By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
Meekong Bar opened only eight months ago, but its food quality has soared like an eagle recently.
Located in Belltown, I was at Meekong’s grand opening in March, and I ordered take-out.
At the time, I thought that the restaurant needed time to get its act together. I was thrilled and surprised that it did when we visited Meekong last Sunday with my friend. It was her first time to Meekong.
I told my friend that her critique would be a part of my article. Her new role as a food critic gave her a sense of adventure and she became more conscientious in experiencing the food.
“I would never have found the restaurant myself,” she said because Meekong doesn’t look like a traditional Vietnamese restaurant from the outside. Without seeing the restaurant name, you would think it was a hangout for millennials with its contemporary design and hip features, as opposed to the usual Vietnamese eateries filled with simple chairs and tables, and minimal decor.
A fusion restaurant of American fast food and Vietnamese comfort food, Meekong creates an interesting atmosphere, satisfying a party of friends with diverse needs. For instance, my husband likes Meekong’s hamburger, called Banh Mi Burger ($14). All of the buns are house baked. It comes with a side order of fries or salad. I find that men tend to gravitate toward burgers. To me, burgers always seem too big and overwhelming. However, burgers make good leftovers for my son and husband.
I chose pho, Vietnamese beef noodles ($10), and my friend picked the mango and crispy tofu salad ($10). I never had that salad before. I was eager to see the presentation and try it.
Before our food arrived, the owners brought us spring rolls ($4). They were really fresh, and we dipped them into the different types of sauces and enjoyed it immensely. The rolls are wrapped with a piece of shrimp among the veggies. I highly recommend this delightful appetizer.
We went family-style, sharing everything we ordered. The last time my husband ate a hamburger was months ago when we were driving to Vancouver, B.C. Clearly, he was hungry for a burger. Meekong’s burger is even bigger than a Big Mac. Unlike a regular burger, Meekong is filled with layers of veggies and not greasy. This recipe enhances the flavor of the burger. My friend noticed the beef had more of a meatball texture, rather than a piece of burger meat. The bread tasted good, too, she said.
The big bowl of beef pho was exactly what I wanted. One sip of the broth, and I knew Meekong had come a long way. The owners and chefs clearly worked on improving … the pho was so delicious. I gave myself a pat on the back for ordering the right dish — nice beef brisket with the right texture, tasty soup, and fresh noodles. My friend echoed the same sentiment. The soup determines the taste of the pho. We all liked the beef pho. I have tried the chicken and veggie pho in the past, and I rate the beef pho as the best.
My friend raved about her colorful mango with crispy tofu salad. We counted the number of ingredients in the salad — there were at least seven, including basil leaves, shallots, daikon, carrots, and greens. Aside from the generous portions of mango and tofu, my friend liked the fact that the deep-fried tofu was not greasy at all. The salad sauces were a little sour — some sweet — mixed right without being heavy.
When I visited Meekong previously with a different friend, that friend remarked that other Vietnamese restaurants don’t serve liquor. I think that Meekong’s burger, salad, garlic chicken, and chicken satay go well with a glass of wine or beer.
When Meekong first opened, the chefs and owners were still trying to develop their identity and study the market in order to create its brand. Today, Meekong has come into its own — all because the owners were dedicated to improving. Originally from Vietnam, Mr Tay, patriarch of the family business, sat with us briefly and wanted our feedback. We were honest about what we liked and didn’t like. Perhaps, this is the Tay’s secret to success — they listen to feedback and implement new ideas to improve.
Aside from working at Meekong and Mekong Village Vietnamese Restaurant on Aurora Avenue, Tay has a full-time job as a cook for a government facility. Tay’s wife runs Mekong Village and his daughters run Meekong. The family works hard to build up the two restaurants. Tay said restaurant work involves long hours and is tiring, but he is grateful for the opportunity.
By taking their experience from running Mekong Village into the mainstream to start Meekong, Tay said, “It is essential to expand and branch out.” He was pleased with the selection of the location of Meekong in Belltown, a hub for residents and businesses. He said they have seen a recent increase in tourists patronizing their restaurant.
The family decided to spell Meekong with two e’s, to distinguish the restaurant from other businesses in Seattle calling themselves Mekong.
We were at Meekong on a Sunday for lunch — generally a slower time for downtown restaurants as there was a Seahawks home game. At first, Meekong was quiet. By 1:30 p.m., it was 90 percent occupied.
Meekong has a patio and a hidden banquet room for 30-plus people in the back of the restaurant. If you have a big party with friends, Meekong is the ideal place.
Would my friend eat again at Meekong? Definitely.
Meekong Bar is located at 2525 4th Ave, Seattle.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.