Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A River Full of Fire

For those not in the know, Cleveland might be known as "that place where the lake caught fire" or even more recently as the most miserable city . To them I say, don't knock us until you've tried us.

There is however, a river in Cleveland that is full of fire from time to time. Just like our city, it might not be much to look at from the outside to the untrained eye. If you didn't have a reason to do so, you might pass it by without a second glance.

Mekong River in Cleveland Heights offers diners a wide selection of Cambodian and Thai dishes, ranging from mild and sweet, to a those that provide a lip-tingling burn. Their "heat index" ranges from Level 1 all the way up to 15 - a level many of the servers there have told me is usually enjoyed by staff, or their regular Cambodian and Thai customers. On my last visit the server reminded me that heat can always be added on, but cannot be taken out!

Both the exterior and interior of the restaurant are sparse, with little more than a few neon signs on the outside, and only a few paintings and plants on the inside. I've learned through experience however that a pretty restaurant (and even pretty food) do not always equal good food. Seating is abundant, both in the main dining area and around the bar - where there's almost always a Thai or Cambodian television show playing.

Mekong River offers a full bar, as well as beer and wine. The bubble tea is not to be missed, with its thick and slushy texture that differs from the thin, milky bubble teas you find elsewhere. They also offer Jasmine tea as well as black iced tea. I tried the Jasmine tea on this visit and was not impressed - mostly because the hair product I love from Lush Cosmetics contains Jasmine. They were far too similar for me.

We order the Tom Kha Kai (red) soup every time we go. The slightly spicy, coconut milk and galangal infused broth is luxurious. The soup also contains chicken, button mushrooms and cilantro. One bowl is usually split between my husband and I, but the serving size is certainly not overwhelming if you wanted one all to yourself.

My husband's favorite dish is their Cambodian Curry, which contains beef, yams, green peppers, potatoes, and onions, cooked in a curry sauce. He normally orders it with a heat level of 3 (remember, out of 15) which is plenty spicy for the both of us.

I ordered the Tangerine Tilapia, which was a generously sized tilapia filet that had been lightly breaded and fried. The breading was so crisp and light with no trace of oil. It was topped with a sweet tangerine ginger sauce, which I spiced up to a level 2 (it was not intended to be spicy at all(. It came with a small side of steamed broccoli and whole tangerine slices. The flavor combinations were phenomenal, and there was enough to spare. We always take home leftovers. It's not unusual to see diners eating family-style - it might even be the ideal way to experience Mekong River's food when dining with a group of several people. The menu is so vast that you can eat there several times and not even make a dent in the selections they offer.

There are many vegetarian/vegan options - and I'm sure that most meat dishes could be made vegetarian with a request to your server. If you still happen to be hungry after your soup, tea and entree - there are always a few dessert selections, including a housemade coconut ice cream and sticky rice cake with mango.

Mekong River is our traditional stop the night before my husband heads off to a neuroscience conference that takes place annually. It is truly a hidden gem that you cannot judge based on appearance alone.


Crystal @EatDrinkClev said...

I love Mekong River! I always get the Red Tom Kha Kai too - the best! You are the 2nd person who recommends the tilapia so I think I might need to try that next time I go. I'm normally hooked on the Mekong String Beans and some of the Cambodian specialties.

Cara M. said...

The tilapia was wonderful, I remember it fondly :) The string beans sound wonderful! I will have to try those on our next visit. Thank you for sharing!

Kamron Khan said...

I absolutely love Mekong River. Each time we go, my husband and I try a higher numbe ron the heat scale. We are up to 7. Woooo! HOT! We always get our favorite, beef basil (It's not on the menu) and last time tried the mango curry with chicken. Amazing!

I love your blog!!

Cara M. said...

Thank you, Kamron!