When asked what made him decide to go into the restaurant business, An Bui says it was "for the love of beer." To some, this may seem an odd answer for a guy who runs a Vietnamese restaurant, though those who know Bui confirm that beer is his passion. Matt Lake, a close friend, says, "He is somebody who has grown to really love everything about beer: the taste, the community, the sharing. ... He takes time to enjoy everything."
With such a fondness, it is no wonder that Bui, whose family owns Mekong Restaurant (6004 W. Broad St., 288-8929), is known as a local beer meister. More than 200 international varieties of beer are on the menu each season, with an emphasis on brews from Belgium, which Bui considers the best in the world.
"The flavor is very unique," he says. "It's like drinking food: You can taste the oranges, or the sweet apple, or fig, raisin, or banana. You can feel all the ingredients in your mouth."
A Facebook group he set up a year ago, An's Beer Club, has attracted more than 1,100 members. To allow customers to try different kinds of beer, Bui hosts monthly tastings that usually cost $30 to $35 to attend. They often have themes, such as the "World War Beer" event in July that pitted U.S. brews against internationals. But if you'd rather try one beer at a time, Bui's recommendations for October are St. Bernardus Quad, Delirium Nocturnum and Westmalle Dubbel (all Belgians).
Mekong, which celebrated its 14th anniversary in August with a party attended by about 250, has not always had such a strong focus on beer. "When we opened in '95," Bui says, "it was just a restaurant. When I took over in '98, that's when things started to change." At first, they mainly served wine, but Bui quickly realized that wine did not complement the Vietnamese food as well as beer did. "We paired food with certain beers, and the rest is history."