Photo by Adam Ewing
Long before An Bui became the most respected beer expert in town, he and his siblings introduced us to Vietnamese cuisine. "My parents always wanted us to stay together," says Bui, who arrived in Richmond in 1986. "So we decided to open a restaurant." Opening in 1995 with only a fraction of its current space on West Broad Street, Bui stuck to his plan, quickly addicting patrons to pho — a spiced broth served with scallions, bean sprouts, rice noodles, cilantro and thin cuts of meat. Richmond's Vietnamese food scene was tiny at the time, and Bui's sister, Prang; his brothers, Khiem and Lyem; and his sister-in-law, Pruyen, were determined to be more than just a tiny pho shop.
New World Cuisine Mekong took the plunge in 1999, absorbing a newly vacated space next door and expanding its menu to include hundreds of traditional favorites, like crispy rocket shrimp and tender clay-pot chicken. Modest to a fault, Bui insists he can't be credited with the restaurant's culinary prowess. "I'm strictly the front guy," he says. "I love greeting people at the door." Now, with a reputation for a mouthwatering menu and an unbelievably thorough beer list, Mekong's lines regularly spill out onto the sidewalk. "I'm just sharing my passion," says Bui of his irrepressible enthusiasm on even the busiest of nights. —SH