George

After a long trip through the amazing and lengthy menu at Portland’s Mekong Asian Bistro, I looked up at Linda and said, “I’m lost honey. You’ll need to order for us.”

After looking through all the choices of Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese appetizers and entrees, the only thing I was sure of was the Mai Tai ($6.95). That turned out to be a very good choice.

I’d like to see if you could do better with the menu than I did. Here are a few of the items: Pho Noodle Soup, Thai Curry, Mi Zao Don, Bangkok Egg Noodle. Hmmmm. Prices are low here, with apps from $5 to $7 and entrees $10 to $16. And portions are large.

As Linda finished going through the menu and selecting a list of dishes she wanted to order, we looked up and there on the wall was a long list of that day’s specials.

April, our server, was helpful, and chef/owner Tony Nguyen came out to serve us a special dish. They start you out with wonton chips and a tangy sweet sauce. I could have eaten all the chips, but Linda told me to slow down.

April’s recommendations to me included this question for my noodle dish: “Do you want to sweat?” Considering we were headed to Arizona the next day, where I was sure to sweat a lot, I opted for level one heat and that turned out to be just right.

My appetizer of fried dumplings was fantastic. Linda and I shared dishes and I can tell you we liked them all. We disagreed on the spring roll (I wanted shrimp but she ordered the veggie roll), and it was delicious. I really loved the crispiness of each dish, and all the sauces.

Tony worked in Kennebunkport and here for 10 years before he purchased this restaurant in 2012. Looking around the busy dining room, it was obvious to us that he has many regular customers.

We returned to our hotel room that evening satiated and very satisfied. We were in bed by 7:30 p.m. so that we could arise at 3:45 a.m. to take a 4:15 a.m. shuttle to the airport for a 6 a.m. flight to Tucson via Atlanta.

We chose a Mexican restaurant in the Atlanta airport for our lunch, and were surprised when our server there was also named April. Two Aprils in April made for a great 24 hours for the Smiths.

Linda

I have to admit that I didn’t know what several of the dishes were at Mekong Asian Bistro. Luckily, April was very knowledgeable and happy to guide us.

I had been craving dumplings and found this wonderful place searching “the 15 best dumpling places in Portland.” So the Mekong Dumplings were a given. Housemade dough is stuffed with chicken and scallions and served with a soy-based sauce. You may order them steamed or fried. We liked the texture of the fried ones very much. They were so, so good. A generous serving of six dumplings was a reasonable $5.95.

There were many tempting appetizer choices, but we finally settled on Fresh Vegetable Spring Rolls ($4.95). I was happy to try the fresh over the fried version, as they were fresh and light. These were a gluten-free choice. Lettuce, cucumber, bean sprouts, carrots, vermicelli, scallions and cilantro were rolled in rice paper. It made a beautiful plate. The clear sesame peanut sauce for dipping added lots of flavor.

Owner/Chef Tony Nguyen came out to visit with us briefly, and brought Vietnamese Rice Dumplings for us to try. He’d made these for happy hour. Sticky rice flour made the dough pillowy soft. Inside was cabbage, chives and carrots. He told us these were also gluten-free, and they can make a gluten-free dipping sauce if you ask. I’m in dumpling heaven here.

Those dishes certainly could have been our meal, but we had ordered Drunken Noodles ($11.50), a famous dish I had never tried. Thank goodness we only ordered one entree — the portions here are huge. This is a spicy dish of pan-fried rice noodles combined with green beans, peppers, onion, bamboo shoots and basil. Even with a spice level of one, this had quite a punch. My only regret was that we could not take the leftovers as we were flying to Arizona the next morning.

Several of the plates had carrot flowers that were works of art. Clearly the knife skills in that kitchen are amazing.

We were full, but Tony sent out a nice little sticky rice dessert for us to share. It was lightly sweet with a coconut milk sauce and sesame seeds. It was small and a great way to end a very nice meal. Mekong Asian Bistro gave us a great start to our two week vacation.

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed by town in the “Best of Maine” section.