Pad Thai Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pad Thai Cafe Thai Cuisine

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

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

The Cozy Confines of Pad Thai Cafe

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

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

Egg Rolls

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

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

Chicken Satay

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

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

Tod Mun Pla

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

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

Pot Stickers

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

Papaya Salad

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

Massaman Curry

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

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

Pad Thai

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

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

Drunken Noodles

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

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

Laab

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

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

Yum Woon Sen

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

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

Yam Nuea Nam Tok, a wondrous beef salad

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

Green Curry Fried Rice

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

Mango and Coconut Ice Cream with Sticky Rice and Coconut Milk

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

Mangoes with Sticky Rice

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

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

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

May Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Paul Bunyan Leaving His Favorite Vietnamese Restaurant

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

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

Grilled Onion Beef

Grilled Onion Beef

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

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

MayCafe03

Vietnamese Sandwich (Banh Mi)

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

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

MayCafe04

Spicy Beef Stew

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

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

Egg Rolls

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

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

MayCafe05

Singapore Noodles

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

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

Ginger Catfish

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

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

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

Ohana Hut – Albuquerque, New Mexico

808 Nachos

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

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

Saimin Noodle Bowl

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

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

Dakind Sliders Trio

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

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

Pot Stickers

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

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

Spicy Tiger Roll and Ghost Pepper Roll

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

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

New Mexico Roll

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

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

Hawaiian Roll

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

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

Spicy Tuna Roll

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

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

Haole Roll

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

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

Baked Volcano Roll

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

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

Hawaiian Mochi

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

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

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

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

TFK Smokehouse – Albuquerque, New Mexico

TFK Smokehouse Parked at a Brewery Near You

Every summer, a predictable ritual takes place. After hibernating comfortably since the previous autumn, men attired in aprons emblazoned with the slogan “kiss the cook” will selflessly volunteer to “cook” a meal. This, of course, means barbecue, a decidedly masculine affectation and the only type of cooking most men can be entrusted to do. When this ritual is completed and guests are sated, lavish praise and thanks are heaped upon the “chef.” In truth, the only aspects of this ritual for which men are typically responsible is getting the grill lit, placing the meats on the grill and turning them (after our female better halves warn us that the meats are burning). Normally all the preparatory work—buying the food; preparing the salad, vegetables and desserts; preparing the meat for cooking; organizing plates and cutlery; preparing the plates—is done by our wives and girlfriends. Ditto for the post-dining rituals—clearing the table, doing the dishes and putting everything away. Insouciant clods that men are, we can’t figure out why our ladies are upset when we asked how they enjoyed their “night off.”

While most of us endowed with the XY-chromosome pairing can identify with the scenario described above (which some women might find entirely accurate), Katie Calico and her husband Chris White have a more egalitarian relationship when it comes to the barbecue ritual. The two own and operate the TFK Smokehouse trailer, an endeavor which requires equally exhausting effort from both of them. Watching them prepare then serve meals out of their barbecue mothership nearly wore us out. They perform the same type of prep work the brick-and-mortar restaurants do, but they do so in a much more confined space, a food truck other food truck vendors refer to as “The Cage” for its mix of industrial meets artistic design.

Burqueño Cheesesteak with Coleslaw

TFK, by the way, doesn’t stand for “Truck Food Kitchen” as we had surmised before meeting Katie. It stands for “Talking Fountain Kitchen,” in honor of Katie’s erstwhile venture, Talking Fountain Gallery and Boutique. Before launching the TFK Smokehouse in November, 2013, Katie owned and operated the gallery on Lead Avenue. She explained that “talking fountains” don’t speak on their own; for centuries, fountains have served as meeting places in which citizens of Rome could express themselves—even during Mussolini’s regime. The idea of expressing yourself any way you can resonated deeply with Katie who continues in that spirit even though her primary focus is now culinary arts.

The TFK Smokehouse is reflective of the creativity formerly on display at her gallery. Once a flatbed trailer sporting stainless steel tables, the Smokehouse underwent a significant make-over. Many of the display fixtures and racks from the defunct art gallery were repurposed for the truck along with other artistic treasures. The result is a rather unique food truck that belies any stereotypes you may have about food trucks…at least in terms of appearance. From a functional standpoint, however, the Smokehouse is everything you would expect a great food truck to be. The aromas wafting from this mobile conveyance are akin to smoke signals beckoning you to sample the fruit wood-perfumed fare.

BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwich

When we asked to which style the Smokehouse subscribes from among the four regional pillars of American barbecue (Memphis, Texas, Kansas City, Carolinas), Chris told us they employ the St. Louis style of barbecue. On a per capita basis, St. Louis consumes more barbecue sauce than any city in the nation and boasts of former world barbecue champion Super Smokers among other purveyors of outstanding barbecue. He added that the influence of molasses is readily apparent on their sauce. It’s also apparent that savvy diners keep track of where the Smokehouse will be parked. In the time it took us to finish our lunch, dozens of diners had queued up and ordered food either to go or to consume at one of La Cumbre Brewing Co’s shaded picnic tables.

In that time, the most frequently ordered item appeared to be the Burqueno Cheesesteak (smoked prime rib with grilled onions, green chile and Asadero cheese on a toasted baguette). In this town only the transcendent green chile Philly from Philly’s N’ Fries is even in the same ballpark as this behemoth sandwich. Several elements make this a special sandwich. First and foremost, it really is made with prime rib, not some inferior cut of beef. That prime rib is lightly smokes so as not to detract from the native deliciousness of that cut. Secondly, the green chile actually bites back. You probably won’t be reaching for water (unless you’re from Colorado), but you’ll definitely get a little endorphin rush. Third, the toasted baguette is courtesy of Albuquerque’s premier bakery, Golden Crown Panaderia. No one in this town knows bread as well as Pratt and Chris Morales.

Pint-Size BBQ Bella Sandwich with Potato Salad

On the date of our inaugural visit, the Smokehouse menu featured six sandwiches, each served with a side item (your choice of cole slaw, potato salad or kettle chips).  Roasted green chile can be added to any barbecue sandwich for a dollar more.  It’s a very worthwhile investment especially with the BBQ beef brisket sandwich (smoked beef brisket on a bed of cole slaw with the Smokehouse’s sweet BBQ sauce on a toasted bolillo roll.  This is a very good sandwich with contrasts (the crunchy, tangy cole slaw and the sweet sauce, for example) which work very well together.  The brisket is shredded into tender tendrils of moist, juicy beef.  True to its genesis, the St. Louis style sauce is very much on the sweet side.  Thankfully other elements provide a nice counterbalance.

For lesser appetites, the Smokehouse offers “pint” sized barbecue sandwiches for about half the price of the standard-sized sandwiches.  These pint-sized treasures are available in your favorite meats (brisket, pork, chicken).  A vegetarian-friendly sandwich christened the Bella (balsamic-glazed portabella mushrooms on a bed of coleslaw with the Smokehouse’s sweet sauce on a toasted bolillo roll) is another superb option.  The balsamic glaze imparts vinegary notes that work very well with the sweet sauce.  The portabella mushrooms have a meaty texture and earthy flavor, but it’s just a bit obfuscated by the sauce. 

More than most Albuquerque area food trucks the TFK Smokehouse does a terrific job of posting on its Facebook page where it’ll be on any given weekend.  Alas, the page also includes photos of some of the featured fare.  It’s food porn that’ll have barbecue aficionados salivate with lust.  That lust is justified.  The TFK Smokehouse is one of the city’s very best food trucks.

TFK Smokehouse
(Location Varies)
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 369-8668
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 3 June 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: BBQ Bella Sandwich, Burqueño Cheesesteak, BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwich, Coleslaw, Potato Salad

TFK Smokehouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Irrational Pie – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Irrational Pie Parked in Front of Marble Brewery

Jethro Bodine, the country bumpkin with diverse career aspirations (brain surgeon, street car conductor, ‘double-naught’ spy, Hollywood producer, soda jerk, and bookkeeper) on the Beverly Hillbillies television comedy graduated highest in his class by a whole foot or more.  You couldn’t get much past the sixth grade educated “six-foot stomach.”  When a math teacher posited the theory of π r2 (pi r squared), Jethro wasn’t fooled: “Uncle Jed, them teachers is tryin’ to tell us that pie are square. Shoot, everybody knows that pie are round, cornbread are square.”

Jethro isn’t the only educated person to find pi irrational.  The first to do so was Swiss polymath Johann Heinrich Lambert who proved that the number π (pi) is irrational: that is, it cannot be expressed as a fraction a/b, where a is an integer and b is a non-zero integer.  It’s quite possible that the only people who understand that sentence are my friends Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate and Bill Resnik, a New Mexico Institute of  Technology-trained mathematician.   For me, all math beyond statistics is irrational; it makes absolutely no sense.

Hickory Burns Hot and Fragrant

I did know enough to grin like the proverbial cat who ate the canary when apprised of a food truck named Irrational Pie.  It’s apparent owner Josh Rood-Ojalvo is not only a pretty bright guy, but that he’s got a pretty good sense of humor.  Eight out of ten (my proficiency at statistics on display here) probably couldn’t tell you what the name “Irrational Pie” means…not that pizza aficionados should even care.  Ten out of ten pizza paramours will love the pizzas proffered at this playfully named purveyor of pies.  That’s pie, not pi.

Since it launched in January, 2014, you can find Irrational Pie parked at some of your favorite breweries and at such events as Tasty Tuesdays, a fun, food and frolic fest that brings people together out-of-doors.  You can’t miss this food truck whose “mascot” is a neon-green moose whose antlers frame the truck’s name.  This is a truck which announces its presence well in advance of when you actually see it.  The aroma of hickory burning is akin to a siren’s call beckoning sailors.  That aroma may remind you of the campfires of your childhood.  Irrational Pie burns hickory not only because of its olfactory properties, but because it burns hot which means you won’t wait long for your pie.

Irrational Pie Menu

You can’t miss the oven in which that fragrant hickory burns so brightly. It’s a 3000-pound brick-based behemoth made in Italy and it occupies the back-end of the truck’s interior.  The enticing smoky aroma emanating from that oven will waft over you, perhaps triggering involuntary salivation.  As you queue up, you’ll have the opportunity to peruse the menu scrawled on a slate board.  There are only a handful of pies listed, but you can also customize your pie with the toppings of your choice.  You  won’t have to wait long before you made-to-order pie is delivered to your table. 

The dough for each pizza is made from scratch with local, organic ingredients whenever possible.  Each pie is a personal-sized ten-inch pizza with the pepperoni-green chile pizza being the best seller.  Seasonal specials are available with fresh ingredients specific to the time of year.  One ingredient (two if you count green chile) not to be missed is wood-roasted onions.  The tomato sauce which graces each pie isn’t your typical thin, runny sauce, but has the texture and flavor of finely crushed and seasoned tomatoes.  It does make a difference.

Sausage, Onion and Green Chile Pie

As has become characteristic of thin pizzas prepared at high heat, your pie will have a nice amount of char along the edges (in New Mexico, char is a flavor).  The cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza is pronounced and uneven, soft and chewy, and best of all, has the flavor and aroma of just baked bread.  My introductory pizza, constructed with sausage, wood-roasted onions and green chile (a no-brainer) quickly thwarted my plan to save two or three slices for later.  The wood-roasted onions are cut into strips about an inch-long so you can really taste their sweet properties.  The green chile has a pleasant piquancy and nice roasted flavor while the sausage is generously applied.

My Kim’s choice was the Margherita (the forerunner of pizza everywhere) to which she added those wood-smoked onions.  As with all Margherita pizzas, it’s constructed with mozzarella, basil and smashed tomatoes.  Wood-roasted onions should also be requisite though it would no longer be a Margherita.  By any name, this is an excellent pie–even without any of my favorite proteins (pepperoni, Canadian bacon, ham, sausage, etc.).  It’s so good even my Kim (who’s far more disciplined about saving a couple slices for later) finished the entire pie…though being of clearer mind than her hungry husband, dissuaded me from ordering something from the Salvadoran food truck parked next door.  That’s an adventure for later.

Margherita Pizza with Wood-Roasted Onion

Whether you’re of a rational or emotive bent, Irrational Pie is an excellent option.  It’s never irrational to enjoy one of the best pizzas in the Duke City.

Irrational Pie
(Location Varies)
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 273-0603
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 29 May 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $
BEST BET: Margherita with Wood Smoked Onion Pie; Sausage, Green Chile and Wood-Smoked Onion Pie

Irrational Pie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Boxing Bear Brewing Company – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Boxing Bear Brewing Company in Albuquerque

In the 2008 Will Ferrell comedy Semi-Pro which centers on a fictional professional basketball team, there’s a scene in which Ferrell’s character wrestles with a grizzly bear at halftime of a game. While young viewers might find this scene preposterous, if not unbelievable, some of the more geriatrically advanced among us might remember when such promotions actually took place–usually at rural county fairs where members of the audience were offered money if they could last a few minutes with a wrestling or boxing bear.

Bears who were forced into pugilism or grappling were typically de-clawed, de-fanged, fitted with a muzzle and often even drugged.  Despite these disadvantages, the 600- to 800-pound Ursidae could easily defeat anyone who stood before them.  Most matches lasted less than a minute (longer than George Costanza lasted in the Festivus Day feats of strength wrestling match with his dad).  Although enthusiasm for bear wrestling and boxing has waned with the rise of animal rights, a barbaric subculture still exists which gets its jollies from watching animals fight.

The Capacious Dog-Friendly Patio

Boxing Bear Brewing Company’s logo-slash-mascot depicts a bear walking on all fours, a red boxing glove covering its right front paw.  Both the brewery’s motto–beer with a punch–and several beers–Hairy Mit, Ambear Ale, Paw Swipe Pale Ale, Uppercut, Red Glove Red Ale, Barril de Oso–are thematic.   If the Boxing Bear Brewing Company continues to earn accolades, the New Mexico state legislature may add a red glove to the image of our state animal, the American black bear.  In 2017, the Brewery won third place for Best Brewpub in USA Today’s 10 Best Reader’s Choice national poll.  In 2016–in only its second year of competition-it was named Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year at the Festival.

Boxing Bear launched in 2014 at the capacious 8,200-square-foot complex which previously housed Elliot’s and before that The Cooperage West. It’s situated on the northeast corner of the Alameda and Corrales intersection. Although not part of its name, Boxing Bear is also a winery, producing and serving local varietals all made locally. This sets it apart from most traditional brew pubs in the Duke City. Another people-pleasing aspect that sets it apart is its use of the great outdoors. Nestled beneath towering shade-providing trees and flanked by shrubs and flowers is a sprawling dog-friendly patio. Blaring speakers mean your conversational volume has to go up just a bit.

Nachos

While several brew pubs (Bosque Brewing Company and Starr Brothers Brewery come to mind) across the Duke City have embraced the gastropub spirit of serving high-end, high-quality food with their libations, Boxing Bear’s menu is rather Spartan. Essentially, everything on the menu can be prepared on a panini press or crock pot. Boxing Bear’s focus is clearly on its award-winning beer and wine. Its culinary fare won’t win any awards, but it’s good, basic beer accompaniment. The menu lists five items “to share,” six grilled paninis and three hot dogs. That’s it.

For us, the big culinary draw were the nachos. Dancing Bear’s “to share” menu promised “a pile of chips served with your choice of Ambear-infused Korean BBQ pulled pork or Texas chile topped with house-made beer-infused queso, pickled jalapenos and a dollop of sour cream.” They had us at “Korean BBQ pulled pork.” Alas, whatever beer-infusion process was used on the queso was rather ineffectual; the cheese was reminiscent of the gloppy, canned cheese often used on ballpark nachos. Worse, the “Korean BBQ pulled pork” was more akin to Kansas City barbecue pulled pork than to the bulgogi barbecue we were expecting. Still, to cover that pulled pork with the cheese is near criminal.

Grilled Club

The terms “panini” and “grilled club” are mutually incompatible. When you think of a “club” sandwich, your mind’s eye conjures images of layered sandwiches—often double- or triple-deckers–piled high with meats and vegetables. Some restaurants pride themselves on the skyscraper-high size of their clubs. Panini, on the other hand, calls to mind pressed (and compressed) sandwiches smooshed down to maybe one layer of a Dagwood sandwich. Panini and grilled club are antithetical! Boxing Bear’s grilled club (turkey, roasted pork, bacon, Swiss cheese, spinach and cream cheese) may not be a two-fisted behemoth, but it packs a very satisfying flavor with fresh ingredients that work very well together. Because the Bear uses telera bread (a flat, crusty white bread often used on tortas), you also don’t have to worry about the panini’s rough texture beating up the roof of your mouth.

Also quite good is the Al’BEAR’querque Turkey (turkey, bacon, mozzarella cheese, green chile, chile mayo, spinach and cream cheese). Though it’s been a pet peeve of mine that far too many restaurants seem to believe every turkey sandwich should be called an “Albuquerque Turkey,” at least this one takes a creative twist. What works best on this sandwich is the combination of delicate turkey and green chile. Even though the Boxing Bear’s chile has a pronounced bite, there’s enough turkey in this sandwich so that it doesn’t get overwhelmed. The combination of mozzarella and cream cheese, two very distinct cheeses, also works very well.

Al’BEAR’querque Turkey

Boxing Bear may not ever become a dining destination, but for savvy cerevisaphiles, it’s become a popular Albearquerque draw.

Boxing Bear Brewing Co.
10200 Corrales Road, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 897-2327
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 28 May 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Al’BEAR’querque Turkey, Grilled Club, Nachos

Boxing Bear Brewing Co. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Amerasia & Sumo Sushi – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Amerasia and Sumo Sushi on Third Avenue

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

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

Hyangmi Yi delivers diem sum treasures to eager diners

Hyangmi Yi delivers diem sum treasures to eager diners

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

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

Pork buns and more (courtesy of Kathy Perea)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sesame balls for dessert (Picture courtesy of Kathy Perea)

Scallion pancakes, delicious layered pancakes flecked with sweet scallions.

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

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

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

Sumo Sushi

Sumo Sushi’s Sushi Bar

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

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

Spicy Tuna Roll and Green Chile Roll

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

Tarantula Roll

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

Crunch Roll

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

Unagi (Freshwater Eel)

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

Big Night Roll

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

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

Diem Sum Images Courtesy of Kathy “Wanderer 2005” Perea

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

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

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