By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published May 17, 2021 at 11:01 AM Photography: Lori Fredrich

In this series, we’ll be hiking the burger trail to find the latest, greatest and most delicious burgers in Milwaukee. Click here for an explanation of the criteria used to rate each burger. Where have we been? Check out the complete catalog of burger reviews here

Mekong  Cafe
5930 W. North Ave., (414) 257-2228
mekong-cafe.com

In honor of both Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Asian Restaurant Week (which runs through May 22), I thought I’d take the (rare) opportunity to feature a burger from an Asian-owned restaurant.

There's nothing quite like the banh mi, a Vietnamese sandwich which simultaneously showcases the influences of French colonialism, while emblematizing the death of French rule and the subsequent creative freedom of modern Vietnam. So, I was intrigued when I found the Bahn Mi Burger on the menu at Mekong Cafe. 

The sandwich is part of an expanded menu which the restaurant debuted this spring as it transitionedd into an carry-out-only eatery and Asian grocer. (I’ll share an update on that soon, including a peek at some of their delicious new dishes). Suffice it to say that the banh mi burger is just a glimpse into the creativity that the family-owned business is using to survive one of the toughest years we've seen for restaurants.

The Banh Mi Burger features an Angus beef patty (or veggie patty) topped with American cheese, Sriracha mayonnaise, pâté, cucumber slices, salt and pepper, jalapenos, cilantro and a choice of slaw or pickled carrots and daikon on a pretzel bun ($12). I ordered mine with a side of fried plantains (+$2), a fruit that is believed to have originated in Southeast Asia.

The Banh Mi Burger in its packagingX

Presentation: 9

The burger came neatly wrapped in a paper sandwich wrap, which held everything together nicely and kept the sandwich adequately warm. Unpacked on the plate, the burger neatly showcased attractive layers of pickled vegetables, cheese and cilantro along with a peek of mayonnaise.

Bread/Bun: 9

At first the choice of bun surprised me. A pretzel roll? But after giving it a spin I had to admit it was a better choice (for a non-traditional banh mi) than I’d suspected. 

The bun itself was fresh and soft. It was presented without the usual toasting, an element which isn’t best practice for a burger, but is definitely consistent with a banh mi sandwich.

As for its appropriateness, while a pretzel bun most certainly doesn’t possess the thin, crisp crust of the Vietnamese-style baguettes traditionally used for banh mi, it does possess a modicum of the soft, chewy texture and light sweetness you’d expect. This one was also well sized for the meat and toppings; and it held up fairly well to the juiciness of the pickled vegetables.

(After eating the burger, I did talk with Mekong about the bun choice, and they told me they chose the pretzel bun because of its soft, chewy texture (many rolls they tried were too soft), but also because it’s among the best choices for a vegan bun)

Burger: 5

The burger patty was lightly browned on all sides with a slightly irregular shape and a moderately tight pack. The patty was fully cooked (well-done) and was not what I’d describe as particularly juicy; but it possessed just enough fat content to keep it from being dry. On the flavor side, it was lightly seasoned, but its overall beef flavor was somewhat one dimensional. 

This was not a burger I’d pull aside to enjoy on its own. But – largely thanks to a cast of stellar toppings – it brought just enough of a meaty element to the table to suffice.

It also occurred to me (as I was eating) that this might just be an instance where a veggie burger would be just as good of a fit as a beef-based patty.

Toppings: 9

Without a doubt, the toppings were the star of this burger. The American cheese was the weakest in the pack; it brought the classic salty umami flavor that helped to ground this as a burger. But it wasn’t quite as nicely melted as it could have been. 

That said, everything else was spot-on lovely. The pâté was silky and flavorful, the pickled vegetables bright and fresh and there was just enough heat from the slices of fresh jalapeno and hint of Sriracha.

Ultimately, the ingredients come together in a sandwich that’s texturally magnificent, thanks to the combination of chewy, crisp, silky and creamy elements. They also create a flavor powerhouse, offering spicy, salty, savory and sweet flavors, along with the aromatic citrus-infused pop of cilantro.

Value: 8

On the value side, this burger showcased a number of housemade elements, including the delicious pate and house pickled vegetables. It also delivered on its promise of offering the flavors inherent to a banh mi in burger form.  

Total: 40/50

There’s truly nothing like a great banh mi sandwich. But, the Banh Mi Burger gets you part of the way there.

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.