While on our photo trek Ed gave me grief about not doing any restaurant reviews lately. And he’s right – I haven’t. It seems that we’ve been either traveling too much, eating at home because we’re tired of traveling, or hitting our tried and true places because we’re too tired to cook but also tired of traveling. Laura had a dinner at Furman this evening, so I decided to try some place new – Mekong Vietnamese Restaurant on Wade Hampton Boulevard.
This location started out as an Arby’s. For some reason it closed within the past couple of years. Within the last year Mekong moved in, joining several other Vietnamese options within just a couple of square miles.
The owners have done a remarkable job of transforming a fast food joint into a nice sit-down restaurant. The interior is still utilitarian, but there is plenty of seating, and hints of Vietnamese artwork.
When I arrived there was only one elderly couple. Another family joined us later, and one other couple came in for take-out. Not exactly a hopping joint for a Thursday evening.
This is definitely a family run affair. The teenagers are left to serve as hosts and waiters, while the elders cook and run the place. There seemed to be more employees than patrons on this particular evening.
As with many Vietnamese places I’ve visited, the menu is quite extensive. Of course, Pho is the featured dish, but they also have various sandwiches, rice platters and noodle stir-fry. Most of the meals were under $10. There were also several traditional appetizers and desserts.
One item I was pleased to see on the dish was hot pot. However, this dish is best enjoyed with several, and is the most expensive on the menu starting at $18.
I started with spring rolls. These arrived only a fraction before my main course, but I still treated them as appetizers. The rolls themselves were crispy and almost overdone. They also had a funky flavor I couldn’t quite identify. They were not the best spring rolls I’ve had.
For my main course I selected Pho with London Broil. This arrived in a huge bowl with accompanying basil and bean sprouts. As is traditional with this dish, the meat was still cooking in the broth when it arrived.
While I didn’t enjoy the spring rolls as much, the Pho made up for it in spades. The broth flavor was spicy, with overtones of mint and something that almost tasted like cinnamon. It was incredibly delicious. The rice noodles were excellent, as was the meat. The waiters kept coming by to see if I was done, and I kept shooing them away until I consumed as much as comfortable. It was by far the best Pho I’ve had in town.
The youngsters were eager and willing to please, but their timing needs a bit of work. My drink went without refill until almost the end, and I had to ask for it. The appetizer arrive almost the same time as the main course. Also, as mentioned before, they kept coming by wanting to remove my bowl long before I was done. They also wanted to bring my check by fairly early in my meal. It’s not like the place was busy and they needed my table. I think they just need to work on their waiter etiquette a bit.
The Pho is excellent, and that alone will make me want to come back. Other offerings seem quite affordable, and you get a huge serving.
I’m hoping that they can work out the service issues. The problem with having a large family socializing in a restaurant is that they tend to do just that – socialize. And it can detract from service.
Two more things…
I drove around back, around the old Arby’s drive through, to exit. What I saw at the back was either a second career at the local farmer’s market, or one of the most impressive container herb gardens I’ve seen. I’m thinking the latter. They must grow their own for inclusion in their dishes.
They had a item on the menu that was new to me – Bible tripe.
Since they are so close to Bob Jones University I didn’t know if this was some sort of commentary. Turns out it is a type of tripe from the third stomach of a cow, so-named because it resembles a book, or Bible. It’s apparently quite common in Vietnamese cuisine. The things you learn.