IKrave Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

iKrave Cafe for Albuquerque’s very best Vietnamese Sandwiches

Please say it isn’t so!  According to Nations Restaurant News, a highly respected trade publication “a new crop of restaurant chain entrepreneurs” believes “American diners will soon embrace the Vietnamese bánh mì sandwich as the next burrito or taco.”  The notion of corporate chain megaliths setting their sights on the humble banh mi should send shudders down the spine of everyone who frequents the mom-and-pop nature of the banh mi restaurants we’ve come to know and love. Imagine a phalanx of Subway-like sandwich shops creating and selling banh mi. The notion isn’t as far-fetched as you might think.

One of the first chains vying to expand the presence of banh mi in the mainstream is Chipotle whose Asian-themed offshoot “ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen” features banh mi as the menu’s cornerstone. If Chipotle does for the banh mi what it did for burritos and what Olive Garden did for Italian food, there will be generations of American diners who may never experience the real thing–an authentic banh mi prepared in the traditional manner by Vietnamese weaned on banh mi. Worse, slick Madison Avenue advertisers might convince them they prefer the faux food.

iKrave’s energetic, customer oriented owner Hien

It’s a small consolation that it will probably take a while before the heavily bankrolled chain interlopers reach Albuquerque (think about how long it took before Chipotle invaded).  That gives the Duke City’s  three established independent purveyors of peerless banh mi the opportunity to win over even more converts.  It should take only one visit!

Until just a few years ago, you had to visit larger cosmopolitan areas such as San Francisco to find banh mi.  Eventually such banh mi pioneers as May Café, May Hong and Cafe Dalat, all full-service Vietnamese restaurants, began offering “Vietnamese Sandwiches” on their appetizer menus.  Before long, almost every other Vietnamese restaurant in the Duke City followed suit.  In 2010, Banh Mi Coda became the Duke City’s first full-fledged banh mi shop.  It took three more years before Sai Gon Sandwich launched, becoming the second restaurant in Albuquerque dedicated solely to banh mi.

#4 Grilled Pork Banh Mi

The third banh mi restaurant–the one about which you may not yet have heard–is called iKrave.  The name means exactly what it sounds it should mean as in “I crave” banh mi. iKrave opened its doors in August, 2014. Being ensconced in a rather nondescript strip mall on Juan Tabo (just north of Constitution) and without a prominent eye-catching storefront, much of its business has come from the Vietnamese community and nearby residents. You wouldn’t blame them if they wanted to keep secret what is one of New Mexico’s best sandwich shops of any genre. Indeed, much of the restaurant’s traffic comes from word-of-mouth. That’s truly the best advertising you can get.

iKrave exemplifies the axioms “big things come in small packages” and “small place, huge flavors.” This Lilliputian lair has room for only a couple of small tables, a free-standing beverage refrigerator and a bamboo counter where you place your order. The man behind the counter is owner-chef Hien who not only constructs the banh mi (it’s a thing of beauty), he cures, marinades, cuts and otherwise imparts preternatural deliciousness on all the meats which grace the banh me he serves. He also slices, dices and juliennes all the fresh vegetables adorning each banh mi.

Grilled Chicken Banh Mi

To say the banh mi is a sacrosanct sandwich is an understatement. So is calling it merely delicious or utterly wonderful. During a 2009 visit to Vietnam for his award-winning “No Reservations” show, Anthony Bourdain described banh mi as “a symphony in a sandwich.” It’s an apt description for the effect this superb sandwich has on your taste buds. You can almost picture all ten-thousand taste buds dancing, enrapt in the melodious harmony of flavors

Bourdain elaborated further: “The baguette alone is something of a miracle. How do they stay so crunchy, crisp and fresh on the outside, so airy, so perfect on the inside?” In truth, this statement is much more applicable to the baguettes in Vietnam than the bread used by banh mi purveyors throughout the Duke City. Hien procures his baguettes from a local baker whose classic preparation techniques are very close to those used in Vietnam. Unlike American sandwiches whose bread can lull taste buds to sleep, Vietnamese baguettes are really the vessel that coalesces all the flavors of the banh mi.

#1 Special Combination Banh Mi

With your first bite, you’ll notice the difference and with each subsequent bite, your appreciation will grow for this delicious duality of light and airy, crisp and soft, fresh and flavorful bread. It’s the perfect canvass for any one of the eight sandwiches on the iKrave banh mi menu.  Before he creates your sandwich, Hien brushes the baguette with a rather expensive French butter then heats it.  It’s one of several touches he employs to ensure the most moist and meticulously crafted banh mi in town.  It’s sandwich artistry at its finest and most delicious.

16 April 2015: Combination #1 is the mother lode, the bahn mi with the most. It’s an unheated sandwich (the Vietnamese version of a “cold cut” sandwich, but infinitely better) constructed with barbecue pork, pork roll and cured pork pate along with the classic banh mi condiments: Vietnamese mayo (cut with butter for moistness and nuttiness), fresh herbs (cilantro, scallions), pickled (julienne daikon and carrots) and unpickled vegetables (jalapeños).  Note: For the fire-eaters among you, ask Hien to replace the jalapeños with Thai bird peppers which are far more incendiary and delicious.   The sandwich is further moistened by sauce Hien uses on the barbecue pork.  Every element in this sandwich is as fresh and delicious as it can be. Together they coalesce to create my very favorite banh mi in New Mexico.

Grilled Chicken and Pork Banh Mi

23 July 2016: if your preference is for a heated sandwich, iKrave has several wonderful options.  Savvy diners who frequent Vietnamese restaurants are familiar with grilled pork, porcine perfection marinated with the sweet spices of anise and cinnamon to create an olfactory treasure that dances on your taste buds.  Imagine a banh mi created with this incomparably delicious pork.  It’s better than your imagination.  So is the grilled chicken banh mi.  If you can’t make up your mind between grilled pork and grilled chicken, the ever-accommodating Hien will build a combination grilled pork and chicken banh mi for you.  It’s my new favorite among the grilled banh mi.

16 April 2015: You’ll want to wash down your banh mi with sugar cane juice made on the premises by Hien himself.  Take a gander at the beverage refrigerator where you’ll see bundles of sugar cane stalks from which Hien extracts the juice.  Organic Lifestyle Magazine lists sugar cane juice  (which has a relatively low glycemic index of 43), as a healthy alternative to table sugar when used in moderation. It contains fructose and glucose, which, unlike sucrose-based sugars, do not require insulin for metabolism.  Moreover, it’s absolutely delicious! Alternatively, iKrave serves what Hien believes to be some of the strongest iced coffee in town.  It’s excellent!  

Sugar Cane Juice

One of the most  common, albeit more than a little bit Americanized, nicknames for Vietnam is “Nam,” obviously a diminutive of its full name.  In honor of the banh mi, perhaps its nickname should be “num num.”  iKrave is home to banh mi which will have you uttering “num num” and more.

iKrave Cafe
1331 Juan Tabo Blvd, N.E., Suite 1P
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 275-6625
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 19 April 2015
1st VISIT: 16 April 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Special Combination Banh Mi, Sugar Cane Juice, Coconut Macaroons, Grilled Pork Banh Mi, Grilled Chicken Banh Mi

Ikrave Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cervantes Restaurant & Lounge – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cervantes Restaurant & Lounge on San Pedro and Gibson

In 1706, a group of Spanish colonists were granted permission by King Philip of Spain to establish a new villa on the banks and in the valley of the Rio del Norte. The colonists chose a spot “in a place of good fields, waters, pastures, and timber, distant from the villa of Santa Fe about twenty-two leagues.”  They named the new settlement La Villa de Alburquerque in honor of the Viceroy of New Spain, Fernandez de la Cueva, Duque de Alburquerque.”  A portrait of el Duque de Alburquerque hangs prominently just above the mantle at Cervantes Restaurant & Lounge in the southeast quadrant of the city named for him.  Though there is a lot to see throughout the restaurant, the portrait of El Duque is the cynosure to which all eyes are inevitably drawn, a commanding presence with a quiet air of dignity and regal bearing.

One wonders what El Duque de Alburquerque would think of the city bearing his name and of the lively cuisine that prompted Livability.com to name that city one of America’s “10 most surprisingly vibrant cities for foodies to flex their taste buds” and for the Huffington Post to declare it “one of the ten best cities for local food.”  El Duque would certainly marvel at the profligate portions served at every meal and of the rotundity of many who partake of those portions.”  An aristocrat renown for the luxury and magnificence of his administration, El Duque would probably take great self-aggrandizing pleasure at the portrait hanging at Cervantes, but it’s likely the food would cause him severe gastronomic distress.  He would certainly not be used to the richness and piquancy of the ingredients and might wonder what manner of alchemy is searing his tongue and saturating his brow.

Cervantes Dining Room

Note:  It was during my initial visit to Cervantes in 1979 that I was told the portrait hanging over the mantle depicted El Duque de Albuquerque.  During my most recent visit in July, 2016, our server related that no one really knows whose countenance hangs on the wall.  She joked that it could be a portrait of “just about anybody.”  Whether you choose to believe that distinguished gentleman who’s presided over every meal at Cervantes is El Duque or just some noble looking dude won’t add to or take away from how much you’ll enjoy a meal at this legendary eatery.

Although Cervantes Restaurant and Lounge is hardly contemporaneous with El Duque de Alburquerque, it is one of the city’s venerable dining institutions.  Hundreds of Albuquerque restaurants have come and gone in the three and a half decades since Roberta Finley launched her restaurant in 1976.  Still, this Kirtland Air Force Base area institution continues to thrive against increasingly formidable competition, outlasting many of the anointed “flavor of the day” restaurants which burn hot at the start, but fizzle out over time.

Salsa and Chips

There are many reasons Cervantes has not fizzled out like so many of its competitors and one of them is because it still burns red hot—literally.  In the early 80s, Cervantes was where to go if you needed a chile fix, the hotter the better.  The chile was incendiary, but addictively so.  While stationed at Kirtland, we used to take the dreaded Inspector General team to Cervantes so we could watch them sweat in much the same way they probably delighted in watching us sweat their white-glove inspections of our mission readiness.

Today Cervantes’ chile isn’t nearly as piquant as the chile burned into my memory engrams (not to mention my taste buds and tongue), but it seems to be much more flavorable—especially the red chile.  For the non-fire-eaters among us, the incendiary heat of that chile may have detracted from the flavor appreciation that just isn’t possible when your mouth is burning.  For those of us with asbestos-lined tongues, eating that chile was a rite of passage, a demonstration of our manliness (being the more mature gender, women need no such affirmation).  In any case, the red chile at Cervantes remains very good.  It’s very healthy, too.  In keeping with today’s healthier lifestyles it is made with less sodium, fewer calories and no fat or cholesterol while retaining the richness of traditional flavors.  Cervantes food products contain no artificial preservatives, chemical additives, fillers or animal products.

Con Queso

Cervantes Food Products has become synonymous with the restaurant.  The Food Products Division was born from the family’s commitment to preserving heirloom family recipes, many of which are more than a century old.  Heart-healthy gift baskets for all occasions are available through the Cervantes Web site.  They’re especially popular with expatriated New Mexicans craving a chile fix.  Several Cervantes products have earned a multitude of Scovie awards over the years.  Named for Wilbur Scoville who pioneered the rating scale for piquancy, the Scovie award was created by Albuquerque resident Dave DeWitt, founder and co-publisher of Fiery-Foods & BBQ magazine.  Every year as many as 800 products from around the world compete for these coveted honors.

Cervantes remains, at heart, a much loved restaurant that has served three generations of loyal patrons.  Active duty and retired Air Force personnel and the civilian workforce from nearby Kirtland are especially loyal, constituting a significant percentage of the restaurant’s daily visitors.  No doubt they still bring the dreaded Inspector General for a meal or two, perhaps no longer to make them sweat from the piquancy of the chile, but to soothe the savage breast with New Mexican food with charms to do so.

Ground Beef Enchiladas Christmas Style with an Over Easy Egg

The dining room at Cervantes is in two levels with a lower center section flanked on both sides by seating for lesser numbers.  Tables in the lower center section accommodate larger parties.  The ambience is a sort of Spanish Gothic meets Mexican traditional.  Chandeliers suspended from the ceiling provide low-light comfort that just seems appropriate considering the dark woods and especially the crossed Spanish swords and shields festooning the walls on either side of the fireplace where el Duque de Alburquerque appears to look over the restaurant.  Colorful Mexican blankets are strewn about judiciously.

A basket of chips and a bowl of salsa are presented with your menu.  The first round is complementary, the second (and likely third and forth) will cost you a pittance.  The chips are unsalted, but large and crisp, perfect for Gil-size scoops of salsa.  The salsa is gloriously red, constructed of fresh ingredients (garlic, tomatoes, onion and I believe both jalapeno and green chile).  It is of medium piquancy with just enough bite to get your attention.

Carne Adovada

The menu includes many traditional New Mexican food favorites: enchiladas, chile rellenos, tacos, carne adovada, stuffed sopaipillas, burritos, taco salad and more.  House specialties include bowls of red or green chile with two flour tortillas and butter, posole, a New York cut steak and a unique Cervantes twist on the traditional New Mexico green chile cheeseburger.  This burger is crafted with a three-quarter pound of lean ground sirloin served open-faced on your choice of tortilla, French bread or a sopaipilla.  It’s quite good.

17 July 2016: Marinated overnight then slow-cooked until so tender it’s falling apart, Cervantes’ carne adovada is among the very best in Albuquerque, melding the exquisite flavors of New Mexican red chile, oregano and garlic with pork.  Unlike some restaurants, Cervantes doesn’t adulterate their carne adovada with cumin or an excess of Mexican oregano which can make the dish acerbic.  Instead, the marinade accentuates the marriage of pork and chile, imparting flavors that warrant reverence.  My Kim enjoys the carne adovada with a fried egg over easy on top.  A runny yoke atop the crimson carne may sound heretical, but the resultant flavors are quite good.

Ala Carte Tamal

Huevos Rancheros with Carne Adovada is a popular way for your taste buds to pay proper homage to Cervantes’ carne adovada.  This plate includes two eggs any style, beans and rice on a flour or corn tortilla.  The beans are excellent, refried with melted white Cheddar atop.  The Spanish rice is moist and delicious with bits of green pepper which enliven the rice.  It’s the carne adovada which stands out.  Unfortunately there isn’t much of it–enough to make you crave more of it, but not enough to sate your immediate need for its delicious qualities.

17 July 2016: Another long-time Cervantes favorite is the enchilada plate, a plate of New Mexico enchantment comprised of your choice of two or three rolled enchiladas–two stuffed with cheese and one with ground beef.  You can also have them stuffed with carne adovada or chicken.  The enchiladas are great with both green and red chile and with a fried egg on top, but for my money, the red chile accentuates the other ingredients best.  As with other plates, the enchiladas are served with refried beans and Spanish rice.  Skip the Spanish rice and ask for two portions of the beans.  They’re among the best in town.

Sopaipillas

The sopaipillas are a true contender for “best in the city” honors.  These are puffy pillows of fried dough without any of the greasiness sopaipillas tend to have.  Cervantes also uses real honey (local) instead of that honey-flavored syrup some restaurants serve.  Don’t save them for dessert; polish them off as soon as they arrive at your table when they’re hot and steam wafts upwards as you pull them apart to form a pocket for the honey. 

17 July 2016: Even after polishing off the sopaipillas with honey, do yourself a favor and order either natillas or flan for dessert.  The natillas are exemplars of what natillas should be–a creamy custard made with milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon.  Ask for lots of cinnamon, an ameliorant which imbues the natillas with a fragrant bouquet you’ll enjoy as you’re spooning up the light, delicate (never lumpy at Cervantes) natillas.

Natillas

Cervantes Restaurant and Lounge is somewhat off the beaten path for diners who live outside the city’s Southeast quadrant, but thousands of loyal local patrons find their way to this popular  favorite for New Mexican food the way it’s been made for generations.  It’s one of the very best, most traditional New Mexican restaurants in the city of El Duque de Alburquerque.

Cervantes Restaurant & Lounge
5801 San Pedro, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 262-2253
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 17 July 2016
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sopaipillas, Enchiladas, Carne Adovada, Salsa and Chips, Natillas, Con Queso

Cervantes Restaurant & Lounge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pasion Latin Fusion – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pasion Latin Fusion Cuisine on Lomas

In my experience, food and passion always intertwine.
Passion is food for the soul’s mood at any particular time.”
Tammy Mollai

Robert Irvine, host of the Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible show has some nerve!  In an episode which first aired in March, 2014, the tough-talking British mesomorph had the audacity to tell America that Pasion Latin Fusion wasn’t the beautiful, graceful swan with which many of us had fallen in love.  Although he didn’t directly call Pasion an ugly duckling paddling about aimlessly, Irvine certainly intimated that things at Pasion weren’t as rosy as some of us may have thought. 

The premise of Restaurant: Impossible is that within two days and on a budget of $10,000,  Irvine will transform a failing American restaurant with the goal of helping to restore it to profitability and prominence.  To make the show entertaining, any existing dysfunction or drama in the restaurant’s day-to-day operations is spotlighted in the fashion of all reality shows.  If you’ve ever been to Pasion Latin Fusion, words like failure, dysfunction and drama won’t ever come to mind.  Since its launch in 2011, reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, much moreso than reviews for other “failing” restaurants featured on Restaurant: Impossible.

Chef Elvis Bencomo shows off some of the design work completed by the Food Network's Restaurant: Impossible show

Chef Elvis Bencomo shows off some of the design work completed by the Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible show

While the Food Network’s preview synopsized the issues at Pasion as “tension between Monica and their main investor, Elvis’s brother, and a menu that’s leaving customers confused and frustrated,” the most obvious revelation when the episode aired is that Elvis, Monica and Orlando Bencomo are extremely likeable and extraordinarily passionate about their restaurant.  If the Food Network came to Pasion expecting the dysfunction and drama of a soap opera, they instead got a true feel good story accentuating the love of a beautiful family. 

Robert Irvine’s renovation of Pasion was much more than cosmetic though that’s what visitors will notice first.  The interior has been wholly transformed from a milieu of dark jumbled gracelessness into a bright, airy and intimate two-level dining room.  The menu has also been revamped, both in content and in style.  All menu items are now clearly described so there’s no room for confusion.  Some fourteen items make up the “Latin tapas” section of the menu with another five entrees on the “Platos Principales (main courses) menu, but they’re so varied and good you won’t need more.

The Redesigned Interior of Pasion Latin Fusion Cuisine

Pasion Latin Fusion is the brainchild of  Elvis  and Monica Bencomo, a husband and wife duo with (dare I say it again) passion for the melding of diverse and dynamic Latin flavors.  The third in the family triumvirate who own and operate Pasion is Orlando Bencomo, Elvis’s brother and main investor in the restaurant.  Orlando, a veteran of Afghanistan, runs the front of the house.  If the Food Network exposure gave any of them a big head, you certainly can’t tell.

Elvis is originally from Chihuahua and to say he’s a culinary genius may be a vast understatement. He’s a classically trained chef, but that’s a starting point. The genesis of his culinary creations is his creativity, imagination and willingness to experiment with ingredient and flavor combinations. He’s a true student of the craft, constantly reading and researching what it takes to create the foods that reflect his passion. It’s unlikely he ever studied Peruvian Ceviche 101 at his culinary alma mater, but one bite of his ceviche of the day and you might swear you’re in Peru. His arepas are reminiscent of those prepared in Venezuela, his chimicchuri as good as you’ll find in Argentina.  Get the picture?

Fire and Ice Tostada Tuna | Coconut | Habanero | Passion Fruit Sorbet

Fire and Ice Tostada Tuna

Monica, the statuesque occasional hostess with the radiant smile is originally from Chicago, but admits to growing up culinarily unadventurous, preferring a diet of burgers and fries to some of the legendary foods of the City of Big Shoulders. Today she’s happy to have broken the chain (my friend Ryan Scott was so proud when he interviewed her on his wonderful radio program) and loves to try new and different dishes. Elvis is more than happy to oblige with a menu unlike any in Albuquerque–one in fact that’s reminiscent of Peruvian and Latin fusion restaurants we’ve visited in San Francisco and Las Vegas.

Together Monica and Elvis have not only made beautiful food together, they actually enjoyed working together when Monica ran the front of the house. When I asked them to pose for a photograph and my camera stalled, Elvis commented that he didn’t mind, he could hold Monica forever. How’s that for passion? When we asked about the high quality of the grapes served with one dessert, they smiled broadly and admitted to have upped their consumption of grapes (along with wine and cheese) after having seen the animated movie Ratatouille. How can you not love that?

Pasión Fruit Salsa

Pasión Fruit Salsa

Pasion is situated in the Lomas edifice which once housed Capo’s, a long time Albuquerque Italian food fixture. Few remnants of its predecessor remain especially now that Pasion has been renovated.  It is at once both festive and romantic, the former bolstered by upbeat salsa music and the latter facilitated by low light. Appropriately the exterior signage includes a single red rose, a symbol for romantic passion. A sole fireplace suspended from the ceiling is both attractive and functional, adding the promise of a crackling flame on a blustery evening.  Two tiered seating includes both booths and tables.

The menu is an eye-opening melange of Latin fusion with elements of Cuban, Haitian, Mexican, Peruvian, Venezuelan, Spanish, Mariscos, Argentinian and even New Mexican ingredients used in sundry and creative ways. As with true fusion, menu items have combined those elements–Argentinian chimichurri with Nicaraguan grilled steak, for example. It wouldn’t be a true fusion restaurant if diverse, sometimes disparate culinary traditions, elements and ingredients didn’t form an entirely unique genre. Pasion is a true fusion restaurant, not one which offers menu items from several Latin speaking nations.

Duck Taquitos Green and Yellow Chile | Pickled Vegetables | Mexican Cotija Cheese

Duck Taquitos

Start your Pasion experience with the agua fresca of the day. Many Mexican restaurants throughout the Duke City offer a pretty standard line-up of aguas frescas, typically horchata, limonada, sandia and melon. Many are not made in-house. At Pasion, the agua fresca of the day is not likely going to be the same old, same old you can find elsewhere. Instead Chef Elvis might surprise you with a virgin margarita agua fresca, complete with a salted rim, or he might combine several seemingly disparate flavors to create something uniquely wonderful.

29 March 2014: Latino tapas are similarly non-standard fare, an impressive assemblage of innovative deliciousness. You can make a meal out of the tapas.  Three per person is what our server advised, but he probably based that on my “svelte” physique.  One of those tapas (if it’s on the menu) should be the pasion fruit salsa with chips.  In New Mexico, chips and salsa are pretty de rigueur, so much so that it’s a rare salsa which can distinguish itself.  The pasion fruit salsa is unique, a combination of piquancy, tropical fragrance and tanginess.  It’s a welcome respite from the usual with chips.  Now, if you like your salsa to provide the flavor element of pain, this salsa won’t do it, but it does pack enough heat to titillate your tongue.

Carnitas Tacos

29 March 2014: Thanks to visits to Peruvian restaurants in San Francisco, Mexican style ceviche (typically made from raw fish marinated in citrus juices and paired with cilantro, onions and chopped tomatoes) has been a source of ho hum for me. In Pasion, my passion for ceviche has been rekindled. The menu offers two standard ceviche offerings. They start off much like other ceviche–as seafood (tuna) marinated in lime, lemon and orange juices. Then the Chef’s creativity takes over, adding jalapeños, ceviche and plenty of oomph. The Fire and Ice, for example, is a ceviche made with tuna, habanero-coconut sauce and passion fruit sorbet served with tortilla chips.  The habanero-coconut sauce most assuredly has a pleasantly piquant bite coupled with the tropical sweetness of coconut.  The passion fruit sorbet is crystallized so it doesn’t melt messily over the ceviche.  Instead, it imparts a refreshing coolness that complements the other ingredients.  This is genius!

29 March 2014: In the 1980s, restaurants such as Santa Fe’s Coyote Cafe and the West Beach Cafe in Venice, California started a trend still going strong today when they introduced duck tacos.  Being a trend doesn’t equate to being good, however.   Unlike so many others, the duck taquitos at Pasion are worth the build-up and hype.  They’re, in fact, sensational!  There’s only one thing wrong with the three rolled taquitos engorged with pickled vegetables and slow-simmered duck meat seasoned with Caribbean spices topped with yellow and green chile sprinkled with Mexican Cojita cheese.  If there are two of you, splitting that third taqito could end up in the type of drama the Food Network would appreciate.

Caribbean Chicken Adobo

29 March 2014: Pasion’s delicious tribute to the island nation of Cuba is in the form of a Quesadilla Cubano, the sandwich which has become an almost de rigueur offering at restaurants which proffer sandwiches.  Most Cubanos have become so similar as to be almost as blasé  as the plain ham and cheese on which they are loosely based.  At Pasion, the Cubano is an elegant sandwich brimming with delicious ingredients: slow braised pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and whole grain mustard pressed in a hybrid corn-flour tortilla.  Bruce Schor, a long-time friend of this blog and erudite epicure gave it the ultimate compliment: “The Cubano for me was very close to the Cubanos I learned to love in Union City NJ, the second largest Cuban expat community after Miami.” 

22 October 2015: For many New Mexicans the term “chicharron” conjures images of deep-fried cubes of crispy pork cracklings.  We enjoy them in much the way other people eat popcorn.  In parts of Texas and Mexico, chicharrones are more akin to menudo or strips of wiggly, squiggly pork tripe.  Only in Peruvian restaurants in San Francisco and Las Vegas had we previously seen chicharrones fashioned from seafood (mariscos).  Leave it to Elvis to introduce Albuquerque to this uniquely delicious entree.  The combination of crispy mixed seafood (African white fish and calamari), pickled vegetables and small mango cubes is a winner, elevated to rarefied air with a habanero tartar sauce so good and so bold and assertive, you may just ask for a second ramekin.

Chicharron de Mariscos

16 July 2016: Absent from the revamped menu are several favorites, but my sense of loss is mitigated by the addition of Caribbean Chicken, among the very best I’ve ever had.  Caribbean chicken isn’t synonymous with jerk chicken.  In fact, Pasion’s Caribbean chicken doesn’t have a piquant punch.  Its flavor profile is derived from non-jerk Caribbean adobo spices and from having been wrapped and roasted in banana leaves which seal in freshness and flavor.  This is outrageously good chicken–two thighs and two legs.  The chicken is served with a white rice and mashed ripe plantain mound, a surprisingly good combination.

16 July 2016: The postres (desserts) menu is a continuation of the menu’s creativity, four items of pure, unbridled temptation. The pastel de queso, a goat cheese style cheesecake with mango caramel, may be the best of the lot. It’s a better goat cheese cheesecake than was ever conjured at Rosemary’s Restaurant in Las Vegas (one of my highest rated restaurants in America before it closed). When it arrives at your table, your first inclination might be to believe the kitchen sent out something else, perhaps a scoop of ice cream drizzled over by Gerber baby food. That “scoop” is a large roundish mound of sweet, savory and sour goat cheese, as good as any chevre dessert you’ll ever have. There’s very little crust to get in the way here. It’s mostly goat cheese cheesecake the way it should be.

Pastel de Queso: Goat Cheese Style Cheesecake Drizzled with Mango Caramel

16 July 2016: The other of my two passions (aside from green chile cheeseburgers) is bread pudding, a dessert some consider an anachronism. Pasion offers an Aztec Bread Pudding con Cajeta (a reduced goat’s milk caramel) with a hint of red chile that will convert even the most ardent of bread pudding protagonists. This is one of the richest, densest, most flavorful bread puddings in New Mexico, ranking number ten on Larry McGoldrick‘s top ten best bread puddings in New Mexico. What elevates this bread pudding above the rest is the red chile which imparts just a bit of that back-of-your-throat heat great chiles have. It’s not a piquant heat, but that heat is certainly noticeable. The cajeta is the only thing that can and should top this bread pudding though a scoop of vanilla ice cream may help quell the heat for visitors who may not be used to it.

29 March 2014: Yet a third dessert that might never achieve the sure to be fame and popularity of the aforementioned duo is the Pasion Platano Cake, a banana custard cake topped with passion fruit mousse.  It’s rich, sweet and tangy in every bite.  The lip-pursing tartness isn’t quite lemon-like, but it’ll excite your mouth more than a handful of pop rocks.  Notes of cinnamon and vanilla occasionally sneak the tanginess of the passion fruit and the gentle sweetness of the banana.  If it sounds as if there’s a lot going on in this dessert, that’s because there is.  There’s a taste adventure in every bite.  

Aztec Bread Pudding Con Cajeta with a hint of Red Chile and a Milk Caramel Sauce

Every once in a while, the city’s burgeoning and exciting culinary scene needs an infusion of passion.  That’s what you’ll find in Pasion, one of the most creative and  unique restaurants to grace the Duke City dining scene in years.  It’s the type of restaurant the citizenry should promote to visitors who believe those ill-conceived stereotypes about our cuisine. 

Note:  Because Pasion Fusion Restaurant changes its menu with some regularity, some of the items described on this review may not be available when you visit.  No matter what’s on the menu, if Elvis is in the building, your meal will be great.

Pasion Latin Fusion Restaurant
722 Lomas Blvd, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 503-7880
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 16 July 2016
1st VISIT: 18 September 2011
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Pastel de Queso, Azteca Bread Pudding con Cajeta, Quesadilla Cubano, Caribbean Chicken, Pasion Platano Cake, Duck Taquitos, Pasion Fruit Salsa, Chicharron De Mariscos

Pasión Latin Fusion Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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