Pad Thai Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pad Thai Cafe Thai Cuisine

Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain likened his first experience tasting Thai food to “like discovering a color I never knew existed before. A whole new crayon box full of colors.” With so many vibrant colors available, most people don’t settle for one fairly basic color (let’s say black) in a box full of crayons. Unfortunately, settling is precisely what many diners tend to do when eating at Thai restaurants. Although the menu may be replete with dozens of exotic options, many diners focus exclusively on ordering that one Thai dish with which they’re familiar, that ubiquitous dish more innocuous than bold, the dish which provides flavor without venturing outside the safe comfort zone that bespeaks of the unknown. For many diners, that one dish is Pad Thai.

Howie “The Duke of Duke City” Kaibel, the charismatic Albuquerque Community Manager for Yelp, is the type of guy who has explored every crayon in the box and played with every color combination imaginable. He’s the kaleidoscopic, polychromatic, tie-dye guy who’s too whimsical and creative to remain in a monogamous relationship with any one basic color. Howie long ago gave up on Pad Thai because he wanted to explore the myriad of other options available at Thai restaurants. Here’s how he describes the basic black equivalent in a menu full of vibrant colors: “Pad Thai is “essentially the spaghetti ‘n meatballs of Thai food,”…”the starter dish,”…”the sweet, sorta hum-drum intro.”…”Pad Thai is so user friendly: noodles, chicken, lime, peanuts. Yummy stuff but pedestrian.” It’s a sentiment we share.

The Cozy Confines of Pad Thai Cafe

Howie doesn’t denounce Pad Thai as an inedible or bad dish. He just doesn’t find it as interesting or delicious as other options available at Thai restaurants. We also share in that opinion. So, when Howie recently proclaimed he’d experienced “the best darn Pad Thai I’ve ever had” at a Duke City Thai restaurant, my curiosity was piqued.  Fittingly that restaurant is the Pad Thai Cafe.  He reasoned that “when you’re ordering from a place called the Pad Thai Café, you have to try the flagship.” That made great sense to me. Pad Thai (the restaurant as well as the dish) is located at the sprawling Talin Market on Louisiana just north of Central.

As to why Pad Thai is so popular that some diners never deviate from ordering it, attribute that, at least in part, to more savvy diners who, when introducing less worldly friends to Thai food, steer them toward Pad Thai. Perhaps, they reason, Pad Thai is less exotic and intimidating than other dishes on the menu and it resembles Chinese stir-fried dishes with which the neophytes might be familiar. As with many other Thai dishes, Pad Thai does offer an intricate balance of textures and flavors—salty, sour, sweet and piquant (added to taste in the form of chilies). Bean sprouts and peanuts add a subtle though desirable crunch, a foil for the soft rice noodles and protein of your choice. Finding Pad Thai’s combination of spices and seasonings appealing and its flavors mild and easy on the palate, many diners never “graduate” beyond Pad Thai and don’t ever try anything else on the menu.

Egg Rolls

As of 2007, there were at least 11,600 Thai restaurants operating across the globe, many of them bearing the name Pad Thai. It’s a good bet that almost–if not all–those 11,600 Thai restaurants offer Pad Thai on their menus. Every one of Albuquerque’s two dozen or so Thai restaurants certainly does. In 2014, Andrea Lin, erstwhile restaurant critic for the Albuquerque Journal, published a primer on finding Pad Thai in the metropolitan area. She sampled Pad Thai at six Thai restaurants, finding desirable qualities in each and shortcomings in some. Her observations didn’t include much hyperbole or exaltation. That’s typically how it goes with Pad Thai. Even its most ardent aficionados don’t describe it in terms reserved for more transformative dishes.

Having fewer than a dozen tables in a rather Lilliputian space benefits the Pad Thai Café greatly in that the wonderful aromas emanating from the kitchen aren’t distributed beyond the relatively confined space. You’ll imbibe those aromas with alacrity even as they increase your appetite and cause involuntary salivation. Those enticing aromas preface a dining experience sure to be memorable. The menu is familiar though not quite the compendium larger restaurants offer. Still, you’ll find most of the dishes with which you’ve fallen in love at other Thai restaurants—and a Pad Thai dish that may well be the best in the city. But, I digress.

Chicken Satay

As is human nature, once you’re comfortably seated you’ll take a gander at the restaurant’s thematic trappings. More than at any Thai restaurant we’ve visited in Albuquerque, the Pad Thai Café’s walls are festooned with framed photographs of Thailand’s royal family. Thankfully (for the sake of your appetite) you won’t have much time to ponder restaurant walls adorned with the smiling countenances of The Donald or Hillary because a complimentary pair of egg rolls will soon capture your focus. The golden-hued, mostly vegetable egg rolls are served with a bright red sweet and sour sauce. They’re quite good, a portend of appealing appetizers soon to follow.

19 March 2016: Make one of them the chicken satay. Satay is Thailand’s version of shish kebab, a savory meat Popsicle constructed from skewered strips of beef, chicken or lamb and designed to be dipped in a traditional peanut sauce or cucumber sauce. In Thailand, satay is one of the more popular street foods, commonly purchased directly from food stalls (so why isn’t there at least one food truck in Albuquerque dedicated to the proliferation of satay?). The satay at Pad Thai Café is terrific, lightly coated in a yellow curry and imbued with a pronounced grilled flavor. Six satay are served per order and they’re so good, you may order a second batch.

Tod Mun Pla

19 March 2016: Though the satay stands out on its own, the two dipping sauces elevate the skewers to perhaps best in town quality. Unlike far too many peanut sauce concoctions in the Duke City, the Pad Thai Café’s version isn’t as cloying as a Reese’s peanut butter cup. It’s got a nice balance of savory and sweet flavors. Texturally, the sauce is more ground peanuts than peanut butter. Even better is the cucumber sauce, a delicious dish of chopped cucumbers, peanuts, red peppers and red onions in a tangy-vinegary sauce. The cucumber sauce provides a pleasant balance of sweet, sour, savory and piquant with no one overly dominant flavor.

19 March 2016: Thai fish cakes (tod mun pla) are not to be missed at the Pad Thai Café. Sold on many a street corner in Thailand, this street food favorite makes for a wonderful appetizer at sit-down restaurants, too. Although ten fish cakes constitute an order, some of the fish cakes are barely bite-sized (though their flavors are much larger). Infused with a red curry which imparts a pungent flavor, the fish cakes are lightly battered and wok-fried to a golden-hue. The consistency of each is firm, but “bouncy,” meaning they have a nice “give” when you bite down on them. The cucumber sauce is a perfect foil for the fish cakes.

Pot Stickers

31 March 2016: Pot stickers are an extremely important part of the Chinese New Year’s feast which is celebrated throughout Asian countries such as Thailand with a significant Chinese population. Not only are pot stickers believed to bring wealth, it is said that as they cook, they recover family wishes of generations past. Whether or not the Pad Thai Café’s pot stickers bring you fortune, you will believe yourself fortunate to have them on your plate. These golden-hued dumplings are more crispy than any other deep-fried pot stickers in Albuquerque. They’re also served with the best dipping sauce. While most dipping sauces tend to be a rather humdrum derivative of soy sauce, this sauce is an amalgam of pepper, garlic, soy, chili and perhaps other seasonings. It’s a lively sauce with a balance of heat, savoriness and sweetness. Eight pot stickers are served per order.

Papaya Salad

2 June 2017: The most popular dish among women in Thailand is papaya salad.  Even if it means admitting I’m very much in touch with my feminine side, I’ll gladly admit to loving papaya salad.  Along with curry, it’s the one Thai dish that serves as my benchmark for how good a Thai restaurant is.  The papaya salad at Pad Thai is right up there with the transcendent papaya salad at An Hy Quan.  That’s rarefied “best in the city” air.   Crisp strips of unripened papaya, crunchy raw green beans and a piquant mix of chiles, garlic, tomatoes fish sauce and lime juice make it the perfect cooling summer starter.  Pad Thai’s version is very balanced with delicious, healthful elements throughout. 

Massaman Curry

19 March 2016: The massaman curry is superb though you’re well cautioned to spoon on the accompanying rice in moderation. Too much rice and you risk a curry dish that isn’t as moist as you might like and won’t be as piquant as fire-eaters enjoy. Prepared to your exacting specifications for heat (Thai spice for me), the curry is counterbalanced with coconut milk, potatoes and crushed peanuts. This spicy yet sweet concoction provides a pleasing layer of flavor to your protein choice (pork works very well) and the potatoes. It’s a massaman curry with a wonderfully balanced flavor profile.

If you’ve noticed my use of the adjective “balanced” throughout this review, that’s by design. Perhaps more than at any other Thai eatery in Albuquerque, the Pad Thai Café is successful at creating and serving dishes with the balance of flavors that is truly the heart of Thai cooking. Every Thai chef should strive to imbue every dish with at least two of the five major flavors (sweet, sour, spicy, salty and bitter), a sort of yin and yang balance. In my estimation, too many of Albuquerque’s Thai restaurants forego balance and serve dishes which are overwhelmingly sweet (some would say “Americanized”).

Pad Thai

19 March 2016: One of the biggest culprits is Pad Thai (the dish, not the restaurant). Sure you can squeeze some lime to give it a slight sour bite or sprinkle on chilies to give it piquancy, but often the results are more like an adulterated dessert than a savory, balanced dish. I suspect Howie discerned the balance of flavors in the Pad Thai Café’s signature dish. That balance allows you to appreciate the savory flat rice noodles and crushed peanuts, the pleasant funkiness of the fish sauce and slight sourness from tamarind (which accounts for the dish’s reddish hue) without worrying about tooth decay from a cloying dish. Howie may have undersold how good this Pad Thai dish is…and it’s even better when you heat it up the next day because you probably won’t finish the generous portion on your plate.

31 March 2016: You might think that a dish called drunken noodles would be made with copious amounts of alcohol, but that’s typically not the case. Several theories abound as to the unique name. One posits that the dish was devised by someone who came home drunk and created the dish from available ingredients (why then isn’t it called “drunkard’s noodles?).” Still another origin theory attributes the name to the dish’s sloppy, drunken appearance. This theory has little credibility unless you really care about the aesthetic qualities of the dish. Most of us are interested only in its deliciousness. The Pad Thai Café’s version is the best I’ve ever had—stir-fried wide rice noodles with fish sauce, chili, garlic, basil, baby corn, carrots and broccoli and your choice of protein (beef, chicken, pork or shrimp). The concoction is stir-fried with chili added to your exacting degree of piquancy (still another theory as to this dish’s name has to do with how much beer you’ll drink to combat its heat). There are many elements on this dish that make it a star: velvety rice noodles impregnated with sauce, a balance of flavors that appeal to different taste buds and the addictive properties of capsaicin from the chilies.

Drunken Noodles

31 March 2016: Several years ago, I visited a sandwich shop in Charleston, South Carolina which had recently been named one of the best 21 sandwich shops in America. In a head-scratching moment as inexplicable as the popularity of Justin Bieber, this restaurant essayist visited one of America’s most heralded best sandwich shops and ordered…hold on to your seats…laab. Yes, laab. Gasp! Laab is a very popular “cooked salad” typically found on the menu at Thai and Lao restaurants, not sandwich shops.

Laab is essentially a minced meat (pork, chicken or beef) dish with healthful elements of a salad. The Pad Thai Café’s version is made with grilled minced pork, lime juice, fish sauce, chili powder, roasted rice powder, shallots, green onions, Kafir lime leaves, cilantro and mint. There are few salads as refreshing courtesy of fresh sprigs of Kafir lime, cilantro and mint which counterbalance the heat and pungency of the fish sauce and chili powder. This is not a boring composed salad; it’s an adventure in complementary and disparate flavors working very well together.

Laab

31 March 2016: When you discover a restaurant as amazing as the Pad Thai Cafe, you’ve got to share it with your friends.  For the most part that means sharing my observations on this blog.  Among my cherished readers are three of my very best friends, fellow foodies who’ll drop what they’re doing to join me for a meal to validate the veracity of the claims on my blog. My second visit to the Pad Thai Cafe was with Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott: Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate; and the dazzling Deanell.  They were all surprised at the diversity, explosiveness and balance of flavors in every dish we enjoyed.  By meal’s end, there was near unanimous consensus that the Pad Thai Cafe is the Duke City’s very best Thai restaurant. 

2 June 2017:  My friend Bill Resnik expressed similar sentiment when I introduced him to Pad Thai.  We had actually intended to visit the Pop-Up Dumpling House within Talin, but it was closed.  Pad Thai Cafe is no consolation prize.  More than any Thai restaurant in the Duke City, it emphasizes a balance of flavors…and more than at any other Thai restaurant in town, even fire-eaters may have to be cautious about the degree of piquancy in the dishes.  “Medium” heat at Pad Thai is easily the equivalent of “Hot” at other Thai restaurants while the “Hot” should be reserved solely for those of us with asbestos-lined tongues.  Bill is one such masochist.  He adds prik nam pla (a ubiquitous condiment made with incendiary bird peppers) to even the most piquant of Thai dishes.

Yum Woon Sen

12 June 2017:  Pad Thai is the only Thai restaurant in the Duke City in which I don’t regret not having ordered a curry dish.  That’s because everything else on the menu is absolutely fantastic.  As is characteristic of adventurous diners, I often order dishes heretofore unknown to me.  Invariably that means discovering wonderful new options such as the Yum Woon Sen, a bean thread noodles salad.  While that may not sound particularly exciting, it encapsulates much of what aficionados love about Thai cuisine:  the invigorating freshness of just-squeezed limes; the distinctive herbal-licorice flavor of Thai basil,  a balance of crunchy and chewy ingredients, the pungency of the fish sauce, and just enough piquancy to set your tongue tingling.  Pad Thai’s version is constructed with pork, shrimp and wood ear mushrooms topped with fish sauce, sugar, carrot, onions, cilantro and Thai chilis a plenty.  This is a new favorite. 

16 June 2017:  The translation of Thai dishes is often surprising.  Yam Nuea Nam Tok, for example translates to waterfall beef or beef waterfall, but it also translates to grilled beef salad.  The terms waterfall beef or beef waterfall are appropriate from the standpoint that you’ll be deluged with flavors with every bite of this savory-sweet-piquant-tangy dish constructed with lime, fish sauce, chili powder, roasted rice powder, sugar, green onion, cilantro, lemongrass, shallots and mint.  Legend has it, however, that the term waterfall beef comes from the sound the steak makes once the beef begins to hiss from the sizzling juices.  Grilled steak, lean and flavorful, is the main ingredient, a terrific compliment to fresh, aromatic ingredients Americans don’t usually serve with steak–even as a side salad.  This salad has it all: tart and tangy sour notes from the lime, aromatic freshness from the herbs, crunchy and crispiness from the veggies, vibrancy and heat from the chillies and complete satisfaction afterwards.

Yam Nuea Nam Tok, a wondrous beef salad

2 June 2017:  With the exception of the transcendent Chinese sausage fried rice at Ming Dynasty,  most fried rice is of the take it or leave it variety.  It’s just not very exciting, but it’s generally better than the simple white rice served with many Asian dishes.  The Pad Thai Cafe offers two fried rice alternatives to plain white rice.  Don’t miss out on the green curry fried rice (green curry, rice, fish sauce, sugar, green peas and basil) with your choice of protein.  It’s fried rice at its self-actualized best, as good as fried rice can possibly get.  The green curry permeates each rice kernel, imparting its pungent piquancy courtesy of fresh, young green chilis which tend to make green curry more potent than other curries.

Green Curry Fried Rice

19 March 2016: Our inaugural visit transpired when mangoes weren’t in season so we didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy our favorite mangoes and sticky rice dessert. Sensing our disappointment, our server offered to put together a dish she promised we’d enjoy. It was a magnificent masterpiece, a dessert worthy of a place in the pantheon of great Duke City desserts. Picture a scoop of mango ice cream (replete with chunks of mango) and a scoop of coconut ice cream atop layers of sticky rice and coconut milk with shaved almonds tossed in for balance. This dessert should be a permanent fixture on the menu.

Mango and Coconut Ice Cream with Sticky Rice and Coconut Milk

2 June 2017: Most Thai restaurants offer sweet sticky rice with coconut milk and fresh, ripe mango in season. Out of season, the best restaurants will advise you not to order this dessert when the mangoes aren’t perfectly ripe. That’s advice one and all should heed. When in season, mangoes with sweet sticky rice make a refreshing dessert contrasting the sweet tanginess of mangoes and the near cloying flavor of coconut with the neutral to sweet flavor of sticky rice. The very best mangoes and sticky rice dish I’ve ever had comes from Albuquerque’s Thai Cuisine.  If that dessert is a perfect Bo Derek “ten,” the mangoes with sticky rice at Pad Thai is a nine.  Quite simply, it’s a must-have.

Mangoes with Sticky Rice

Named for a dish that had never before “wowed” me, the Pad Thai Café would be a restaurant we’d have on our regular rotation if we had a regular rotation. It’s one of the very best Thai restaurants in the Duke City.

Pad Thai Cafe
110 Louisiana Blvd, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 266-0567
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 June 2017
1st VISIT: 19 March 2016
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET: Chicken Satay, Tod Mun Pla, Massaman Curry, Pad Thai, Mango Ice Cream with Sticky Rice, Egg Rolls, Laab, Drunken Noodles, Potstickers, Mangoes with Sticky Rice, Green Curry Fried Rice, Yum Woon Sen, Yam Nuea Nam Tok

Pad Thai Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

May Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Paul Bunyan Leaving His Favorite Vietnamese Restaurant

There are perhaps thousands of examples throughout the Duke City of immigrants whose path to the American dream involved rising above humble origins and surmounting extraordinary circumstances to achieve success.  Those challenges are exacerbated by the fact that many of them arrived in America as refugees from war-torn nations with nary a modicum of English. 

One such example is Liem Nguyen, who along with wife Kim founded the May Cafe in 1992, a scant nine years after arriving in Albuquerque through a church resettlement program.  Speaking almost no English, Liem, then 22 years old, enrolled in Highland High School as a ninth-grader.  He didn’t know how to drive, shop at the supermarket or even catch a bus.  He slept in a closet in a tiny apartment he shared with several other immigrants.

Grilled Onion Beef

Grilled Onion Beef

Among the city’s very first Vietnamese restaurants, May Cafe wasn’t an immediate success save within the tight-knit Vietnamese community craving the tastes of home and among the servicemen at Kirtland Air Force Base who had been stationed in Vietnam and fell in love with the cuisine.  It took a while before the widespread acceptance by a trepidatious general public of the alluring and theretofore mysterious flavors of Vietnam.  It helped tremendously when in its annual restaurant issue, the long-defunct Abq Magazine listed the May Cafe as a handful of second-tier restaurants just below the magazine’s anointed ten best.

The May Cafe is situated on Louisiana just south of Central.  The most conspicuous sign that you’ve arrived is a 27-foot tall fiberglass statue of Paul Bunyan just behind the restaurant.  Weighing more than 2,000 pounds and wielding an axe as long as a compact car, the giant lumberman has been perched on a customized steel beam 25 feet above the ground for more than four decades.  Anywhere but in Albuquerque the behemoth statue might seem out-of-place, but here it’s become a beloved local landmark.

MayCafe03

Vietnamese Sandwich (Banh Mi)

Beloved local landmark is also an apt description for the May Cafe which has earned every peoples’ choice and “best of” award possible during its twenty plus years of serving the Duke City.  Most recently, in 2011, Albuquerque The Magazine bestowed a “Hot Plate” award on the restaurant’s popular pork chop dish, signifying its selection as one of the “most interesting, special and tasty dishes around.”  Despite competition from more than thirty Vietnamese restaurants strewn throughout the metropolitan area, the May Cafe remains one of the most highly regarded and popular independent restaurants of any genre.

The menu reads like a compendium of all that is delicious and wonderful about Vietnamese cuisine.  The menu boasts “our food is made from the best ingredients, freshest vegetables and meats.”  The proof is in the tasting and that’s where the May Cafe shines.  You’re not likely to find any appetizer or entree that doesn’t elicit exclamations of “wow!” or “yummo” if you’re a Rachael Ray clone!

MayCafe04

Spicy Beef Stew

9 February 2013: One of the Cafe’s most popular starters is the grilled onion beef, a specialty available as an entree at SaiGon Restaurant.  An order features five cigar-shaped “beef rolls” encasing slightly caramelized grilled spring onions then topped with ground peanuts and diced green onion.  Vietnamese grilling imparts a slight smoky char imprint on beef with a fragrance promising deliciousness in every morsel.  The deliciousness comes from a melding of such spices as star anise and cinnamon which prove a perfect foil for the full-flavored onions.  The grilled onion beef is served with the Cafe’s renowned fish sauce which adds sweet-savory-tangy notes to the beef.

9 February 2013: Vietnamese sandwiches (banh mi) are almost antithetical to their American counterparts.  On the latter, sandwich aficionados want ingredients, particularly meat, piled high and spilling over.  With banh mi, it’s all about a balance of delicate, complimentary flavors.  You’ll probably never find a Dagwood-sized banh mi and if you did, it probably wouldn’t be very good.  May Cafe’s banh mi combines barbecue pork, beef or chicken with daikon, jalapeño, cilantro, julienne carrots, cucumber slivers in an airy baguette.  The baguette is key.  It can’t be dense and thick or it might dominate the flavor profile.  In perfect combination with the ingredients it cocoons, the baguette is a repository for the perfect sandwich. 

Egg Rolls

14 June 2017:  The history of Vietnam is one of colonization by conquering nations.  Centuries of colonization fashioned what ultimately evolved into Vietnamese cuisine, distinctly different from the cuisine of any intervening conquerors.  Vietnamese egg rolls are on example.  While they bear some resemblance to their Chinese progenitors, preparation and flavor are entirely different from the Chinese version.  Vietnamese egg rolls are smaller and more crispy, wrapped and lightly fried in rice paper and filled with seasoned bits of vegetables and served with the ubiquitous nuoc mam sauce. Nuoc mam is considered the Vietnamese alternative to soy sauce, but it’s so much more than that.  It’s a distilled and fermented fish extract used to season many dishes. Both the egg rolls and nuoc man sauce at the May Cafe are terrific.

9 February 2013: When fellow Vietnamese cuisine aficionados often ask what my favorite pho in the Albuquerque area is, I’m almost unqualified to answer.  Rather than pho, if a Vietnamese restaurant offers a spicy beef stew, that’s what I’ll order.   There are three Duke City restaurants which offer phenomenal spicy beef stew: Cafe Dalat, May Hong and the May Cafe.  Aside from the fact that the proprietors of each are related, the common element among the three spicy beef stews is intense flavor–not intense spiciness if your definition of such is piquancy, but the spiciness born of spice combinations redolent with flavor.  May Cafe’s version is the color of brackish water and can be prepared with your choice of noodles: rice, egg or vermicelli.  What singles out this spicy beef stew from among its brethren is the beef which is carne adovada tender and absolutely delicious. The broth is replete with flavor so good it might make you swoon.

MayCafe05

Singapore Noodles

9 February 2013: My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, calls the May Cafe’s Singapore Noodles “perhaps the best I have ever had.”  I beg to disagree with my esteemed friend.  The word “perhaps” doesn’t belong in the sentence.  This is the very best bowl of Singapore Noodles I’ve ever had.  With a make-your-mouth-happy level of piquancy, the curry-based dish with tangles of vermicelli noodles and ultra-fresh vegetables is one of those rare dishes so good it would be the only thing you’ll ever order.  That is if the menu wasn’t already replete with other dishes that good.

14 June 2017:  Ginger or Mary Ann?  Oops, wrong ginger.  In this case, ginger definitely wins.  The May Cafe’s version of ginger catfish (crispy catfish in ginger sauce is one of the most surprising dishes you’ll find in Albuquerque.  Fish, for all that is said about them, have a rather “blandish” flavor profile while ginger is an assertive, peppery spice that will wake up your taste buds.  Fish and ginger go wonderfully together.  The ginger sauce is the color of luminous, fluorescent Day-Glo or maybe French dressing, but it has a flavor you won’t soon forget.  That’s because it imprints itself on your taste buds with piquant, savory, sweet and just slightly sour sensations.  Surprisingly it is a perfect complement to the meaty catfish which is fried to perfection.  Though the catfish skin is crispy, the fish is light and flaky and not “fishy” in the least.

Ginger Catfish

As with many of Albuquerque’s Vietnamese restaurants, the May Cafe provides excellent value, proving gourmet quality cuisine doesn’t have to be expensive in order to be very good.

May Cafe
111 Louisiana Blvd, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 265-4448
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 14 June 2017
# OF VISITS:  5
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Grilled Onion Beef, Vietnamese Sandwich, Singapore Noodles, Spicy Beef Stew, Ginger Catfish, Egg Rolls

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

Ohana Hut – Albuquerque, New Mexico

808 Nachos

In horse racing, the Triple Crown signifies winning all three of the sport’s most challenging thoroughbred horse races—The Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.  This is considered the greatest achieved in thoroughbred racing, a feat accomplished only twelve times. The thespian community considers as its Triple Crown, winning a competitive Academy Award, an Emmy Award and a Tony Award in acting categories. Only twenty-two actors or actresses have earned this rare distinction. What makes winning a Triple Crown in any competitive event so exciting for fans is its rarity. It happens so infrequently that fans clamor for it to happen.

At the 2015 Taste of Rio Rancho event, Street Food Blvd pulled off a Triple Crown of sorts, earning three first-place awards: best appetizer, best entrée and People’s Choice. It’s a feat no other Rio Rancho restaurant has managed in the event’s auspicious six year existence. Considering the City of Vision is home to some of the very best restaurants in the metropolitan area (including Joe’s Pasta House, Namaste, Café Bella), that’s quite an achievement. What made this coup doubly impressive to many of the throngs in attendance is that Street Food Blvd is not a brick-and-mortar operation. It’s a food truck which in sweeping three key awards, made the audacious proclamation that food trucks can compete with any restaurant.

Saimin Noodle Bowl

Michael Gonzales, the affable owner of Café Bella and a pretty formidable chef in his own right, first told me about Street Food Blvd’s chef-owner-operator-designer Raul Maestas a couple years ago, but it wasn’t until experiencing the chef’s brilliant fusion of New Mexican and Asian flavors at Taste of Rio Rancho that I really took notice. So did more than a thousand guests who lined up to experience the culinary talents that would sweep the annual showcase of Rio Rancho’s burgeoning restaurant scene. My friend and fellow judge at the event Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, predicted greatness for Chef Maestas.

Chef Maestas launched Street Food Blvd on March 1, 2013. His approach, as revealed on the Street Food Blvd Web site: “Well, using only the best ingredients is a big part, but having an unrelenting love and passion for creativity and providing great food at an affordable price is the other part.” An ambitious “mission statement” further speaks volumes about what he’s trying to do: “We started humbly but with a grand plan: To create the finest street food New Mexico has ever tasted, end of story.” With such ambition and commitment, it was only a matter of time before a broader stage would be needed to showcase the chef’s immense talent.

Dakind Sliders Trio

In the spring of 2016, that broader stage became a reality when Marble Brewery asked Chef Maestas to launch a restaurant presence at its Westside location. You won’t see any exterior signage indicating the restaurant exists (hence no photo of the restaurant) and in fact, until they’re seated many guests aren’t cognizant it’s there. Then they espy the menu placards at their tables. Some will order entire meals off those menus. Others will order an item or two to supplement what they ordered from one of the food trucks regularly parked (Monday through Friday from 4PM to 9PM and from 12PM to 4PM and 4PM to 11PM on Saturday and Sunday) in front of the Brewery. 

Though my Kim and I don’t imbibe adult beverages when either of us plan to drive, we’ve found both the downtown and westside Marble Brewery locations as friendly and yes, even family oriented as possible.  In that respect they’re very much reminiscent of the pubs we frequented during our years in England.  Better still, we’ve enjoyed cuisine from food trucks and the Ohana Hut with our delightful dachshund Dude (he abides) on the shaded patio.  During an outing in June, 2017, Dude was one of a menagerie of four-legged children to visit the brewery.  We’ve always believed dog lovers to be the highest caliber people and reaffirmed that belief during our visit.

Pot Stickers

Chef Maestas calls his restaurant-within-a-brewery Ohana Hut. The term “Ohana” translates from Hawaiian to “family” and the inexorable ties which bind all families together. Fittingly, Ohana Hut serves Hawaiian food and sushi. If your mind’s eye is picturing Spam-based entrees and luau type food, you’re in for a treat. There’s so much more to the cuisine of Hawaiian than those stereotypes. Hawaiian cuisine is heavily influenced by the Asian immigrant workers who settled the island paradise, but it’s also got elements of Polynesian ingredients and techniques as well as foods brought over by European and American visitors and Christian missionaries. The result, similar to what you’ll experience at Street Food Blvd, is a delightful mélange of flavors.

26 November 2016: Our own introduction to Ohana Hut came on a Saturday afternoon when we visited the Brewery to partake of “a little South in your mouth” courtesy of the Supper Truck. As we waited for our order, we perused the menu at our table and absolutely knew we had to order the 808 Nachos (808 being the Hawaiian area code). Within a couple of bites we knew we’d be back. The 808 Nachos—a picturesque pile of teriyaki chicken, crab and rice served over tortilla chips and topped with spicy mayo, green onion, Furiyaki (a dried mixed seasoning), teriyaki sauce and jalapeños–are terrific, very much reminiscent of sushi meets teriyaki meets nachos.  With sweet, savory and piquant notes in perfect proportion to each other, these nachos take a back seat to no other nachos in a state where great nachos are plentiful.

Spicy Tiger Roll and Ghost Pepper Roll

3 December 2016: Our second visit transpired on a cold, windy day in which our bellies craved the warmth and comfort of soup.  Apparently we weren’t alone in our thinking as we witnessed several bowls being delivered of Saimin, a noodle and broth soup inspired by Japanese ramen.   Considered the national dish of Hawaii (take that Spam), it has become so ubiquitous on the Islands that it’s available even on the McDonald’s menu.  Hawaiians consider it the ultimate comfort food.  Ohana’s Saimin Noodle Bowl (Hawaiian noodle, egg, green onion, chicken and dashi Japanese broth) does indeed have the nurturing, comforting properties of all good soups, but we didn’t find it quite as flavorful as the ramen we’ve had at  Naruto or O Ramen.  Still on a cold day, it’s a godsend.

3 December 2016: As you enter the Brewery, look for the slate board on which chef’s specials are listed.  We happened upon a special that sounded too good to pass up.  Sporting the intriguing name “Sushirrito,” we reasoned it must be some sort of burrito-sushi fusion.  Instead of a flour or corn tortilla, a sheet of Nori (paper-like, edible, toasted seaweed) serves as a wrapper in which the other ingredients–rice, sesame seeds, tortilla chips, chow mein with spicy mayo and unagi with your choice of chicken breast or Korean-style barbecue chicken–are nestled.  It will never be mistaken for a New Mexico style burrito though dipping it into a wasabi-soy sauce dip will give you a similar endorphin rush from the heat. 

New Mexico Roll

3 December 2016: One restaurant trend that never seems to go out of fashion, at least in Albuquerque, is sliders–scaled-down versions of burgers or sandwiches.  Sliders are a tease–never big enough to sate you, especially when they’re good.  The Dakind Sliders Trio (Teriyaki Ground Beef, Teriyaki Chicken and Spam topped with American cheese) are a terrific triumvirate.  Nestled within pillowy soft, sweet Hawaiian bread, each sandwich is barely more than four or five small bites.  When you’re splitting them two ways, they don’t go a long way.  Your memories will last longer than the experience of eating them.

3 December 2016: While enthusiastic about the entire Ohana Hut menu, our server was especially fond of the sushi which she assured us is as bold and imaginative as it is delicious.  You might think the most incendiary roll on the menu would be the Ghost Pepper Roll.  After all, the ghost pepper rates over one-million on the Scoville scale and is considered one of the world’s ten hottest peppers.  Ghost peppers aren’t actually found on the eponymous roll, but ghost pepper mayo is.  The foundation for this roll is actually a California roll topped with salmon, pistachios, avocado, unagi sauce and of course, the ghost pepper mayo.  If you’re looking for serious heat, this isn’t your best choice, but if you’re looking for a thoroughly delicious sushi roll, this one is hard to beat.

Hawaiian Roll

3 December 2016: The distinction of being Ohana Hut’s most fiery sushi roll belongs to the Spicy Tiger Roll.  While many purveyors of fine sushi offer their version of a tiger roll, you won’t find much heat on most of them.  The difference-maker on this one is (believe it or not) is Cheetos crunchy flaming hot cheese snacks which are crushed into red dust that tops the roll.  As with the ghost pepper roll, the foundation for the spicy tiger roll is a California roll which is supplemented by tiger shrimp and shredded crab.  The flaming hot Cheetos make this roll so piquant that only fire-eaters will want to dip them into a wasabi-soy mix.  My Kim scraped off the Cheetos and sent them my way.

3 December 2016: You read it here first–one of my choices for “Gil’s Best of the Best for 2016” is Ohana Hut’s Blue Velvet Swirl, a colorful cake with a lemon creme cheese filling topped with kiwi, white chocolate and hazel nuts.  It’s the best dessert my Kim and I have shared in quite a while.  As pleasing to the palate as it is to your eyes, it’s one of those rare desserts which shouldn’t be shared.  You wouldn’t want to miss a single nibble of this wonderful cake!  9 June 2017 Update: Our server apprised us that the Blue Velvet Swirl is no longer offered on the menu.  Apparently this dessert’s inventor is no longer on staff.  It will be greatly missed.

Spicy Tuna Roll

9 June 2017: According to popular legend, the origin of potstickers came about rather serendipitously.  Apparently a Chinese chef intended to boil traditional dumplings in a wok, but he walked walked away and the water boiled off. The dumpling stuck to the wok and crisped up, producing what we now know as the potsticker, which in Chinese literally means “stuck to the wok.”  Ohana Hut’s potstickers (pan-seared and steamed chicken potstickers served with a ponzu sauce in which green onions and sesame seeds swim merrily) hold true to the tradition of Chinese potstickers.  Served five to an order, they’re a delicious way to start a meal.  More than most, these are engorged with chicken and are just a bit larger than bite-sized.

9 June 2017: It seems de rigueur that every sushi restaurant in the Land of Enchantment serve a sushi roll christened either green chile roll or New Mexico roll, sometimes both.  The most standard aspect of the New Mexico roll is that one of its chief ingredients is (no surprise here) green chile.  Ohana Hut’s version is constructed with spicy crab, cucumber, avocado and fresh green chile topped with spicy mayo, unagi (freshwater eel) sauce and Sriracha.  It’s a beauteous serpentine roll with complimentary-contrasting sweet (unagi sauce) and piquant notes (courtesy of the freshly roasted green chile, spicy crab, spicy mayo and Sriracha).  These complimentary-contrasting flavor profiles work extremely well together–so well, in fact, that the wasabi-soy sauce mix is redundant and wholly unnecessary.  Ohana Hut’s New Mexico roll may be the best of its kind.  Perhaps someday the New Mexico State Legislature will consider it for the state’s official state sushi roll.

Haole Roll

9 June 2017: It stands to reason that a chef specializing in Hawaiian cuisine would offer a Hawaiian roll.  Ohana Hut’s version is terrific: vinegared rice wrapped around spicy tuna and topped with avocado, ahi tuna, sesame seeds and micro greens drizzled with spicy mayo and unagi sauce.  Characteristic of spicy tuna used for sushi, this glorious tuna is diced into small pieces emboldened by either spicy mayo sauce or sriracha hot sauce.  The ahi tuna, on the other hand, is sashimi-quality tuna sliced into thin sheets.  It’s tuna two ways, both delicious.  So are the contrasting sauces–the sweet unagi sauce and the piquant spicy mayo.

9 June 2017: Spicy tuna is a staple of sushi bars, a favorite in both Japan and the United States.  Dip the roll into an American wasabi(mostly doctored horseradish) and soy sauce and you’re on the bullet train to flavor town (watching too much Guy Fieri lately).  Spicy tuna rolls are meant to be incendiary so you’ll be forgiven if you dunk the roll in its entirety into the wasabi-soy mix.  Heighten your enjoyment with the accompanying ginger, as effective a palate cleanser as you’ll find.

Baked Volcano Roll

9 June 2017: If you don’t have a sense of humor, you might not appreciate the Hawaiian term Haole which means “a person who is not a native Hawaiian, especially a white person.”  It’s a more precise term than the Japanese word gaijin which simply means foreigner.   Chef Maestas takes no offense with the term, offering a unique no-rice, no seaweed sushi roll called (what else) the Haole Roll (crab, daikon and avocado wrapped in fresh ahi tuna topped with green onion, jalapeño and Haole sauce.  Sashimi-quality ahi tuna is the star of this roll, but the complimentary ingredients make this unique composition a delight to enjoy.

9 June 2017: The term “volcano roll” probably conjures images of a maki roll spewing out molten contents.  The only thing about this roll that gushes is your effusive compliments and a few oohs and aahs.  Many sushi bars serve volcano rolls, but as is often the case there’s nothing standard about their composition.  Ohana Hut’s baked volcano roll is constructed from crab, avocado, spicy tuna, Atlantic salmon baked with spicy mayo and topped with unagi, green onion, tobeko and bonito flake.  An asterisk (*) denotes this is a spicy roll, but it’s certainly not overly spicy.

Hawaiian Mochi

9 June 2017: After receiving the crushing news that Ohana Hut no longer offers the Blue Velvet Swirl dessert, we were told the only dessert now available is Mochi, a term which for me brought to mind the Mexican corrido “Los Mochis.”   Mochi is a unique Japanese concoction crafted from specially treated short grain glutinous rice.  Ice cream enclosed in mochi is a popular Japanese dessert treat, one which Ohana Hut mimics very well.   Though several ice cream flavors are available, we opted for two contrasting flavors: chocolate and mango.  Both were terrific!

In the familial spirit of Ohana, you’ll want to take friends and family to the Ohana Hut where you’ll share some of the very best sushi and Hawaiian food we’ve had in New Mexico (just don’t share the Blue Velvet  Swirl).  Lest I forget, the Triple Crown award-winning Street Food Blvd still prowls the mean streets of metropolitan Albuquerque, pleasing teeming masses with uniquely creative and delicious fare.

Ohana Hut
5740 Night Whisper Road, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 934-5390
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 9 June 2017
1st VISIT: 26 November 2016
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: 808 Nachos, Spicy Tiger Roll, Blue Velvet Swirl, Ghost Pepper Swirl, Dakind Sliders Trio, Saimin Noodle Bowl, Spicy Tuna Roll, New Mexico Roll, Hawaiian Roll, Haole Roll, Baked Volcano Roll, Hawaiian Mochi

Ohana Hut Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Amerasia & Sumo Sushi – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Amerasia and Sumo Sushi on Third Avenue

Carpe Diem Sum–“seize the dim sum” at AmerAsia, the Alibi’s perennial selection for best dim sum in the city honors (diem sum, as spelled on AmerAsia’s menu is also a correct spelling). Dim sum, a Cantonese word that can be translated to “a little bit of heart,” “point of heart” and “touch the heart” has its genesis in the Chinese tea houses of the Silk Road.  Weary sojourners would stop at tea houses for tea and a light snack (ergo, touch the heart).  Over time, the popularity of the tasty little treasures offered at these tea houses led to larger restaurants serving dim sum meals until mid-afternoon, after which other Cantonese cuisine was made available.  Today, dim sum buffets are a popular offering throughout the United States.  Albuquerque’s most venerable practitioner of the traditional culinary art of dim sum is AmerAsia which has been serving Albuquerque since 1978.

Though AmerAsia has been around for nearly thirty years,  out of blind loyalty to Ming Dynasty we avoided trying it, reasoning  there is no way anyone could serve dim sum quite as good as the popular Cantonese restaurant.  Thankfully AmerAsia’s diem sum captured the unfettered affections of a Chowhound poster from Phoenix who calls herself “Tattud Girl.” For years, the Tattud Girl has been telling one and all about AmerAsia’s delicious treasures. In April, 2006, her posting included photographs of those delights. While one picture may be worth a thousand words, her photographs appealed to all ten thousand of my taste buds and prompted our first of soon to be many visits. The diem sum photos on this review are, in fact, courtesy of the lovely and talented Tattud Girl (who, as it turns out is quite the world traveler, also going by the sobriquet “Wanderer 2005.”

Hyangmi Yi delivers diem sum treasures to eager diners

Hyangmi Yi delivers diem sum treasures to eager diners

At the very least, AmerAsia proved that Albuquerque has room for two popular dim sum restaurants. At the very most, some say it’s every bit as good as Ming Dynasty when it comes to delicious diem sum…although Ming Dynasty serves more than twice as many dim sum items, including a huge array of seafood). For that all Duke City diners should be thrilled. AmerAsia serves diem sum for lunch Monday through Saturday from 11AM to 2PM and for dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings from 5:30 to 8:30PM. It is the perfect dining destination when one entree just won’t do and you want a multi-course meal that tantalizes your taste buds with varied sensations (including sweet, piquant, savory and sour).

The heart and soul of AmerAsia is Korean born proprietor Hyangmi Yi who enthusiastically greets all patrons and flits around the restaurant’s dining rooms pushing her tiny treasure filled cart. Hyangmi actually worked at AmerAsia for 24 years (she hardly looks any older than 24 years old herself) before buying the restaurant. She is part waitress, part greeter and full-time ambassador for the tiny restaurant and the craft she obviously loves. You can see the diners’ eyes light up as she approaches. Many appear to be seasoned veterans of diem sum dining and know exactly what they want. Most of the items are small (or at least served in small plates), giving the impression that you can try everything on the 22-item menu and still have room left over. We tried that and were able to sample fewer than half of the heart pleasing treats. Budget conscious diners beware because your bill of fare is tallied by adding up the number of plates on your table.

Pork buns and more (courtesy of Kathy Perea)

While many of Ming Dynasty’s dim sum offerings are so authentic (such as chicken feet and shark fin soup) that many Americans shy away, AmerAsia’s diem sum is more innocuous, totally non-threatening to unacculturated diners. By no means does that imply AmerAsia’s diem sum is Americanized. You definitely won’t find heavily breaded and candied sweet and sour meats doused liberally with offensive sauces. Instead, you’ll find perfectly seasoned palate pleasing treats you’ll absolutely love, such as:

Sichuan Salad, a refreshing salad comprised of thick noodles and julienne carrots and celery in a slightly sweet vinegar dressing. The noodles are served cold and like many Asian noodles, can be eight to twelve inches per strand. They’re thick and delicious. This is an excellent way to start your meal.

Some of the very best diem sum anywhere! Photo courtesy of Kathy Perea.

Some of the very best diem sum in Albuquerque! Photo courtesy of Kathy Perea.

Beef Noodles, a very spicy beef served over soft noodles with a broth nearly as piquant as the chili sauce on each table.

Chicken and Peanuts, steamed dumplings with julienne chicken, water chestnuts and peanuts. These dumplings might be reminiscent of something you’d have at a Thai restaurant.

Curry Pastry, a flaky pastry stuffed with curry pork and onion. The pastry is as flaky as you might find on a chicken pot pie flaky while the curry is sweet and pungent.

Beef Jiao Tzu, a dumpling stuffed with beef and garlic then deep fried. The breath-wrecking garlic and beef combination leaves a definite impression on your taste buds. This was the only item we ordered two portions of (more a consequence of being full than of preference).

Bao Zi, a steamed, white raised dough stuffed with Chinese barbecue pork. We’ve had steamed buns at several Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants but we’ve never had any as pork filled and delicious as these.

Sesame balls for dessert (Picture courtesy of Kathy Perea)

Scallion pancakes, delicious layered pancakes flecked with sweet scallions.

Chinese Spare Ribs, spareribs in a relatively mild Sichuan hot sauce. We actually expected something akin to the lacquered in sweet syrup Chinese barbecue spare ribs served at inferior restaurants. Amerasia’s spare ribs definitely were not of that ilk.

Crispies, crispy wonton skins covered in powdered sugar and cinnamon, somewhat reminiscent of beignets. These are a perfect way to end a wonderful meal.

In 2007, a second Amerasia was launched in a converted antique filling station on Third Street just north of Lomas.  For a while, Hyangami kept the original restaurant open, but eventually she closed the long-familiar Cornell restaurant which, though very charming, was quite space constrained and a bit “seasoned.”

Sumo Sushi

Sumo Sushi’s Sushi Bar

Not only does the reborn 3,500 square-foot Amerasia have a well-appointed, stylish and expansive new home (150 guest capacity), Hyangami partnered with her brother Woo Youn in sharing the sprawling edifice’s space to house Sumo Sushi, a highly regarded 2007 entrant into the Duke City dining scene.  Sumo Sushi is an attractive milieu, starting with a semi-circular sushi bar on which a large ceramic sumo wrestler squats pensively as if to oversee the operation.  The sushi is, as reputed, some of the very best in town and the Japanese menu includes other traditional Japanese dishes such as tempura, teriyaki and udon noodles. 

Seating for al fresco dining faces Slate Street and isn’t shaded so at the height of the day, it can get rather warm.  Worse, there isn’t anything to shield you from New Mexico’s spring winds which buffet everything in their path.  Our kind server did set up an umbrella for our sushi venture in May, 2017, but ferocious winds tipped the table over and the umbrella came crashing down on us.  Fortunately the temperature was only in the mid-70s so our daring dachshund Dude (he abides) didn’t get too warm.  Interestingly, dim sum isn’t offered to al fresco diners, but sushi is.

Spicy Tuna Roll and Green Chile Roll

27 May 2017: The green chile roll has a pronounced roasted green chile flavor which some New Mexican restaurants fail to capture.  It’s also got a pleasant piquancy, but it’s nothing New Mexicans shouldn’t be able to handle–even if you use up the entire dollop of “American” wasabi (a mixture of horseradish, mustard and food coloring).  Endowed with even more bite is the spicy tuna roll, an incendiary composition made from raw tuna, mayo, and chili sauce.  Neither the green chile roll or the spicy tuna roll benefit much from a dip in soy sauce and “American” wasabi.  They’re excellent sans amelioration.

Tarantula Roll

27 May 2017: Though there are hundreds of sushi restaurants across the fruited plain, there isn’t a great deal of standardization in how they construct sushi rolls.  You’re likely to find same-named sushi rolls throughout your travels across the states. That doesn’t mean a “tarantula roll” in Seattle, for example, will be constructed of the same ingredients as one in Albuquerque.  We’ve seen tarantula rolls elsewhere topped with shaved bonito designed to resemble a spider’s web.  The tarantula roll at Sumo Sushi is far less scary.  A single fried shrimp constitutes the “head” of this caterpillar-like tarantula.  The topping for this roll is avocado drizzled with a sweet unagi-type sauce.  Inside the roll you’ll find crab and cucumber.  It’s all good.

Crunch Roll

27 May 2017: The crunchy roll is coated on the outside with panko (light, crispy Japanese bread crumbs) crumbs that give it a delightful crunch (hence the name) the inside is refulgent with cooked shrimp, cucumber and other complementary ingredients.  It’s drizzled with a sweet unagi-like sauce that provides a nice contrast to the soy-wasabi dip.

Unagi (Freshwater Eel)

27 May 2017: My favorite is the grilled unagi (freshwater eel), a nigiri style (a slice of raw fish over pressed vinegared rice) sushi, which is said to have stamina-giving properties. Containing 100 times more vitamin A than other fish, unagi is believed to heighten men’s sexual drive. Japanese wives would prepare unagi for dinner to suggest to their husbands that they want an intimate night. After waddling out Sumo Sushi door after a boatload of sushi, intimacy is the last thing on our minds.

Big Night Roll

27 May 2017:  When we asked our server, an affable Mexican gentleman who prepares all of Sumo Sushi’s sauces, which sushi roll was his favorite, he didn’t hesitate to sing the praises of the Big Night Roll, a beauteous, multi-colored roll with two sauces–a chile oil and the delightful eel sauce we enjoy so much on the unagi.  The Big Night Roll is engorged with crab and cucumber and is topped with a gloriously red strip of salmon.  It became our favorite.

AmerAsia has definitely captured the heart of many Duke City diners, giving every indication that even without a full Chinese menu, it is one of the four or five best Chinese restaurants in the city.

Diem Sum Images Courtesy of Kathy “Wanderer 2005” Perea

Amerasia & Sumo Sushi
800 3rd St NW
Albuquerque, NM
(505) 246-1615
Web Site | Facebook Page
1ST VISIT: 21 October 2006
LATEST VISIT: 28 May 2017
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 20
COST: $$-$$$
BEST BET: Sichuan Salad, Beef Jiao Tzu, Golden Dumplings, Curry Pastry, Chicken and Peanuts, Tarantula Roll, Big Night Roll, Green Chile Roll, Spicy Tuna Roll, Crunch Roll, Unagi

AmerAsia - Sumo Sushi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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. 

24 May 2017: In modern vernacular, the term “size doesn’t matter” has implications of double entendre.  In the culinary world, only the Food Network and Travel Channel would have you believe meatballs should be the size of basketballs.  Vietnamese purveyors of meatball banh mi know better and the proof is in the eating.  iKrave’s meatballs are about the size of the tiny meatballs once found on Chef Boyardee’s spaghetti and meatballs.  Size truly doesn’t matter when the flavor of these tender pork meatballs will make you swoon.  The meatballs are impregnated with seasonings that complement the fresh, crispy vegetable “slaw” made with pickled carrots and daikon radishes, sliced jalapeños, cucumber slices and fresh cilantro in a baguette canvas.  This is one of the very best banh mi in the city.

Meatball 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!  

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

Plum Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Plum Cafe

The branches of the aspen plum
To and fro they sway
How can I not think of her? 
But home is far away,”
Confucius

According to Urban Farm Online, “plums were domesticated in China more than 2,000 years ago and have figured in written documents since 479 B.C. These fruits were the plums Confucius praised in his writings and the ancestors of today’s Asian plums.” In China, plums symbolize good fortune while the blossom of the plum tree is considered a symbol of winter and harbinger of spring.  The Taiwanese consider the plum blossom a symbol for resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity during the harsh winter.  In both Korea and Japan, the plum blossom also symbolize spring while in Vietnam, the plum tree and its flowering blossoms symbolize feminine pulchritude.  

Despite its longevity, plums are not as significant on Asian dishes as one might expect, especially considering its versatility and complementary flavor potential.  In excellent Chinese (Ming Dynasty) and Thai (Siam Cafe) restaurants throughout Albuquerque, plum sauce (sometimes called duck sauce) is a staple, a sweet sauce as thick as a jam with a slightly tart  flavor which compliments egg rolls, spareribs and other appetizers and entrees.  It’s better, by far, than the candied, unnaturally red sweet and sour sauce some restaurants offer.

Potstickers

Perhaps as a portend of great fortune, brothers-owners Wyn Chao and Brian Triem named their newest restaurant venture–which they launched on November 17, 2012–the Plum Cafe Asian Grill.  The brothers are veteran restaurateurs and no strangers to the Duke City area, having started Rio Rancho’s Banana Leaf restaurant in 2005.  The Plum Cafe Asian Grill is located in the former home of the Asado Brazilian Grill and the Charcoal Mediterranean Grill in the  Jefferson Commons area commonly referred to as the Pan American Freeway restaurant row.  It’s within easy walking distance of the Century Rio multiplex theater. 

Its operating model–ordering at a counter–isn’t exactly unique, but more than at some restaurants, you might long for tableside service.  Almost as soon as you arrive at the counter, expect the perplexing question “are you ready to order.”  It’s especially perplexing if you’re a first-time visitor who likes to peruse the menu carefully before ordering.  The Plum Cafe’s menu is one you want to spend time studying.  It’s a fusion of Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai dishes with several intriguing surprises.  After you place your order, you’ll settle the bill of fare which includes adding a tip without knowing what the quality of service will be.  Then you’ll find your own table, retrieve your own beverages, napkins, condiments and plates.  At least the wait staff will deliver your order to your table.

Vietnamese Taco

The menu lists five starters, all but the Vietnamese spring rolls being Chinese.  Hot and sour soup and wonton soup constitute the entire soup section of the menu which surprisingly has no Vietnamese pho.  Three beautifully plated salads are available for the health-conscious.   Items on the fried rice and noodles section of the menu can be made with your choice of vegetables and tofu, chicken, beef, pork, shrimp or a combination of any.  Eight items on the “Signature” section of the menu provide perhaps the greatest intrigue; some, like the Vietnamese taco, are quite interesting.  There are also eight items on the “Entrees” section.  The menu is very descriptive and enticing. 

25 February 2012: Pot stickers have become so commonplace as to become practically passe.  Very few–the sublime pot stickers at Hua Chang come to mind–actually stand out.  The Plum Cafe’s rendition are good, if not memorable.  Six per order pot stickers filled with minced chicken, Napa cabbage, shallots and scallions are served with a ginger garlic soy dipping sauce that would be better with a little heat.  These wok fried dumplings are steaming when brought to your table and may burn your mouth if you’re not careful.

Vietnamese Vermicelli

 25 February 2012: In a surprising “Vietnam meets Mexico” twist reminiscent of the creativity found in China Poblano, the Signature section of the menu includes the Vietnamese Taco, an anomalous appetizer-sized entree melding the culture and cuisine of two diverse and distinct nations.  Picture if you will, two corn tortillas engorged with your choice of grilled beef or chicken (you can’t have both), scallions, cucumbers, daikon, carrots and cilantro with Sriracha mayo.  It’s unlike any taco you’ll find in Mexico.  The corn tortillas are soft and oil free, bursting with contents.  The tacos are served with a sweet-piquant mango salsa and sweet potato fries.

25 February 2012: The Vietnamese Vermicelli entree—vermicelli noodles, egg rolls, onions, cucumbers, lettuce, bean sprouts, carrots, mint, cilantro, scallions and crushed peanuts served with a chili lime vinaigrette–arrives in a swimming pool-sized bowl.  The chili lime vinaigrette, served in a small ramekin, is reminiscent of Vietnamese fish sauce in that it is redolent with sweet, piquant and tangy elements.  It’s a very good sauce which penetrates deeply into the fresh ingredients.  This entree, from the Fried Rice/Noodle section of the menu, is served with your choice of vegetables and tofu, chicken, beef, pork, shrimp or combinations thereof.  The chicken, mostly thigh meat, is moist and delicious, but is cut in long strips that are more than bite-sized.  It’s the only downside to an otherwise good, fresh, healthful entree.

Thai Mango Curry

 25 February 2012: My favorite entree is the Thai mango curry made with both mangoes and pineapples as well as bell peppers, bamboo shoots, onion, cashews, basil and a red curry coconut sauce.  The curry has a nice balance of flavors–piquancy, sweetness, savoriness and tanginess and is served steaming hot.  The vegetables are perfectly prepared– fresh and crisp.  As with other entrees, it’s available with your choice of meat or shrimp.  Alas, as with the Vietnamese vermicelli, the chicken is cut into long strips that are somewhat larger than bite-sized.  The mango curry is available with your choice of rice and comes with steamed vegetables on the side.

15 May 2017: Value-priced lunch specials are a good deal and the Plum Cafe doesn’t scrimp on portion size.  One such special is the Thai yellow curry which can be prepared to your exacting level of piquancy and with your choice of white rice, brown rice or noodles as well as your favorite protein.  While the portion size certainly isn’t parsimonious, the amount of curry certainly is.  That may be entirely by design so diners can appreciate the grilled vegetables and boiled potatoes, but for those of us who prefer our curry to engulf everything else on the plate, there isn’t enough curry to go around.  Consequently the dish is a bit on the dry side, especially when the potatoes are involved.

Yellow Curry Over Noodles

The Plum Cafe’s Web site bespeaks of promise and potential: “We want to introduce Asian Fusion cooking that incorporates all types of Asian cuisine. Our fusion cooking techniques adapts modern and traditional ideas from various cultures while combining herbs and spices from these cultures to enhance each dish for volumes of flavor. Another integral part of this concept is to serve healthy, fresh, and made to order meals at a comfortable price. Plum receives fresh meat and produce each week which are all utilized in the daily preparation of our dishes. Nothing is cooked till it’s ordered. This ensures each dish comes out hot and fresh.”

It’s in the execution of its operating model that the Plum Cafe may be off-putting to some.  When done with our meal, we contemplated dessert, but didn’t want to repeat the ordering process at the counter.  Consider us spoiled in that way.  We would have preferred tableside service to match what was mostly pretty good food.

Plum Cafe Asian Grill
4959 Pan American Freeway, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 433-3448
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 15 May 2017
1st VISIT: 25 February 2012
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Vietnamese Taco, Vietnamese Vermicelli, Thai Mango Curry, Potstickers

Plum Cafe Asian Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mogu Mogu – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mogu Mogu, a Unique Japanese Create Your Own Concept

In the 1970s, comedian Norm Crosby based his schtick on the use of malapropisms (the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one, often with unintentionally amusing effect). The “master of the malaprop” would mispronounce keywords in familiar idioms and clichés, in the process giving new meaning to what he was trying to convey. Here are some examples: As a famous stand-up comic, he appreciated standing “ovulations” when he performed. When his dad explained the facts of life to him, his dad drew a big “diaphragm.” When he went to a tailor, it’s because his pants needed an “altercation.” When people couldn’t read or write, Crosby attributed the problem to “illegitimacy.”

In real life, however, most people don’t realize their own fox paws. My Kim, for example, would give Norm Crosby a run for his money though her malapropisms are wholly innocent and not designed to elicit a laugh. On a sweltering summer day in Arlington Heights, Illinois, for example, she once ordered “soba” tea from the Mitsuwa Marketplace. Initially the young lady at the counter was confused, but once she figured out that Kim actually wanted “boba” tea, she couldn’t help but giggle. Recently at a Whole Foods Market, she asked an employee where she could find “Maricopa” almonds when what she really wanted was marcona almonds. Then there was the time she ordered a “Chimi-chingona” from a Mexican restaurant when she wanted a chimichanga. “Chingona,” if you’re not versed in Spanish slang is a term meaning “badass.”  Where she learned that word is beyond me.

The Prep Station From Where You Can Select All Your Favorite Ingredients

Lest you think my Kim is a bit scatter-brained, when I told her of my visit to Mogu Mogu, she immediately reminded me that Mogu Mogu must be a Japanese onomatopoeia (the formation of a word—such as cuckoo or boom–from a sound associated with what it is named). Mogu Mogu, it turns out is an onomatopoeia in English, too, translating from Japanese to “munch munch.” Moreover, it is one of the most exciting new dining concepts to launch in the Duke City in recent months. My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, explains that “Mogu Mogu serves some of the freshest and tastiest food in ABQ with a Japanese flair.”

Alas, you won’t find Mogu Mogu in some bustling, centrally-located shopping center. Situated in the Journal Center area on Masthead just west of Jefferson, it’s pretty much off-the-well-beaten-and-eaten path for most of us who don’t work in the immediate area. Further, it’s operating hours—Monday through Friday from 11AM to 2:30PM—mean its hours also aren’t convenient for many of us. Perhaps cognizant of these limitations, Mogu Mogu is located in an 800-square-foot space on the ground level of the 10,000 square-foot office building that houses Kinesio, the therapeutic tape company whose product graces the sore limbs and torsos of many an Olympic, professional and amateur athlete.

Rice Bowl With Curry and Just About Everything Else

Owner Tomoko Kase actually served as a vice president at the Kinesio company before being called away by the lure of owning and operating her own restaurant. Her business acumen served her well in that she understood how underserved the burgeoning Journal Center is by fast-casual restaurants. Mogu Mogu is essentially a “create your own” concept designed to give guests simple, fresh and fast meals. It’s a concept similar to that of Poki Poki and Hello Poke, two restaurants specializing in Hawaiian poke bowls. It’s an experience coupling personalization and experimentation with Japanese ingredients and culinary techniques. As so eloquently stated on the Web site, Mogu Mogu offers “the convenience and value of fast food, all without the greasy regret and stained shirts at the office.”

Guests have the opportunity to create their own bowl, sushi burrito or sandwich from an assortment of proteins, veggies, toppings and sauces. Your first of several tough decisions is to choose a base for your meal from among several rice, noodle or lettuce options. The “middle” section of your meal comes next with your choice of one protein and two veggies. Then you can go wild on the toppings (including some premium toppings for an additional pittance) and sauces. Larry, the percipient professor (who can recite Pi to about 8,000 digits) quickly figured out you can make a minimum of 15,840 possible combinations using one choice from each of the four steps: base, middle (proteins and veggies), toppings and sauces. As he astutely pointed out “ if you create a boring bowl, you have only yourself to blame.”

Fried Rice, Roasted Salmon and Almost Everything Else

23 March 2017: While my bowl was hardly boring, I have only myself to blame for not having built a bowl as exciting as the one my friend Bill Resnik constructed. Picking a base of rice bowl with curry really limited my options. Essentially, half of the bowl was dedicated to Japanese curry (which I dearly love) and the other half to brown rice. It didn’t make sense to top the curry though the mad scientist in me would otherwise have piled on as many ingredients as the bowl would hold. I did top the rice with overnight ginger pork (a nice complement to the curry) and every topping on the menu (green onion, cilantro, cabbage, edamame mix, pickle with bonito, kimchi, jalapeno, crispy noodles and pickled veggies), but my sauce was essentially the curry. As far as Japanese curry goes, Mogu Mogu’s version is terrific, as good as you’ll find anywhere in the Duke City. The curry and the rice should have been my focus, not the hodgepodge I created (and no, it wasn’t bad at all). It just wasn’t as good as Bill’s (seething jealousy here).

23 March 2017: Bill’s bowl started with an fried rice for which he selected roasted salmon as his protein and both veggie tempura and curry roasted veggies as his veggie choices. His topping selections were virtually everything but Mogu Mogu’s kitchen sink and his sauce choices were Wasabi mayo and Asian dressing. Throughout our meal I eyed Bill’s bowl with both envy and lust and probably a few other cardinal sins. Bill has become a master of the “create it yourself” poke bowl and now the Mogu Mogu bowl. I hate him!

Another Creative Concoction

17 April 2017:  Dining at Mogu Mogu is akin to having a delicious new adventure every time you visit.  It’s the type of adventure that offers many forks in the road, each potentially more delicious than the other.  The forks of which I speak, of course, are the 15,840 possible combinations using one choice from each of the four steps: base, middle (proteins and veggies), toppings and sauces.  It’s not inconceivable to fill out the paper menu then change your mind several times as you pass the prep station where gleaming silver trays with sundry ingredients are on display.  During my second visit, fried rice was the base I originally selected but one gander at the Asian salad and a change of mind was inevitable.  The Asian salad is a beauteous bounty of mixed greens and such surprises as blackberries.  It was too good to pass up.  Neither was the roasted salmon or the standard and premium toppings (yes, every single one of them) with soy wasabi and mango Habanero.  The veggie tempura (green chile and eggplant) are exceptional.  So was the entire creative concoction.

23 March 2017: In addition to the bowl, sushi burrito or sandwich of your own making, Mogu Mogu offers two sides—potstickers (five per order) and spring rolls (two per order). The spring rolls may be the one item on the menu that belies Mogu Mogu’s “without the greasy regret” or at least that was our experience.  Don’t get me wrong.  They weren’t sopping with oil, but there was enough of it to warrant a napkin or two.  The spring rolls, about six-inches long and rather thick, are engorged mostly with cabbage and served with a rather cloying sauce.  They would have been much tastier with say a wasabi mayo.

Spring Rolls

There are some ten-thousand workers in the Journal Center area.  On the day of our inaugural visit it seemed about a third of those workers were queued up to have Mogu Mogu build a delicious meal for them based on their preferences.  It’s an option which should be available to more Duke City diners.

Mogu Mogu
4001 Masthead Street
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 200-9141
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 17 April 2017
1st VISIT: 23 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Create Your Own Bowl, Spring Rolls

Mogu Mogu Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

1 2 3 21