Stack House BBQ – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Stack House Barbecue in Rio Rancho

One of my Psychology professors cautioned students about the danger of “amateur diagnosis,” the practice of assigning specific psychoses and neuroses to people we meet solely on the basis of our cursory familiarity with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  He explained that it often takes an experienced practicing psychiatrist several sessions to arrive at a diagnosis and many more sessions before treatment proves effective.  His point–a little knowledge can be dangerous–applies in virtually every arena of knowledge in practicum.  Reflecting back on all the times my rudimentary conclusions were ultimately proven incorrect, it’s a point well driven. 

When my friends Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick, Dazzling Deanell and Beauteous Barb decided to pursue Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) certification, the words of my Psychology professor resonated in my memory.  Sure, we’d all been eating barbecue most of our lives, but how much did we really know about passing judgement on barbecue?  Not much, it turned out.  Over the course of several hours, our KCBS instructor imparted sage knowledge and proven techniques to help us understand thee three most important and very nuanced elements of competitive judging: taste, texture and appearance.   Much like getting a Psychology degree, obtaining KCBS certification gave us a modicum of knowledge.  Applying what we learned in such competitions as Rio Rancho’s annual Pork & Brew built upon that knowledge.

Long lines queue up for terrific ‘cue

Recently when Larry and Deanell rhapsodized poetic about the barbecue at the Stack House BBQ in Rio Rancho, my first questions were “how would that barbecue rate in a KCBS barbecue competition?” Larry gave it nines in taste, texture and appearance. Deanell one-upped Larry, indicating the Stack House BBQ’s ‘cue warranted all tens (and she knows what it is to be a ten). They invited me to discover for myself whether their ratings were hyperbole or justified.  Alas, during my inaugural visit, I was suffering the ravages of a bad cold which rendered my taste buds untrustworthy and enfeebled my olfactory senses.  You can’t judge barbecue if you can’t imbibe its aromas and taste its subtle flavor qualities. 

Having a bad cold tends to exacerbate my desire for chile, the more piquant the better.  In the throes of even the most egregious colds, I’ve been known to drive to Santa Fe for some of the Horseman’s Haven‘s combustible chile.  The Haven’s Level II chile, affectionately known as “El Diablo” is about the only thing that can quell the stuffiness of a head cold.  While the Stack House doesn’t offer anything quite as incendiary as El Diablo, the menu does include two pepper-infused items: Frito pie and jalapeño sausage.  From what my compromised palate could surmise, both were probably quite good though it would take a return visit or ten to know for sure. 

Pit Master Extraordinaire Greg Janke Slices Brisket with Surgical Precision

My return visit transpired exactly one week after my inaugural visit, so eager were my Kim and I to experience the bodacious barbecue about which Larry and Deanell had raved.  We had the great fortune to spend time discussing all things barbecue with proprietor-pit master Greg Janke.  Like me, Greg is an Intel alum, having toiled at the technology giant for 23 years, five years longer than I.  Not one to let grass grow under his feet, Greg left Intel in April, 2016 and five months later–on Friday, September 23rd–he launched Stack House BBQ. 

Greg’s transition from technologist to restaurateur wasn’t as challenging as one might think.  In fact, Greg admits, working at Intel prepared him very well to own and operate a restaurant.  Even in such technically demanding areas as Automation where he rose through the ranks, Intel employees have the opportunity to hone their business and customer orientation skills (not to mention the discipline to work long hours).  There is, of course, nothing in the semi-conductor arena which translates directly to the mastery of smoking meats in the low-and-slow manner.  Greg began smoking meats at home several years ago, eventually earning praise from friends and the confidence to enter the arena of competition.

Half Rack of Baby Back Ribs

In each of the past two years, Greg has competed at Rio Rancho’s Pork & Brew, a Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned event.  In 2016, he finished seventeenth overall in a field of thirty-one, faring especially well in the pork category where he placed eleventh.  As much as the judges in the blind taste foodfest may have enjoyed his barbecue, it was event-goers who convinced him to launch his own barbecue restaurant.  In each of the event’s two days, he sold out–every morsel of magnificent meat–well before day’s end.   Moreover, many of them lavished praise and encouragement, essentially convincing Greg that he belonged in the barbecue restaurant arena.

Just seven months previously, Rub-N-Wood had shuttered its doors, leaving the City of Vision without a barbecue restaurant.  Now, Rio Rancho without barbecue is akin to Hillary not wearing a pantsuit.  It just doesn’t and shouldn’t happen.  Barbecue became a Rio Rancho tradition in 1983 when the great Gary West launched Smokehouse BBQ  at 4000 Barbara Loop, a location which would henceforth become synonymous with great barbecue. He owned and operated the stately home of seductive smoke for nearly a quarter-century before moving on. With Roger Bell at the helm, Rub-N-Wood moved in and pleased palates for nearly three years.  The hazy smoke plumes which had so long emanated from 4000 Barbara Loop resumed on a lazy, late September day when Greg assumed the role as Rio Rancho’s proprietor of the pit.  It was a day warranting celebration.

Half Chicken

As had transpired during the Pork & Brew, Greg sold out his first few days of operation.  Barbecue aficionados quickly embraced his Memphis meets Texas approach to smoking meats.  What’s not to love!  Greg uses a combination of oak and cherry woods to impart a unique flavor to his barbecue.  He developed a rub that includes some twelve ingredients that penetrate deeply into the meats and imbue them with flavor-boosting, crust-forming properties.  Not only that, the Stack House BBQ restaurant is an inviting milieu for meat lovers.  It may well be the most pristine barbecue restaurant in which you’ve ever set foot.  If cleanliness is indeed next to godliness, Greg is probably being fitted for a halo as you read this.  In addition to the immaculate nature of the premises, service is friendly and attentive (another Rio Rancho tradition exemplified by the terrific staff at Joe’s Pasta House among others).

The Stack House menu is rather limited.  Meats–brisket, chicken or pulled pork–are available by the half or full pound.  Also available are sausage, jalapeño sausage, half-a-chicken and baby back ribs (available in quantities of three, half a rack or a full rack).  You can also opt to have your meats on a sandwich.  Then there’s the aforementioned Frito pie.  Sides are pretty much what you’d expect at a barbecue joint: potato salad, cole slaw, green beans, corn on the cob, chile, beans, mac and cheese and fries (including chile cheese fries).  A baked potato, with or without meat, can also be had.  Limited applies solely to the number of items on the menu board, not to how great they taste.

Sides: Green Beans and Potato Salad

7 October 2016: You won’t mind getting your hands dirty handling the baby back ribs on which Greg’s magical rub is liberally applied.  These ribs are messy and they’re magnificent, each meaty morsel pried away easily from the bone.  They’re not fall-off-the-bone tender, having just the right amount of give that signifies the perfect degree of doneness.  Make no bones about it, these baby back ribs are (as Larry would say) competition-worthy, needing neither sauce nor amelioration to improve upon them.   The sauce, by the way, is terrific, a sweet and tangy complement to the richly satisfying smokiness of the ribs.

7 October 2016: With the emphasis on pork and brisket, chicken is often a sorry afterthought at some barbecue establishments.  Not so at the Stack House where the full-flavored half-chicken is a main-event item.  Quite simply, it’s fantastic, some of the very best we’ve had in New Mexico!  Peel back the blackened skin (delicious in its own right) and you’ll be rewarded with moist, juicy and delicious white and dark meat chicken…and there’s plenty of it.  A nice-sized half-chicken (breast, thigh and leg) won’t leave much for sharing–not that you’ll want to.  Update: Because the half-chicken didn’t always sell out, Greg decided to offer chicken thighs instead.  Aside from being the most moist part of the chicken, chicken thighs don’t have to spend as much time on the smoker as half chickens.

Frito Pie

In November 2016, Stackhouse began offering daily specials from Wednesday through Sunday. Wednesday’s child is a pulled pork sandwich.  On Thursday, it’s a chicken sandwich.  Friday features beef back ribs (a whole pound) though you’re well advised to get them early.  When we attempted to order beef back ribs on December 2nd, 2016, Greg apprised us that on that very date, my friend Sr. Plata ordered two portions for lunch and took home another for dinner.  Sr. Plata enjoys the Stackhouse’s beef ribs so much, he may move in…at least on Fridays.  But I digress.  Saturday’s special is three baby back ribs while Sunday, it’s Frito pie.  All daily specials are value priced.

2 December 2016: New Mexico’s contribution to Health.com’s “50 Fattiest Foods,” a state-by-state hall of infamy, was our ubiquitous Frito pie. The version low-lighted in the article contained a pants-popping 46 grams of fat and 14 grams of saturated fat. Still, it’s hard to resist the Land of Enchantment’s most egregious fat-offender, especially since it sometimes looks like a healthy lettuce and onion salad when prepared by some restaurants. Underneath the lettuce and chopped onions, however, is a mound of ground beef covered in chile and cheese surrounded by Frito’s corn chips.  At the Stack House, Greg dispenses with all the offending lettuce, tomatoes and onions.  Instead, this Frito Pie is constructed with only the good parts–lots of Fritos corn chips, ground beef, chile and a generous sprinkling of shredded cheese.   The chile has a nice bite, just enough to get your notice.  This is a fat-fest all New Mexicans will enjoy.

Three Meat Platter: Brisket, Chicken Thighs and Pork

2 December 2016: For a veritable meatfest, your best bet is a three meat platter (pictured above).  Kim, my carnivorous better-half will vouch for the brisket, chicken thighs and pulled pork.  Though a half chicken would be her preference, the chicken thighs make for a good consolation prize.  They’re moist, tender and delicious with a light smokiness.  The best of the three may well be the brisket which is shredded and pulls apart easily.  As with brisket in Central Texas, the cradle of Southwest barbecue, this isn’t the most lean of brisket.  It’s got just enough fat for flavor.  Tender tendrils of deliciousness define the shredded pork, a tangle of white and dark meat.  All three meats are lightly smoked and are perfect vehicles for the Stack House barbecue sauce.

2 December 2016: My Kim has often threatened to take away my man card, especially when we prepare steak at home or order it at a restaurant.  While she immediately–and with great zest–attacks the steak, my focal point is usually a loaded baked potato with plenty of melting butter, sour cream and shredded cheese.  The Stack House does one better than local steak houses.  First, the baked potatoes are smoked–lightly impregnated with hickory-cherry smoky goodness.  Secondly, you can load them up with the aforementioned baked potato suspects and with your choice of smoked meat.  The pulled pork is a magnificent choice for the smoked baked potato.  You’ll wish all your baked potatoes were similar endowed.

Smoked Baked Potato with Pulled Pork

7 October 2016: Great barbecue restaurants know that to provide an excellent full-meal experience, smoked meats must be accompanied by worthy sides.  Stack House has a two-tiered pricing model for its sides, the most expensive being three dollars.  Sides are served on Styrofoam vessels and are generously portioned.  The potato salad may evoke memories of picnic meals long gone.  It’s a mayonnaise-based potato salad with a pleasant mustardy-vinegary tang.  Alas, the green beans could use a few bits and pieces of smoked meats and maybe a pinch of salt.  Much better is the cherry cobbler, replete with whole cherries and a crumbly and delicious crust. 

18 February 2018:  One of the best kept secrets in the Albuquerque metropolitan area may be just how good the Stack House breakfast burritos are.  My Kim who prefers hand-held breakfast burritos to the more ubiquitous smothered burritos believes these are the very best in New Mexico.   The Stack House’s basic breakfast burrito is stuffed with hash browns, eggs and cheese.   You can then add bacon, sausage, brisket or pulled pork (the brisket reigns!).  Of course, you’ll want either (or both) red or green chile.  While my own loyalties tend to lie with the more complex nuances of red chile, Greg’s green chile is in rarefied air as some of the very best in the area.  It’s magnificent!  Too piquant for my Kim, it titillates my taste buds–doubly so when I squeeze in some of the Stack House’s peppery, sweet, tangy barbecue sauce.  Folgers got it wrong.  These are the best reason to get up in the morning.

Breakfast Burrito

18 February 2018:  America’s ideological divide dominates the airwaves when what we really should be deliberating is hard-shell or soft tacos.  Though I’d never kick any taco off my table, count me among the aficionados of the latter.  The Stack House’s breakfast soft tacos (egg and cheese on a soft flour tortilla) are among the main reasons why.  As with the burritos, you can add bacon, sausage, pulled pork or brisket along with red and (or) green chile.  It goes without saying that the green chile will leave all others envious and the brisket is such a complementary flavor it may awaken your taste buds.   Once available only Saturday and Sunday, the Stack House’s breakfast is so popular, it’s now available Wednesday through Sunday from 8AM through noon.

If you live in the Albuquerque metropolitan area and your cable or satellite package doesn’t include the Cooking Channel, you’d be forgiven if you shed a few tears on Thursday, November 9, 2017 when you missed the Stack House BBQ being showcased.  In an episode entitled Carnival Eats, Greg created Stack House’s mountainous triple stack sandwich (brisket, pork and jalpeño sausage topped with slaw and barbecue sauce on a hoagie roll).  Sadly because the show is still being aired on reruns, it’s not yet available online.  Not even Greg himself has seen the program for want of the Cooking Channel.  If you haven’t discovered for yourself why television food and cooking shows are visiting Rio Rancho, you owe it to yourself to see why the Stack House is a star.

Breakfast Soft Taco

Stack House BBQ may ultimately become yet another destination restaurant in Rio Rancho, a port-of-call for barbecue aficionados from throughout the metropolitan area, if not the entire Land of Enchantment.  With its September launch, all is right in Rio Rancho once again.

Stack House BBQ
4000 Barbara Loop, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 903-7516
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 18 February 2018
1ST VISIT: 29 September 2016
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Baby Back Ribs, Half Chicken, Cherry Cobbler, Apple Cobbler, Brisket, Pulled Pork, Chicken Thighs, Frito Pie, Smoked Baked Potato, Breakfast Burrito, Breakfast Taco

Stack House BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Agave – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

El Agave Mexican Restaurant in Rio Rancho’s Lujan Plaza

“Why, this here sauce is made in New York City!”
“New York City? Git a rope!”

No matter how broad-minded we may perceive ourselves to be, most of us are burdened by covert biases and prejudices that reveal themselves at inopportune times.  One of mine was divulged during my inaugural visit to El Agave Mexican Restaurant in Rio Rancho.  After being greeted warmly by effusive hostess Lilly Venegas (who could not possibly have been nicer), I began my usual “twenty questions” routine to learn everything I could about the restaurant.  Beaming with pride, she told me her brother-in-law had owned and operated two Mexican restaurants for more than twenty years in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

North Carolina!  North Carolina!  My mind raced to the circa 1980s Pace Picante Sauce commercial in which several hungry cowboys threatened to string up the cook for serving a “foreign” salsa (translation: not made in Texas).  To be fair, my ridiculous notion that good Mexican food couldn’t possibly be prepared in North Carolina was based on having lived and traveled in the Deep South for eight years.  During those octennial years of Mexican food deprivation, we found only one restaurant in Dixie which served good Mexican food.  We didn’t find any good Mexican food in New Orleans, Atlanta or Nashville.  We should have visited Raleigh!

Chipotle Salsa and Chips, both Housemade

For nearly two decades, Hector Venegas and his family owned and operated Los Tres Magueyes, winning over Raleigh with their delightful array of authentic Mexican dishes.  The Venegas family didn’t “dumb” down their Mexican food as so many restaurants in the Deep South tended to do when we dwelled in Dixie.  Confident that the more savvy citizenry of New Mexico would love the authenticity and deliciousness of their fare, they left the menu completely intact–even retaining the leather-bound menu cover emblazoned with the name of their restaurants in North Carolina.

As in Raleigh, the Venegas family owns and operates two Mexican restaurants.  Both are christened El Agave.  The original operates in Santa Fe in the famous Burro Alley.  It’s been pleasing palates since 2015 and is owned by elder scion Hector Vinegas.  His brother Carlos and lovely bride Lilly launched the second instantiation of El Agave in Rio Rancho in October, 2017.  My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver was there three days later and loved it.  He was confident I would, too.

Left: Mole Ranchero | Right: Camarones A La Crema

If you haven’t seen El Agave during your travels through the City of Vision, it’s probably because its storefront doesn’t face heavily trafficked Rio Rancho Boulevard. Instead, it’s set back on the northeast corner of the timeworn Lujan Plaza shopping center which also houses Namaste and Stack House Barbecue. The same obfuscated corner where El Agave is situated was once home to such short-lived eateries as immediate predecessor El Maguey in addition to Ahh Sushi, Relish (although the original in Albuquerque remains a city favorite), Pastrami & Things and other restaurants. It’s a tough location in which to succeed.

Carlos and Lilly are in it for the long haul.  They recognize the challenges of operating a restaurant just a bit off the well beaten-and-eaten path.  Moreover, they realize they have to cultivate customer loyalty one guest at a time, that they have to prove themselves with every  single dish they prepare and serve.  With a menu featuring virtually every familiar Mexican dish as well as some unique specialties, El Agave has a great chance to succeed.  All it needs is to be discovered.  Visit once and it’s a certainty you’ll return time and again.

Refried Beans and Spanish Rice with Corn Tortillas

As you peruse the menu, Lilly will ferry over a basket of chips and plastic molcajete of salsa to your table.  Both are made on the premises first thing in the morning as are the terrific corn tortillas accompanying many entrees.  The chips and salsa are first rate, among the very best in the metro.  What distinguishes this salsa from so many others is that it’s made with chipotles, the smoky dried jalapeño.  With a depth of flavor and kick of piquancy, this salsa is addictive–and it’s as good as the exemplar chipotle-based salsa served at the Plaza Cafe South Side in Santa Fe. To think Raleigh had such a delightful salsa before Rio Rancho did gave me hope the rest of the menu would deliver, too.

Unable to decide between the Mole Ranchero and Camarones A La Crema, I asked Lilly to surprise me.  The surprise was the Carlos was willing to prepare a half portion of both.  Now that’s the type of service that cultivates loyalty.  This pleasurable combination was served with refried beans topped with melted white cheese, Spanish rice and four hot corn tortillas.   The Mole Ranchero, reputedly one of the easiest moles to prepare (though still very complex) with fewer ingredients than other moles, was a delicious and pleasant surprise in that it wasn’t overly sweet as some mole tends to be.  That mole covered a moist, tender sliced chicken breast. 

Even better than the Mole Ranchero was the Camarones A La Crema (grilled shrimp topped with a savory cream sauce concocted from chipotles, sour cream and spices).  The grilled shrimp had a snap of freshness with a delicate flavor tinged with the smokiness of the grilling process.  It’s a perfect foil for the rich cream sauce with its faint smokiness and sour-savory notes.  You’ll be grateful for the steamy corn tortillas with which you’ll sop up every bit of that delicious sauce. 

If like me, your initial inclination is to dismiss a Mexican food restaurant that came from North Carolina, El Agave will quickly change your mind.  It’s a very good, very authentic and absolutely delightful little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that’s as Mexican as a Mexican restaurant can be.

El Agave Mexican Restaurant
1520 Deborah Road
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 896-8006
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 22 January 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
BEST BET: Camarones A La Crema, Horchata, Chipotle Salsa and Chips, Mole Ranchero
RESTAURANT REVIEW #1022

El Agave Mexican Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pho Garden – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Pho Garden in Rio Rancho

It should have been a point-counterpoint debate for the ages. My ideologically opposed and perpetually squabbling friends Carlos and Hien were arguing about the concept of American exceptionalism. Carlos took the Reaganesque position that America is the shining city on a hill. “Everything about America is great,” he proclaimed. “We have the highest standard of living and pretty much the best of everything.” Hien mirrored Obama’s stance that America does not have exclusivity in believing itself to be exceptional. Much like the chasm that divides Congress, neither disputant would concede a modicum of merit in the other’s argument. When it seemed as if this argument would end in another stalemate, Hien pulled out his trump (no, not another reference to a President) card.

There’s one thing about America that isn’t exceptional,” he declared. “American fast food is terrible.” With that point having been made, Carlos, long an advocate of independent mom-and-pop eateries, capitulated. True to form, they then began an argument as to which American fast food franchise is the worse. Carlos singled out Taco Bell as a piteous parody of the Mexican and New Mexican food on which he was raised and in which he takes so much pride. Hien wasn’t as singularly focused in his criticism. In his estimation, all American fast food is terrible. “It’s unhealthy, high in saturated fats and calories and it tastes awful,” he argued. Having just recently returned from his native Vietnam, Hien then made his case by boasting about how poorly American fast food has been received in his homeland.

Papaya Salad with Chicken

“In my hometown of Ho Chi Minh City (the largest city in Vietnam with a population of about ten-million), you won’t find a McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s or KFC in every corner,” he began. “Everyone went to McDonald’s when it first opened (in 2014) because we’d heard and read so much about it, but curiosity quickly faded. Most of the menu features fried, high-fat, high-calorie foods. McDonald’s never incorporated local flavors and healthy ingredients into their food. Not only that, but you can get a banh mi for under two dollars and it’s much fresher, healthier and infinitely more delicious than a Big Mac.” Since that first McDonald’s launched in Vietnam, only fourteen others have opened. That’s hardly taking the country by storm. Similarly, Burger King has had to close several of its outlets as have other chains which dominate the American fast food market.

Contrast the poor performance of American fast food in Vietnam with the widespread acceptance and burgeoning popularity of Vietnamese food across the fruited plain and you have what might be termed as a culinary trade imbalance. America certainly got the better end of that deal. The Institute for Immigration Research estimated there were 8,900 Vietnamese restaurants in the United States as of 2014, and that number has been steadily increasing. Vietnamese restaurants across the fruited plain serve not only a Vietnamese-American community of almost two-million people, but an increasing numbers of Americans from all ethnic backgrounds. It seems the only people who don’t like Vietnamese cuisine are those who haven’t tried it.

Grilled Beef Rolls with Grape Leaf

Perhaps the one Vietnamese dish which has gained the most sweeping mainstream acceptance is pho, the traditional, slow-cooked soup many of us already consider a comfort food staple. Culinary cognoscenti believe pho could someday soon follow the path of pizza (Italian), tacos (Mexican), gyros (Greece) and sushi (Japanese) as ethnic foods that have become part of the fruited plain’s mainstream culture. When, not if, pho does ascend to this rarefied air, we can thank such restaurants as Rio Rancho’s Pho Garden for having made pho and other Vietnamese culinary delights so accessible and so delicious.

Pho Garden opened its doors in November, 2017, taking over the spot vacated by Pizza 9 in a small strip mall just recessed off Rio Grande Blvd. Pho Garden is Rio Rancho’s fourth Vietnamese restaurant. My friend Hien suggests perhaps the city should change its nickname from “City of Vision” to “City of Vietnamese Restaurants,” indicating most of the lettering is already in place. The restaurant is fairly small with fewer than a dozen tables in near personal space proximity. Step inside and you’ll likely be greeted by Khan, the effusive owner and a familiar face if you’ve frequented Que Huong, his previous Duke City restaurant venture.

Rare Steak & Well Done Noodle Soup

Unlike at Que Huong and other Duke City Vietnamese restaurants with their compendium-like, multi-page menus (novels), Pho Garden’s menu is limited if you consider 75 items (not counting beverages) to be limited. There’s nothing out of the ordinary in terms of how the menu is organized: appetizers, sandwiches (banh mi), beef-rice noodle soup (pho), Udon-style noodle, noodle bowl, rice dishes and house specialties. Beverages include the usual suspects including durian shakes. The smaller menu is befitting a small kitchen, but it doesn’t translate to smaller portions. Steaming bowls of pho ferried to your table are roughly the size of a swimming pool.

My Kim calls Vietnamese grilled beef rolls wrapped in grape leaf, a Vietnamese specialty offered at Pho Garden, “Vietnamese dolmas.” That there are similarities between the Greek dolma and the Vietnamese grape leaf rolls often surprises people. What shouldn’t surprise anyone is that these starter favorites are an absolutely delicious way to begin a meal at a Vietnamese restaurants. Entirely different than Greek dolmades which are more often stuffed with rice and herbs, Pho Garden’s version features the anise, lemon grass and cinnamon blessed grilled beef encased in a small, tightly wrapped, cigar shaped grape leaf served with a sweet, spicy and tangy dipping sauce. They’re served five to an order.

Combination Beef Noodle Soup

As a naïve child, I probably learned as much about the world from watching Gilligan’s Island as I did in some of my grade school classes. Gilligan’s Island taught me about the versatility of papaya, a fruit theretofore unavailable in Northern New Mexico. Professor Roy Hinkley used glycerol from papaya seeds as an ingredient in a bomb. He used ferric nitrate from papaya root to create an antidote for a deadly mosquito bite. What Gilligan’s Island never taught me is how wonderfully delicious papaya salad is. It’s become one of my very favorite starters in Vietnamese and Thai restaurants. Pho Garden’s version is terrific with sweet, savory, tangy and piquant notes tantalizing and titillating our taste buds. We ordered the version with chicken on which cold-cut type chicken strips were laid out atop the salad with crushed peanuts forming a crown of sorts.

When you visit a restaurant whose name includes the name of the dish in which it ostensibly specializes, you’ve got to have that dish.  While ordering pho at the Pho Garden was a no-brainer, deciding which of the more than thirty pho options to order was a much greater challenge.  My Kim surprised me by ordering the rare steak and well done steak noodle pho.  Before she captured my heart there’s no way she would have ordered something so primal sounding as rare steak.  In truth, the thinly sliced steak doesn’t remain rare for long.  It actually cooks within the steaming beef broth.  And what a broth it is.  It’s rich, delicious and as all great pho should, its presence is preceded by its aroma.

My first choice would have been the spicy Hue style noodle soup, but apparently it’s the favorite of other diners as there was none to be had.  You could hardly call the combination beef noodle soup (rare steak, well done steak, beef tendon, tripe and beef meatball) a consolation price.  It’s a carnivore’s choice with meats of varying textures and flavors.  Beef tendon and tripe are among my favorite pho meats, but it was the beef meatball with its assertive seasoning that garnered most attention.  Served alongside the pho is a plate replete with fresh bean sprouts, cilantro, basil, jalapeños and lime.

The very name Pho Garden has connotations of freshness and deliciousness and indeed, this is one restaurant that lives up to its names.  It’s so good my friends Carlos and Hien might not find anything about it to warrant an argument.

Pho Garden
1751 Rio Rancho Blvd, S.E., Suite 106
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 404-0774
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 6 January 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Combination Beef Noodle Soup, Rare Steak & Well Done Noodle Soup, Grilled Beef Rolls with Grape Leaf, Papaya Salad with Chicken
RESTAURANT REVIEW #1019

Pho Garden Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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