By Joe Anuta
A Vietnamese restaurant has just opened in Bayside, and though many other eateries may use the word “authentic” in their advertising, the owners of Mekong East, at 43-13 Bell Blvd., are actually from east of the Mekong River.
To be fair, most of Vietnam lies east of the river. Frank Bui and his brother hail from the coastal city of Nha Trang, where they amassed their culinary knowledge.
“We are actually from Vietnam,” Bui said. “But we’re happy to be in Bayside. There is a lot of potential here.”
For those unfamiliar with Vietnamese cuisine, it is often a refreshing and exciting combination of noodles, beef, vegetables or seafood. Cilantro or lime juice can give many of the dishes an accent of freshness, and the traditional foods of the southeast Asian nation can fall anywhere on the spectrum of spiciness.
“Nha Trang, the city we are from, is on the ocean,” Bui said. “There is lots of seafood.”
And the blue waters that lap at the tropical city have also influenced the menu here in Bayside. Hungry diners looking to get a taste of Nha Trang could opt for the grilled squid or red snapper with spicy mango sauce, crispy shrimp rolls or steamed tilapia with ginger, scallions, shiitake mushrooms and glass noodles.
But one of the most popular Vietnamese dishes that made its way to America involves beef. Pho is a flavorful beef noodle dish served in a painstakingly prepared broth.
“The beef soup takes two days to cook,” Bui said with a smile.
The rice noodles are served with rare slices of beef and garnished with basil, cilantro and bean sprouts.
Soup might not sound like an entree, but the bucket-sized bowl it is served in certainly constitutes a hearty meal.
And believe it or not, the Vietnamese also make a mean sandwich.
Bhan Mi baguettes at the eatery come with meat, carrots, cucumbers, cilantro and jalapeno.
But the big bowls and baguettes should not distract potential diners from the appetizers.
Papaya salad is a dish unique to southeast Asia and a must-try in any Vietnamese or Thai restaurant.
At Mekong East, the other portion of green, unripe papayas are shredded and served with vegetables, roasted peanuts and a chili lime sauce.
Whatever you choose off the menu, rest assured that the brothers know what they are doing.
Since immigrating to America about 30 years ago, they have successfully run two other Vietnamese restaurants in Manhattan for the last 15 years.
While they will not be serving some of the more bizarre dishes from Vietnam — like partially developed chicken embryos that are still inside the egg — a trip east of the Mekong is sure to provide an exotic and delicious meal made by a family who knows food.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.