Living in Richmond and haven’t heard of Mekong? You haven’t lived in Richmond long enough.
I’ve kept passing over Mekong on my list of “I’d really like to eat there” so a recent farewell dinner for a friend (heading to Washington state) finally helped knock this place off my list.
Besides being a haven for beers and beer lovers, Mekong serves warm, authentic Vietnamese food, perfect for this frigid-ass weekend.
There’s nothing fancy about the décor or space – tiled ceilings, recessed lighting, and banners promoting craft beer span the walls. Large round tables spread across several conjoined dining rooms, each buzzing with all types of diners – all consuming cold glasses of beer. Mekong’s space is huge – and very well should be since it’s “The Place for Beer Lovers”.
Mekong is one of many gems nestled in a 2-story shopping center. Above Mekong, there’s a dance studio – we didn’t notice until towards the end of our dinner when the sound of pounding feet and a solid beat boomed from up above. I look at this not as an annoyance but pure character.
I chose a local cider first. Ironically, I had tuned in to my favorite NPR Food podcast days before which discussed what real cider should be – tart, slightly bitter, crisp, and only a little sweet. This is exactly how this Potter’s Craft cider ($7) tasted and was completely different from those super-sweet commercial cider options (think Angry Orchard and Woodchuck).
Glancing over the large menu, I chose the fried pork dumplings to start (4 for $4.95). My grandparents, father, and his siblings spent years living in Taiwan in the 60’s so [real] Asian cooking has been penchant to my palate. My grandmother’s homemade dumplings (called jiaozi in Chinese) are out of this world so of course, I had to compare Mekong’s. The verdict? Pretty spot on, slightly oily but the savory pork and chewy wrapper was amazing and tasted pretty familiar.
Switching to a beer, I selected Bruery’s Autumn Maple Ale brewed with spices and molasses … kind of like a boozy Thanksgiving in a bottle. I made a good decision, its perfectly mellow sweet potato-like aftertaste perfectly complemented my Ga Kho Gung, ($10.95) chicken caramelized with ginger, garlic, and pepper sauce served in a clay pot. The chicken was juicy and plump with no overcooked chewy texture. I wasn’t impressed but I also wasn’t let down. Ginger chicken is a standard dish to order. Next time, I think I’ll go out of the box.
My friend ordered the best meal of the night (l conveniently sat next to her) with her Mi Xao Don Bo ($11.95), beef egg noodles sautéed with mushrooms, broccoli, snow peas, carrots, onions, baby corn, and water chestnuts. Not only did this taste amazing, but it also looked fantastic. It’s one of those plates that draw reactions like “ooooh” or “damn, I should have gotten THAT”.
Although my experience with the service at Mekong was a little cold and emotionless, the warm energy of the restaurant is one of a kind. Diners appear giddy while enjoying good food and beer at one of Richmond’s famous restaurants.
This won’t be my last visit here. This is comfort food in a different flavorful realm. Mekong’s obsession with serving their patrons with honorable craft beers doesn’t hurt either.