Every Friday through the end of 2018, the Rant will feature a dish that stands out among Lee County’s restaurant scene. We’ll usually focus on lunch, but there aren’t any rules – we just want to let you know (if you don’t already) about the many dining options we have that are owned and operated by people right here in Lee County. As far as we can tell, Luli is the only place in Lee County that offers pho, a rich, filling, and piping hot soup of Vietnamese origin. If you haven’t had it yet, hurry up and do.

Luli Sushi has admirably filled Sanford’s sushi void following the destruction of Umami in 2011, and the sushi is of course more than fine. But what Luli has going for it isn’t necessarily just the sushi, it’s the wide range of items from other various Asian cuisines that populate the menu. And there’s no better item from that wide range than the beef pho (let’s get this out of the way – it’s pronounced “fuh,” not “fo,” but order it however you like and you’re going to be golden).

THE DISH: Wikipedia tells us that pho is a “street food,” which seems a little difficult to fathom given it being a soup. But we’ve never been to Vietnam, and our experience with the heaping bowl at Luli ($10.95) makes the table seem like a necessary part of the meal. But we digress. So what exactly is pho, you might be wondering. We don’t know every step in the process but it goes something like this: Take some thin rice noodles, top with thin slices of beef, and drown it in a deep, rich beef broth which completes the cooking process. It’s the kind of broth that feels like it could cure cancer, if you take our meaning. It’s restorative, filling – everything a broth should be. The bowl comes screaming hot, so let it sit for a minute before diving in. You’ll also get a plate with sriracha sauce, plum sauce, some bean sprouts, cilantro, and fresh jalapeno slices. Use these to customize your soup with bursts of flavor or heat as needed. We like it spicy enough to make you sweat, but it’s definitely not a requirement if that’s not your ballgame. The bowl is positively enormous, so you might even be able to take some home with you for a snack later. There’s a perfectly good chicken version available as well ($9.95), but we find that the richness of the broth in the beef version gets the job done best.

WHAT ELSE TO TRY: As we said the sushi is more than serviceable, and there are BOGO deals with Luli’s various rolls (they range in price from $7.95 to $16.95). Luli’s appetizer menu, though, is a goldmine of interesting items. The squid salad ($4.95) is toothsome and chewy, full of flavor and texture. The chicken lettuce wraps ($5.95) are fun – you sort of assemble them yourself, and they’re absolutely delicious. It’s also hard to go wrong with their tempura dishes – you can fry just about anything in tempura batter and it’s going to be delicious – $9.95 gets you shrimp; $11.95 for soft shell crab. This is definitely a menu you can explore.

Luli Sushi is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. They are located at 1204 N. Horner Blvd. in Sanford and can be reached at (919) 718-0016. Visit their Facebook page here.

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