Some time ago there was a lumber yard or something to do with wood on Mills Ave in the general vicinity, right? Apparently, it was cheaper to import wood from China so someone tore that dilapidated structure down and had plans for some chic trendy development. Well, there is high grass on that site. But all the other little storefronts have started to slowly spring life. In the last couple of years Mills 50, as the area is now being called has blossomed with a cool new vibe. There are artsy signs and murals popping up all over the place, I even saw a utility box covered in whimsical art.
One such storefront is Tako Cheena by Pom Pom. “Cheena” in Spanglish means “a Chinese girl”, right? That’s what my Mexican friend told me years ago, so I am going to stick with that definition. Disclaimer: No discrimination meant. “Tako” or a spin on “taco” is that new food that is all the craze these days, food truck and all. So, we have a union between cuisines? So it would seem, and so it is. The exciting menu is a true fusion between Latin and Asian. It is definitely not the wannabe “Asian fusion” crap that some cooks whip up and ask the Orlando dining public to indulge. No sirry Bob. It is wildly written in many trusted reviews that the chef/owner, Pom, has worked in Nobu New York. If there is anyone in this country who exemplifies Asian cuisine fused with Latin influences it is the Master himself Nobu Matsuhisa. But Tako Cheena’s food stops there. Pom is definitely not trying to be Nobu, by a far cry. Quite the opposite. Pom is using the same Nobu philosophy and applying it to quite simple food to make marvelous wonders.
I was fortunate on my visit that there was a Tako Special, 3 tacos for $1.99. I’ll take Korean Beef, Chinese BBQ Pork Belly Char Su, Asian Braised Beef. All three meats were packed with flavors, texture, and Umami. Wow! Those little sweethearts are still singing. An assortment of dipping or smear sauces tomatillo and kaffir lime leaf, avocado and wasabi, sweet chili and smoked ghost pepper all packed a kick in the gut. Whoa! African Inspired Braised Beef Burrito with couscous, potatoes, bell peppers, and corn. Where else can you have this? Can they add anything else in there? Can it be bigger? Holly Molly that thing is huge! The prices….dirt cheap, that Burritto was the priciest thing on the menu weighing in at a whopping $7! It is food for everyone at everyone’s pocket level. To wash everything down they offer Jarritos, the popular Mexican soda in Grapefruit, Pineapple, Fruit Punch, Mandarin, Tamarind, and Mango flavors, together with Coke and Bottled water.
Parking around Mills 50 can be challenging if you are not familiar with the area. Look for parking lots or take your chances on Mills Av. From Mills Av. the red storefront is very intriguing and inviting. Enter an open space with bright orange tables and chairs, blue concrete floor, and an open kitchen. Local art adorn the walls. Pull up a seat at the counter, sit in the dining area or take it to go. Either way, the attendant hands you a little printed menu or guides your swiveling head to the menu board. Place an order……stop, cash only. Ha! Up until today it was. Apparently (their facebook post) said, “Santa came early with a credit card machine.” Good for them, because I was ready to gun a whole page about “Cash Only”.
Tako Cheena by Pom Pom has definitely showed the Orlando dining scene that good food does not have to cost a liver and a kidney. Neither does it have to be pretentious in a big fancy space with bells and whistles. It can very well be from a simple storefront in modest form and be great. Welcome Tako Cheena. Welcome.