About thirty minutes after rolling myself back into my room, following an amazing steak brunch at Bull Bear, I was off again to catch my next meal. This time, a "light" bowl of pho. If it were anything else, I may have declined and done a few laps around the lazy river instead, but pho is definitely in my top 10 favorite foods of all time, and I was able to convince myself that the clear beef stock would help digest the massive steak and bread basket I'd just consumed.
We all piled into the black van groaning about the extra few pounds of dead weight we were now carrying around our waists. At the restaurant, we met Scott Joseph, Orlando's food critic, who'd successfully made the transition from newspaper to food blog.
As it turns out, aside from being incredibly knowledgable about the Orlando food scene, Scott was a genuinely nice guy. How many food critics can you say that for? We were meeting at his favorite Pho joint in ViMi called Pho 88. In case you were wondering if this is the same Pho 88 as the one in your town, the number "8" is considered lucky in many Asian cultures, so it's no surprise that there are dozens of restaurants around the country with the same name.
While the skeptic inside me usually takes over when I see such a generic name, the lack of creativity is totally forgivable in this case. When it comes to pho, you don't go for the name, the service, or even the ambiance (which usually makes a high school cafeteria look romantic). You go for a steaming hot bowl of heady beef noodle soup redolent of star anise and onions.
Having lived near the Blossom Hill neighborhood of San Jose for over five years, I've been lucky to have had some great pho. Unfortunately, since moving to New York, I've been disappointed with the MSG laden canned broth that most of the places in Chinatown use. I've even resorted to making my own pho at home
Imagine my surprise, when we roll up to this nondescript Vietnamese restaurant in the heart of Orlando, and I was treated to the best bowl of Pho I've had since moving to this coast. I got the Phở Đặc Biệt which basically means they put every part of the cow in it, meat, tendons, stomach, and all. The soup hit all the right notes, with just enough sweetness to keep me spooning mouthfuls of everything else into my mouth.
So remember that part of about eating a light meal? Well, that didn't work out so well given that they brought out two plates of every kind of summer roll they make, before our noodles came out. Of course I had to try one of every kind, and while none of them rocked my world, they were fresh and irresistible as always.
Pho 88 Restaurant (menu)
730 North Mills Avenue, Orlando, FL 32803-4039.
Full disclosure: The Orlando CVB is covering all expenses for this trip. While I strive to provide you with honest, unfiltered opinions on this site, the federal government requires that I disclose this relationship with you.