Nanami Noodle House – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Nanami Noodle House and Sister Restaurant, Plum Cafe

If Chinese superstitions have any credence, some of us may not be long for this world.  Chinese superstitions posit that long noodles symbolize a long life.  Ostensibly, if you cut your noodles, you’re cutting your life short.  Instead of cutting your noodles, the Chinese advocate slurping up long noodles without breaking them.  When it comes to noodles, the Chinese should know.  After all, they’ve been preparing noodles longer than any culture in the world.  In 2005, archaeologists uncovered a 4,000-year-old bowl of noodles in Northeast China, the earliest empirical evidence of noodles ever found.  Buried under ten feet of sediment, an overturned sealed bowl contained beautifully preserved, long, thin yellow noodles made from two kinds of millet. Archaeochemist Patrick McGovern indicated that “even today, deft skills are required to make long, thin noodles like those found” at the Chinese site, adding that  “this shows a fairly high level of food processing and culinary sophistication.” 

If you’ve never seen the art-and-science process of hand-making noodles, it should be on your bucket list–and because the process is quickly becoming a lost art, you should place it near the top of that list.  Fortunately you don’t have to go far to witness veritable feats of noodular prestidigitation.  The art of hand-pulled noodles is on daily display at Beijing Noodle No. 9 within Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas where the open kitchen doubles as an exhibition hall for chefs who’ve been intensely trained on how to hand stretch noodles.  Through a process of stretching and twisting flour, noodle-masters can hand pull hundreds of beautiful long thin noodles for a variety of dishes.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch, but even more spectacular is sampling the results.

Nanami Dining Room

When we heard a new Duke City restaurant named Nanami Noodle House would be launching in January, 2017, we dared hope hand-pulled noodles would be featured fare.  Alas, such was not meant to be.  Nanami showcases noodles made elsewhere and flown in for use on a variety of broth-based, vegetarian and non-broth noodle dishes (if it’s any consolation, very few cities across the fruited plain can boast of restaurants in which noodles are made in the traditional hand-pulled manner).  Captivating aromas emanating from the kitchen gave us very little opportunity to bemoan our ill-fortune.  The source of those fragrant bouquets were in dire need of exploration as was a menu as diverse and delightful as we’ve seen in quite some time.

Befitting the restaurant’s name, which translates to “seven seas,” that menu includes dishes originating in Vietnam, Japan, China, Thailand, Taiwan and Korea with a nod to New Mexico here and there.   The Land of Enchantment meets Asia in the very first appetizer listed on the menu.  That would be the green chile Rangoon.  It’s one of nine appetizers, most of which are pretty standard fare.  You can eschew appetizers altogether and enjoy one of the four available salads.  Some diners will gravitate immediately to the noodle soups section of the menu, a listing of fifteen slurp-worthy soups.  If you prefer noodles sans broth, the menu lists four inviting options including grilled vermicelli.  Vegetarian options are also available.

Green Chile Rangoon

Lest I forget, the menu lists a nice array of hot and cold beverages including sixteen-ounce shakes, some in flavors you might not expect (green tea, Vietnamese coffee and Thai tea, for example).  Caffeine fiends should try the Vietnamese Coffee Frappe, an eye-opening meld of strong coffee and sweetened condensed milk.  Hot tea by the pot flavors include oolong, jasmine, green tea and a decaffeinated green tea.  Ice tea flavors include unsweetened green tea, mango, lychee and peach.  Coke products are also available, but other options just seem so much more appropriate.  Oh, and you’ll definitely want to peruse the dessert menu, too.

Nanami Noodle House is located at the former site of Cafe Jean-Pierre off the Pan American Highway.  It faces and is within easy walking distance of the Century 24 theater.  Nanami is the brainchild of first-time restaurant owners Brian and Nga Trieu, both of whom have extensive restaurant experience.  Brian cut his teeth working in restaurants owned and operated by his siblings in Roswell, Rio Rancho and Albuquerque.  Among family owned restaurants with which you might be familiar are Banana Leaf (which a sibling sold years ago) and the Plum Cafe next door.  There are some similarities between the three.

Chicken Dumplings

Sure to become the restaurant’s signature appetizer is the Green Chile Rangoon (crispy Rangoon filled with green chile, jalapeño, onion, cream cheese and Cheddar).  If you’ve ever lamented the cloying flavor of most Crab Rangoon, you’ll appreciate that this six-piece starter bites back–not too much, but enough to be discernible.  The Green chile Rangoon is served with a plum sauce, a term which usually engenders yawning and ennui.  This plum sauce actually has personality courtesy of a nice infusion of ginger and chili.  It only looks sweet and innocuous.

Nanami pays attention to the sauces which accompany its appetizers.  That’s a difference-maker discerning diners will notice.  The chicken dumplings (crispy pot stickers filled with chicken, Napa cabbage, shallot and green onion), for example, are accompanied by a chili oil sweet soy sauce that emphasizes both its piquant and sweet elements.  The chicken dumplings are flash-fried to a golden hue and are generously filled.  It’s telling that the dumplings are delicious with or without sauce though the sauce does bring out more flavors.

Spicy Beef Noodle Soup

Whether you noodle over the choices carefully or you espy a noodle dish that quickly wins you over, you’re in for a real treat.  My Kim beat me to the spicy beef noodle soup (rice noodle, medium flank steak, beef broth, tomato, cucumber and bean sprouts in a sate pork-shrimp broth topped with crushed peanuts, green onions, fried shallots and basil), my ad-libitum choice when trying a new Vietnamese restaurant.  While the flavor profile of most spicy beef noodle soups in the Duke City gravitates toward anise-kissed pho made piquant with the addition of chili, this one is wholly different.  It derives its heat from sate, a piquant Vietnamese sauce typically made with garlic, lemongrass, chili, fish sauce and other ingredients.  You may have noticed from the ingredients listed above that the broth is a sate pork-shrimp broth, not a beef broth.  There are many surprises in this soup, the least of which is the addition of fresh tomatoes and cucumber slices.  This deeply satisfying, rich elixir may have you rethink what you believe spicy beef noodle soup should be.

If you can’t get enough ramen in your life, you’ll appreciate Nanami offering one ramen option heretofore unavailable in the Duke City.  That would be the Kim Chi Ramen (wheat noodle, chasu, tofu, soft-boiled egg, mushrooms, bean sprouts and kimchi in a pork dashi broth topped with sesame seed, green onion and nori).  This is a ramen dish rich in umami, one of the five basic tastes (along with salt, sweet, sour and bitter) with a profile described as “meaty” and “brothy.”  The rich stock (dashi), soy sauce, earthy mushrooms and even the fermented kimchi are especially imbued with umami.   There is a lot going on in this dish, a melding of ingredients which go very well together, but if the term “kimchi” inspires visions of fiery, fermented cabbage, you might be disappointed.  The focus of this ramen is in developing a multitude of flavors, not one overwhelming flavor.  This is a memorable dish!

Kim Chi Ramen

The Nanami Noodle House may not hand-pull its noodles, but the chef certainly knows how to use noodles to craft deeply satisfying, soulful and delicious dishes you’ll want to enjoy again and again.

Nanami Noodle House
4959 Pan American, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 508-1125
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 11 February 2017
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Rangoon, Chicken Pot Stickers, Kim Chi Ramen, Spicy Beef Noodle Soup

Nanami Noodle House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Asian Noodle Bar – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Asian Noodle Bar on Central Avenue

Asian Noodle Bar on Central Avenue

In the United States, as in many western cultures, the art of slurping one’s food in public has long been an etiquette taboo. In terms of culinary faux pas, slurping falls somewhere between talking with your mouth open and belching loudly. Conversely, in Japan and other Asian countries, slurping noodles at restaurants is not only perfectly acceptable, it’s often considered a sign of appreciation being conveyed to the chef.

Visit a traditional noodle bar in Japan and you’ll be surrounded by an asynchronous symphony of slurping, the audible inhalation of noodles being heartily enjoyed. If slurping noodles was an Olympic sport, the Japanese would earn gold medals (irrespective of the Russian judges) and America would place below Jamaica. Slurping among Americans is a closed door activity, done as secretly as sneaking in adult literature under the cover of a brown paper bag. It’s a surreptitious pleasure enjoyed only in the comfort and privacy of our own homes. Who among us hasn’t lustily sucked down a bowl of throat-warming ramen with the fervor of a stray mutt who hasn’t eaten in days?

The interior of Asian Noodle House

The interior of Asian Noodle House

Alas, many style-conscious Japanese youth, being more susceptible to western mores, are increasingly rejecting the old ways and have begun consuming their noodles as quietly as a monk in prayer. American-style ulcers and gastronomic distress are sure to follow. Their elders know that the unbridled pleasure of slurping noodles is not only immensely satisfying, it is healthy, too.

Japanese-style noodle bars have joined the ranks of sushi bars, dim sum and stir-fry as Asian food trends that have caught on tremendously throughout America (and the world, for that matter). The inspiration for the noodle bar is simple–drawing on long-held traditions of the daily diet in Japan which is dominated by noodle and rice dishes punctuated with healthful vegetables.

Fresh spring rolls

Fresh spring rolls

In its January, 2008 edition, Bon Appetit magazine, a gastronomic bible with worldwide acclaim, fêted five Tokyo-style noodle bars in America. Among those singled out was a trendy downtown noodle bar founded only a year previously.  It’s not many Duke City restaurants that make a splash on the world’s culinary scene, much less a restaurant which celebrated its one-year anniversary within weeks after the magazine was published. The Asian Noodle Bar, in the heart of Route 66, did just that and if the volume of traffic to this wildly popular eatery is any indication, the sky’s the limit.

From the outside, the Asian Noodle Bar isn’t much to look at. Similar to other downtown businesses on Central Avenue, its storefront is obfuscated behind iron bars. It occupies the sidewalk level space on a time-worn multi-story building.  While the stucco appears to have a relatively new sheen, the signage appears to have suffered the ravages of New Mexico’s winds and sun.

Asian Stix

Asian Stix

Step into the restaurant, however, and you’ll experience a vibrant, contemporary venue that’s chic and elegant while retaining a casual, relaxed feel. A semi-open kitchen in the center of the restaurant offers some diners the vantage of watching the chefs in action.  Bar seating, similar to what you find at sushi bars, is available, but your view is mostly of the prep station. No matter where you sit, you’ll be treated to the sizzling sound of stir-fry activity and its inherently olfactory-arousing aromas.

Specializing in healthy, affordable and fresh-cooked noodle and rice dishes, the Asian Noodle Bar has developed a strong following among downtown diners. Not surprisingly, Japanese tourists visiting the downtown area also take comfort in its familiarity. The Asian Noodle Bar is the brainchild of Mimy Singvilay, a twenty-something whirling dervish and self-taught chef operating her first restaurant. Mimy’s family moved to Albuquerque from Laos when she was but three years old.  Mimy was interviewed during a February, 2008 segment of Channel 4’s Good Day New Mexico where a couple of things came across very clearly–she is very passionate about her restaurant and her menu absolutely rocks!

Mee Krob

Mee Krob

The menu is very eclectic, ranging from traditional favorites to fusion creations. It features culinary fare from Vietnam, Thailand, Japan and China, a panoply of pan-Asian entrees sure to please. The menu is very vegetarian-friendly and includes vegetarian options for most dishes. With more than forty items on the menu plus an array of daily specials, the Asian Noodle Bar makes it really tough to decide what to order. That challenge is compounded by servers delivering irresistible appearing fare to neighboring diners.

You don’t even have to ask your neighbors in the close proximity seating dining area whether they like what they ordered. The blissful look on their faces will tell you all you need to know–alas, without the melodious confirmation of the sounds of satisfying slurping.  There aren’t many slurp options on the appetizer menu which is heavy on fried and grilled items. Does anybody know the cultural protocol for loud crunching and gnashing of fried, battered stuff? Never mind, just have the fresh spring rolls and you won’t need to worry about appreciating your food too loudly.

Singapore Noodles

Singapore Noodles

9 February 2008: The fresh spring rolls, served three per order, are crafted from soft rice paper engorged with fresh vegetables, vermicelli noodles and your choice of BBQ pork, vegetables, tofu or shrimp. They are served with a sweet chili sauce that enlivens each bite with a flavor that’s quite a bit more sweet than it is piquant. These are excellent spring rolls deserving of a more balanced (more piquancy, less sweet) chili sauce.

9 February 2008: Another appetizer option called Asian Stix, features flash-fried chicken skewers served with both a sweet chili sauce and a Thai-like peanut sauce. Served in portions of three per order, each skewer is practically lacquered with a sweet, savory sauce then are served with two dipping sauces, both sweet.  As with the sweet chili sauce, both sauces accompanying the Asian Stix could use a bit more balance–a little more piquancy and not as much cloying qualities.

Spicy sesame

15 February 2014: Sheldon Cooper, the obsessive-compulsive wunderkind on television’s Big Bang Theory enjoys mee krob every Monday for dinner.  After having had it as our sole appetizer during our second visit, we had to wonder if he enjoys it as an entree or as a dessert.  Mee Krob, a nest of crispy noodles with Thai sweet and sour sauce topped with bean sprouts, green onions, bell peppers and cilantro, isn’t always as sweet as the Asian Noodle Bar’s rendition.  Frankly, we consciously sought out the bean sprouts, green onions and bell peppers to temper the sweetness of the noodles.  While American tastes do lean toward sweet flavors, too much sweet can also be off-putting.

9 February 2008: Fortunately, the balance of flavors we didn’t find in appetizers is readily apparent in the entrees we’ve sampled.  Showing a flavorful balance of sweet, savory, sour and piquant flavors is the restaurant’s Singapore Curry, one of the very best examples of culinary cultures coalescing.  Singapore Curry combines Indian and Chinese ingredients such as fenugreek, cumin, chili, black pepper and of course, curry to form one of the most delicious curry dishes you’ll find.  There are a number of Asian restaurants in New Mexico offering Singapore Curry, and the Asian Noodle Bar’s rendition competes with May Cafe and China Best for “best in the city” honors. Asia Noodle Bar’s rendition is a swimming pool-sized bowl served piping hot and brimming with vermicelli noodles, al dente carrots and perfectly cooked potatoes in a coconut-infused red curry broth. Talk about Asian comfort food. The throat-warming broth and the arousing aromas will instantly take away any malaise in the air and render your taste buds happy.

TOM KA NOODLE     Vermicelli noodle, sliced mushrooms, onions, in coconut broth, Flavored with chili lemongrass, lime juice, and cilantro Choice of: Chicken, Beef, Pork, Tofu, or Vegetables $8.95  Shrimp $10.95

Tom Ka Noodle: Vermicelli noodle, sliced mushrooms, onions, in coconut broth, Flavored with chili lemongrass, lime juice, and cilantro
Choice of: Chicken, Beef, Pork, Tofu, Vegetables, or Shrimp

9 February 2008: Happiness is something a bowl of Spicy Sesame will evoke. This entree is crafted with thick Udon noodles, onions, broccoli, carrots and mushrooms in a spicy sesame soy sauce. The menu exaggerates just a bit with the label “spicy” at least for most self-respecting  New Mexicans who can handle fiery foods  easily. It’s a pleasant piquancy that enlivens every bite, along with other explosions of flavor (especially smokiness) in this wonderful dish…and if ever there was a noodle ideal for slurping it would be the soft, creamy, buff-colored Japanese wheat flour noodles. They have the thickness of fat earthworms and a slippery, toothsome texture. 

15 February 2014: Another well-balanced entree is the Tom Ka Noodle, the restaurant’s interpretation of Tom Ka Gai a very popular Thai soup.  The biggest liberty taken with the traditional preparation of this Thai comfort food favorite is the addition of noodles and the omission of galangal and kafir leaves.  Still, the Tom Ka Noodle soup pays a respectful, soulful tribute to the more traditional preparation.  Who can argue with a swimming pool sized bowl of vermicelli noodles, sliced mushrooms and onions in a coconut broth flavored with chili, lemongrass, lime juice and cilantro and topped with your choice of chicken, beef, pork, tofu, vegetables or shrimp. It’s another dish which just might inspire uninhibited slurping.

Spicy Basil:  Flat rice noodles, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, in chili basil sauce over shredded lettuce

Spicy Basil: Flat rice noodles, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, in chili basil sauce over shredded lettuce

15 February 2014:  One of the most delightfully fragrant entrees at the Asian Noodle Bar is the Spicy Basil, a tangle of flat rice noodles, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes and mushrooms in a chili basil sauce over shredded lettuce.  With a pronounced licorice or anise-like flavor, basil enlivens this dish with flavor and fragrance.  As the named component on this dish, basil is but one of the stand-out ingredients.  There are also mushrooms, woodsy and earthy fungi imbued with smokiness.  The tomatoes are fresh and clean.  The noodles might inspire synchronized slurping

If accolades from a highly respected publication portend greatness, the Asian Noodle Bar is well on its way toward achieving the elusive heights that escape many restaurants in New Mexico. In Bon Appetit, it was mentioned with noodle bars in Boston, Los Angeles, Durham and Washington, D.C.  In Albuquerque, it’s got a ways to go before it earns mention alongside Budai Gourmet Chinese, Ming Dynasty and Cafe Dalat as the Mount Rushmore of the Duke City’s burgeoning Asian restaurant scene. 

Asian Noodle Bar
318 Central, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 224-9119

LATEST VISIT: 15 February 2014
1st VISIT: 9 February 2008
COST: $$
BEST BET: Fresh Spring Rolls, Asian Stix, Singapore Curry, Spicy Sesame, Tom Ka Noodle, Spicy Basil, Mee Krob, 

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