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Mekong Ramen House – Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Mekong Ramen House just north of Candelaria on San Mateo

In a 2009 movie entitled Ramen Girl, Abby, a wayward American girl unacculturated to life in Tokyo witnesses the radiant smiles on the faces of diners as they eat ramen and receives an epiphany that her life’s calling is to become a ramen chef. Over time she persuades a ramen restaurant’s temperamental Japanese chef to mentor her. Initially he assigns her to perform the most menial and degrading tasks, but she perseveres and eventually convinces her tyrannical mentor of her sincerity and he teaches her how to make ramen. Alas, it’s ramen with no soul until she also learns that ramen must be prepared from the heart and not from her head.

Ramen with soul? Ramen chefs? Ramen prepared from the heart? That just doesn’t describe the ramen experience for most Americans. In the fruited plain, ramen is typically thought of as “budget” food, something to fill your belly when your bank account is empty. Few foods offer as much bang for the buck as the ubiquitous low-brow meal most often associated with the college student demographic. Fittingly, in Japan ramen is often called “gakusei ryori” which translates to “student cuisine.” It’s not just students and budget-conscious diners, however, who love ramen.

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The colorful interior of the Mekong Ramen House

Ramen is beloved worldwide to the tune of 95 billion servings in 2011.  That’s enough ramen to feed 260 million people for an entire year. Invented in 1958 by Nissin Foods, the original “Top Ramen” noodles with which most of us are familiar, rakes in some 3.2 billion dollars a year.  Throw in competing ramen clones made in other countries and you have an estimated world market of ten billion per year.  That’s a lot of noodles. 

When first introduced in Japan, ramen was considered a luxury item and was six times more expensive than homemade noodles found in Japanese grocery stores.  Ramen made its ways across the Pacific in 1972 and was marketed as “Oodles of Noodles” throughout the East Coast  The following year saw the introduction of “Nissin Cup Noodles” in the familiar and convenient Styrofoam cups.  Before long, hundreds of knock-offs flooded the market.

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Tom Yum Soup

How important is ramen in the Japanese culture? In a poll  conducted by the Fuji Research Institute, instant ramen was named by Japanese respondents as the greatest “made in Japan” invention of the 20th century, edging out karaoke, headphone stereos, TV game players and compact disks.  Attribute its popularity in part to economics.  It’s been estimated that a person can live off ramen for an entire year at a cost of under $150, approximately three-percent of what Americans spend a year on food.

It’s not solely the inexpensive instant ramen that has captured the hearts and imaginations of connoisseurs throughout the world.   The gourmet ramen craze has dispelled the stereotype that ramen is cheap food reserved exclusively for broke college students and that it’s always served in Styrofoam packages.  Gourmet ramen is an epicurean experience showcasing deeply soulful (there’s that term: soul) ramen dishes such as Tonkotsu soup with roasted Kurobuta pork for which the bones have simmered for hours, if not days.  This ramen is fresh and handmade, not instant or dry.   The quality is telling.

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Beef Stick

When fellow gastronome Chris Reddington told us about Mekong Ramen House on the northwest intersection of San Mateo and Candelaria, we entertained faint hopes that the Duke City had finally graduated in culinary sophistication to have its own gourmet ramen house.   I say “faint” because the name “Mekong” has no affiliation with Japan.  The Mekong, one of the world’s longest rivers, meanders from China through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, all nations with some ramen tradition.

Although ramen is prominent on the menu (and it’s made on the premises), the Mekong Ramen House is not a traditional gourmet ramen house.  Instead, the restaurant offers a diverse and delicious culinary experience which showcases cuisine from several Asian nations including China, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos as well as from Isaan, Thailand’s northeastern region which sits just across the Mekong River from Laos.  The chef is from Laos, home in my opinion to one of the world’s most under-appreciated cuisines.  Perhaps because of the restaurant’s “newness,” we found the cuisine relatively unspoiled by the over-the-top Americanized sauces which lean heavily toward cloying sweetness.  The food is refreshingly authentic, clean and untainted.

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Cucumber Ramen Salad

Ensconced in a nondescript shopping center, the Mekong Ramen House is tastefully arrayed in walls of many colors festooned with attractive wall hangings.  Seating is more functional than it is comfortable. Although English is a second language to the wait staff, service is unfailingly polite, prompt and attentive.  The menu is priced comparably to most Asian restaurants throughout the Duke City and while offering the cuisine of several Southeast Asian nations, is not an especially ambitious menu, listing only 41 items.  A limited menu does not limited flavors make.

22 February 2014: No sooner had we been seated and our beverage order taken than our server brought us a delightful amuse-bouche, a bowl of Tom Yum soup.  If you’re used to Tum Yum soups being served in tureens big enough for a small family with shards of lemongrass, galangal and mushrooms bobbing to the surface, you’ll wonder where those elements went.  Mekong’s version is as “murky” as a light chicken noodle soup with only scallions floating to the top.  Though the aforementioned ingredients aren’t in evidence to the eye, they are pleasantly discernible to the taste buds.  This Tum Yum is simple and delicious, not lip-pursing as too many Americanized versions are made.

Egg Rolls

22 February 2014: One of the ways in which ramen is showcased on the menu is in a crispy appetizer.  The cucumber ramen salad (sliced cucumbers topped with crispy ramen noodles and served with a sweet chili sauce) highlights the diversity of ramen in ways most college students probably haven’t explored.  My Kim frequently orders dehydrated noodles and delights in their squiggly qualities coming to life when introduced to sauces.  She enjoyed the crispy ramen, too.  This is a relatively simple salad emboldened by a sweet-tangy-piquant chili sauce.

22 February 2014: Another simple appetizer popular in street-side stands throughout Laos is the beef stick, Lao style grilled beef skewers served with chili lime sauce.  Their portability make them an ideal street food snack while their simplicity and deliciousness will make them a popular draw to the Ramen Noodle House.  Three perfectly grilled skewers of tender, delicious beef are served with a gunpowder strong chili lime sauce.  The piquancy of the sauce means you’ll likely perform “touch and go” maneuvers with your beef stick instead of dipping or scooping. 

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Pad Ramen Noodle

19 February 2015:  Forgive me if you’ve read this before on this blog, but egg rolls–or at least Chinese egg rolls–have morphed into one of the most uninteresting and tasteless appetizers in creation.  What ever happened to Chinese egg rolls stuffed with julienne pork, bean sprouts, shiitake mushrooms, carrots and just a bit of cabbage wrapped by crispy, slightly chewy skins. Today, cabbage comprises approximately 90% of the content of Chinese egg rolls.  If you want a good egg roll, you’ve got to visit an Asian restaurant other than Chinese.  While every Asian culture makes its egg rolls differently, the concept is basically the same.  The wrappers on the Mekong Ramen House’s egg rolls have a golden sheen and a crispy exterior that belies an interior of cabbage, carrots, ramen noodles and more.  These egg rolls are slightly larger than a Cuban cigar and are served with a sweet-tangy sauce.

22 February 2014: The menu offers a number of pad (stir-fry) dishes, two made with ramen noodles, one with Udon noodles and one with a simple rice noodle.  The Pad Ramen Noodle (ramen noodles, broccoli, carrots, cabbage, onions, bean sprouts and green onions) dish is perhaps the most simple, but it’s a dish which very well demonstrates stir-fry executed by a wok master.  Available with your choice of chicken, pork, beef, vegetables, tofu or shrimp, this dish emphasizes the tangle of noodles and their harmonious interplay with other ingredients.

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Lao Grilled Chicken with Sticky Rice

22 February 2014: There are a number of Lao dishes interspersed throughout the menu, but there’s also a page dedicated solely to the cuisine of Laos.  Alas, there are only six items on that page, but they include some of the Lao dishes with whom acculturated Americans are familiar: Laab, beef Jerky, Lao sausage and Lao papaya.  The menu also includes a Lao grilled chicken served with sticky rice and Mekong chili tomatoes sauce.  The grilled chicken–a leg, a breast and a thigh–is dissimilar to the way grilled chicken is prepared in Mexico in that it’s not infused with charcoal flavor.  Though there is a pleasant smokiness, the grilling influence penetrates deeply and it’s delicious.  The accompanying sticky rice is served in a cute little wicker basket that retains heat.

19 February 2015: It stands to reason that because Laos and Thailand border one another, their cuisines are very similar.  That means rich, coconut-milk based sauces, fresh ingredients and exotic flavors such as galangal, Kaffir lime, and curry paste.  The latter is best on display in the Mekong House’s Red Curry Ramen, a swimming pool-sized bowl brimming with ingredients: cabbage, broccoli, julienne carrots, bean sprouts, chives, bell pepper, red curry and some of the most unctuous, rich and delicious ramen noodles you’ll ever have.  Those noodles would easily be the starring attraction on this excellent soup were it not for the red curry itself.  Not quite as coconut milk-sweet as most Thai curries, it’s got an assertiveness (courtesy of ginger) I’ve often missed in curries which emphasize sweetness.  This is an excellent curry dish, albeit one that’s not available on the daily menu but shows up periodically as a special of the day.

Red Curry Ramen

22 February 2014: Our preferred way of enjoying sticky rice is with mangoes, the quintessential Thai and Lao dessert.  Few desserts of any nation are as wonderful as mangoes with sticky rice, especially when the mangoes are in season.  In-season means their flesh is a sweet and intensely tropical with a fragrant aroma and a fibrous texture around the pit.  The intensity of mangoes in-season marries oh so well with the sticky rice which swims with rich, sweet coconut milk. 

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Mangoes with sticky rice

If you survived on ramen noodles during your collegiate days, the Mekong Ramen House will introduce you to ramen in ways of which you may not have conceived, all of them delicious.  It will also introduce you to some of the best Thai and Lao cuisine you’ll find in the Duke City.

Mekong Ramen House
3115 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 881-2326
LATEST VISIT: 19 February 2015
1st VISIT: 22 February 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Mangoes with Sticky Rice, Cucumber Ramen Salad, Beef Stick, Pad Ramen Noodle, Lao Grilled Chicken, Egg Rolls, Red Curry Ramen

Mekong Ramen House on Urbanspoon

Banh Mi Coda – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Banh Mi Coda, home of fabulous Vietnamese sandwiches

My former boss at Intel prides himself on consistently working “half days.” If you’re thinking you’d like a job where you work only four hours a day, you’ve misinterpreted his definition of “half days.” To him, half days is a literal term meaning twelve hours a day.  When most of us are done for after only nine or ten hours, he’s starting what he calls his “second shift.”  Very few of us have the stamina, initiative and especially the passion for what we do to work “half days.”

I know restaurateurs for whom half days (or longer) are standard six or seven days a week.  Because they spend so much time in their restaurants tending to the care and feeding of others, they tend not to eat there–when they make time to eat.  On their rare days off or when they’re able to make time for a quick escape, they like to visit their fellow restaurateurs, not necessarily to check up on the competition, but to be pampered and fed well.

The interior of Banh Mi Coda

Some restaurateurs would make great restaurant critics though they do tend to be overly “honest” when describing direct competitors, restaurants which serve the same type of cuisine they do.  On the other hand, if you’d like to know where to find cuisine that meets exceedingly high standards, ask your favorite restaurateurs where they like to dine, particularly with family.  If they’re effusive  about a restaurant, you should make it a point to visit soon.  It’s a good bet you’ll like it too. 

Nicole Villareal, the vivacious owner of Nicky V’s Neighborhood Pizzeria is a huge fan of the San Pedro Middle East Restaurant, quite possibly the very best purveyor of Middle Eastern delicacies in New Mexico.  In another example of a restaurateur with a great restaurant unabashed with praise for another great restaurant,  Torinos @ Home‘s dynamic Daniela Bouneau is positively agog over Budai Gourmet Chinese.

Coda Combo (Jambon, Headham, Vietnamese Ham, BBQ Pork, Pate)

Though she’d probably prefer most of my restaurant meals and words of praise be reserved for Torinos @ Home, Daniela emailed me a few weeks ago with a rousing endorsement for a restaurant she and husband Maxime discovered during a foray to the International District.  She admitted “Max and I were like kids last Saturday.  Oh my, so fresh and so good and very affordable, too.”  She then proceeded to recommend several dishes which struck her fancy.  Daniela has never led me astray, either at her fabulous restaurant or at one she’s recommended to me.

The restaurant which excited her so much is Banh Mi Coda, a Vietnamese bakery which specializes in banh mi, the sandwich fusion which melds the freshness of Asian ingredients and the culinary ingenuity of the French.  Banh Mi Coda is situated next door to Cafe Trang, separated only by a sprawling parking lot from Talin Market.  In a previous instantiation, Banh Mi Coda was named Lee’s Bakery (not to be confused with the California-based Lee’s Sandwiches) and was located on the west side of the commodious Cafe Trang complex.

Grilled Pork Banh Mi

When you enter the Lilliputian digs, your olfactory senses will experience the sensual delight of fresh, warm oven-baked breads and pastries.  As the intoxicating fragrances waft toward you, you’ll start to take in the visual aspects of your soon to be dining experience. Immediately to your right as you walk in are bold, color photographs of the eleven sandwich options, each foot-long banh mi seemingly not much smaller than the tiny eatery.  Indicative perhaps of the volume of take-out orders, Banh Mi Coda has only a handful of tables, none of which appear large enough to accommodate a one-person order much less lunch for two.  Culinary treasures are showcased under glass, the objects of much ogling and lust.

Your first visit should be reserved for the name on the marquee, a banh mi unlike any other in the Duke City, a sandwich Albuquerque The Magazine named one of the city’s 12 yummiest sandwiches in its annual Food & Wine issue for 2012.   The basis for any great sandwich is the bread into which sundry ingredients are cradled.  Fresh-baked, out of the oven into your waiting hands, twelve-inch French baguettes are the foundation of these banh mi.  Each sandwich includes pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber, cilantro, sliced jalapeño and Vietnamese mayo.  Even the deli meats used on these sandwiches are made in-house and are available for purchase by the pound.  The eleven sandwich options include two vegetarian choices: over-easy egg and tofu (also made on the premises).

Vietnamese Meatball Banh Mi

The French baguettes may resemble sub sandwich bread, but the similarity stops there.  Unlike the thick, doughy, pillowy bread proffered by the chains, these baguettes are crispy on the outside and have a soft interior.  Characteristic of banh mi, these sandwiches will never be accused of being overstuffed.  In fact, they look positively paltry compared to subs stuffed with lettuce.  The difference is in the profusion of flavors you’ll experience with every bite.  The ingredients are unfailingly fresh, crisp and moist.  From grilled pork and chicken to shrimp sausage and cold cuts, the “innards” of each sandwich are as flavorful as can be imagined.

21 July 2015: The Coda Combo (jambon, head ham, Vietnamese ham, BBQ pork and pate) is an excellent introduction to the delicious possibilities of a Vietnamese sandwich. If the aforementioned ingredients sound unfamiliar, if not daunting, fear not. Jambon is a wet-cured, boneless ham. Pate is a pork and liver spread. They–and the other ingredients in this combo–are absolutely delicious, and not just in an exotic, adventure-eating sort of way. The grilled pork banh mi, much like traditional Vietnamese grilled pork entrees, is redolent with the sweet spices of anise and cinnamon. Complemented with the sweet-savory-tangy pickled vegetables, it’s a wonderful sandwich.  Even if you’re a bit pusillanimous around piquant peppers, make sure your sandwich includes at least a few jalapenos.  They add more than piquancy. 

Green Chili Chicken Pate Chaud

10 February 2015: There’s a Lemony Snicket quote which might just be appropriate for Banh Mi Coda’s Vietnamese Meatball Banh Mi: “Miracles are like meatballs, because nobody can exactly agree on what they are made of, where they come from, or how often they should appear.”  The photo on the wall depicts a baguette brimming with meatballs.  There aren’t nearly quite that many meatballs on the banh mi.  In fact, meatballs are rather sparse.  Perhaps that’s because a few meatballs go a long way.  Texturally the meatballs are akin to meatloaf, the soft, squishy inside, not the crusty exterior.  In terms of flavor, they’re a perfect foil for the other ingredients.  More savory than sweet, the meatballs are a wonderful filler for any sandwich.

21 July 2011: For a surprising combination of Vietnamese and New Mexican ingredients, the green chili (sic) chicken pate chaud is a must-have. Under glass, it resembles a German apple strudel, but this is far from a dessert offering.  As with banh mi, it’s a French influenced dish.  A homemade puff pastry is engorged with shredded chicken and green chili in a cream sauce.  The golden crust is light and flaky, the shredded chicken and cream sauce a delight and the green chili actually has bite.  Call this one a Vietnamese empanada and you wouldn’t get much argument from any New Mexican who tries it.

Pandan Waffles

21 July 2011: One of the items Daniela recommended most highly was the pandan waffle, wholly unlike any conception of a waffle you might have. Pandan is an herb with long green leaves. It not only imbues the waffles with a bright green coloring, but with a discernible flavor and aroma. Also prominent on the flavor profile is coconut milk. Pandan waffles are moist and don’t require syrup. They’re also surprisingly good.

10 February 2015: With all due apologies to the famous Frontier Roll, the Duke City’s very best anytime pastry may well be Banh Mi Coda’s fabulous Cinnamon Raisin Croissant.  While not crescent-shaped or as flaky as most, if not all, of the croissants you’ve ever had, it has the delicious properties of croissants at their best.  Tear into the spiral-shaped, sugar encrusted beauty and wisps of steam will waft upward toward your eagerly anticipating nostrils.  The insides are pillowy soft with melt-in-your mouth qualities and the sweetness born of raisins a plenty as well as sugar and cinnamon, but not too much of either.  If you’re tired of pastries so sweet that looking at them rots your teeth, you’ll love this one.

Fresh, Right out of the Oven Cinnamon Raisin Croissant

The premise that restaurateurs and chefs know where to eat wasn’t lost on the Food Network whose program “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” answers the question “where do food stars and chefs eat in their free time–when they’re paying.” It make sense that people who spend their lives obsessing about food during their half days or longer at the kitchen would know where it’s served best. Banh Mi Coda is one such restaurant.

Banh Mi Coda
230-C Louisiana Blvd, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 232-0085
LATEST VISIT: 10 February 2015
1st VISIT: 21 July 2011
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pandan Waffles, Green Chili Chicken Pate Chaud, Coda Combo Banh Mi, Grilled Pork Banh Mi, Vietnamese Pork Meatball Banh Mi

Banh Mi Coda (Lee's Bakery) on Urbanspoon

Viet Q – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Viet Q Vietnamese Grill Restaurant on Montgomery and San Pedro

When helicopters were snatching people from the grounds of the American embassy
compound during the panic of the final Vietcong push into Saigon,
I was sitting in front of the television set shouting, ‘Get the chefs! Get the chefs
!'”
Calvin Trillin, American writer, New Yorker Magazine

It’s unlikely Trillin, a humorist renown for his love of food, was entirely serious about his seemingly callous reaction to the poignant imagery of thousands of South Vietnamese fleeing their besieged city.  In his own inimitable way, he was using his sardonic wit to express  appreciation for the exotic cuisine he loves so much.  In fact, he considers the influx of Asians into American restaurant kitchens divine intervention of a sort: “God felt sorry for us because we lost a war to such a small country as Vietnam and sent the Vietnamese to us–where they were really needed.”

Three decades after the evacuation of Saigon, the Travel Channel’s articulate bon viveur Anthony Bourdain, wrote about Saigon: “I think I’ve gone bamboo…I’ve gone goofy on Vietnam, fallen hopelessly, hopelessly in love with the place.”  For Bourdain, that’s rare, unfettered praise.  Most viewers recognize that Bourdain’s approach to his culinary adventures is antithetical to the burbling style of Rachel Ray who visits only the most sanitary, hip and happening restaurants then anoints everything that touches her toothsome mouth as “yummo.”  Bourdain doesn’t sugarcoat anything, exposing his featured fare’s warts and blemishes yet somehow finding deliciousness in the experience and describing it with the honesty that has made him an iconic personality.

Papaya Salad

Bourdain champions the experience of dining in Saigon’s makeshift street markets in which kitchens are ad-libbed by inventive cooks.  The fragrant bouquet of ambrosial foods being prepared on small, sometimes homemade, charcoal braziers wafts throughout the alleyways and side streets in which these, mostly uncovered, markets are located.  Though many tourists fear the Vietnamese version of Montezuma’s revenge, the incidence of food-borne illness is relatively low.

Alas, we’re not going to find improvised street markets in Albuquerque’s International District or anywhere else in our fair city and not even a fun shopping day at the Talin Market World Food Fare can match the experience of a day  of dining in  a Saigon open air market or a soiree at a side street “cafe.”  Fortunately the Duke City is home to several very good to outstanding Vietnamese restaurants, a concentration of which are centered in the city’s southeastern section.  A number of outliers (May Hong and Saigon come to mind) make Vietnamese cuisine proximal to most neighborhoods east of the Rio Grande.

Grilled Beef Wrapped in Grape Leaves

In June, 2010, the Northeast Heights welcomed a new, yet seemingly familiar, Vietnamese restaurant.  It’s no coincidence that the lime green signage at Viet Q resembles the color pallet at Viet Taste, a popular strip mall eatery near Coronado Mall.  The ownership of both Viet Q and Viet Taste is related, but that’s not the only semblance.  Step inside Viet Q and you’re in the lap of upscale stylings, starting with a pergola you walk under to enter the dining room.  Lighting is subdued and the spacing between tables allows for some privacy.  Framed photographs depicting the curvature of sultry women accentuate the ambiance.

22 August 2010: Viet Q purports to be the most upscale Vietnamese restaurant in town.  To that end, service is very personable and attentive.  Every meal begins with a complementary papaya salad, a very nice touch.  Green papaya is shaved into thin slices with julienne carrots then drizzled with a sauce of soy, coconut milk and sugar topped with sprigs of cilantro and crushed peanuts.  This is an addictive salad showcasing fresh, crispy vegetables and a sauce that’s both sweet and piquant, deliciously so.  It’s very similar to the papaya salad offered at many Thai restaurants, but we enjoyed it more–so much more that in future visits, we’ll order the appetizer portions which are made with shrimp or chicken.

Meat Ball Soup

22 August 2010: Unacculturated diners visiting a Vietnamese restaurant for the first time tend to do a double-take when they see grilled beef wrap grape leaf on the menu, wondering if they stepped into a Greek restaurant. Entirely different than Greek dolmades, Viet Q’s version features the anise, lemon grass and cinnamon blessed grilled beef encased is a small, tightly wrapped, cigar shaped grape leaf.  It’s served with a light, slightly piquant and not too sweet fish sauce.   Five pieces to the order might inspire rapacious drooling.

7 December 2014:  Few things in life are as satisfying as biting into a well-crafted dumpling–the steamed or fried wrapper hermetically sealing concordant ingredients in a steamed or fried wrapper.  Preceded by an intoxicating aroma wafting toward your eagerly awaiting nostrils, the  first bite is always a revelation as to whether you’re partaking of dumpling greatness.  At the very least, Viet Q’s dumplings are very good.  Engorged with pork and a tangy-piquant dipping sauce, their only fault is in quantity–there are only six per order.

Potstickers

22 August 2010: As Bourdain fans know, he considers pho, a wonderful Vietnamese noodle soup, his favorite comfort food, claiming that he would “jerk a butter knife across his best friend’s throat” for a bowl of pho.  Fortunately the portion size for pho at most restaurants is about the size of a small swimming pool, so a bowl of pho is usually large enough for two to share.  If you’re not hungry enough for a large bowl, the appetizer menu comes to the rescue with two small portioned soups–a meat ball soup and a wonton soup. 

22 August 2010: The meat ball soup is a warm elixir for whatever ails you, so warm and good you’ll long for the cold bite of winter so the soup can warm you up.  The broth is delicious with cilantro and red onions floating atop to amend the flavor profile.  The meat balls are quite dissimilar to the meatballs you might associate with an Italian spaghetti dish.  These meat balls aren’t wholly spherical, but rather sliced like thick sausage on a pizza.  Come to think of it, texturally the meat balls resemble a sliced Italian sausage.  In any case, they’re delicious and there are plenty of them on the soup.

Banh Mi

7 December 2014: Bourdain describes banh mi as a “symphony in a sandwich.”  Not very long ago, the number of Vietnamese restaurants in Albuquerque offering the sacrosanct sandwich of Vietnam was somewhat limited.  Today almost every Vietnamese restaurant in the Duke City offers a version with levels of quality varying from very good to excellent.  That’s quite a testament as to just how good banh mi can be.  Viet Q offers two banh mi though on the menu they’ve been translated to English. 

The canvas for Viet Q’s banh mi is a warm baguette which is crispy on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside which is stuffed with a number of robust herbs and vegetables such as coriander, parsley, jalapeño, daikon, cucumber and carrots along with your choice of meat (pork is an excellent option).  It’s a scrumptious sandwich that will wake up your palate.  It’s not, however, an Americanized “Dagwood” sandwich overstuffed with ingredients, but the ingredients that it does have are indeed symphonic in the way they coalesce into absolute deliciousness.

Hot Claypot Rice Combination with Grilled Beef, Squid, Crab and Vegetables

22 August 2010: One of Bourdain’s favorite restaurants in Vietnam adds an entertaining touch to the dining experience.  When a claypot rice dish is ready to serve, the claypot is broken open and the rice is tossed across the room.  Smashing claypots can be heard every few minutes.  The practice is probably too cost prohibitive and probably prohibited by the city’s Environmental Health Department, too, so you won’t hear smashing crockery at Viet Q.  What you will hear is hungry diners ordering this very popular entree.  There’s a good reason for this. 

22 August 2010: There are two claypot rice entrees on the menu–a rice dish with your choice of meat (pork, beef, shrimp) and a combination claypot rice dish with the aforementioned three choices plus squid.  The combination claypot rice dish is the dish for adventurous diners who don’t mind mixing seafood with meat.  The rice is sweet and delicious, the rice at the bottom of the dish sporting a nice caramelized texture.  Fresh vegetables–sugar snap peas, broccoli and more–blend well with fresh, well-prepared seafood and meat for a flavor combination that will keep diners happy.

Special Noodle Soup

7 December 2014:  Is there any term in the American restaurant menu that has been as cheapened over time as much as the word “special.”  Bourdain, in fact, advises diners to never, ever order the special of the day especially if it’s a seafood item. This is a way the kitchen staff gets rid of items about to spoil or go bad.  Seeing the term “special of the day” related to seafood now makes me cringe, however, seeing the term “special” used to describe a Vietnamese soup makes my mouth water.  Viet Q’s Special Noodle Soup ranks just below Cafe Dalat’s Spicy Beef Stew as my very favorite Vietnamese soup. 

If ever a soup earned the designation “special” it’s this one.  Our lovely server confessed that it’s as close to what she grew up with in Vietnam as she’s found in America. The enthusiasm with which she recommended it inspired me to bypass other desirable options.  As with the aforementioned Spicy Beef Stew, this soup packs a pleasantly piquant punch, the kind of which generates an endorphin rush sure to please your palate.  Its piquancy is punctuated by the discernible sweetness of anise and cinnamon.  Swimming in the reddish hued broth are thinly sliced raw beef slices which cook in the soup.  A large tangle of rich, unctuous noodles impregnated with the flavor of the broth is delightful.  This is indeed a special soup!

Stir-Fried Egg Noodle with Pork

22 August 2010: The stir-fried egg noodle with pork dish evinces why Viet Q’s signage includes “Vietnamese Grill.”  The grilled beef is delicious, tinged with the fragrant smokiness imparted by grilling.  The egg noodles are perfectly prepared as are the vegetables.  A light, slightly sweet broth is a flavorful addition to an excellent noodle dish.

Experientially, a meal at Viet Q is wholly unlike the unique experience of dining at a Saigon street market, but it does provide comfortable seating, excellent service, a varied menu and entrees (especially that addictive special noodle soup) that will having you coming back again and again.

Viet Q Vietnamese Restaurant
6205 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 872-2311
LATEST VISIT: 7 December 2014
1st VISIT: 22 August 2010
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Stir-Fried Egg Noodle with Pork, Hot Claypot Rice Combination, Meat Ball Soup, Grilled Beef Wrapped in Grape Leaves, Papaya Salad, Durian Shake, Potstickers, Special Noodle Soup

Viet Q on Urbanspoon