Photo by Jamie Wiggan
Mekong Diner is the newest addition to the Crafton-Ingram Shopping Center.
By Jamie Wiggan
The newly opened Mekong Diner in Ingram takes its name from a river that begins in a remote portion of the Himalayan Mountains, 14,000 miles from the source of the Ohio River in Pittsburgh.
To Manager Kyaw Htat, the meandering Mekong River represents the connections between his family origins in Thailand and Myanmar (formerly Burma) and the four other countries it flows through on the way to the South China Sea.
“It’s a symbol of what we’re trying to do — bring different things together,” Htat said.
To that end, the menu offers a sampling of lesser-known Burmese dishes in addition to Thai favorites like pad thai and yellow curry.
“We’re trying to slowly introduce people to Burmese food around here,” Htat said.
The distinction between Thai and Burmese cuisine is apparently subtle, with both countries home to much regional variety of their own.
Born in Myanmar, and later moving to Thailand to avoid the country’s repressive government regime, head chef Win Yee — Htat’s aunt — draws from experience preparing food in both countries.
The availability of ingredients in Western Pennsylvania and the needs of the American palate also leave their mark on Yee’s family recipes.
Before opening in February, Htat and his family — who jointly own the business — briefly considered keeping the name and menu already established at the Chinese-style Panda restaurant, which they bought intact from the previous owners.
But they decided instead to branch out and offer something new to an area short on culinary diversity.
“I didn’t really want to do Chinese food, because there’s already one [in the shopping center],” Htat said.
The strategy appears to be working, according to Htat, who said many former customers are now regulars at the Mekong Diner, while its offering of lesser-known Burmese dishes like Mohinga — a tangy soup with fish and noodles — is also attracting a new pool of customers.
One former Panda customer, Dee Pirelli, was passing through the area in early April and decided to stop in for the first time in a few months, only to find the menu and name had changed. Undeterred, he placed an order anyway.
“I think it’s going to do well because I love Thai food,” Pirelli said.
Ingram resident Maria Tarquinio said she’s very excited by the new addition to the Crafton-Ingram Shopping Center, and has already stopped in several times to pick up the yellow curry with tofu.
“The food is delicious,” she said. “The neighborhood really needed this.”
Mekong Diner is located at 238 Crafton-Ingram Shopping Center and is open for dine-in and take-out.
Hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.