Name: Mekong Vietnamese Restaurant
Location: 29 Willow Street, Johnson City, NY 13790
Phone: (607) 770-9628
Price: $30 for two
The business district of Johnson City has never really impressed me as a hub of fine dining. Rundown diners, below-average Chinese takeouts, and mediocre pizza joints dot the landscape. But then there's Mekong, a Vietnamese restaurant that transcends its surroundings and its external ugliness to become one of my favorite places in the Village I call home.
Mekong is located on Willow Street, between Main (17C) and Grand Ave. For years I drove past the place and didn't think much of it. From the outside it looks like a dreary place and I always thought it was a crappy take-out joint. I'd had Vietnamese food a few times years ago, when I was in high school, and liked it quite a bit. In most ways I think Vietnamese is less adventuresome than other Asian cuisines. It's not overwhelmingly spicy like Indian and Thai can be and reminds me of a sweeter version of Chinese food. That is a broad generalization, but I think most people who haven't ventured into the realm of Vietnamese food would probably like it. At any rate, Megan and I decided to bite the bullet and give the place a shot. Good decision.
We couldn't believe our eyes as we walked in the restaurant and saw a nice big waiting area and a small, quaint, (dare I say) elegant dining room. Beyond one wall is a banquet room than I assume could be used for group events. The entire space was very clean and professional; the look of the place exceeded my expectations entirely. We were seated immediately (we were the only ones there at first, though a few other couples made their way in as we were eating) and we placed our order. Each of us started with a spring roll, and I ordered the Charbroiled Pork over Broken Rice while Megan went with the Sweet and Sour Chicken.
And there we have it. The spring roll was decent, but uninspired. The tangy soy-based sauce was tasty and added some flavor to the bland spring roll. Both of our entrees were excellent. The pork I ordered was cooked well and was served with a mildly spicy vinaigrette sauce which brought out the flavors in the pork. Megan's sweet and sour dish was very good, with a subtle sweetness in the sauce and tender chicken. I think both of us would order these dishes again on a return visit, though I am eager to try some of their other offerings.
Of special note regarding Mekong was the service. The waitress was very good and in overhearing her conversation with other patrons, I could tell she was enthusiastic about explaining any of the dishes on the menu for Vietnamese newbies. Our service was prompt; I think we might have been in and out of the restaurant in less than a half hour. I suppose that suggests that Mekong would be a fine place to go if you're in need of a quick dinner that's on the nice side.
Overall, Mekong lends credence to the adage that one should not judge a book by its cover. Its downtown Johnson City location combined with the fact that it looks kind of dreary from the outside led me to steer clear for a long time, but I regret not giving it a chance sooner. Mekong is indeed a low-key gem of a restaurant with fantastic service and well-prepared food. I highly recommend it.