Que Huong – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Que Huong Vietnamese Restaurant on Louisiana and Central

Wisdom oft comes from the mouth of babes.”
~George R.R. Martin

After far too many meals at restaurants in which children are either screaming at the top of their lungs, throwing hysterical tantrums or wandering unsupervised around the dining room, our inaugural meal at Que Huong proved a very pleasant surprise. Across the dining room, we espied a Vietnamese family with several young children.  Theirs was the quietest table in the restaurant.  All of them were completely focused on their meals. When my Kim commented on how well behaved Vietnamese children are, I reminded her of at least one Vietnamese child who doesn’t always behave as well as the children Kim was idealizing. In fact, that child is as candid and unfiltered as some adults, the antithesis of the precious little angels at Que Huong.

When her adoptive parents took Lily Pritchett-Tucker to a Vietnamese restaurant so they could teach her about her heritage, Lily became stubborn and outspoken….a true little diva. She refused her parents attempts to teach her anything about Vietnam. When her daddy told her about a “special soup called pho (pronounced “fuh”),” she responded “you told me not to say that word.” After repeated efforts to tell her more about the country of her birth, she shouted “I hate Vietnam,” a declaration which made the group appear horribly racist. The entire meal became a succession of intolerant-sounding, albeit wholly innocent comedy that escalated until the family realized it was time to beat a hasty exit.

Que Huong’s Dining Room

Some of you may recognize that scene from an episode of Modern Family, an Emmy Award-winning television mockumentary. Though entirely fictitious, that scene spawned a debate between my Kim and I about children in restaurants. My pop psychology theories as to why the Vietnamese children at Que Huong behaved so well included everything from attributing their behavior to a hyper-disciplining “tiger mom” to crediting the elevator music piped in through the restaurant’s sound system for making the children sleepy. Finally, my Kim, who’s much smarter than I, chided me for not having attributed the children’s behavior to the food. Her theory had a lot more validity (and common sense) than mine.

Great food–even moreso than music–has charms that sooth the savage breast…or child. A great meal can usurp even great conversation…or at least provide a temporary surcease from talking until appetites are sated. Our question was “is the food at Que Huong so good, it can keep children from being themselves?” Alas, in subsequent visits we haven’t had the opportunity to reprise our observations. We have discovered for ourselves, however, that when we’re sharing a meal at Que Huong, our conversation tends to be about the meal itself, not our day-to-day shop talk. More often than not, we’re discussing how much we’re enjoying a particular dish.

Stuffed Grape Leaves with Durian Shake and Fish Sauce

Que Huong, a Vietnamese term which translates to “hometown” sits at the corner of Central and Louisiana. It’s directly across Louisiana from the Talin Market World Food Fare, New Mexico’s largest international foods market. Que Huong’s Web site boasts of the “most authentic Vietnamese food in Albuquerque!” and of serving “unique delicacies that will keep you coming back and bringing your friends and relatives!”. It’s one of only a handful of Vietnamese restaurants in the metropolitan area open for business on Sundays. In fact, Que Huong is open seven days a week and remains open until 9PM every day.

Excluding beverages, there are 115 items on Que Huong’s menu. It’s a veritable compendium of Vietnamese cuisine, showcasing everything from pho to noodle bowls and rice dishes. You could sample something new every day for nearly four months, but chances are you’ll find something wonderfully addictive from which you’ll be hard-pressed to deviate. For me, that one beguiling temptress is durian shakes. Considered the “stinkiest fruit in the world,” durian is an acquired taste, one which even bizarre food gurgitator Andrew Zimmern can’t stomach. Servers at Vietnamese and Thai restaurants still give me “are you crazy?” looks every time I order it, but it’s one of my favorite beverages.

Beef Stew Sandwich

In ancient and contemporary cuisine across Greece, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, stuffed grape leaves are a ubiquitous dish. Though not indigenous to Southeast Asia, grape leaves have found their way into Vietnamese cuisine, a remnant of French colonization. Large grape leaves are rolled with a mixture of ground beef, cilantro and scallions seasoned with various herbs and spices then served with fish sauce. Though served five per order, the stuffed grape leaves at Que Huong aren’t quite as sizeable as dolmas at local Greek and Middle Eastern restaurants tend to be. In terms of flavor, dolmas and Vietnamese grape leaves are worlds apart, as different as night and day. Both are uniquely delicious onto themselves.

The menu lists two sandwiches. One is the grilled pork chicken or vegetarian banh mi. The other is called a “Beef Stew Sandwich” even though it’s far from a conventional sandwich. It is essentially an appetizer-sized bowl of beef stew Vietnamese-style. What makes it a sandwich is the baguette which accompanies the beef stew. Crispy on the outside, soft and pillowy on the inside, the baguette is perfect for dredging up the luscious stew. Talk about comfort food. The steamy, fragrant beef stew does indeed include beef chunks along with sliced carrots, scallions, white onions and noodles. It’s redolent with star anise and fresh herbs which coalesce into one uniquely wonderful, delightfully addictive flavor.

Que Huong Special

Clay pot cooking is popular throughout Asia where the clay pot is used as both pot and serving dish. One of the more endearing qualities of a clay pot is its ability to retain heat, to the point at which the rice at the bottom of the pot tends to caramelize into an even more delicious version of itself. The “Que Huong Special” is the restaurant’s version of a sizzling clay pot dish, a combination of chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, crab meat and vegetables (broccoli, zucchini, mushroom, carrots and peas) stir-fried with a special sweet-savory sauce. As delicious as it is, this dish is both too hot and too large to finish in one sitting. Leftovers are just as good.

Since May Hong introduced her to patter noodles, a large rice noodle sheet in a cheesecloth pattern, my Kim has searched this dish out at every Vietnamese restaurant we frequent. Que Huong’s version is called a vermicelli pattie and it’s served with grilled beef. The grilled pork is marinated with the sweet spices of anise and cinnamon to create an olfactory treasure that dances on your taste buds then it is topped with crushed peanuts and scallions. It’s traditional to wrap the pork first in patter noodles then in lettuce leafs with cilantro, julienned carrots, daikon, ribbons of cucumber, bean sprouts and fresh mint leaves inside. These lettuce wraps are then dipped in Que Huong’s pleasantly piquant fish sauce. If freshness has a flavor, it tastes something like this dish..

Vermicelli Pattie with Grilled Beef

It may be debated as to whether or not it’s the deliciousness of Que Huong’s menu that causes children of all ages to behave well and focus exclusively on their meals. What isn’t up for debate is that this restaurant is one of Albuquerque’s favorite Vietnamese restaurants, a restaurant worthy of the “hometown” designation.

Que Huong
7010 Louisiana Avenue, S.E., Suites C & D
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 262-0575
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 17 April 2016
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: Que Huong Special, Vermicelli Pattie with Grilled Beef, Grilled Beef Rolls with Grape Leaves, Beef Stew Sandwich, Durian Shake

Que Huong Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pho 79 – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pho 79 within the Motel 76 on Candelaria just east of I-25

Pho 79 within the Motel 76 on Candelaria just east of I-25

When the temperature dips and the Land of Enchantment’s ubiquitous winds howl with a vengeance, savvy diners revel in the knowledge that they can luxuriate in the familiar warmth of a steaming, swimming pool-sized bowl of aromatically alluring pho. Few things in life are as comfortable as snuggling up with a simple and no frills bowl showcasing a rich, spicy, nuanced broth with tangles of rice noodles, fresh herbs and vegetables and a veritable meat fest (rare steak, tendon, brisket, meatball).  It’s the single best way to warm up from the inside-out on a bitterly cold day. 

With nearly forty Vietnamese restaurants gracing the Duke City, diners have no shortage of purveyors to frequent for this preternaturally pleasurable elixir.  The signage on eight of those restaurants includes the term “Pho,” a term which has been known to evoke a reaction akin to Pavlov’s dogs responding to a bell.  It can get pretty embarrassing if you start salivating when you espy “Pho”emblazoned on a restaurant’s signage.

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Chicken Dumplings

Whether or not Pavlov’s disciples are consulted prior to the launch of a new Vietnamese restaurant, the frequency of the term “Pho” on the marquee is telling.  If you’ve traveled extensively, you may have wondered why the term “Pho” followed by a number is so commonplace.  Often these numbers are considered lucky–and not necessarily culturally.  A number may be lucky on a personal level, perhaps marking a date that’s special to the restaurant owner.  Good fortune smiled upon Duke City diners in 2013 when Pho 79 opened its doors.  Adjacent to the timeworn 76 Hotel, Pho 79 is indeed named because 79 is a lucky number to the owner.  Moreover, it’s good luck to diners seeking pho and some of the very best Vietnamese cuisine in Albuquerque.

 It was doubly fortuitous for us in that we shared our inaugural meal at Pho 79 with our friends, prolific pod-casters Hannah and Edward who had also dined there the previous evening.  Compounding our luck was  true pho weather (blustery and overcast with wind), a day perfect for basking in the intoxicating fragrance and flavor of Vietnam’s favorite food.  Prefacing the odoriferous delights was the malodorous bane to many diners, a durian shake.  Considered the “world’s stinkiest fruit,” durian is a matter of personal preference.  Even our server considers durian rank and off-putting and was surprised I would enjoy it so much.

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Spring Rolls With Grilled Pork

8 March 2014: The malodorous (for others) durian shake may be the only item on the menu that’s not imbued with ambrosial qualities.  Even the chicken dumplings are redolent with olfactory arousing properties.  There are five dumplings to an order and they’re served with a simple soy sauce and rice wine vinegar dipping sauce.  Lightly fried, the dumplings are stuffed with ground chicken and minced vegetables.

8 March 2014: Spring rolls are a marvel of transparency.  Thanks to a translucent rice paper, the grilled pork, lettuce, cucumbers, and vermicelli noodles are available for your inspection.  Not that you’ll study them for long because they’re too enticing for contemplation.  The solitary pork strip, grilled in the inimitable Vietnamese way that makes pork taste like candy, is the star ingredient unless you call the peanut sauce an ingredient.  The peanut sauce (crushed peanuts, julienne carrots and daikon) is simultaneously sweet and savory.  You might want to eat it with a spoon, but should save it for your spring rolls.

Crawfish

8 March 2014: For a few months in 2014, Pho 79 offered crawfish imported from the Louisiana Gulf Coast.  Boiled in a slurry of seasonings, garlic cloves and liberal amounts of Cayenne, they were as Cajun and as good as the crawfish we ate by the boatload when we lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  A whole pound of crawfish per order seems more generous on your plate where each of the red-hued “mud bugs” seems larger than life.  Alas, as with crawfish of all sizes, it takes a lot of work to extricate a relatively small amount of “meat” from the crimson crustacean. 

It’s not solely Cajuns who enjoy sucking crawfish heads.  That’s how you extract the salty, spicy juices from the boil as well as a very rich, very flavorful yellow “fatty” substance which Cajuns prize most.  Hardcore Cajuns actually pinch the head a little as they suck.  It’s how you can savor every last morsel of that unctuous yellow fat.   After witnessing Edward’s sucking skills, I’m convinced he’s a Cajun–at least at heart.

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Spicy Curry Vermicelli Bowl

8 March 2014: Pho isn’t the only perfect Vietnamese dish for a blustery day.  A good curry also possesses those warming qualities we crave when chilled to the bone.  Pho 79 offers curry with both noodles and rice. The very first thing you’ll discern about the spicy curry vermicelli bowl is the aromatic bouquet that precedes its arrival.  This entree literally announces itself to your nostrils before you notice the beautifully artistic presentation: fine vermicelli noodles, julienne carrots and daikon, fresh vegetables and your choice of chicken, pork or beef slathered with a sweet-piquant-pungent curry topped with crushed peanuts.  The curry is magnificent, among the very best Vietnamese curries we’ve had.  The vegetables–carrots, zucchini and more–are crisp and garden-fresh.  One word of caution: don’t empty the ramekin of fish sauce onto the dish.  Let the curry shine on its own.  It’s a rarefied curry.

8 March 2014: Eight different phos grace the menu.  Carnivores might gravitate to the deluxe beef noodle soup which includes a beefy horn of plenty with beef tendon, rare lean beef, well done steak and beef meat balls.  Each of these beef components are available on other pho dishes as is beef tripe.  While beef tripe and tendon would have been my choices, my Kim opted for a safer well-done steak.  The pho is incredibly delicate, a beauteous amalgam of noodles, beef and onions swimming in a beef broth made from bones.  The flavors emanating from spices (star anise, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom) pair with other ingredients to make this the perfect for anytime soup.

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Well Done Steak Noodle Soup (Pho)

4 November 2015: One of the telling culinary and cultural differences between American cuisine and Vietnamese cuisine is the importance the latter places on dishes Americans might consider secondary or supporting.  Study a Vietnamese menu and you’ll see a number of dishes categorized under the heading “Rice Dishes” and “Noodle Dishes.”  A dish could conceivably include Almas caviar ($25,000 an ounce) and seared foie gras and it would still fall under either the “Rice” or “Noodle” dish section of the menu.  

If you’re Vietnamese, you probably wouldn’t enjoy the Rice Dish with Curry quite as much if it didn’t have rice.  Americans on the other hand, use the rice to sop up the curry and mix it with the perfectly al dente stir-fried vegetables.  Some of us wouldn’t even mind if the rice wasn’t there at all.  That’s because the curry and vegetable (broccoli, squash, carrots, onions) are swoon-worthy delicious.  Vietnamese curry isn’t nearly as sweet as Thai curry nor as pungent as Indian curry even though its genesis is India.  It tends to be more “stew-like” than other Asian curries and is imbued with a bouquet sure to please.  Pho 79’s version of Rice with Curry is among the best of its kind to be found in Albuquerque.

Rice Dish with Curry

There are no other Vietnamese restaurants in the immediate proximity of Pho 79, but the staff and owners of this wonderful Vietnamese restaurant treat all guests as if there’s a lot of competition trying to corner the pho market in the area.  This aim to please restaurant has earned our respect and admiration.  It’s one of the Duke City’s very best.

Pho 79
2007 Candelaria
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 883-3747
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 4 November 2015
1st VISIT: 8 March 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Crawfish, Chicken Dumplings,  Spring Rolls with Grilled Pork, Well Done Steak Noodle Soup, Spicy Curry Vermicelli Bowl, Rice Dish with Curry

Pho 79 on Urbanspoon

IKrave Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

iKrave Cafe for Albuquerque’s very best Vietnamese Sandwiches

Please say it isn’t so!  According to Nations Restaurant News, a highly respected trade publication “a new crop of restaurant chain entrepreneurs” believes “American diners will soon embrace the Vietnamese bánh mì sandwich as the next burrito or taco.”  The notion of corporate chain megaliths setting their sights on the humble banh mi should send shudders down the spine of everyone who frequents the mom-and-pop nature of the banh mi restaurants we’ve come to know and love. Imagine a phalanx of Subway-like sandwich shops creating and selling banh mi. The notion isn’t as far-fetched as you might think.

One of the first chains vying to expand the presence of banh mi in the mainstream is Chipotle whose Asian-themed offshoot “ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen” features banh mi as the menu’s cornerstone. If Chipotle does for the banh mi what it did for burritos and what Olive Garden did for Italian food, there will be generations of American diners who may never experience the real thing–an authentic banh mi prepared in the traditional manner by Vietnamese weaned on banh mi. Worse, slick Madison Avenue advertisers might convince them they prefer the faux food.

iKrave’s energetic, customer oriented owner Hien

It’s a small consolation that it will probably take a while before the heavily bankrolled chain interlopers reach Albuquerque (think about how long it took before Chipotle invaded).  That gives the Duke City’s  three established independent purveyors of peerless banh mi the opportunity to win over even more converts.  It should take only one visit!

Until just a few years ago, you had to visit larger cosmopolitan areas such as San Francisco to find banh mi.  Eventually such banh mi pioneers as May Café, May Hong and Cafe Dalat, all full-service Vietnamese restaurants, began offering “Vietnamese Sandwiches” on their appetizer menus.  Before long, almost every other Vietnamese restaurant in the Duke City followed suit.  In 2010, Banh Mi Coda became the Duke City’s first full-fledged banh mi shop.  It took three more years before Sai Gon Sandwich launched, becoming the second restaurant in Albuquerque dedicated solely to banh mi.

#4 Grilled Pork Banh Mi

The third banh mi restaurant–the one about which you may not yet have heard–is called iKrave.  The name means exactly what it sounds it should mean as in “I crave” banh mi. iKrave opened its doors in August, 2014. Being ensconced in a rather nondescript strip mall on Juan Tabo (just north of Constitution) and without a prominent eye-catching storefront, much of its business has come from the Vietnamese community and nearby residents. You wouldn’t blame them if they wanted to keep secret what is one of New Mexico’s best sandwich shops of any genre.

iKrave exemplifies the axioms “big things come in small packages” and “small place, huge flavors.” This Lilliputian lair has room for only a couple of small tables, a free-standing beverage refrigerator and a bamboo counter where you place your order. The man behind the counter is owner-chef Hien who not only constructs the banh mi (it’s a thing of beauty), he cures, marinades, cuts and otherwise imparts preternatural deliciousness on all the meats which grace the banh me he serves. He also slices, dices and juliennes all the fresh vegetables adorning each banh mi.

Grilled Chicken Banh Mi

To say the banh mi is a sacrosanct sandwich is an understatement. So is calling it merely delicious or utterly wonderful. During a 2009 visit to Vietnam for his award-winning “No Reservations” show, Anthony Bourdain described banh mi as “a symphony in a sandwich.” It’s an apt description for the effect this superb sandwich has on your taste buds. You can almost picture all ten-thousand taste buds dancing, enrapt in the melodious harmony of flavors

Bourdain elaborated further: “The baguette alone is something of a miracle. How do they stay so crunchy, crisp and fresh on the outside, so airy, so perfect on the inside?” In truth, this statement is much more applicable to the baguettes in Vietnam than the bread used by banh mi purveyors throughout the Duke City. Hien procures his baguettes from a local baker whose classic preparation techniques are very close to those used in Vietnam. Unlike American sandwiches whose bread can lull taste buds to sleep, Vietnamese baguettes are really the vessel that coalesces all the flavors of the banh mi.

#1: Special Combination Banh Mi

With your first bite, you’ll notice the difference and with each subsequent bite, your appreciation will grow for this delicious duality of light and airy, crisp and soft, fresh and flavorful bread. It’s the perfect canvass for any one of the eight sandwiches on the iKrave banh mi menu.  Before he creates your sandwich, Hien brushes the baguette with a rather expensive French butter then heats it.  It’s one of several touches he employes to ensure the most moist and meticulously crafted banh mi in town.  It’s sandwich artistry at its finest and most delicious.

16 April 2015: Combination #1 is the mother lode, the bahn mi with the most. It’s an unheated sandwich (the Vietnamese version of a “cold cut” sandwich, but infinitely better) constructed with barbecue pork, pork roll and cured pork pate along with the classic banh mi condiments: Vietnamese mayo (cut with butter for moistness and nuttiness), fresh herbs (cilantro, scallions), pickled (julienne daikon and carrots) and unpickled vegetables (jalapeños).  The sandwich is further moistened by sauce Hien uses on the barbecue pork.  Every element in this sandwich is as fresh and delicious as it can be. Together they coalesce to create my very favorite banh mi in New Mexico.

Sugar Cane Juice

19 April 2015: if your preference is for a heated sandwich, iKrave has several wonderful options.  Savvy diners who frequent Vietnamese restaurants are familiar with grilled pork, porcine perfection marinated with the sweet spices of anise and cinnamon to create an olfactory treasure that dances on your taste buds.  Imagine a banh mi created with this incomparably delicious pork.  It’s better than your imagination.  So is the grilled chicken banh mi.

16 April 2015: You’ll want to wash down your banh mi with sugar cane juice made on the premises by Hien himself.  Take a gander at the beverage refrigerator where you’ll see bundles of sugar cane stalks from which Hien extracts the juice.  Organic Lifestyle Magazine lists sugar cane juice  (which has a relatively low glycemic index of 43), as a healthy alternative to table sugar when used in moderation. It contains fructose and glucose, which, unlike sucrose-based sugars, do not require insulin for metabolism.  Moreover, it’s absolutely delicious! Alternatively, iKrave serves what Hien believes to be some of the strongest iced coffee in town.  It’s excellent!  

One of the most  common, albeit more than a little bit Americanized, nicknames for Vietnam is “Nam,” obviously a diminutive of its full name.  In honor of the banh mi, perhaps its nickname should be “num num.”  iKrave is home to banh mi which will have you uttering “num num” and more.

iKrave Cafe
1331 Juan Tabo Blvd, N.E., Suite 1P
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 275-6625
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 19 April 2015
1st VISIT: 16 April 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Special Combination Banh Mi, Sugar Cane Juice, Coconut Macaroons, Grilled Pork Banh Mi, Grilled Chicken Banh Mi

Ikrave Cafe on Urbanspoon

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