[I wasn't sure if this post belonged in the Mid-Atlantic or Tri-State board, so I've put it in both. Hopefully this isn't bad chowhound karma]
What surprised me most about Mekong Vietnamese Restaurant was how long it has been open: two weeks. A fact that, of course, would explain why I’d never heard of it, but not why the food was so fantastic. I’ve traveled far and wide in search of the perfect stateside Bun Bo Hue – Argle, Chicago to the ubiquitous Pho stands of the Bay Area – and never had I encountered anything approaching the platonic ideal of Vietnamese cuisine that is Mekong.
For those that can’t tell Xao from Hue, or Vien from Kho, Bun Bo Hue can roughly be described as spicy Vietnamese beef noodle soup. The dish originated in the Vietnamese city of Hue and stylistically differs from the more common Pho by the thickness of its noodles. But what really sets Bun Bo Hue apart is spice, hopefully lots of it. In fact, most versions of the dish I’ve had here needed to be dialed up a notch, but not Mekong’s. If anything was lacking in the dish, it was probably the noted absence of tendon and tripe which, for a sweetbread and pig cheek loving gourmand such as me was unfortunate, but for most of Mekong’s customers will probably be a blessing.
Not that our night was limited to that soup alone. No, far from it. The meal began with Bo Nurong Lui, delightfully marinated slices of beef wrapped around small and tender onion pieces, and Bi Cuon, Vietnamese spring rolls. The later was unexciting, if only because all spring rolls taste basically the same to me, but the beef and onion skewers were amazing. This finished with Banh Xeo, Vietnamese omelette, which I could quite honestly eat every morning without complaint.
Those who weren’t up to the head of the Bun Bo Hue sampled such various dishes as Bun Dac Biet (a grilled medley of pork, shrimp, chicken, spring rolls, and noodles), Bun Cha Gio Thit Nurong (essentially identical to the former minus the seafood) and Com Bo Luc Lac (beef cubes on white rice). Of those, the beef cubes on white rice was probably the least interesting, not because it wasn’t well-prepared, but because it was rather unexciting. Then, of course, there was dessert: off the specials board arrived what looked like egg rolls drizzled with honey but were actually fried bananas. If that’s not a good, solidly decadent way to finish a meal shared with friends, I don’t know what is. (But I’ll admit: the absurdly low tab didn’t, well, detract from the resulting sugar rush).
The only thing about the entire night that concerned me is how empty Mekong was on a weekend night. True, it has only been around for two weeks, but apparently word of this place -- its authenticity and wonderful food -- hasn't yet leaked out. I just hope it does soon so that I can be guaranteed a reliable Pho for some time to come.
If you would like to see photos of these dishes, please see http://tinyurl.com/yalya5
Mekong Vietnamese Restaurant
351 George Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
Tues-Thu, Sun 11am-9pm