Have you ever wondered what is the in the little courtyard on the south side of Hwy 50, between Mills and Shine Ave.? Wonder no more. Swing in and drive along Hillcrest St, look for the Golden Harvest Vietnamese Restaurant sign and pull into that parking lot. Caution: this is a one way in and out parking lot. Do not drive in full speed, another car could be backing out.
Walk towards the building, pass a row of upturn chairs and tables take the alleyway and approach the courtyard. There are many small Vietnamese businesses through almost every door. To the left is Banh Mi Nha Trang Subs. The space is modestly decorated with a glass cooler on the right, serving counter next, and assembly/kitchen towards the back. A tall freezer stands on the left. There is seating and a table for about 6 people. That’s it.
Well, no not really. The magic in this place lies in the authenticity of it’s sandwiches. How do I know it is the real deal? Did you think I would visit a hole in the wall Vietnamese place without my trusted sources? Think again. My source’s father was the Police Chief of Nha Trang Beach before the war. I would trust anyone who lived in the region to recognize the local flavor. Apart for it’s nod to a specific region, there is the adorable owner. I’ve wondered into many restaurants where the official language is not English, some welcoming, others not so much. Here is like the folds of a warm homecoming no matter who walks in the door. The order taker, spoke fluent English and was more than diligent in answering my wandering mind. While I was grilling the order taker, the delightful owner kept my taste buds occupy by handing over little treats. I am not saying that there is a tasting for everyone, everytime someone walks in, but you never know what can happen when you strike up a conversation. The common language being food.
Bread – This bread is made fresh daily on location. Notice the different shape of this bread compared to other local Banh Mi stores. The ends are rather rounded which gives more space to stuff the sandwich. The crust is crisp with a soft slightly chewy core. I am told that the recipe caters to refrigerating and reheating the sandwich to the same freshness and texture as if it was first served. I am yet to test this since I ate all the sandwiches.
BBQ Pork – ALL of their sandwich fillings are made in house. This BBQ Pork is marinated with tofu. The flavor is mild and sweet with a noted absence of soy sauce. One of the founding principles of this restaurant was avoiding the use of soy sauce. The owners felt that soy sauce pronounced Chinese flavors. While in Central Vietnam the use of chilies and fish sauce is used as flavoring ingredients. As in most places of tropical climate, heat from chilies along with other seasonings is a staple in their recipes. Their pork liver pate, one of the staple ingredients in a Banh Mi, is also made in house.
Bánh Mì Cha Cá Chiên Fried Fish Patty Sandwich – Fish is cooked, seasoned and made into a cake, then sliced and served. The accompanying chili sauce in this sandwich gives that extra burst that ignites the vegetables and herbs.
Bánh Mì Gà Nuong Grilled Chicken Sandwich – Season grilled chicken was of good texture and flavor. A great try for the less adventurous.
Bánh Mì Dac Biet House Special Sandwich – This Banh Mi had hints of smoked fish, meats, herbs and chilies. The many textures and flavors melted in a harmonious melody that one would experience on a beach. The gentle sway of a hammock with sea breeze, slight whiffs of sea air and tropical vegetation is captured in this Banh Mi.
Bánh Mì Nem Chua Sour Ham Sandwich – Yes, the ham is cured in house. This was a top notch combination. The ham was ever so sour but not overtly scalding. On my next visit, I may order a chunk of ham. Remember the tall freezer on the left in the dining room? That is where they store all prepared meats for resale. Yep, everything that is in the sandwich can be purchased frozen and taken home; you can then boast your international culinary talents.
It is very encouraging that this restaurant has stood by their sense of pride and authenticity in bringing their cultural cuisine to Orlando. Here is a great example where location may actually work with our pocket. A less than popular location transfers to lower overhead which the owners pass on to you in the form of lower prices. However, lower prices still maintains a very high food quality. I urge you to take the plunge and venture out to find this place, you might end up on a beach in a hammock.