Dragon House – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Dragon House on Corrales Road

Admit it–every time you dine at a Chinese restaurant, you peruse the Chinese Zodiac paper placemats at your table describing the characteristics of people based on their birth year.   Every new year of the lunar calendar is represented in Chinese mythology by one of twelve animals, only one of which is mythological.  That would be the dragon.  People born on the year of the dragon are considered very fortunate as presumably a long, happy life awaits those with a dragon birth year.  So that you don’t have to look it up, the last six years of the dragon were 2012, 2000, 1988, 1976, 1964 and 1952.  If you were born before 1952, simply subtract 12.

Long before Hungarian Horntails, Swedish Short-Snouts and Norwegian Ridgebacks ran roughshod over the wizarding world of Harry Potter, giant-winged, fire-breathing reptiles were carving a niche in the rich history of China. Unlike the malevolent maiden-stealing, village trashing, knight incinerating creatures of old European mythology, dragons in China were viewed as benevolent entities capable of bringing rain to a parched land. The dragon signified power, strength and good luck. Starting with the Han Dynasty (206BC – 220AD), Chinese emperors assumed the symbolism of the dragon, hoping to bring good fortune to their lands.

Interior of the Dragon House

It stands to reason that because the dragon is considered providential, many Chinese restaurants would be named for the feared and revered reptilian creature.  In fact, the Washington Post teamed up with Yelp to determine the most common words used in naming Chinese restaurants.  Understandably, the most frequently-used word in Chinese restaurant names is, in fact, restaurant while China or Chinese appear in more than one-third of the names.  Dragon comes second to panda as the most popular animal or creature to appear in restaurant names.  By the way, General Tso’s Chicken is the most popular Chinese dish in the western world though what is served at most American Chinese restaurants bears only a passing semblance to the traditional version.

Residents and employees of businesses in Albuquerque’s Northwest quadrant haven’t always considered themselves lucky when it comes to Chinese restaurants.  My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, couldn’t think of a nice thing to say about the  Dragon House’s predecessor, a Chinese restaurant named Fortune Cookie.  Since Larry bit the bullet in visiting the Fortune Cookie, we thought it only fair that we try its successor.  Before placing our order we confirmed that the Dragon House isn’t the Fortune Cookie reborn with a fresh coat of paint and new name.

Fried and Steamed Dumplings

The Dragon House looks like almost every cheap-eats Chinese restaurant in town–only maybe a little bit less so.  Decor is austere, lacking many of the stereotypical trappings of Chinese restaurants.  This is not a restaurant you’d ever nominate for a Good Housekeeping award unless shocking shades of orange and leatherette banquettes are what’s trending in haute decor.  Seating is more functional  than it is comfortable.  It’s a good thing esthetics are a virtue that can be overcome with good food, attentive service and reasonable prices.   

Health-conscious diners will be happy to hear the stir-fry preparation that’s a hallmark of the Dragon House’s extensive menu relies on less oil and less fat.  Heart-healthy choices–mostly steamed dishes–provide a nice alternative to stir-fry and there’s no MSG to be found anywhere.  The menu is a compendium of American Chinese food favorites, but not just the usual sweet-and-sour suspects.  With several pages of choices, you’re bound to find something you’ll like and you’ll appreciate the low, low cost.  Lunch specials are priced for 1995 not 2016.   The Dragon House does a robust take-out business.

Barbecue Pork and Vegetables on Crispy Noodles

With the usual appetizer line-up of egg rolls, won tons, dumplings and the like, you might not expect any surprises.  What might surprise you is how much you’ll enjoy the dumplings, available steamed, fried or a combination thereof.  Prepared to order, these eight crescent-shaped beauties, engorged with pork and vegetables, would stand out even without dipping sauce, but they probably wouldn’t be quite as exciting.  The Dragon House serves the dumplings with three plastic squeeze bottles, each featuring a different sauce.  Predictably, the most anemic is the sweet-and-sour sauce which is just run-of-the-mill.  Equally good and both incendiary, the hot mustard and chili sauce are quite good.

One of the most beauteous and colorful dishes on the menu showcases the fun and delicious properties of crispy noodles, my Kim’s favorite.  Served steaming hot, the steam and the gravy-like sauce reconstitutes the noodles.  They may start off crunchy and dry, but stir them just a bit, let the steam do its work, and they reacquire the soft noodle texture typical in soups and noodle dishes.  A layer of those crispy noodles is topped with a colorful array of vegetables (green pea shoots, orange carrots, green peppers, yellow baby corns) and barbecue pork.  The vegetables are perfectly al dente while the crimson-rimmed barbecue pork lends a sweet-savory quality.    This delicious dish offers delightful textures, flavors and colors.

Singapore Noodles

My friend Ming Lee who was born and raised in Singapore laughs at the notion that Singapore Noodles originated in the island city-state of his birth.  Their origin, he tells me, is Cantonese.  Indeed, they’re a standard of Chinese restaurants, but can also be found in some Vietnamese restaurants (the May Cafe’s version are Albuquerque’s standard-bearer).  As with other versions of Singapore noodles, the Dragon House’s rendition is seasoned with curry powder and its vermicelli-thin rice noodles are stir-fried along with shrimp, Chinese roast pork and a mix of vegetables.  The Dragon House’s version is a bit on the dry side with yellow curry powder redolent in every morsel. 

With huge portions of very reasonably priced and tasty Chinese food, the Dragon House means diners in northwest Albuquerque, Corrales and Rio Rancho have gotten lucky.

Dragon House
10200 Corrales Road, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 899-8889
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 12 June 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Fried and Steamed Dumplings, Singapore Noodles

Dragon House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

ABC Chinese Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

ABC Chinese on Menaul between Wyoming and Eubank

Hungry sojourners venturing east on Menaul between Wyoming and Eubank will discover two of the dining options on this stretch are among Albuquerque’s elder statesmen in the Duke City’s Chinese restaurant community. You’ll first espy Ho Lo Ma, a venerable institution launched in 1972 and well on its way to a half-century of serving the Duke City. A couple blocks later lies a comparative newcomer named ABC Chinese which has been in business only since 1988. Both restaurants are anachronisms with many of the stereotypical trappings that typified Chinese restaurants in the 1960s and ’70s. Though showing their age, both have legions of devotees. Both also have their vocal detractors.

Among the latter are a persnickety bunch who can’t get past the timeworn ambiance at ABC Chinese. Read their comments on Yelp and TripAdvisor and some commenters would have you believe you’ll be dining in the restaurant equivalent of Oscar Madison’s bedroom. On the same crowd-sourced review sites, you’ll read glowing praise from diners whose sole focus is the menu, its authenticity, variety and the deliciousness of the Cantonese specialties.  As is usually the case, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  The carpeting at ABC Chinese may be a bit threadbare and its walls may not have a fresh coat of paint, but if your sole interest is the pursuit of good, solid Chinese food, you’ll find it here.

Dining Room at ABC Chinese

You’ll especially find it on the blue menu.  “Blue?,” you ask.  Of course, you’re aware that the simple word “blue” has connotations beyond being a color on the ultraviolet spectrum.  You know it’s used to describe melancholy or depression (as in a blue funk or feeling blue). You probably know that blue is also used to connote something that’s off-color, profane or indecent. If you dine frequently at the ABC Chinese Restaurant, you’ll certainly know that blue means something with a very positive connotation–a menu which features truly authentic Hong Kong-style Chinese dishes. Diners interested in that authenticity don’t bother with the red menu which is replete with all the familiar favorites (can you say “Americanized”). The blue menu is for more adventurous diners and patrons of Chinese descent. 

That blue menu has achieved not only a strong following among diners who frequent ABC Chinese, but a certain notoriety in print and online mediums.  In his terrific 2004 tome New Mexico Chow, author Scott Sharot mentioned only two Chinese restaurants–Ming Dynasty and ABC Chinese–among the 75 or so restaurants he chose to write about.  His profile extolled the delicious offerings on the blue menu.  In 2013, the real estate blog Movoto published its list of “15 Albuquerque Restaurants” that “Will Blow Your Taste Buds Out of Your Mouth.”  One of those 15 was ABC Chinese about which Movoto wrote “Sure, you can order as much General Tsao’s chicken as you want at ABC Chinese.  Nobody’s going to judge you for that. But you might get a sidewise glance if you don’t get something off the blue menu.”

Fried Chicken in Bean Curd Sauce

That last sentence–you might get a sidewise glance if you don’t get something off the blue menu–speaks volumes about the clientele at ABC Chinese.  It’s a restaurant frequented by savvy diners who won’t settle for candied (sweet-and-sour) meats when they can have Five Spices Lamb Pot.  It’s also a restaurant frequented by diners of Asian descent who definitely won’t order sweet-and-sour or any other Americanized items.  ABC Chinese makes no claims to gourmet Chinese offerings nor does it offer nouvelle fusion items.  It proudly serves Cantonese cuisine which for about the first century or so of Chinese food in America was the only type of Chinese food you could find across the fruited plain. There was no Szechwan, Hunan, Mandarin or Taiwanese cuisine anywhere.

The red menu does include a dozen Korean dishes including Bul Go Gi and Dock Jim Chicken, but for the most part, dishes are the familiar standards that may have been considered exotic only back when all Chinese food was considered exotic. Exceptions include duck prepared four different ways. “Happy Family” and “Golden” dinners are priced at a per person rate and include appetizers and entrees. The red menu also offers a number of combination plates, all of which include an egg roll and fried rice. Within the red menu, you’ll also find a luncheon menu listing more than twenty dishes, the most expensive of which is south of seven dollars. You’ll be amazed at the “back to the past” prices on both menus.

Singapore Vermicelli

2 June 2004: My inaugural visit left me with the impression there would be many more visits though over the years, those visits have been few and far in between. Blame that on my inability to remain monogamous when it comes to restaurants of any genre. While my less adventurous dining companion ordered Bul Go Gi from the red menu, my blue menu choice was deep-fried chicken with bean curd sauce. When done right, that sauce is a perfect melding of garlic, ginger, rice wine, coriander, soy sauce, peppercorn oil and numerous other ingredients which meld incredibly well. ABC Chinese does it right! The fried chicken itself is poultry perfection, a half bird with succulent bone-in white and dark meats upon which is slathered just the right amount of the bean curd sauce.

20 April 2006: During my second visit, I had the pleasure of introducing Steve Coleman, my friend and fellow online restaurant blogger to ABC Chinese. A Chinese food aficionado, Steve thought it at least equal (maybe better) to the best Chinese restaurant in his stomping grounds of El Paso. It goes without saying that Steve ordered from the blue menu. His assessment: “In my opinion, though, when restaurants such as ABC offer an opportunity that comes close to an authentic Chinese experience it should be seized upon, especially in the Southwest where gloppy and gooey Americanized Chinese food predominates.”

Egg Flower Soup

20 April 2006: One of ABC’s specialties is juke (sometimes spelled “jook” and otherwise known as “congee” or even “gruel”), a rice porridge you’ll often find on dim sum menus. ABC offers eight different jukes including a delicious ginger and scallion juke that exemplifies why rice porridge is such a popular comfort food in China. Juke is soothing on the stomach and is particularly comforting on cold winter nights, but it’s great at any time. In and of itself, juke can be a rather bland dish, but when adulterated (the roast duck with black preserved egg will be next), you’re in for a surprisingly good meal.

20 April 2006: Hot pots are another ABC specialty where they may be better than at any Chinese restaurant in Albuquerque. In Asian countries, hot pot dishes are communal dishes served most often in the winter (trust me, they’re great any time of year). ABC’s hot pot dishes are imbued with a garlic and ginger sauce that also takes on the flavors of accompanying meats and vegetables. My early favorite is the b-b-q pork with oyster pot which blends the briny seafood taste of succulent oysters (cooked over low heat for a long time to create what is essentially a condensed oyster flavor) with slightly sweet Chinese style barbecue pork swimming in the aforementioned broth along with scallions, bak choy and other vegetables.

Chili Sauce

6 April 2016: Among the noodle dishes on the menu is one called Singapore Vermicelli which includes shrimp. My server confirmed this is a curry dish, one more often called “Singapore Noodles” in other Duke City Chinese and even Vietnamese (May Café’s version is wonderful) restaurants. Though an asterisk on the menu indicates the Singapore Vermicelli is spicy, it lacks the piquant personality found on a similar dish at Budai, China Best or even Jinja. You can remedy that with a spoonful or five of the chili sauce. The noodles, shrimp and vegetables on the dish are expertly prepared and the portion size is more than generous.

In the 2016 movie Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot where New Mexico was portrayed as Afghanistan, ABC Chinese was cast as the Jade Flower, a favorite watering hole and brothel frequented by journalists. When not appearing on the big screen, ABC Chinese is a restaurant many savvy diners really like. As I was explaining to my server that a Vietnamese restaurateur friend considers ABC Chinese the best Chinese restaurant in town, a visitor from Santa Fe chimed in with “it’s the best in New Mexico.” Find out for yourself why so many diners are passionate, one way or another, about this venerable gem.

ABC Chinese Restaurant
8720 Menaul, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 292-8788
Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 6 April 2016
1st VISIT: 2 June 2004
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 20
COST: $
BEST BET:  Fried Chicken With Bean Curd Sauce, Ginger & Scallion Juke, b-b-q pork with oyster pot, Singapore Vermicelli, Egg Flower Soup

ABC Chinese Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Budai Gourmet Chinese – Albuquerque, New Mexico

 Budai Gourmet Chinese in Albuquerque's Far North Shopping Center

Budai Gourmet Chinese in Albuquerque’s Far North Shopping Center

The true gourmet, like the true artist, is one of the unhappiest creatures existent.
His trouble comes from so seldom finding what he constantly seeks: perfection
.”
Ludwig Bemelmans

By definition, gourmets are connoisseurs, taking food more seriously than most and embodying the axiom  “live to eat rather than eat to live.”  True gourmets, as Ludwig Bemelmans would define them, appreciate food of the highest quality, exalting only in the rarefied experiences–those which require the most discerning palates and noses to cognize subtle nuances in complex and sophisticated flavors and aromas.   Bemelmans, himself an internationally known gourmet, posited that the true gourmet will find joy only in tasting, smelling and appreciating perfection, not in its pursuit.

I’ve known several true gourmets fitting Bemelmans definition.  Most of  them are insufferable and condescending.  Though endowed with refined palates cultivated by years of indulgence in the finest foods and blessed with olfactory senses which would put a German shepherd to shame, they derive no sensuous enjoyment from most culinary experiences.  Nothing is quite good enough.  Nothing meets their demanding and exacting standards.  Dining (they don’t eat) with them is a test in patience as they deride and diminish everything put before them.

Pineapple slush and organic flowering tea

Perhaps the best example of a Bemelmans’ style gourmet is Anton Ego, the notoriously harsh food critic from the wonderful animated movie Ratatouille. Ego earned the nickname “the grim eater” for his impossibly difficult to please, pedantic palate. His ironic proclamation, “I don’t like food; I love food.” belied his joyless, funerary approach to dining.

In 1984, British authors Ann Barr and Paul Levy, coined the term “foodie” to describe passionate food-lovers who have enraptured conversations about their food discoveries.  As with gourmets, foodies have a passion for high-quality food and they pursue it with zeal.  Unlike gourmets, however, foodies are interested in all kinds of foods–up to and including pedestrian, everyday foods such as donuts and potato chips, as long as they are of the highest quality.  Foodies find joy in the pursuit and are generally a lot of fun to break bread with.

Boiled chive pork dumplings

Over the past two and a half years, none of my faithful readers have provided more solid tips on where to go to find great food than my friend Barbara Trembath who has shared her finds with me not only for Albuquerque, but for Boston, Sacramento, Phoenix and other locations to which I’ve traveled. A seasoned traveler with a sophisticated palate, Barbara exemplifies the term “foodie” in the best sense of the term. She  revels in the sensuous enjoyment of a great meal and like me, is hardly monogamous when it comes to eating out. She is constantly on the look-out for the next great dining experience and is finding a lot more of them recently because she moved to Boston in 2012.

A great dining experience.  That’s one of several things that distinguish a foodie from a Bemelmans style gourmet.  Foodies like Barbara relish the holistic experience of dining.  They initiate and enjoy the interaction with chefs and wait staff alike, gleaning as much information as possible about their meals.  They savor the experience of trying new and different entrees.  They engage in the discernment of ingredients, even to the point of trying to figure out how to recreate recipes for those  they enjoy most.  They talk during their meals…mostly about their meals.  Sharing a meal with them–and they do share–is akin to sharing a meal with me.

Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup

After far too many weeks of failed attempts to break bread together, we finally met at Budai Gourmet Chinese in the Far North Shopping Center.  For adventurous foodies, there are few restaurants in New Mexico as accommodating–and as much fun.  Barbara had been to Budai several times, predating reviews by both the Albuquerque Journal and the Alibi.  I was pleasantly surprised to see she was on a first-name basis with Chef Hsia Fang and his effervescent better half, the pulchritudinous pint-sized hostess Elsa.

More impressively, Elsa didn’t try to dissuade them against trying something from the “non-secret” menu (thank you Ari Leveau) as she might people she pegs as “sweet and sour” loving Americans.  That’s a sign of respect.  That’s a sign she’s earned her stripes by having proven themselves as atypical diners.  Being presented with the “other” menu places her in an exclusive class usually reserved for Asian diners who were raised on foods many Americans might consider weird, strange, different…or worse.

Beef stew in clay pot

Budai Gourmet Chinese opened its doors shortly before the dawning of the year 2010.  It didn’t take long for savvy Duke City diners to realize Budai was a special restaurant, one for which the appellation “Gourmet Chinese” is appropriate.  Budai is named for a small fishing village in Taiwan, the “beautiful island” about 75 miles from mainland China.  Neither Hsai nor Elsa are from Budai, but both are inspired by the little village for which they named their restaurant.  Hanging on a wall is an intriguing poem from Budai written in sinography, the unique Chinese character writing style.  Elsa says the poem loses a lot in translation.

On another wall are several photographs taken during a “wrap” party when the filming of a Jackie Chan movie in Albuquerque was completed in 2008.  The Fangs got to know Jackie fairly well and broke bread with the acrobatic actor several times during his stay in the Duke City.  Chan, as it turns out, is quite a cook himself.  It’s doubtful he’s of the caliber of Budai chef Hsai Fang.  It’s possible no one in Albuquerque is.  The day after my inaugural visit, I craved its incomparable flavors so much I had to visit Budai again.  Barbara told me that would happen, that I wouldn’t rest until I’ve tried everything.  I’m off to a good start.

Tea Leaves Smoked Duck

Perhaps because of the many and varied economic, geographic, ethnic and cultural influences, Budai’s menu is inspired–and not just the not-secret one.  The regular menu showcases a variety of dishes and cooking styles from several provinces in China as well as several dishes native to Taiwan and even some influenced by the Japanese who occupied Taiwan for many years. Dishes are categorized into chicken, beef, pork, duck, shrimp, fish, squid, scallop, mussel, tofu and vegetable entrees.

A limited–nine small plate treasures–dim sum menu provides tantalizing temptations, several of which might together constitute a meal.  Some diners eschew appetizers altogether and substitute  a dim sum treasure or two.  Though the de rigueur Chinese soups (hot and sour, won ton and egg drop) are available, adventurous diners will see “fish and Goji berry soup” on the menu and read no further.  A separate section highlights hearty noodle soups.

The vivacious Elsa delivers a bowl of lamb stew to our table

Organic flowering tea served in a clear glass pot offers a visually stunning alternative to traditional teas. If you’ve never had flowering tea, you’re in for a surprise. Hand-picked premium tea flower buds are actually hand-sewn into rosettes. When steeped in hot water, these rare artisan tea buds slowly blossom into a bouquet of breathtaking shapes. Budai calls these teas “liquid meditation.” At the other extreme is a slush of the day offering in which fresh fruits are mixed with pulverized ice to fashion a refreshing beverage.

23 November 2013: One of the telltale signs of a great dim sum house is high quality dumplings.  Though Budai’s dim sum menu has but two featured dumplings, another is available on the “no longer secret” menu.  The boiled chive pork dumplings are absolutely not to be missed.  Fifteen juicy and meaty (porky?) dumplings with a perfect consistency between thin translucent wrapper and fillings have that familiar, comfortable flavor that will remind you of why you fell in love with dumplings in the first place.  Immerse them in a light sauce of ginger, garlic, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce and chili and that comfortable flavor becomes intimate with your taste buds.

Three cup catfish

31 August 2010: The Taiwanese beef noodle soup is an elixir for whatever ails you–a warm, nourishing, soul-warming broth flavored sublimely with star anise, Chinese five star powder and other, more subtle seasonings. Luxuriating in a bowl the size of a small swimming pool are yellow and green onions, thick wheat noodles, shards of Napa cabbage (a very flavorful but drastically underutilized cabbage) and stewed beef. Budai will prepare it to your preferred spice level, taking care to ensure it’s neither too incendiary nor too weak. The only beef noodle soup in Albuquerque that’s comparable is the spicy beef stew at Cafe Dalat and May Hong. That places it in rarefied company.

1 September 2010: The beef stew in clay pot is equally enrapturing. Served in a clay tureen is a bounteous stew that will make you long for the cold snap of winter when the stew’s enveloping warmth can mollify any of old man winter’s misery. Basking in a beguiling broth are cellophane noodles fashioned from mung beans, chewy beef tendon the consistency of gummy bears, succulent stewed beef, yellow and green onions, earthy shitake mushroom buttons and a variety of spices which impregnate the stew with flavor. If possible, this stew is even better the second day when those flavors have penetrated even more deeply.

Dong Bo Pork (Fatty Pork Stewed For Eight Hours)

1 September 2010: Elsa delights in offering suggestions, describing each dish’s provenance and composition at great length if you ask–and she does so with a rare alacrity that bespeaks of her love for the cuisine masterfully prepared by her chef husband.  Her knowledge of the menu will ensure complementary dishes are served.  When my Kim ordered the tea leaves-smoked duck, Elsa diverted me from ordering a beef tongue entree, indicating the beef stew in clay pot would provide a better, more complementary alternative.  She was right!

1 September 2010: The tea leaves-smoked duck is magnificent, each meaty morsel of a half duck imbued with a bacon-like smokiness that complements the essential duck flavor.  It’s a juicy duck with a perfectly crisp skin and just enough glistening, glorious fat to lend to the textural experience.  Thankfully Budai doesn’t serve the duck with a Hoison sauce or with incendiary chili as some Chinese restaurants do.  Instead, a very light and subtle rice wine sauce lends just a hint of savory sweetness.  Tea leaves-smoked duck is a quintessential Szechuan entree and is generally served in festive and celebratory events–like enjoying a great meal with friends.

Beef Tongue

31 August 2010: Budai’s orange peel beef is also subtle, a subdued version of a dish Americanized Chinese restaurants tend to overdo with sauces that are usually cloying and redolent with an excess of tangy orange peel.  Americanized Chinese restaurants also tend to over-caramelize the beef, leaving it an overly chewy, sweet and sticky mess that tastes very much like candied beef.  At Budai the orange peel beef is lightly seasoned with flavors that tease, not overwhelm.  The beef is breaded to a whisper-thin consistency then fried along with slices of orange peel and dried chilis.  It’s a very nice version of a very popular dish.

31 August 2010: Budai’s sugar vinegar short ribs belie the named ingredients, being neither overly sweet nor vinegary.  Both flavors are present, but not in the proportions the name sugar vinegar might hint at.  In fact, these ribs are wholly unlike Chinese barbecued ribs which tend to be lacquered with sauce. Instead the sauce is light and delicate, a flavorful sheathing to complement the meaty short ribs which you’ll gnaw with delight.

Hollow Heart, a rare, very seasonal Chinese vegetable sauteed with fermented tofu

30 August 2010: During our third visit, Elsa came to our table and excitedly told us Budai had a unique vegetable the Chinese call “hollow heart” because its stems are characteristically hollow.  Sometimes called water spinach, Chinese watercress and a host of other names, it’s got nutritional benefits comparable to spinach.   Budai’s rendition is prepared the Cantonese way, with fermented tofu which imparts a very nice flavor.  The hollow heart is fun to eat though it can be messy because you either cut it or you wrap your fork around it like spaghetti.

31 August 2010: One entry a Bemalmans style gourmet would probably not appreciate in the least is Budai’s Dong Bo pork, a fatty pork stewed for eight hours. This half-lean meat and half-fat pork belly dish  has a very interesting texture.  The fatty portion is almost gelatinous to the point many would find it off-putting.  In concert with the lean meat portion, however,  the fatty flavors sing. Though very fatty, the dong po pork isn’t discernibly greasy.  It’s very tender, so much so that  if you wish to forgo  the sensation of fattiness, all you need to extricate succulent meat from fat is a fork.  To fully enjoy this dish, have it as the chef intended–and centuries of tradition dictate–intact with glorious fat and meat. 

Shanghai Ribs with Chinese Vegetables

9 June 2012: Diners who might find the texture of the fatty portion of Dong Bo Pork a big off-putting will delight in the Shanghai Ribs with Chinese Vegetables entree.  The Shanghai ribs are essentially the lean portion of the Dong Bo Pork in the form of the most delicious, most tender and glorious short ribs you’ll ever have.  As with most items on the menu, Chef Hsai Fang takes no shortcuts in preparing this entree, a painstaking process that involves several cooking techniques including flash-frying, baking and grilling.  The result is fall-off-the-bone tender short ribs that melt in your mouth.  The sauce is complex and delicious with such components as hoisin and light soy, but in such light proportions as to be a challenge to discern, thereby not being dominated by any flavor profile.

The Chinese vegetables bed on which the Shanghai ribs lie will vary depending on what’s in season.  One popular choice in Taiwanese cooking is Taiwanese Napa cabbage.  Napa cabbage is so important to Taiwan that a sculpture of the vegetable is on display at the National Palace Museum.  The name Napa has nothing to do with California’s famous viticulture epicenter, but translates from the Japanese term referring to the leaves of any vegetable.  Taiwanese Napa cabbage is crisper than other varieties of Chinese Napa cabbage.  It does not wilt under the sauce used on Shanghai Ribs.

Taiwanese Pork Chop Served with Mustard Greens and Fried Rice

Taiwanese Pork Chop

30 August 2010: The most passionate foodies don’t think twice about trying something that might inspire fear and loathing in less adventurous diners.  During my third visit to Budai, I ordered beef tongue only to find out my friend Barbara had ordered  and enjoyed it thoroughly the night before (a little cliche about great minds might be appropriate here).  Having had lengua (Spanish for tongue) in various ways and on many occasions, the notion of trying tongue was a no-brainer.  Contrary to what one might think, the texture of tongue is not akin to shoe leather nor is it comparable to menudo.

The tongue is thinly sliced and on the plate resembles several little, oval tongues, none pink.  Texture-wise, it might remind you of the sliced sausage adorning some pizzas.  It’s not tough, sinewy or chewy in the least.  Budai’s  tongue recipe calls for  grilled jalapenos, green onions, white onions and a soy sauce based sweet sauce invigorated by the jalapeno.  This is excellent tongue, so good you might just tell your friends you got some “tongue action” last night.

The uniquely named “Lion’s Head” entree

30 August 2010: Taiwanese pork chops are another Budai specialty prepared in ways you might not see at any other Chinese restaurant in Albuquerque.  The pork chop is breaded almost Milanesa style, but it’s just an exterior covering for a very tender and juicy pork chop flavored with soy sauce and five spice powder among other seasonings.  What makes this pork chop special are its accompaniment–mustard greens and fried rice.  The mustard greens have a tangy, almost vinegary flavor with a crunchy texture.  The fried rice isn’t made with soy sauce, but is light, fluffy and delicious.

15 December 2010: From Shanghai comes a playfully artistic and playfully named casserole dish called Lion’s Head.  Budai’s rendition is somewhat different from the rare (at least in New Mexico) Chinese restaurants which offer this entree.   Instead of one gigantic meatball configured by ingredient placement to resemble the head of the king of the beasts complete with a shaggy mane, Chef Hsai serves up several large (by American standards) meatballs.  The meatballs are constructed from pork he grinds himself then tops with shredded greens (Chinese cabbage black mushrooms, bamboo shoots) meant to represent the mane.  This flavorful melange, redolent with garlic and star anise in a fragrant brown sauce, is prepared and served in a clay vessel as big around as a wading pool.  It’s a fabulous entree!

Curry Shrimp

15 December 2010: For sheer fragrance, perhaps the most olfactory-arousing, palate-pleasing dish at Budai is the curry shrimp, equaled only by the rendition proffered at Ming Dynasty.  The curry is gravy thick and brackish in color–not quite green and not quite brown, but a combination of both.  It has equal pronouncements of savory and sweet though not nearly as sweet as a coconut enriched Thai curry.  The vegetables in this curry dish–potatoes, carrots, zucchini, mushrooms are perfectly cooked with the potatoes reminiscent of those you might find in massuman curry.  The shrimp are large and absolutely magnificent, a sweet and briny foil to the pungency of the curry.

15 January 2011: In January, 2011, my friend Alfredo Guzman regaled me with tales of his recent visit to California and the terrific Chinese food he ate during his stay all the while lamenting the absence of great Chinese food in Albuquerque.  That was akin to throwing down the gauntlet in my direction so I invited my  friend to Budai.  A whiff of the magical aromas emanating from the kitchen followed by a couple of bites of the chive pork dumplings and the California Chinese restaurants suddenly didn’t measure up any more.  The smiles of sheer joy on his face were a testament to yet another convert won over by the greatness that is Budai.

Pig’s feet with mung bean noodle soup

15 January 2011: In between utterances of pure joy, my friend, a native of the Philippines, exclaimed (several times) how our shared entrees elicited flashbacks to the style of food on which he grew up.  The flavors triggered happy memories of great meals he hadn’t experienced in years.  Fred couldn’t believe a Chinese restaurant in New Mexico would serve pig’s feet with mung bean noodle soup.  He couldn’t believe just how good this dish is.  The pig’s feet are meaty and delicious with a surprising tenderness.  The mung bean noodles, some at least a foot long, are perfectly prepared.  The broth, an amazing elixir in a swimming pool sized bowl more than big enough for two, includes bak choy and scallions.

15 January 2011: When we inquired about the three cup chicken dish on the menu, Elsa explained that when she grew up in Taiwan, chicken was a rare delicacy so the family cook found ways to stretch it as far as it would go.  One way was by creating a broth made with one cup rice wine, one cup sesame oil and one cup soy sauce along with ginger and basil.  The broth was simmered for a long time in an earthenware pot along with chicken.  The slow simmering ensures the sauces are absorbed by the chicken.  This dish is served in the earthenware pot on which it is prepared.

An appetizer of thinly-sliced beef

15 January 2011: Elsa also shared that, courtesy of the three sauces, the dish was extremely salty so it was served with rice to absorb the saltiness and in the process, stretch the dish. Conscious of today’s low sodium lifestyles, Chef Hsia’s version of three cup chicken is far less salty.   Elsa informed us that several Filipino customers asked that instead of chicken, catfish be used on the three cup dish.  That’s the way we requested it.  The three cup catfish was absolutely amazing with the prominent flavors of ginger and basil enveloping us in warmth and deliciousness.  It’s one of my new favorite dishes at Budai…along with the pig’s feet and mung bean noodle soup, Dong Bo pork, etc., etc….

7 May 2011: If you make it a practice to ask Elsa to select your meal, you’ll always be pleasantly surprised.  When my friend Ryan Scott, the dynamic host of Break the Chain, walks into Budai, he’ll tell Elsa “I’ve got $25 to spend for lunch” and places himself entirely in her hands.  He’s never had the same thing twice and has nothing but praise for everything he’s had.  One new favorite he and I shared is an appetizer of lightly marinated and seasoned thinly-sliced beef served on a bed of lettuce.  Not quite as thinly sliced as carpaccio and far more generously plated than carpaccio tends to be, this cold-served beef may remind you of high-quality roast beef, but with subtle seasoning that brings out even more of the beef’s natural flavors.

Spicy Beef Tendon

15 May 2011: In recent years, foodies have embraced the holistic potential of every part of an animal, many discovering that offal isn’t awful.  Offal, a culinary term referring to the entrails and internal organs of a butchered animal is often considered a delicacy. Budai subscribes to the use of all animal parts, unleashing deliciousness in every part.  Take for example  beef tendon, which some might dismiss as elastic, sinewy and tough.  In the hands of Hsia, tendon is prepared with incendiary chilis, whole peanuts, green onions and lively seasonings that will awaken your taste buds.  Thankfully Tsai doesn’t boil the tendon to the point that it’s soft and flavorless.  Its texture is honest and its flavor is fulfilling.

15 May 2011: Another greatly underutilized ingredient which in the hands of a master can be quite good is taro, a tuberous root vegetable which, much like a sponge, can absorb the flavor of almost anything with which it’s cooked.  Taro is sweet, but not cloying.  It’s starchy–much like a parsnip or turnip–and retains its form when cooked.  Budai serves a taro and chicken stew that is simply redolent with flavor.  The savory qualities of the chicken and the sweetness of the taro coalesce in a thick broth that impregnates the dish with deliciousness.  The chicken is not de-boned, a minor inconvenience considering how taste each morsel is.

Taro root and chicken stew

Taro root is perhaps not so much an acquired taste as it is an ingredient you either  like  immediately or you’ll never like it.  On its own, it’ll probably never win any favorite flavor contests, but as a complementary ingredient it melds well, like a good supporting actor.  The not-so-secret menu has offered, on occasion, a crispy fried duck layered with taro root paste.  Perhaps only vegetarians would find fault with the crispy duck which is succulent and tender, a paragon of poultry perfection.  The taro root paste, on the other hand, is starchy and semi-sweet.  To me, it’s a nice complement; to my Kim, it’s a nuisance to be scraped off.

23 November 2013: As with many great restaurants, Budai offers a seasonal menu that takes advantage of ingredients which are at their freshest during each of the four seasons.  Though winter is not often thought of as a growing season, it’s the time of year in which Chef Hsai prepares soul-warming specialties not available any other time of year.  Among the very best of these is a luscious lamb stew wholly unlike the mutton stews so prevalent in New Mexico’s Navajo country.  It’s a stew so rich that Hsai dares not serve it any other time of year, so rich that Elsa contends it can give diners a bloody nose if eaten in summer.  That sounds like the perfect wintery elixir and it is.  The lamb, as tender as can be at under one year of age, is selected personally by Elsa and Hsai from a local rancher.

Five spice and honey lacquered ribs

One-inch lamb cubes (bone included) are marinated-brined-stewed for hours in a sauce that includes rehydrated figs, scallions, chilies, star anise, garlic skins, fresh ginger and other seasonings then is served with mung bean noodles, shitake mushrooms and cubes of tofu.  The tofu is “honey-combed” thanks to first being frozen then thawed.  The tiny holes allow the cubes to absorb the unctuous broth very well. The stew is served in a clay pot nearly the size of a swimming pool.  It’s one of the most delicious dishes I’ve had at any Chinese restaurant anywhere, but then I say that about almost everything at Budai.

23 November 2013: When ordering something as large, filling and rich as the lamb stew, Elsa will recommend a “smaller” appetizer such as the five spice and honey lacquered ribs. Smaller in this case means four large meaty, fall-off-the-bone tender ribs instead of say fifteen boiled chive pork dumplings. Lacquered in a rich sauce of five spice powder and honey, the ribs give the appearance of being very sweet, but they’re not anywhere close to the “meat candy” some Chinese restaurants serve. Nor is the meat “disguised” in the sauce. These are so good and so tender you don’t even need teeth to enjoy them.

Five Flavors Mussels

9 June 2012: There is never a shortage of adventurous surprises on the Budai menu and if you’re an adventurous diner who likes to try new things, you’re bound to find a new favorite every visit.  Pity the monogamous diners who eat the very same thing every visit because they’re missing out on the joy of new discoveries.  On the other hand, those of us who try new items every visit won’t partake of the type of wondrous deliciousness you can eat every meal.  One item I’ll surely miss until it comes back up on my rotation are the Five Flavor Mussels (alternatively you can order Five Flavor Cuttle Fish), New Zealand green-lip mussels in a multi-ingredient, multi-flavored sauce.  The base for the sauce is a sweet tomato sauce (you’d be surprised at just how much tomatoes and even ketchup are used in Chinese cuisine) to which is added garlic, ginger, scallions and chili.  It hits every note on the flavor scale. 

1 May 2014: Jeff Smith (The Frugal Gourmet) posited that “Scallops are expensive, so they should be treated with some class. But then, I suppose that every creature that gives his life for our table should be treated with class.”  Imbued with a mildly sweet and delicate flavor and a tender, but not mushy texture, scallops are often maltreated at restaurants which deploy sauces which obfuscate their natural flavor.  That has long been my opinion of restaurants which cover scallops in marmalade-like orange sauce so cloying there is little natural citrus influence discernible. 

Crispy Orange Peel Scallops

Crispy Orange Peel Scallops

My friend and fellow gastronome Hannah Walraven of Once Again We Have Eaten Well raves so effusively about the crispy orange peel scallops at Budai that trying them was inevitable.  If anything, Hannah sold this entree short.  It is simply fabulous!  Served in a ceramic seashell, the scallops are lightly battered and covered in a reduced orange sauce with ginger, Szechuan chiles and plenty of crisp yet chewy orange peel with a candied texture and flavor.  The sauce doesn’t detract from the flavor of the large scallops and is wholly unlike the syrupy sauce so many other restaurants serve. 

2 May 2014: With almost every Chinese entree you can name, there’s a version other restaurants serve then there’s Budai’s version.  Invariably Budai’s version is the very best.  That goes for Budai’s Singapore Rice Noodles, which rank with those at May Cafe as the very best in the city.  Singapore noodles are a tangle of thin rice vermicelli noodles stir-fried with pork, shrimp and vegetables (green and white onions, julienne carrots, cabbage, bean sprouts) in a light curry.  The curry is terrific with more than a hint of piquancy coupling with a pungent quality while the clear vermicelli noodles are delightful, requiring no cutting or twirling around your fork.  Both the pork (which is plentiful) and the shrimp are perfectly prepared.

Singapore Rice Noodle

Singapore Rice Noodle

31 October 2015: For years, American restaurants seemed to shun the long, narrow razor clam, an aversion likely triggered by the worm-like creature in the shell.  Asian restaurants, meanwhile, showcased them in diverse and delicious ways.  Resembling an old-fashioned straight razor, these mollusks may not be the most appealing in appearance, but their deliciousness outweighs any ill-founded prejudice.  When Elsa is effusive about any menu item (as well she should be when her genius chef husband prepares it), you’ve got to try it.  She raves about the stir-fried razor clams.  So will you!  A generous bowl of razor clams are served in a brown “gravy” with basil leaves, minced garlic, green onions and sheer magic.  These magnificent mollusks are absolutely addictive, so good you’ll be tempted to order a second portion.

31 October 2015: If ever a dish earned its name, it’s Chow Fun, a stir-fried dish made with a broad rice noodle.  For my Kim, few things are as much fun as showing me her adroitness with noodles, knowing anything longer than a rigatoni noodle confounds and endangers me (as in accidentally stabbing myself while trying to wrap the noodles around a fork).  Chow Fun noodles can be longer than six-inches.  In the hands of a stir-fried master, they can be quite wonderful.  Budai prepares a version that includes chicken, onions, cabbage and chili.  Though this dish has an oleaginous texture, Budai’s version is the antithesis of greasy and oily.  That, too, evinces the chef’s deft touch and experience.  This is the best chow fun dish in Albuquerque.

Chow Fun Noodles with Chicken

31 October 2015: What’s the best way to respond to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) denouncement of bacon as a cancer-causing scourge?  If you’re tired of alarmist bureaucrats telling you what to do, you’ll thumb your nose and fry a rasher or two of bacon for your next breakfast.  My way of showing rebellion was by ordering the pork belly bacon with spicy onion dish at Budai.  Not even the hypocrites at the WHO would be able to resist this bounteous bowl of sheer deliciousness.  The pork belly bacon combines the richness of pork belly with the smokiness of bacon, the best of two qualities.  The onions inherit their spiciness from chili and jalapeños, stir-fried to a delightful consistency.  Elsa suggested coupling this dish with rice, a good idea if you want the dish to go just a little further…or if you can’t handle the intense piquancy.

11 November 2012: Ask many people about Chinese desserts and the answers you’re likely to hear–almond cookies, fortune cookies, etc.–might induce laughter. In truth, many Chinese prefer fruits instead of the cloying, tooth-decaying sweets Americans crave.  Leave it to Tsia to introduce us to something decadent, delicious and different–a lovely plating that resembles an orange noodle nest surrounding a patty of some sort.  The “patty” is a roundish quarter-inch thick, maybe seven-inch around mound of sweet, sticky rice and raw peanuts caramelized to form a sort of pie.  In fact, Elsa sliced it for us in the way we might slice pizza.  This is an outstanding dessert which should be on the daily menu.  That, too, is something which could be said about so many items at Budai, but then if you continuously repeat your favorites, you won’t experience the soon to be new favorites.

Pork Belly Bacon with Spicy Onions

In all likelihood, a Bemalmans style gourmet might not enjoy much about a meal at Budai, but most true foodies will.  Budai is a very special restaurant, one which should be shared with open-minded friends who love food as much as you do.

BUDAI GOURMET CHINESE
6300 San Mateo, N.E., Suite H-1
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 797-7898
Web Site
1st VISIT: 31 August 2010
LATEST VISIT: 31 October 2015
# OF VISITS: 11
RATING: 25
COST: $$
BEST BET: Dong Bo Pork, Sugar Vinegar Short Ribs, Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup, Orange Peel Beef, Hollow Heart, Taiwanese Pork Chops, Beef Tongue, Curry Shrimp, Lion’s Head, Three Cup Catfish, Pig’s Feet with Mung Bean Noodle Soup, Spicy Tendon, Taro Root and Chicken Stew, Crispy Duck with Taro Paste, Lamb Stew, Honey and Five Spice Lacquered Ribs, Five Flavors Mussels, Shanghai Ribs, Crispy Orange Peel Scallops, Singapore Rice Noodles, Razor Clams with Basil, Chow Fun with Chicken, Pork Belly Bacon with Spicy Onions

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