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Viet Noodle – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Viet Noodle on Montano in Albuquerque’s West Side

On April 3, 2013, University of New Mexico (UNM) Vice President for Athletics Paul Krebs sent out a very simple and succinct tweet confirming the hire of head men’s basketball coach Craig Neal. The one-word tweet read simply “Noodles.”  Noodles, of course, is the sobriquet Neal received in high school on account of his tall and thin stature.  The hire was very enthusiastically received by both fans and players who were witness to the strong impact he had on the program as long-time assistant coach. 

Albuquerque has always been a Lobo basketball crazed city and it has embraced Noodles who guided his team to 27 wins during his first season as head coach.  While the UNM Lobo Club would like to believe that “Everyone’s a Lobo! Woof, woof, woof!,” there are a smattering of New Mexico State Aggie supporters strewn throughout the city.  There is also (and this will be hard for diehard Lobo fanatics to grasp) a large segment of the local populace who not only don’t like the Lobos, they don’t like sports.

The interior of Viet Noodle

Among the latter are people for whom a one-word tweet reading “Noodles” has an entirely different meaning than the hiring of a basketball coach.  To them noodles are a soul-satisfying comfort food the audible inhalation of which is heartily enjoyed whether those noodles are chilled or steamy hot.  Whether thin and translucent or thick and dense, noodles evoke warm memories of childhood (when we first discovered that food could be both delicious and fun) and of times when they nourished and comforted us.  When times get rough, noodles have always been there for us. 

Arguably the metropolitan area’s preeminent practitioners at preparing perfect  noodles are the 37 Vietnamese restaurants in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho.   Most of the city’s Vietnamese restaurants are clustered in the International District, a section of Southeast Albuquerque stretching roughly from the state fairgrounds area to Kirtland Air Force Base.  There are two Vietnamese restaurants in Rio Rancho with the only other Vietnamese restaurant west of the Rio Grande being Viet Noodle in the Paradise Hills area.  It’s sandwiched between Spinn’s Burger & Beer (home to one of the city’s very best green chile cheeseburgers) and Little Caesar’s Pizza.

Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce

As the only game in this section of town, Viet Noodle has a captive market, but Duke City diners are a persnickety bunch.  If a restaurant doesn’t cut it, it’s not going to last long.  Viet Noodle has been going strong now for five years and there’s no surcease in sight.  On the day of our inaugural visit the number of sit-down diners was greatly eclipsed by to-go orders.  Friends who live in the area tell me that’s about par for the course for this popular eatery. 

Unlike many of the area’s Vietnamese restaurants, Viet Noodle’s menu is somewhat abbreviated, not a compendium listing over a hundred dishes.  Viet Noodle is also not a traditional sit-down restaurant in which you peruse the menu and a server takes your order.  Instead, you’ll place your order at a counter above which are posted lighted meal and beverage options.  Don’t mistake the concept for Vietnamese fast food.  It’ll take a few minutes for your order to be delivered to your table.  While you wait, you’ll want to take a gander at the colorful photographs festooning the walls of life in Vietnam.

Egg Rolls with Fish Sauce

Forget the perfunctory Pepsi products.  Viet Noodle has one of the most comprehensive beverage menus of any  Vietnamese restaurant in Albuquerque.  The most popular (and my early favorite) is the Iced Vietnamese Coffee, a concoction of sweetened condensed milk and strong black coffee poured over ice.  A number of smoothies and shakes are also available as are boba beverages.  Whether in tea or shake form, boba are gooey, gelatinous globules that seem to inherit the flavor of the drink (strawberry-banana is a good combination). 

There are fewer than fifty items on the food menu including a limited number of appetizers and several vegetarian options.  The most popular starters are egg rolls and spring rolls.  The egg rolls are tightly-packed, golden-hued rolls stuffed mostly with vegetables and served with a clear fish sauce for dipping.  Translucent rice paper wrappers envelop vermicelli noodles and vegetables on the spring rolls which are served with a Hoisin and peanut sauce.

Vermicelli with Pork and Egg Roll

One of the most popular noodle entrees on the menu is vermicelli which you can order with tofu or with pork and egg roll.  It’s interesting that in Italian “vermicelli” translates to English as “little worms.”  While that doesn’t sound especially appetizing, vermicelli in the hands of a Vietnamese chef is a delicious combination of long and thin pasta, julienne carrots and daikon, cucumbers, lettuce, crushed peanuts and fish sauce added to taste.  The pork has the characteristic sweet and savory grilled flavor that makes Vietnamese style pork a very special entree. 

The association that comes first to mind when you mention Vietnamese noodles is pho, the luxurious broth-based noodle soup centering on a broth base made from chicken, beef, or seafood.  The combination noodle soup (rare steak, brisket, tendon, tripe and beef ball) is a popular option.  Served in a swimming pool sized bowl, it’s replete with tangles of noodles, green onions, cilantro and the unique spices that give pho its addictive flavor profile.   My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, described Viet Noodle’s rendition of pho as “tasty with a nice aroma,” adding that “there is better pho in the Duke City, but not on the west side.”  It’s a spot-on assessment as always.  A few squeezes of sriracha will  give the pho more “personality.”

Combination Noodle Soup

Viet Noodle’s Web site boasts of the restaurant’s “strict commitment to quality” and “the highest standards for food, service, atmosphere and value.”  These are elements to which all restaurants should adhere, especially restaurants serving noodles, an entree that elicits nostalgic feelings of warmth and joy for many of us.

Viet Noodle
4411 Montano Road, N.W., Suite B
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 792 – 5252
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 8 November 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Spring Rolls, Egg Rolls, Vietnamese Iced Coffee, Combination Noodle Soup, Vermicelli with Pork and Egg Roll

Viet Noodle on Urbanspoon

Tara Thai Cuisine – Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Tara Thai Cuisine on Wyoming just south of Menaul

The Internet is replete with personality assessments. Some–such as a personality assessment based on your choice of pizza toppings–are created by psychologists ostensibly intent on obtaining scientifically valid results, but many others are intended solely for fun and have no real validity.  In the latter category, most assessments can easily be manipulated to achieve the results you want.  As you’re responding to questions, an inevitable conclusion becomes transparent.  You can usually tell by the way you’re answering those questions what the results will be.  On the other hand, some personality assessments are baffling.  While you may think you’re manipulating the results, the subsequent assessment winds up contrary to your responses.

One such assessment purports to tell you which “Big Bang Theory” character you are–to expose the inner geek or super hot neighbor inside all of us.   For readers who may not be familiar with The Big Bang Theory, TV.com describes it as “a sitcom that shows what happens when hyper-intelligent roommates/physicists Sheldon and Leonard meet Penny, a beautiful woman moving in next door–and realize they know next to nothing about life outside of the lab. Rounding out the crew are the smarmy Wolowitz, who thinks he’s as sexy as he is brainy, and Koothrappali, who suffers from an inability to speak in the presence of a woman.”

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Tara Thai’s dining room

Answering semi-honestly so as to derive semi-valid results, it turns out the Big Bang Theory character with which I most identify is Sheldon Cooper (at least according to this personality assessment), whom the assessment synopsizes as being “a wunderkind for longer than you can remember” and “always the smartest person in the room” although “you have a hard time connecting with people sometimes,” not that it matters because “you’ll be the leader of a new race of cyborg-humans soon enough.”  Bazinga!

While some of these character traits may–to a greater extent than I care to admit–accurately profile me, before taking the assessment, I would have said Sheldon is the Big Bang Theory character with whom I least identify.  That’s most readily apparent in the way we approach dining.  Possessing personality traits consistent with obsessive-compulsive disorder, Sheldon’s food schedule is practically set in stone.  It’s monotonous and monogamous.  On Mondays, it’s always mee krob and chicken satay with extra peanut sauce from Siam Palace.  On Tuesdays, it’s the Cheesecake Factory’s barbecue bacon cheese burger with cheese on the side while the Thursday staple is pizza with sausage, mushrooms and light olives from Giacomo’s.  Can you imagine how boring a food blog based on Sheldon’s dining preferences would be?

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Gyoza with sweet chili sauce

As a gastronome whose culinary leanings are wholly antithetical to those of Sheldon Cooper, I actually felt a twinge of sympathy for the erudite one when we first stepped into Tara Thai Cuisine and imbibed the magical aromas emanating from the kitchen.  Despite an IQ which can’t accurately be measured by standard tests and an eidetic memory the envy of anyone experiencing advancing geriatric progression, Sheldon’s quirkiness would not allow him to try some of the alluring offerings on the Tara Thai menu.  Worse, that menu doesn’t include mee krob, his favorite entree and no one, not even Sheldon. can live on chicken satay with extra peanut sauce alone.

Tara Thai is the type of restaurant which most makes me happy to be a gastronome. It’s got most of the Thai standards aficionados love and it’s got exciting dishes, including fabulous seasonal specials, heretofore not found in the Duke City. The Albuquerque Journal’s luminous restaurant critic Andrea Lin accorded it a rare four-star rating, likening it to a “red giant of a fiery star” among the Duke City’s pantheon of very good to excellent Thai restaurants. Fiery is an apt descriptor for many of Tara Thai’s dishes which are prepared to your exacting degree of heat preference.  

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Chicken Satay with peanut curry sauce and cucumber salad

Located within the sprawling Wyoming Mall and immediately next door to the Cool Water Fusion restaurant, Tara Thai’s motto and mission statement are to “excite the senses.” Prepared well, few of the world’s cuisines have the ability to excite the senses, particularly the sense of taste, more than Thai cuisine. Although widely known for its spiciness, balance, variety and detail are essential to Thai cooking. The best Thai restaurants are adept at balancing the five fundamental tastes–spicy, sweet, savory, sour and (optionally) bitter—within a meal, and often within an individual dish. Tara Thai is such a restaurant.

1 February 2014: Although Thai food can be very filling, it’s such a palate exciting cuisine to eat that you’ll want to sample at least two appetizers. Make one of them gyoza, an Asian dumpling commonly known as a “potsticker” or “dumpling” in America. Although most widely associated with Japanese cuisine, gyoza actually originated in China, but are common throughout Asia. At Tara Thai, the gyoza appear to be steamed then pan-grilled, my favorite method for preparing these delightful pockets. Tara Thai’s gyoza are engorged with chicken and mixed vegetables then served with a sweet chili dipping sauce. This eight-piece starter is artfully plated, but the true artistry is in their deliciousness.

Chicken Spring Rolls

1 February 2014: Somehow the “Big Bang Theory” personality assessment surmised that Sheldon Cooper and I are compatible–at least in terms of our common affinity for chicken satay with extra peanut sauce. The persnickety physicist would love Tara Thai’s chicken satay, five chicken skewers marinated in yellow curry served with a peanut curry sauce and cucumber salad. With a savory-sweet flavor profile, the peanut curry sauce is magnificent as is the cucumber salad, but the chicken is the star. It’s fresh, moist and imbued with the sweet-savory-pungent flavors of a superb yellow curry.

11 October 2014:  The Fall specials menu in 2014 included chicken spring rolls, a terrific option you don’t see very often in a pork or vegetable dominated spring roll market.  The chicken spring rolls, four to an order, are engorged with chicken, cabbage and onion and are served with a housemade sweet and sour sauce.  As with many Thai spring rolls, these are fried to a golden hue, leaving the wrapper crispy.  There’s a nice balance, both in quality and in flavor accentuation, between minced chicken and vegetables.  Alas the “sweet and sour” sauce is a misnomer in that sweet is the dominant taste (to an extreme extent).  The chicken spring rolls deserve better.

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Asian Pumpkin Red Curry with Chicken

11 October 2014:  Claims have been made (though to my knowledge not scientifically validated) that bite-sized foods taste better, perhaps because we don’t have to open up quite as wide to enjoy them.  The Thai-style meatballs at Tara Thai certainly taste better than many of the Italian, Swiss and American meatballs we’ve had at Duke City restaurants.  These grilled meatballs (two skewers with four meatballs each) are imbued with lively Thai seasonings and not with the cracker or bread filler that too often makes up meatballs in other cultures.  Alas, as with the chicken spring rolls, they’re served with an anemic sweet “chili” sauce, emphasis on the sweet.

1 February 2014: With his propensity for repetition, Sheldon would not enjoy Tara Thai’s fall specials, a five item menu so enticing even the non-OCD among us will be hard-pressed to decide which to have. How, for example, can you pick from among Asian pumpkin red curry with chicken and duck curry? The answer, of course, is to order one today and return for the other tomorrow. The Asian pumpkin red curry with chicken is superb, an amalgam of hearty Asian pumpkin chunks, white meat chicken, red chili paste curry in coconut milk with bamboo shoots, bell pepper and fresh Thai basil. This is Thai comfort food at its finest, especially if you order it at least “hot.” It quickly became my favorite Thai dish in Albuquerque. That will probably last until my next visit when I order the duck curry. 

Duck Curry: Roast duck, red chili paste in coconut milk with fresh pineapple, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, and basil

11 October 2014:  In six visits to Lotus of Siam (the best Thai restaurant in the universe), my taste buds have thrice experienced la petite mort courtesy of a duck curry dish so good, no one else should make it.   By any other restaurant’s standards, the duck curry (roast duck, red chili paste in coconut milk with fresh pineapple, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers and basil) at Tara Thai might be the very best dish on the menu, but (paraphrasing Lloyd Bentsen’s most famous quote) it’s not the Lotus of Siam’s duck curry.   The “cherry” tomatoes are in the form of large slices; my Lotus of Siam inspired preference is for bite-sized grape tomatoes.   That may seem a minor point, but an ingredient-by-ingredient comparison would yield similar commentary for every aspect of the dish.  Then there was the matter of the degree of heat (hot) which our server described as “as hot as the hottest chile in Albuquerque.”  To my Kim it was molten death; to me, it was insipid compared to the xx-hot chile at the New Mexico Beef Jerky Company.

1 February 2014: If you love fiery heat (as most New Mexicans do), Tara Thai should make all but a few bona fide fire-eaters very happy. You can even find heat in the five-item fried rice menu. The spicy fried rice (fresh garlic, chili, onion, bell pepper and Thai basil with your choice of chicken, beef or pork) lives up to its name without detracting in the least from the other components in this dish. The fresh garlic and Thai basil, in particular, stand out. The rice itself is fluffy and perfectly prepared.

Pad Thai

1 February 2014: Tara Thai’s “pad” menu is as exciting as any you’ll find in New Mexico. Pad, a Thai term which describes stir-fry, is a specialty of the house with ten items on the “wok” menu. Pad Pet is the choice for heat lovers, not for the faint of heart. Though you can request it be prepared at “mild” or “medium” levels of heat, you’re still going to feel the burn. It’s a good burn, a delicious burn. The heat comes from sautéed red chili paste on a stir-fry dish which includes baby corn, mushroom, onion, bamboo shoot, garlic and Thai basil. Feel the heat and love it with this dish!

11 October 2014:   Not wanting a repeat of her experiences with the Pad Pet (which she described as “death by noodles”) my Kim ordered the safest, most innocuous dish on any Thai restaurant’s menu–Pad Thai.  I’ve often referred to Pad Thai as “Pad Boring” (sorry, Ryan) because it lacks the incendiary, “pain is a flavor” personality of my favorite Thai dishes.  Tara Thai’s rendition is actually quite good, perhaps the best we’ve had in the Duke City.  The stir-fried rice noodles are masterfully prepared and enjoyable as is every other ingredient on this popular dish.

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Pad Pet

11 October 2014: With eight items, Tara Thai’s dessert menu is actually quite sizable compared to many Thai restaurants.  Every dessert listed is inviting and tempting, but in-season, there can only truly ever be one option: mangoes with sticky rice.  In Thailand, this delightful dessert is actually a finger food eaten by rolling the rice with the fingers and scooping up mango slices.  There’s too much coconut milk on Tara Thai’s version for Thai-style eating, not to mention American sensitivities.  At any regard, this is a wonderful dish, one we miss greatly when mangoes go out of season.

Mangoes with Sticky Rice

Tara Thai is the type of restaurant which could easily become a habit. In that respect, I envy Sheldon Cooper who could visit every Monday and not think twice about it. From the moment you walk in and imbibe the magnificent aromas from the kitchen to the moment you leave, completely contented and full, you’re in for a great dining experience in one of the best Thai restaurants in the Albuquerque.

Tara Thai
2010 Wyoming Blvd, N.E., Suite C
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 298-2278
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 11 October 2014
1st VISIT: 1 February 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Gyoza, Chicken Satay, Chicken Spring Rolls, Grilled Meatballs, Asian Pumpkin Red Curry with Chicken, Duck Curry, Pad Thai, Pad Pet, Spicy Fried Rice, Mangoes with Sticky Rice

Tara Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Latitude 33 – Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Latitude 33, a Surprisingly Great Asian Fusion Restaurant

“Of all places in the country where you could have opened a restaurant, why Truth or Consequences, New Mexico?”  You can bet Joseph Schmitt has been asked that question many times, especially when people find out his previous address was in Palm Springs, California where he was an accomplished travel writer with a special affinity for cooking and dining.  Schmitt’s introduction to T or C started off as business but wound up as pleasure.   Assigned to write about New Mexico’s salubrious spas, he enjoyed the T or C area so much that he hawked the story idea to several publications, the impetus for several return trips.  With each return trip he found more to love about the area until ultimately relocating in April, 2013.

In all fairness, one of the reasons guests to Schmitt’s Latitude 33 Asian fusion restaurant ask “why T or C” is because they don’t expect to find a restaurant offering such sophisticated fare.  That’s especially true if they haven’t visited America’s most affordable spa town in a while.  In recent years, the influx of free-thinking quirkiness, eclectic artsiness  and a bohemian spirit have touched all aspects of life in this small city, including its restaurants.  If you visit T or C expecting only the solid, but unspectacular comfort food of yore, you’ll be more than pleasantly surprised to find unconventional and excellent eateries offering cosmopolitan cuisine with a local flair.

Main dining room at Latitude 33

No longer are K-Bob’s, Denny’s and Subway among the highest rated Truth or Consequences restaurants on Yelp, Urbanspoon and Trip Advisor. Those paragons of chain mediocrity have been supplanted by fresh, innovative independent restaurants which, quite frankly, would be competitive in larger, more cosmopolitan cities.  These interlopers sport such names as the Passion Pie Cafe, Cafe Bella Luca and Latitude 33, the latter being the most recent addition to a burgeoning dining scene. 

Latitude 33 is so named because it’s on the latitude (33.12889 to be more precise) in which the restaurant and T or C sit.  Portions of Japan and China, two of the pan-Asian countries honored on the restaurant’s fusion menu, also lie on that latitude.  Situated near the heart of the historic bathhouse and spa district, Latitude 33 fits right in with the district’s bright color palette.  Distressed brick and corrugated window treatments give the exterior a rustic look and feel while the artsy interior is a melange of Southwestern art with Asian accoutrements on wasabi green walls.  Three picnic tables are available for al fresco dining with your four-legged children.

Shishito Peppers with Green Chili Ponzu Sauce

The menu is fresh and innovative, a much-welcome respite from the copycat fare many other so-called “fusion” restaurants tend to offer.  It’s a menu reminiscent not of Albuquerque or Santa Fe Asian fusion restaurants, but of the wildly eclectic and creative fusion restaurants in such cosmopolitan cities as Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas.  The price point is surprisingly reasonable considering the quality, diversity and in-house preparation of all soups, sauces, dressings and stocks. 

For dinner, the most expensive item (crispy duck confit) is $17 with other items ranging from $9 to $15.  Lunch specials, served until 3PM, are all south of ten dollars.  The full menu is offered Monday through Saturday from 11AM to 3PM.  The dinner menu is available from 3PM to 9PM on Saturdays.  While you peruse the menu, make it a point to enjoy a sparkling strawberry-ginger lemonade, a homemade puree with soda water.  It’s a wonderfully refreshing blend of sweet-tangy strawberries, tart lemonade and lively ginger with just a hint of fizz.

Fried Green Beans with a Chinese Remoulade Sauce

Starters include the house Thai-style chicken noodle soup with coconut milk and rice noodles; a small Asian salad (cabbage mix, peanut dressing, veggies, sesame seeds); and a triumvirate of appetizers.  At a bare minimum, you should order at least two because if you order only one, you’ll certainly regret you didn’t sample the others.  If there’s an appetizer you haven’t previously found in New Mexico, that’s one you should consider.  The other should be a favorite appetizer so you can compare your previous favorite with Latitude 33’s made-from-scratch version. 

Among the former, green chile aficionados should order the shishito peppers, a mild Japanese pepper not entirely unlike our own New Mexico green chiles.  Shishito peppers are three to four inches long and inherit the olfactory-arousing aroma of green chile when flash-fried until their skin is lightly blistered.  Unlike green chile, you don’t peel them after they’re  flash-fried.  Latitude 33  serves them with a green chile ponzu (a watery citrus-based sauce) sauce that complements the shishito peppers wonderfully.  You will absolutely fall in love with shishito peppers.  Note: The only place we’ve been able to find the addictive shishito peppers has been the Santa Fe Grower’s Market.  Shame on Asian restaurants in the Duke City and Santa Fe for not showcasing this green chile “mini me.”

Spicy Peanut Noodles with Flank Steak

In recent years, fried green beans have become a rather trendy finger food appetizer health-conscious parents are actually able to get their children to enjoy–even if their persnickety children otherwise hate green beans.  Whether ordered in lieu of fattier French fries or for healthful considerations, fried green beans are quite delicious when prepared correctly.  At Latitude 33, the green beans are lightly breaded and fried to a golden hue then served with a Chinese remoulade sauce.  Each about the length of your index finger, they’re crispy just beyond al dente.  The remoulade is a savory-tangy-slightly piquant dip which may remind you of the dip you dredge up with your favorite snack.

One of the most popular entrees on the menu are spicy peanut noodles, an entree for which the name falls well short of describing its deliciousness. Normally offered with tofu or chicken, the accommodating staff will substitute flank steak for a pittance more. The flank steak is seasoned magnificently and is as tender as the song of a summer wind. It’s a worthy protein for the elongated strands of wild rice noodles in a house-made spicy peanut sauce served with edamame (immature soybeans in the pod) and red peppers garnered with green onion, a wedge of lime and cucumber. The spicy peanut sauce is only mildly piquant, but imbues the noodles with a delightful flavor that marries especially well with the other ingredients. Be very judicious with the lime wedge because too much citrus will change the flavor profile significantly (and not necessarily for the better).

Coconut Green Curry Chicken

In years of eating at Thai and Asian restaurants, few entrees have surprised me nearly as much as Latitude 33’s coconut green curry chicken. New Mexico’s Thai restaurants tend to prepare green curry dishes with bamboo shoots in a sweet-spicy coconut milk-enhanced curry. Latitude 33’s housemade version is made with Jasmine rice and no noodles. The curry is imbued with a touch of Hatch green chile, fresh broccoli, onion, red pepper, chicken and toasted coconut. The toasted coconut was heretofore not something my pedantic lips had ever experienced with green curry. Texturally and from a flavor perspective, it’s a nice touch. Latitude 33’s green curry isn’t overwhelmed by coconut milk as so many Thai curries in America tend to be. Instead, it treated us to a wide variety of thoroughly enjoyable flavor and texture combinations.

Desserts are limited to green tea ice cream and coconut black rice pudding with whipped cream. Made with sticky whole grain black rice, just a modicum of coconut milk and a generous sprinkling of toasted coconut, this rice pudding is creamy, mildly sweet, a little savory, and very coconutty. Unlike most of the black rice puddings you’ll find, this one is served cold. It took one bite to get used to the cold sensation and focus on just how good this dessert can be when made correctly.

Coconut Black Rice Pudding

Latitude 33 is just one more reason we’ve grown to love Truth or Consequences, a city which surprises us more and more every time we visit.  This is one restaurant with which you’ll fall in love, too. 

Latitude 33
304 South Pershing Street
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
(575) 740-7804
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 29 September 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Spicy Peanut Noodles, Shishito Peppers with Green Chili Ponzu Sauce, Coconut Green Curry Chicken, Fried Green Beans with a Chinese Remoulade Sauce Coconut Black Rice Pudding,

Latitude 33 on Urbanspoon