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Mekong Delta Cafe- Baltimore

(105 W. Saratoga St., (410) 244-8677)

Someone brought food in to work from here the other day and it was GREAT. Summer rolls were awesome, pork roll had crispy meat but in a well done, flavorful, bursting with herbs and vermicelli roll. Chicken fried rice was also very deep -- didnt have the pho first hand but heard that it was great. A more traveled co-worker said this is about as good as you would find in the US. And it was certainly inexpensive.

Definitely looking for some more opinions, but the food was great and some folks should get out there and check it out.

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  1. What Turkeybone said. Run, don't walk. Southwest corner of Saratoga and Cathedral.

    1 Reply
    1. I have been twice now for lunch (twice in one week!) The owner waits tables while his wife mans the kitchen in the back. Their two sons scramble through the restaurant from their home above.

      The lunch specials (about 10 or so) are all $4.95 and include a glass of iced green tea (too weak for my taste, but the hot tea is nice).

      A friend and I split the curried tofu and vegetables and the lemongrass tofu, along with a vegetarian summer roll. The roll is loosely packed and the delightfully fresh ingredients do tend to spill out over the plate. I love the grilled baby corn in the roll.

      I returned to try their vegetarian pho – lovely! Each table has bottles of hoisin and Schricha sauces along with the Schricha brand chili/garlic jar.

      The service at lunch is slow. I don't think they've quite worked out how to handle the lunchtime rush. But as long as you're prepared to wait, and have a little more than an hour for lunch, it's a wonderful addition to the neighborhood. I can't wait to go back.

      1. Thanks for the head's up. I am going to try to check this place out this week, and will report back. I don't think I speak/write only for myself when I say that a decent to good Asian food place downtown is on a lot of our foodie wish lists.

        They are open for dinner, yes?

        Thanks.

        4 Replies
        1. re: baltoellen

          Sounds great! Yes, are there dinner hours? Let us know what you think Ellen!

          1. re: hon

            I have a menu.

            Sun-Thu 10am - 10pm
            Fri & Sat 10am-10:30pm

            I just had lemon grass tofu and goi cuon for lunch. Both great.

            Let's support this place!

            BB

            1. re: Big Bunny

              DO you or anyone else have a menu to post?

              Also, Ricky just published his review today!
              http://www.baltimoresun.com/entertain...

              1. re: gregb

                Darn late night coffee is keeping me up. Thought I'd make myself useful and scan the menu for you. Enjoy!

                Side 1: http://www2.picturepush.com/photo/a/1...

                Side 2: http://www2.picturepush.com/photo/a/1...

        2. Am back from dinner there: and, well, have to concur with the raves: Mekong Delta Cafe is a little gem. We ordered the summer rolls, which were, as Turkeybone said, awesome. We had the lemongrass beef with rice noodles, a dish just bursting with flavor. We also ordered rare beef pho, but received beef broth with chicken. I'm actually unsure if this was their normal pho ga, or if there was some mistake and they put chicken in beef broth, but whatever! it, too, was great. (BTW, the beef broth was very different from any I've had, and is really wonderful.)

          The place is simple, warm, and welcoming. The young couple who run it seem like lovely people.

          A very welcome addition to the area, and we will definitely be back, and soon!

          4 Replies
          1. re: baltoellen

            Agree with everyone's raves. We had the lemongrass tofu which was awesome. Also, I had rare beef pho with beef. Great. Broth filled with delcious anise flavor. Really excellent. Interesting that they don't give you basil but give cilantro with the pho, but still awesome. A much more complex and interesting Pho than offered at the ROute 40 places. Also, they specially made a vegetarian broth soup for my wife. Their vegetarian dishes are not all truly vegetarian as they made include beef or chicken broth. That said, the young couple is more than willing to do whatever it takes to make you happy. Delicious cold jasmine tea as well. Great little place. Cash only. The husband of the couple used to be a high school English teacher in Baltimore, then returned to his native Vietnam where he met his wife and now they've returned to Baltimore after 8 years in Vietnam. Support this place, it's not perfect, but I would compare it to another local gem(Grace Garden) that has become a real favorite. This place has a ton of potential. The Vietnamese pancakes looked delicious---other people there were eating them.

            1. re: baltymoron

              Hi Balty...

              I was told that the vegetarian soup (which they don't call pho, btw) is vegetable stock. The owner explained that the broth wouldn't taste like pho. I'll have to inquire again next time I go since chicken stock is obviously not vegetarian.

              1. re: ktracy

                I spent about 25 minutes there two nights ago waiting for my to go order. I explained to the owner that while some of the items labeled vegetarian are most certainly vegetarian, that a vegetable dish with any meat or fish in it can not be called vegetarian. (vegetable is not the same as vegetarian) If they now say that their vegetarian soup is made with vegetable stock, then that is great, and they have changed their tune. As of two nights ago, the vegetable soup was made with "a small amount of chicken" according to the owner. His wife made a special version for us that was truly vegetarian and was delicious. The soup that she made did not have the dark beef broth flavor of Pho. It is possible to make a real Pho tasting vegetarian soup. Several places in my Seattle hometown(Than Brothers, Pho Cyclo, others) make fantastic true vegetarian Pho. That said, I'm thrilled to have Mekong in the area. These guys are excellent and have a great thing going.

                1. re: baltymoron

                  Just to clarify: I'm pretty sure--although by no means certain--that the word "pho" refers to noodles and not to broth.

          2. I just had dinner there this evening. The spring rolls had plump fresh shrimp, juicy pork crisp cucumbers, and vermicelli.

            The pho was the best I have ever tasted. The broth was intense and deeply flavored. I am excited to have this gem so close to home. Baltimore has been needing a pho joint in the city!

            1 Reply
            1. re: amethiste

              wow... a place that has pho and has vegetarian options? I'm somewhat shocked... I loved having what was labeled the vegetarian pho at a couple places in dc, but wondered why i got sick often after (thought it was just the hangover lol), and then realized that they were made with beef stock....

            2. my girlfriend went tonight and she had the "crazy beef pho" as she called it with meatballs and rare beef and well done beef. She said it was awesome and could only finish half (and she has a healthy appetite lol). I might drive into baltimore tomorrow just for a meal.

              1. We went here yesterday for an early dinner. We were the only ones there when we entered and still our food took quite some time. 35 minutes before we were served out entrees. We didn't mind because everything was excellent and very fresh. And the husband is very handsome, looks like he should be on TV. Just thought I'd throw that in there. :)

                As far as ingredients, we had to speak with the wife. We were told the vegetarian items did not contain any chicken, beef, chicken broth, or beef broth. It took quite a bit of conversation to arrive at this information, so I would recommend doublechecking just to be sure. Also, I wish they would let you know as they seat you that the place is cash only. We already knew, but a patron who came after us was left flustered when he didn't have enough cash on him. On to the good stuff...

                Mekong Grilled Salmon Rolls were our appetizer. Never had salmon in a summer roll before. This has to be the best peanut sauce I've ever tasted. No overpowering peanut butter flavor, good texture with the right amount of oil, and loved the crushed peanuts on top. I kept the leftover sauce for our entrees.

                First entree was the "Viet" Crab & Shrimp Fried Rice, spicy. It came topped with a lot of freshly ground black pepper. I could see some not liking it with all that pepper. We loved it. It tasted very fresh and didn't feel heavy or fried at all. Came with some lettuce and cucumber to cut the heat. We also used the leftover peanut sauce. Yum!

                Second entree was the Seafood Noodle Soup/Hu Tien Do Bien. The seafood elements are crab, scallops, and shrimp. We spoke with the wife and specifically requested she not use chicken or beef broth. The soup comes with cilantro, sliced jalapeno (didn't detect any heat, could've been bell pepper), and bean sprouts on side and again topped with lots of freshly ground black pepper. What arrived at our table was soooo good, I feel like chicken or beef broth would've interfered with the delicate flavors. My lesser half kept slurping just the broth and leaving the noodles. Not that I mind, being a noodle fiend and all.

                The only average part of our experience was the young coconut juice I grabbed from their fridge. (It was prepackaged, not their own.) Love this place. They weren't skimpy on the crab or shrimp. Everyone was very nice. I don't know how authentic it is, but I do know the food is just absolutely delicious.

                1 Reply
                1. re: bmorecupcake

                  Thanks for all the veggie updates, guys! I will be sure to stipulate the vegetarian (no-chicken, not even a little!) just to be sure next time.

                  I do hope MD succeeds – a truly nice couple of owners and fresh, delicious food.

                2. So I went tonight with my roommate. The owner was very gracious. We ordered beef-lemongrass rolls (which were great), shrimp and scallop rolls (even better and crunchy inside), a combination roast meats over rice (the chicken was good, pork even better, and again that lemongrass beef the best), and the ever popular tendon and beef pho. I love to put in the chiles and let the broth get nice and spicy. The owner also came over and showed me as he put it "another way to enjoy the meat" -- and taught me how to mix hoisin and siracha and mix it with the lime juice for a great dipping sauce. Its funny Im sure hes done that for years and gets a great kick out of teaching people this.

                  Of course the bill was like, 25 bucks for the two of us. I loved the food its really filling without being heavy at all.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Turkeybone

                    Hey Turkeybone - I actually was there when your gf was there the other night. The owner showed me the hoisin & srirach trick too. What an epiphany! That was the best pho I have ever had.

                  2. Had lunch here yesterday with my son and a friend and they were packed. We had to wait on a table.. I have to agree with everyone the good is great! We had Pho, pancakes and lemon grass chicken. Our server was very very nice. I plan on being a regular. We have to keep this place around!

                    1. I just visited for lunch today. I got there about 12:15 and there was just one seat left so I took it. After a short wait the waiter (owner?) came by. He said they had such a busy night last night that they were out of pho broth! He said it wouldn't be ready until dinner. So based on recs here I ordered the summer rolls. He told me since I really wanted pho and liked seafood, I should try the seafood noodle soup. I agreed, instead of the summer rolls. He came BACK again to ask me if a 15-30-minute wait was ok...and I said since I've got a book, ok. Fellow CCH Michele and friend came in, sat with me, but left as they were really wanting beef pho...said they'd be back. Summer rolls came (which I thought I had cancelled) They were the best I've ever had...never had a cold summer roll with hot crispy pork in it...phenomenal! A few minutes later my seafood pho arrived and I must say it was one of the best soups I've ever tasted. Think pho, with plump tasty shrimp, scallops, crabmeat and egg noodles instead of rice. The same bean sprout/cilantro/lime garnish arrived, and I added my usual. Yummy.

                      I never did get the tea, and got a bill for both the summer rolls and seafood. That was ok since I had the cash (all they take there) but you might want to make sure you get what you asked for. They are brand new, and you could sit in there for hours just smelling the wonderful smells drifting from the kitchen...tiny tiny place. I would recommend going at an off hour (they open at 10:30am). Also, if you must have pho, you might want to call ahead...this place is destined to run out a lot, the more people find out about it. I think it's a good thing that they won't serve pho that isn't quite ready yet, or up to their exacting standards!~ A true gem in the GG tradition!!!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: crosby_p

                        Apparently we were sitting at a table when you came in to order. My opinion is that they are twisitng in the wind and have not yet realized it. Maybe they will get it together. We'll try again after w few months and see if they do. For the time being, I think the Baltimore Sun's favorable review is more a blessing than a curse. They can not handle the modest volume that their seating allows.

                        1, They were out of Pho at 11:30 AM Sunday. Apparently they were slammed Saturday night and could not get restocked soon enough Sunday moring. They were also out of condensed milk for Vietnamese coffee.

                        2. Service was slow. Maybe 1/2 hr for summer rolls to appear.

                        3, Service was inattentive. No napkins. No utensils except for one soup spoon and chop sitcks. The beef with lemongrass came about 20 minutes after the egg noodle faux pho. My wife and I ate in shifts, and our 4 yr old got a fork after we asked for one.

                        4. The food was OK at best. My wife said she could do the fauc pho better at home. My beef with lemongrass was tough and salty.

                        I'd love to see them succeed. Maybe we just caught them at an awkward time after a tough Saturday night. We'll try again in a while. Hopfully mom, pop, & grandpa will have it down by then.

                        1. re: suttonri

                          Well this is the key you gotta remember -- its honestly more like going over to someone's house for dinner rather than a restaurant -- the owner is the only server, and his wife is the only cook. Everything is made to order. Your beef mustve been an off day or something, mine was amazing when I had it. As for faux pho.. well.. yeah.

                          Anyway, I wont deny that it sounds like theyre in over their heads right now, but Im confident that things will even out. In this economy, this is not a bad problem for them to have!

                      2. Do they have bahn mi? That is the question!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: mgarland

                          I have not yet been to M-D but have their menu in front of me -- they are not currently offering banh mi. The only banh mi I've heard about in Baltimore is at Saigon Remembered as of a few months ago -- lunch only, weekdays only, and with those limited constraints I have not had a chance to get over there and try myself to see if it's any good. Might be worth a call to see if they have expanded (or stopped) the offerings.

                        2. We went for dinner last night, and I have to agree, the food was absolutely amazing. We had the spring rolls, vegetarian and beef pho, and a rice dish. Probably some of the best in the DC/Baltimore region, the beef pho was particularly outstanding. However, the owners (who are lovely) clearly did not expect to be so busy quite so quickly. After we sat down and ordered, he asked us if it would be ok if we waited about an hour to eat. We agreed, and were probably there a total of two hours. During that time, a number of people came in and were told that they were no longer seating for the evening. Be prepared for this, or to wait for quite a while. But the food was worth waiting for.

                          1. Got there last night and all the high praises are confirmed. This place is fan-friggin-tastic. I got the deep fried spring rolls, rare beef pho (they were out of the well-done) and a Vietnamese iced coffee.
                            Spring rolls were great, freshly fried but not oily and full of juicy shrimp and pork bits. The beef pho was as good, and probably better, than any I have had in Philly’s Chinatown or any place in the DC area. The hearty, flavorful broth that was packed with loads of beef could go toe-to-toe with any bowl of soup out there.
                            The staff was great and very friendly. I was able to watch the wife prepare most of the meals that came from the kitchen and noticed every summer roll was rolled by hand to order. I was impressed and surprised by this. Do summer rolls normally get rolled right before serving? Seems like an easy way to be more efficient if they are a little overwhelmed with their volumes, but I’m glad they aren’t cutting corners. Maybe the crispy pork would go soggy if they were pre-wrapped. Either way, I’m super excited to have this place in the city. They will undoubtedly do very well. I can’t wait for a repeat visit to try some non-pho items!

                            1. According to Elizabeth Large. Mekiong Delta is no longer serving their lunch special:

                              http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/enter...

                              15 Replies
                              1. re: amethiste

                                Adding to the sense of precarious-ness suggested in Elizabeth Large's blog -- I highly continue to suggest calling Mekong Delta before heading in. We were on our way into Mekong Delta for lunch yesterday (Sunday), when I figured I should probably call to see if they had their pho broth (since last Sunday for lunch they didn't).

                                The husband told us they needed to close yesterday to "take care of some business" -- that they are normally open on Sundays but just needed to take care of some things. Combining that with amethiste's experience last Sunday (when they were "closed for family emergency" at dinner) continues to suggest they are overwhelmed and frankly just need a day off since their posted hours are to be open 7 days a week. Which is understandable, but it would be helpful to just change the posted hours.

                                So now in 3 times of trying to go, I've been foiled twice...

                                When I did make it in on Wednesday evening earlier this week -- here's my quick review.

                                We got there around 6pm -- deliberately early. They were basically empty, so fortunately I feel like we got a pretty good feel for the service and the food quality. The service is super nice. No issues there.

                                I found it pretty good. Not great. I enjoyed the pho - nice intense broth, but a little sweet. I know some restaurants do make it a little sweet; my preference is not. My beef with it (pun intended) is the small bowl size -- this for me was too small to be $8-9 pho. But for the ability to save 20 minutes of driving time to get a bigger bowl of pretty darn good pho at Pho Nam for $6-7, or an hour drive down to my gold standard at Eden Center/Annandale for $5.50 pho, I'll be back. I liked the nice slices of beef, the gargantuan beef meatballs, and the chunks of tendon. Wish tripe had been an option.

                                My nitpicks/other comments:
                                * would have liked the pho condiments to come with basil. Only green herb option was cilantro.
                                * we started with the fried spring rolls. 4 smaller rolls in an order. They were very tasty and freshly fried. Wish they came with leaf lettuce (as traditionally served) rather than a few pieces of shredded lettuce. The cha gio are meant to be eaten with the hot spring roll wrapped in cold leaf lettuce, then dipped in the nuoc mam (fish sauce vinagrette). Can't really do that when your lettuce comes in skinny shreds.
                                * the summer rolls were nice. Not outstanding, but not bad either. They were our second choice behind the Beef Lemongrass summer rolls -- but they weren't available as the beef was still marinating so weren't ready to serve.
                                * we also had the seafood soup that others have tried. This version was
                                in a nice clear broth, with medium-thick square cut clear bean vermicelli noodles. Very nice when dressed up with a squirt of lime and a little sriracha.

                                So yes, my takeaway was that I was glad to have a Vietnamese option nearby in the city but that I didn't absolutely love the pho. I did, however, like it enough to try to bring a dining companion by (twice) but have still had no luck.

                                1. re: bluepig1

                                  Today I had another great lunch at MDC. Leo was nice and as always apologetic about the pace of cooking. They make everything to order, and don't have the facilities to get everything done quickly---so expect to wait 30+ minutes for food. That said, the food was top rate. The pancake was awesome. Eggy, coconut flavor that is just great. I also had the pork/shrimp noodle soup that is phenomenal. Big shrimp, lots of pork, and a flavor that is just great. One of the best soups I've ever had---and I've had a lot of pho at place throughout the country and in Asia. The spring rolls were also top notch.

                                  It is true that they got rid of the $4 lunch specials. They couldn't keep up with demand for these, so modified the menu. It is still very affordable with most mains in the $8 range---- entree size is good, and the food is awesome.

                                  I will comment on the fact that the Pho is served in smallish bowls when compared to the other area places or the more traditional Pho cafes. I think that MDC is going for a higher end, more refined feel. Most places that serve dishes other than Pho do not serve their Pho in massive bowls. MDC's Pho is phenomenal, and frankly, they don't have the kitchen space to keep the mass of broth required to fill the troughs that are served at many Pho restaurants. That said, it is $8 for a small to medium bowl of Pho, and I could see some complaining about this. Complain all you want, the taste is awesome. Try the pork/shrimp variety---wow. I was blown away.

                                  Enjoy...

                                  1. re: baltymoron

                                    Do you folks really find the pho to be small? I am not a small man, and it took me awhile to finish it. I never got any sweetness from it either.. but I will agree that more than cilantro would make it better.

                                    1. re: Turkeybone

                                      Does anybody know if they do delivery? More of a catering thing than delivery.

                                      1. re: crackers

                                        I was there last night. They don't do delivery.

                                        Four of us had summer rolls, combination rolls, the vegetable & vermicelli roll, and then split the pancake. All of the veggies in the summer rolls were delicious and the peanut sauce was top notch. The pancake dish filled with pork, shrimp, and vermicelli was equally fantastic.

                                        Two ladies had chicken pho which I found to be of appropriate size and fabulous quality. It was so much more flavorful than what we had two weeks ago at Baltimore Pho. It actually tasted like a home made broth, and not some bland generic soup.

                                        We also had Vermicelli w/ Grilled Pork & Spring Rolls. This dish was incredible. All the pork was perfectly grilled, it was spiced deliciously, and of great size.

                                        Someone also had the Mekong Grilled Shrimp, which was great as well.

                                        I was a bit overwhelmed by how much was on the menu for such a mom & pop organization. I actually just handed the menu back to the waiter and told him to pick something for me with no limits, and we went heavily off his recommendations. To top it off, its BYOB, and 4 of us ate for 53 dollars. I will be frequenting M-D very often I'm sure.

                                        1. re: hotel

                                          I've been to Mekong Delta several times and i agree with mostly everything said here, except for the "no utensils" comment by suttonri(uh, you do realize you're eating in a very traditional, mom and pop shop ASIAN restaurant). The Pho is the best in this area, exquisite, and abounding with flavor. I would really like to address the portion size thing, which I believe at this point is like whipping a dead horse. The quality of the food is steps above what this city sees currently, and really, how much soup do you need? the square bowl is at least 24ounces or more of broth, not including the more substantial contents, i.e. noodles, meat, seafood. the potion size also is what equates to what you would recieve if you were ACTUALLY eating your pho in Vietnam. the food is also fresh and consistently so, i've eating in and done take out twice a week for the last few months.

                                          Service issues aside, to echo another member of this post, "let's keep this place around."

                                          1. re: LuLuBlaubugunder

                                            I'm one of MDG's biggest proponents. That said, the bowls of Pho are smaller than a lot of other Pho restaurants. If, for $8.25, you're expecting a monster bowl ala Pho NAM/An Loi etc, that's not what you're getting. It's a good size bowl. Most of us could learn to eat a few less calories, so it's not exactly criminal to give us a bit less Pho. The broth and flavors are exceptional. That said, if you're expecting a trough for $8.25, that's not what you're going to get.

                                            1. re: baltymoron

                                              Sadly, I went down to MDG for the first time on Tuesday and they had a sign that said they were closed until 5:30! Brought two friends with me from out of town and had been telling them I heard good things but we were disappointed.

                                              1. re: onocoffee

                                                They've been a little overwhelmed and could use some regrouping time.

                                                1. re: onocoffee

                                                  Same thing happened here. Ended up driving all the way to Grace Garden instead since I had promised my guests really good food. Would've been nice to stay in the city. Oh well.

                                                  1. re: bmorecupcake

                                                    These posts have me very concerned. A friend and I have had plans for about 2 weeks now to go tomorrow. He's coming up from Silver Spring. Should I call today and make sure they plan to be open tomorrow?? Any suggestions on what time we should go to maximize the chances we actually get to eat??

                                                    1. re: charmedgirl

                                                      yes, definitely, definitely call ahead to check if they are open and serving everything. I have found 2-3 occasions already when I've tried to go and they were either closed altogether or didn't have the full menu available (out of pho broth). On the menu-side of things, you probably are best off calling day-of for the latest.

                                              2. re: LuLuBlaubugunder

                                                "except for the "no utensils" comment by suttonri(uh, you do realize you're eating in a very traditional, mom and pop shop ASIAN restaurant). "

                                                Yes, I do. I've been eating at mom and pop Vietnamese restaurants, along with homecooked mainland Chinese food, for over 20 yrs. They gave us one set of chopsticks and one soup spoon for two adults and one child. Fork, soup spoon, whatever, just give us something our 4 year old can use along with the extra bowl you had already brought.

                                                1. re: suttonri

                                                  I was there last night. I very much enjoyed the three dishes I tried, each of which we chose based on recommendations here -- lemongrass beef, summer rolls, and the pancake. I can't really comment on quality or authenticity though, since once of the reasons I went was because I had never had vietnamese before! I can say that the service was perfectly fine. On the utensil issue, they gave us chopsticks, forks and knives, all as a matter of course at the same time they brought the tea. Also, for the record, no problem getting a table, no problem with a long wait for food (though there was an odd 5-8 minute lag between when they brought my friend's entree and when they brought mine), and no problem that they were out of anything. Thumbs up. Thanks to all for the detailed comments and recommendations.

                                      2. re: bluepig1

                                        * would have liked the pho condiments to come with basil. Only green herb option was cilantro.
                                        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
                                        I was there today and the condiment plate included basil. I asked the owner since this was the first time that I had seen it there. He said they try to have basil but if the basil does not look good on the days they go shopping they do not get it. He hopes that the basil will start being more consistant now that the weather is getting warmer.

                                    2. I quite liked this place. It's got a good neighborhood vibe to it and although it could be a bit more efficient, you feel like you're supporting somewhere that's really trying their best. Spoke to the owner for a bit as were the last customers in the place last night. Really nice guy, gave me tips about an upcoming trip to SE Asia. He should be working the room, however, explaining the menu, helping out here and there. Unfortunately he's serving, bussing, and running food. I'm sure they could hire just one waitress and it would make everything a lot smoother.

                                      These service speed bumps aside the food here was surprisingly good. Better than your typical strip mall/corner Vietnamese noodle shop. Some of the cooking could be more precise--beter frying on the cha gio, harder char on the meats--but the flavors were pretty spot on. The pho is a richer broth than most, something traditionalists might see as a minus, but it is very tasty, very meaty. Would've liiked some more noodles in the portion, but the meats were generous, especially the tendon.

                                      No banh mi as of yet but the owner suggested that if there's enough demand he'd look into it. Please, suggest he make them. Definitely a place to support and watch.

                                      1. We came here for the first time about a month ago, and had an ok meal with summer rolls, fried cha gio, and pho, and similar to past experiences, the wait was a little long for just about everything.

                                        We came back today to try out a different part of the menu, and I can report that it was FAR better than our first meal. The lemongrass beef rolls were terrific -- good flavor on the beef, nice little crispy fried shallots, freshness of the herbs, a nice dark dipping sauce. The bun (rice noodle) dishes with grilled meats were tasty, and came within 10 minutes of ordering (though you may want to ask for additional fish sauce). And, best of all, the seafood soup was AMAZING... really savory and satisfying, despite it being quite a warm day.

                                        While we were there (early afternoon on a Sunday), it was quite full with a good flow of customers, and things seemed to be coming from the kitchen at a decent rate. They've definitely worked on their timing and service. When asked, the owner said that soups still take quite a while to cook (mine probably took 20-25 minutes to come out, behind another groups order of soups), but our bun and appetizer orders came out quickly.

                                        Definitely worth coming back to on a regular basis, though I'm still unconvinced about their pho.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: daveinmd

                                          We were there on Friday evening, after first being there six weeks earlier, and were happy to see things humming along, although incredibly disappointed with our meal. In all fairness, we didn't order the same things as we did the first time, but what we did order was lackluster at best, and tasteless at worst. I'm tempted to give them one more try, but my initial thought was that they sacrificed taste in favor of efficiency.

                                          1. re: baltoellen

                                            Im always curious to know why one person thinks differently than the majority -- what would you think they could do to sacrifice taste for efficiency?

                                              1. re: crosby_p

                                                Turkeybone: Is the majority always right? Tastes are different. An off night? Didn't order to the menu's strengths?

                                                Pam: We had what we've always called "Vietnamese pancakes," which are rice flour crepes, and stuffed with shrimp and veggies. It was, in a word: tasteless. Just mush. Even the veggies didn't add anything.

                                                We also had the bun, rice noodles with shrimp. Even the nuoc cham sauce didn't help. In fact, I had to ask for a second helping, and add more sauce for any flavor.

                                                The third dish was the seafood soup that you got. Perhaps the best of the bunch, but still lacking a bit in flavor. And, they were out of rice noodles, so they went for the egg noodles.

                                                We did have the shrimp and salmon rolls. They were pretty good, but not outstanding. Even the peanut dipping sauce was nothing like I remember. I remember it being amazing, and this time, it was just forgettable.

                                                Really, our first meal there was amazing, and this one was so lackluster that I wonder what happened between my first and second visits.

                                                The people who run the place are delightful, and it's such a welcome addition to the area, that I so want to think it wonderful, but it just fell short. I wonder if it's worth a third try?

                                                1. re: baltoellen

                                                  I must agree that the peanut sauce is not even close to how it was before.

                                          2. Glad to hear that things are getting smoother -- from what Ive heard, theyre now closed Mondays.. so that should give them an official "catch up" day.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Turkeybone

                                              I must ask, has this affected the freshness of the food in any way? I understand prompt service is important for many patrons. We are of the school of thought that we'll wait as long as it takes for fresh, well-prepared food. (We wait an hour or more to be served at Grace Garden all the time.)

                                              (Edit: Please disregard. I didn't see the post above mentioning that everything was still very good.)

                                            2. Quick bump from a first-timer:

                                              Figuring that the rush should have finally settled down, I popped in today for an early lunch (11:30). Cute place, sweet people, very disappointing food.

                                              Since this is already something of a sacred cow to some, a few caveats. It's one lunch. And I didn't have pho. And while I'm no spring chicken when it comes to Vietnamese, I've never visited the country. But with those out of the way, there was nothing I had today that merited a return trip.

                                              Cha gio were crisp and fresh, but a little short on flavor. Underseasoned, it seemed. We had one of the summer rolls with pork as well. Nice flavor on the pork, but the roll was way short on vegetables and herbs for my taste. Though very fresh and meticulously assembled, they ended up coming across as plain noodles with a hint of meat flavor. Bun Bo Nuong (noodles w/beef) was much the same. Nice flavor on the beef, but very, very subtle. Too subtle. With little accompaniment and a weak nuoc cham, as much as I try to avoid hyperbole, it really was bordering on tasteless.

                                              Though it's hard to say for sure, I don't think this was a matter of cutting corners for expedience's sake. Not only were were there well before the lunch crowd came in (our food was served very promptly), but there were no indications at all that anything was rushed. Everything was very carefully and crisply executed. Fried items were crisp, noodles and rice wrappers weren't the least bit gummy, herbs were fresh and fragrant. But the whole meal just completely lacked pop. It had none of the vibrance of Vietnamese food to which I'm accustomed.

                                              If Mekong Delta really was fabulous in its early days, consider this another downhill alert. If this is how it always was, I have to say that I don't understand the excitement surrounding this place. If these guys were on my block, I'd still drive out to Catonsville. They just didn't satisfy the craving for Vietnamese at all.

                                              17 Replies
                                              1. re: Dmnkly

                                                What do you think they were doing differently? Spice?

                                                1. re: chowsearch

                                                  Can't say. This was my first visit, so I have no basis of comparison. Everything was just flat. No pop, no zing. As though I had to struggle to find what flavor was in there. I guess I'm trying to figure out how to say it without throwing the B-word (bland) in there, but that might be the best and simplest way to put it. It was like Vietnamese with most of the life sucked out of it.

                                                  And like I say, I also don't know if it IS different from what they've always served. I just know that as carefully as it was prepared, what they served me today wasn't very good, even when taken in a vacuum. Add the crowds and the raves and the comparisons to Grace Garden and it becomes downright puzzling. I know it's been suggested that flavor might have been sacrificed for speed, but the place certainly isn't a mob scene anymore, and I'm not sure how one even goes about taking the flavor out of nuoc cham, but somehow they managed.

                                                  I really wanted to like the place and I was really looking forward to it, but unless I got some freaky bad meal (always possible), this just wasn't good.

                                                  1. re: Dmnkly

                                                    Interesting perspective, Dom. I tend to agree on the underseasoning comment based on some of the dishes I tried a few months ago during the initial rush. I went back for pho this past weekend, found that the rush had indeed died down. The beef lemongrass rolls were ok -- nothing extraordinary. The pho impressed me a little more than last time - the broth was nicer than I recalled and I rather enjoyed it. My issue is still as I described in my original review above -- the bowl size is still on the small size for $9 but I figure I'm paying a little more for the convenience of not driving out to Catonsville or Columbia. This is a combination of feeling like it's not as good of a value, and my challenge that I felt there was almost not enough broth (the noodles soaked up some of the broth so by the time I got halfway through the bowl there was not a lot of broth left). I did appreciate that the long waits for food to arrive, unexpected closing schedule, etc seemed to be a thing of the past. I do agree that it falls far short of GG comparisons.

                                                    I'll probably go back for the pho when I don't feel like driving out of the city.

                                                    1. re: bluepig1

                                                      I recently made a second visit to Mekong Delta. Having been underwhelmed by the Pho Tai Bo Vien (meatball and rare beef) the first time, I ordered Bun Tom Thit Nuong (vermicelli noodles with grilled shrimp and pork). It was tasty in the way that an Iggie’s Margherita is tastier than a B.O.P pepperoni. I poured on all the wan nước mắm to bring out the salty, tore up the small sprig of fresh cilantro, dotted it with the bottled Sriracha sauce and gave it a good toss. With all that, I was able to tease a bit of flavor out of it.

                                                      So, with fresh ingredients, skilled preparation and friendly efficient service, what was missing? Vietnamese.

                                                    2. re: Dmnkly

                                                      where do you go for Vietnamese regularly, Dmnkly? and what do you mean by, "pop?" just curious.

                                                      1. re: LuLuBlaubugunder

                                                        Usually Pho #1 in Catonsville. By no means unimpeachable, but solid in my experience.

                                                        And by pop, I simply mean some intensity of flavor, something lively. We're talking Vietnamese, here. It's not slap-you-across-the-face like Thai, but still, we're talking about fish sauce, lime juice, mint, cilantro, chiles, garlic -- salty, sour, spicy, sweet -- these are bright, vibrant flavors. The dishes they make should be bright and vibrant too.

                                                        1. re: Dmnkly

                                                          pretty amazing that the place has gone from great to bland so quickly, wonder what happened...

                                                          1. re: hon

                                                            My theory is that when they streamlined to accomodate the rush, their quality was adversely affected, but after the rush died down, they never un-streamlined back to their original methods. Just a theory. Too sad because I loved our first couple visits to Mekong Delta.

                                                  2. re: Dmnkly

                                                    A point of clarification: When I wrote that I thought that sacrificed taste for efficiency, I meant it on a more structural level, and not in the if you go when it's busy it's not good, so pick a quiet time kind of way.

                                                    And, to know one in particular: , as someone who has been to Vietnam many times, I don't think it makes any sense to compare the food there to the food here. Just too many difference, i.e., have never seen "pho tai" on any menu. The beef stuff I've seen is called "pho bo." And, despite the Vietnamese writing on the label, forget about sriracha sauce, an invention of a Vietnamese immigrant to the U.S., the same with hoisin.

                                                    In any event, after my second visit to MDC which was amazingly lackluster, I see no need to return, despite a recent report from someone I trust who said that it was great.

                                                    1. re: baltoellen

                                                      Isn't Hoisin Chinese anyway?
                                                      I still haven't tried this place, initially waiting for the crowds to die down and now waiting for the food to get better.

                                                      1. re: hon

                                                        Visiting Toronto right now, where there's Vietnamese on every corner seems like. And almost all have Sriracha (personally can't stand the stuff) and hoisin at every table. But many have the good stuff, too. Small plump whole red chilis, homemade "hot sauce", etc. It's a lot of fun sampling all the varieties of summer rolls (called cold spring rolls here) they have going on here. :)

                                                        1. re: bmorecupcake

                                                          I guess my point was more that I'm not sure it makes so much sense to compare Mekong Delta Cafe, or Grace Garden, or the taco truck on B'dwy by some notion of "authenticity," and judge a restaurant by how well they conform or deviate from that notion.

                                                          In the case of Vietnam, the country spans three different climate zones, and there's no agreement on what makes good pho from the north to the south (btw, the pho we get here is more like the food in the south, obviously. And, personally, I spend more of my time in the north.) My point was why is anything in North America compared with anything in Vietnam? (Of course, substitute your own country, continent at will.)

                                                          And, like Dmkly, I'm not trying to disparage the place. Believe me, I understand being protective about a place you love and want to see succeed. And, one can only hope that one more successful Vietnamese place in Baltimore will encourage others to open them. It would be fantastic if we could have a robust Asian food scene here!

                                                      2. re: baltoellen

                                                        Dont sweat it too much.. one dissenter isnt going to put them out of business.

                                                        1. re: baltoellen

                                                          "And, to know one in particular: , as someone who has been to Vietnam many times, I don't think it makes any sense to compare the food there to the food here. Just too many difference..."

                                                          Certainly... this is a discussion we've had before, but "authenticity" isn't a value judgment. Whether or not something is authentic is far less meaningful than whether or not it's good. Bottom line, this wasn't (either, I suspect, but certainly the latter).

                                                          1. re: Dmnkly

                                                            But what the heck happened there? How can the same earnest people make less good food, especially now they've been doing it awhile? Were they forced to eliminate some kind of prep steps, marination or something?

                                                            1. re: chowsearch

                                                              The food for me and the many people I know who go there has been consistent, so you really just have to consider the source. Its possible that only perception has changed. Anyway theres no point in arguing over it.

                                                            2. re: Dmnkly

                                                              Certainly... this is a discussion we've had before, but "authenticity" isn't a value judgment. Whether or not something is authentic is far less meaningful than whether or not it's good. Bottom line, this wasn't (either, I suspect, but certainly the latter).

                                                              Seconded!

                                                        2. Greetings from a first time poster.

                                                          I've eaten at Mekong Delta a number of times, most visits having one or the other of the pho selections. If the portions are smaller than the portions at Pho #1, it's not by much. What *is* smaller is the bowl, which makes it a touch more challenging to handle the herbs and other goodies that come with. The pho is not nearly as salty as at Pho #1. My American palette prefers Mekong Delta, though I'll gladly return to both restaurants as time and convenience permits.

                                                          Last time I went to Mekong Delta, about two weeks ago, I went with three friends. We ordered a variety of rolls and noodle dishes - I had a noodle dish with tofu, can't remember the name - and all four of us relished every bite of appetizer and lunch. The owner/waiter came out to the table after we'd ordered and asked if I wanted mine 'spicy' and, after I assented, it came out with a moderate amount of heat.

                                                          The service was attentive but the food came out slowly. It's exactly what I had come to expect after receiving similar service each time I'd been there previously.

                                                          I wouldn't have posted this - I know I am echoing some of the early posts here - but this last bit of the thread seems to be burying Mekong Delta prematurely. It is now what it's been all along, as far as my palette is concerned.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: festivus

                                                            I'll second this. Just returned from a meal there (my first time). Tidy little family place, that was doing good business, with a short wait mid-evening Friday night.

                                                            Lovely service, and we had a very fine meal, with me having one of the beef pho dishes. All of us went away full and happy, and will certainly go back.

                                                          2. A 2010 brief report on Mekong Delta: the pho was good, not excellent; the tofu curry with rice was very coconutty and decious. I would return for this and ask for it spicy rather than medium spicy next time, remembering that they are Vietnamese rather than Thai. The curry portion was (almost) too large to fish, but I did a yeoman job.