101 N. Bumby Ave. | 407-532-7373 | phok5orlando.com | $
Having taken over the old Medina’s Grocery Store & Restaurant – a Milk District Latin-American fixture for more than 43 years – Pho K5 (say that a few times fast!) appears poised to become a mainstay in the neighborhood itself. By all accounts, the Vietnamese restaurant’s move from Pine Hills was a shrewd one for owner Ho Nguyen, as the joint appears to be popular with the area’s denizens – tattooed scenesters and the downtown set. The fact that we didn’t see any Vietnamese patrons on this particular Friday night wasn’t too alarming, as most of what we sampled was fresh, fairly priced and flavorsome. Apart from our drinks being served after our starters arrived, service was also spot-on.
We pretty much tore through the two crispy rotisserie quails ($4.25), the first of said starters, but as is usually the case with quail, getting to the meat required a bit of work. Just put in the effort, and you’ll reap the rewards. One note: Be sure you’re served a dipping bowl of salt, pepper and lime for the quail; we had to ask for it. Grilled beef wrapped in betel leaves, then grilled again ($3.50), proved to be one of the more intriguing dishes of the evening. We loved the flavors of the slightly bitter leaf and the moist beef filling, both defined by the inimitable essence that grilling induces.
Vermicelli noodle salads ($6.95 small; $8.95 large), known as bún, always make for a cool nosh on a warm Florida night, and the one served here is no exception. The bowl of lettuce, scallions, carrots, cucumbers, bean sprouts, cilantro and peanuts can be enjoyed with a variety of meats or tofu. We thoroughly enjoyed ours with lemongrass tofu, though we found the fish oil dip to be a smidge intrusive. The shrimp stir-fry ($7.95 small; $9.95 large) didn’t break any new culinary ground, but the vegetables were crisp, the shrimp plump and the sauce unassuming. What more can you ask for?
As far as Pho K5’s pho ($6.25 small; $7.50 large) is concerned, I rank it up there with the best. What I like about the rendition served here is the darker, more robust broth. Also, the sprouts, Thai basil, cilantro, and chili peppers were ultra-fresh – nothing wilted, discolored or dried-out. Liberal squeezes of hot sauce and sriracha into the steaming bowl led to some prolific perspiration, so when our server sang the praises of a “three-color pudding” ($2.95) made with shaved ice, coconut milk, mung beans and jelly, as well as a scoop of red bean ice cream ($2.95) topped with sweetened condensed milk and peanuts, it rang like flame-retarding music to my ears. I enjoyed the ice cream more than the shaved ice “pudding,” only because the jelly had an odd taste to it.
You won’t find the decor all too impressive – it’s as if bureaucrats from the Greek government were responsible for decking the place out. There’s a fish tank, a TV, a poster or two and not much else, but the simple, austere aesthetic is similar to many of this city’s best Vietnamese restaurants (The “K5” refers to Kinh5, a small farming village in southern Vietnam.) And much like the others, Pho K5’s priorities lie in the victuals, not the visuals.