat Thai food — I have to get that out of the way right away.  Always a late bloomer, I only ever ate it ONCE before I left my parents’ home to go off to college.  We had a jazz musician friend who was playing a gig at a Thai restaurant in Miami, and he invited us out.  My parents really don’t like trying new foods or going to new places, but they were cool enough to step out of their comfort zones that evening.  But none of us were prepared in the pre-Internet era of the mid-’90s to know what we might like, so we all very likely ordered the wrong things.  I know my dad didn’t like his at all.  It was a whole new world of spices and flavors, and he was not having it.  He said his food made his bald spot tingle, and it made him ANGRY, like he was about to Hulk out.  So that was it for Thai food for a few more years.

At least now, I’ve been to enough Thai restaurants over the years to generally know what I like and what I don’t.  My favorite dish is pad kee mao, AKA drunken noodles: wide, flat, chewy rice noodles stir-fried with a protein, onions, bell peppers, basil, sometimes carrots, and some spices.  It gets its name not because the recipe includes any alcohol, but because it’s great late-night drunk food.  I believe it, but as a non-drinker, trust me when I say it’s perfectly fine no matter what state you’re in or when you enjoy it.  It can be spicy, but I tend to go with medium heat.  That’s my go-to dish whenever I try a new Thai restaurant, because even when it’s mediocre, it’s still pretty good.  Don’t get me wrong, I also like pad Thai and some other dishes, but drunken noodles are where it’s at.

Well, I’ve been hearing great things about Mee Thai (https://mee-thairestaurant.business.site/) for a while, on Lee Road in Orlando, not far off I-4 exit 88.  Mee Thai is ten minutes from Winter Park Village, and two minutes from another favorite of mine, LaSpada’s Cheesesteaks and Hoagies.  It’s a small building with a green roof that makes it hard to miss in a relatively industrial stretch of road with a surprising amount of intriguing restaurants around.  And Mee Thai, specializing in food from the Esan region of Thailand, was definitely intriguing.

When I arrived, the two ladies working were extremely friendly and welcoming, especially when I said I’ve been reading good reviews online and this was my first visit.  I was ordering takeout to bring home for my wife, but they were so nice, I already couldn’t wait to come back with her to dine in.  I ordered drunken noodles with chicken for myself, pad Thai with beef for my wife, a Thai iced coffee for her, and an order of Thai doughnuts to share for dessert.  They didn’t have mi krop, my wife’s favorite Thai appetizer, but it was still a large menu with lots of selections.  The menu had prices for lunch and dinner entree portions, I didn’t specify, and they didn’t ask, but it was lunchtime, so I assumed they gave me the lunch portions.

While I waited in the restaurant, the young lady was kind enough to bring me a small salad to enjoy.  It was a simple salad with crispy iceberg lettuce and shredded carrots, but the dressing brought it to a whole other level.  It was some kind of vinaigrette, a little sweet, kind of a creamy white color, and I feel like a boob because I’m not enough of a Thai food expert to describe it any better, but it was delicious.  I would have bought a whole bottle of that salad dressing if they sold it.  Anyway, here is the salad they packed for me to bring home for my wife.  (She didn’t eat it today, so hopefully I’ll get to have it tomorrow!)

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When I got the food home, we were both extremely impressed by the quality, freshness, and flavors of everything, plus the generous portion sizes (pretty huge if they were the lunch portions).  The drunken noodles had that chewy consistency I love, and while I think I would have been happier with beef or pork, the white meat chicken was so flavorful, if a little dry.  The medium heat had a pleasant kick, and next time I might be brave enough to try the hot, but maybe not “Thai hot.”  I love what Thai basil brings to this dish, plus the onions and bell peppers, which were stir-fried to a very nice softness.  It was such a large portion that I didn’t finish it all in one sitting, which is a good thing that I don’t do often enough.

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My wife was a little surprised at first that her pad Thai didn’t have the orange hue she is used to, but if anything, that probably makes this version of the dish a little healthier and a little more authentic.  It had everything — tender, juicy beef, chewy noodles, a little citrusy tang and sweetness in the aftertaste.  I had to try it as well, and we both agreed it was one of the better versions of pad Thai we’ve had around here.  Probably the best.  Same goes for my drunken noodles.  Very impressed.

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The Thai doughnuts came with an order of six.  They were light and fluffy, not greasy at all, and they came with a little dipping container of sweetened condensed milk.  Now, I LOVE sweetened condensed milk.  It’s so fantastic as a component in desserts, but I think I’d be perfectly content if dessert WAS sweetened condensed milk.  Just bring me a can and a spoon, and I’ll go to town.

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So that’s Mee Thai, a wonderful restaurant that has been open for about a year, that I highly recommend.  I’ll give it my seal of approval over every other Thai restaurant we’ve been to in Orlando, which is at least six or seven of them, and I think these prices were cheaper than most of the others I’ve been to.  They are open seven days a week, from 11 AM to 9:30 PM, they are incredibly nice, and the food is great.  I intend to become more well-versed in Thai food in 2019, and I can promise I’ll go back to Mee Thai regularly to try new things and revisit my go-to favorite, drunken noodles.

Pho Cali and Quickly Boba

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.

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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.

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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.

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This is where they customize your boba drinks, and dig the multicolored macarons on top of the glass.

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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.

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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:

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The crawfish banh mi:20181022_204138_resized

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.

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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!