Soo Bak Foods – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Soo Bak Foods, an Outstanding Mobile Kitchen

When I told my friend Jim “Bubba” Chester about having discovered a terrific mobile food kitchen named Soo Bak, he became very animated. Surely, he thought Soo Bak just had to serve the Arkansas-style barbecue he craved. When I asked how he arrived at that conclusion, he explained rather matter-of-factly that the trademarked chant at his beloved alma-mater (the University of Arkansas), is ”Woooo! Pig Sooie!” and of course, the team mascot is the Razorbacks. Hence anyone should be able to see that “Soo Bak” is Arkansas-style barbecue. It nearly broke his heart to learn that instead of Arkansas-style barbecue, Soo Bak serves Korean barbecue (among other paragons of deliciousness). “How in tarnation could someone that far from the Ozarks know anything about barbecue?” he cried. Quite a bit, my friend. Quite a bit.

Korean barbecue, called “gogi gui,” more closely resembles grilling than it does the traditional low-and-slow preparation of meats throughout the fruited plain. This grilling method is distinguished by the use of a charcoal or gas grill, often build right into the dining room table itself. There diners prepare their favorite thinly sliced pork, beef, chicken or seafood. Korean barbecue is actually an overarching term encompassing a variety of marinated and non-marinated meat and seafood dishes. The two Korean barbecue dishes with which Americans are most familiar are bulgogi (thinly sliced rib eye glazed with a sweet and savory marinade) and kalbi (sliced, butterflied and marinated beef short ribs prepared over a wood fire).

The Soo Bak Menu

Contrary to Jim’s rationale, the name Soo Bak actually translates from Korean to “Watermelon,” a fitting appellation considering the mobile kitchen conveyance plies its craft under the shadows of the Sandias. Soo Bak is the brainchild of owner-chef John Katrinak who has reinterpreted his grandmother’s and mother’s recipes so that they meld the complementary flavors of Korea and New Mexico. Those flavors work very well together! During his travels throughout the globe, the impressions he gleaned from the generosity and love many people put into their food resonated deeply with him. It’s his personal mission statement to share his foods in the spirit of that generosity and love. Mission accomplished!

You can’t help but love a mobile kitchen sporting the tag line “Korean Seoul Food,” wordplay honoring the capital of South Korea. Operating across the city since January, 2013, Soo Bak is a ubiquitous presence at the Talin Market where it sets up alongside several other mobile kitchens every Wednesday. Unlike many of its brethren, Soo Bak posts its weekly schedule on its Facebook page and can be counted on reliably to be where it’s supposed to be. Its Facebook page also lists its menu of “everyday items,” though frequently changing specials aren’t listed. Befitting a motorized conveyance with limited operating room, the menu is rather limited, but it’s the flavors and aromas that are far-reaching. As you queue up to place your order, you may want to pull a George Costanza and yank the people in front of you out of your way.  That’s how ravenous the aromas will make you.

BBQ Beef Tacos with Cucumber Kimchi

9 August 2017: Among Soo Bak’s most popular fusion of New Mexico meets Korea are Korean tacos. Available in quantities of two or three and generously engorged with your choice of Korean BBQ beef (with lettuce, cheese, crema and Sriracha), Spicy Pork (with lettuce, cheese, crema, and a side of jalapeño salsa) or sautéed mushrooms (with lettuce, cheese, crema and Sriracha). The Korean BBQ Beef taco is in rarefied company as one of the most surprising tacos I’ve had in years. Many other tacos have surprised me in their use of ingredients which don’t always work well together. Soo Bak surprised me in just how harmoniously well those ingredients coalesce into a delicious whole. The beef is impregnated with a superb smokiness, a grilled flavor with a perfect amount of char that still lets you appreciate the crispiness and freshness of the lettuce and the complementary sauces.

9 August 2017: Air Force friends and colleagues who served in Korea like to use the term “deep kimchi” when someone is in a rather sticky situation. They shared horror stories of kimchi so pungent and piquant that they couldn’t eat it. Because I could, it instantly made me one of the gang. Soo Bak offers three types of kimchi available in small and large portions: Napa cabbage, radish and cucumber. The cucumber kimchi is the complete antithesis of the sometimes cloying cucumber salad oft served with satay at many Thai restaurants. Where Thai cucumber salad is sweet and vinegary, Soo Bak’s cucumber kimchi is pungent, salty and pleasantly piquant with a nice crunchy texture that bespeaks of its freshness. It isn’t nearly as incendiary as other kimchi I’ve enjoyed, but it is a delightful accompaniment to any meal.

Korean BBQ Beef Bibimbap

 9 August 2017: Koreans have mastered the art of “leftovers disguised as a gourmet dish” in a popular dish known as Bibimbap, which translates from Korean to “mixed rice.” As with other Soo Bak dishes, there are three types of bibimbap available: Korean BBQ beef, spicy pork and sautéed mushrooms. The dish is described on the menu as “on a dish of steamed rice with lettuce and chilled daikon, sprouts and zucchini; topped with a fried egg and topped with red pepper sauce or sesame ginger vinaigrette.” My words won’t do justice to this dish which plays with and delights every one of your ten-thousand taste buds. Puncture the yolk and let it run across the other ingredients to maximize the intensity of your enjoyment.  My choices were the spicy pork and the sesame-ginger vinaigrette, both of which interplay so well. As with the aforementioned BBQ beef, the spicy pork is grilled to the point that its exterior is nearly caramelized, the flavor of nicely-seasoned charcoal prominent.  Call it “gourmet leftovers” if you will, but this is an addicting dish. 

16 August 2017:  There’s an unwritten rule that you shouldn’t eat more than one starch in any one meal.  This isn’t as much so that you avoid bad combinations (such as potatoes and pasta) as it is so that you don’t overeat starches.  Somehow Soo Bak can get away with violating this culinary faux pas.  At least they do with the Sesame Noodles (chilled sweet potato noodles with spinach, carrots, onion, and sesame seeds in a sesame soy sauce)  served with steamed rice.  While both the sesame noodles and the steamed rice are exemplars of how each dish should be prepared, eating that much starch in one meal will rankle the ire of your cardiologist.  One way to cut the starch is to add the Korean BBQ beef with the dish.  Yes, the dish will still have two starches, but at least the flavor profile isn’t one-note.  This is an excellent dish.

Korean Sesame Noodles with Korean BBQ Beef

16 August 2017:  Kimchi is as Korean as apple pie is American.  It’s a quintessential food, one offering spicy, salty, sour, crunchy and healthy notes.  With more than one hundred varieties of kimchi, there’s bound to be one to appease ever palate–and contrary to stereotype, not all are made with cabbage.  That said, Soo Bak’s Napa cabbage kimchi is terrific, an exemplar of the kimchi with which most Americans are familiar.  Its pungency and piquancy is courtesy of the combination of red pepper powder and several other seasoning spices.  Its deliciousness is courtesy of Soo Bak’s traditional preparation.  My friend Bill Resnik calls Soo Bak’s radish kimchi the very best he’s ever had.  Made with ponytail radishes, it’s got a pleasant punch and delightfully crunchy texture.

Soo Bak prepares everything to order so waits are in order. If you find them at Talin, there’s a good chance you’ll run into Air Force personnel in uniform. Make sure to thank them for their service and maybe compliment them for their good taste in mobile food kitchens. Soo Bak is among the very best!

Soo Bak Foods
Location Varies
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 221-9910
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 August 2017
1st VISIT: 9 August 2017
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Korean BBQ Beef Bibimbap, Cucumber Kimchi, Spicy Pork Tacos

Soo Bak Foods Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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

Arirang Oriental Market – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Arirang Oriental Market on Eubank

Cuisine is the tactile connection we have to breathing history.
History and culture offer us a vibrant living society that we taste through cuisine.
All cuisine is a reflection of the society from which it emanates …
in the end cuisine is the result of culture
Clifford Wright

If cuisine is the result of culture, then it can certainly be stated that music is the expressive language of that culture.  Well before the advent of the written word, music was used to tell stories, impart wisdom, express ideas, share emotions and convey the history and culture of the civilization.  Until the 20th century and the rapid cultural changes wrought by the postmodern period, music also bridged the generations.  Family members of every generation typically listened to the same music.
In Korea, there may be no song as beloved–even in North Korea–as Arirang, an iconic folk song often considered an unofficial national anthem.  Its plaintiff lyrics convey a traveler’s agony and anguish while crossing a mountain pass named Arirang with a heartfelt longing to return home.  After its service in Korea during the Korean War, the South Korean government designated Arirang as the official march of the United States Army’s 7th Infantry Division in which my father-in-law served.

The Arirang Menu (An English version is also available)

Because of the deep emotional ties to the song, it’s only fitting that Albuquerque’s premier (but surprisingly not the only one) Korean market be named Arirang.  Serving the Duke City for more than a decade, the Arirang Oriental Market proffers specialty groceries, pots and pans, rice cookers, cooking utensils, perfumes, lotions and unique collectibles.  It’s an adventure and a joy to walk the market’s aisles, peruse the labels and contemplate the purchase of ingredients for a soiree of adventurous dining.  The geriatrically advanced among us may even reflect on the days in which the edifice was a Burger Chef restaurant.

At the back of the market is an area almost too small to call a restaurant, but which serves some of the very best and most authentic Korean food in the Duke City.  A few tables and a counter constitute the eatery’s entire seating.  It could be argued the eatery is devoid of ambiance, but if you look beyond the stark walls and utilitarian surroundings, there is much to see.  Leaning against a wall on the counter is the Arirang menu, written entirely in Hangul, the Korean alphabet.  A laminated menu includes translations for the linguistically challenged among us.  English is a second language to the wait staff, but it’s not too difficult to get your point across and get your questions answered.  The wait staff is unfailingly polite.

Mandu (Korean potstickers) with a dipping sauce

Befitting the eatery’s Lilliputian capacity, the menu is relatively small but also surprisingly ambitious considering its diversity.  A small glass of tea (a surprising contrast to the 64-ounce behemoths served at fast food joints)  is delivered to your table shortly after you’re seated.  A refrigerated case in an aisle hugging the wall includes soft drinks, both the American standards and a few carbonated Korean offerings.  We’ve established that decor is not a strong point, but aroma and food are.

There are only a few appetizers on the menu, the most popular being traditional Mandu, Korean dumplings.  In that Mandu are a Lunar New Year family tradition throughout Korea, it’s fitting that the Mandu at Arirang are shaped like a crescent moon.  These fried dumplings are luscious pockets stuffed with a pork mince and served with a soy sauce dip which includes sesame seeds, shallots and a hint of ginger.

Bulgogi, the national dish of Korea

9 June 2012: Arirang’s most popular entree among non-Asian diners is probably bulgogi, Korea’s signature dish which many Americans refer to as Korean barbecue. Bulgogi  is a marriage of sweet, savory and spicy tastes presented on a sizzling hibachi.  It is the perfect entree with which to introduce diners (especially the non-adventurous) to Korean food.  They will quickly fall in love with the thin strips of lean beef marinated in fresh garlic and soy sauce then stir-fried with yellow and white onions and julienne carrots sprinkled with sesame seeds.   The “barbecue” sauce is wholly unlike American barbecue sauces in that  it’s not “lacquered” on, but penetrates the meat deeply with sweet, but not cloying notes. 

Korean meals traditionally include small plates of sundry appetizers and side dishes all served at the same time. Known as banchan, these side dishes are typically comprised of pickled, spiced and hot and spicy vegetables.  The specialty of any Korean family is kimchee, a fiery cabbage-based staple of Korea which is heavily seasoned with garlic and chile.  Arirang’s rendition is pleasantly piquant and pungent, but not as powerful as some fermented kimchee.  The best description I’ve read for banchan equates them to “Korean tapas.”

Assorted  unfermented salads known as namul and kimchee, a fiery fermented cabbage dish

9 June 2012: Imagine an American dish in which you threw together left-over remnants of favorite foods such as burgers, pizza, tacos and egg rolls, heated the menage, tossed it in a bowl with a fried egg and served it with salsa.  It doesn’t sound especially appealing.  Unlike Americans, Koreans have mastered the art of  “leftovers disguised as a gourmet dish” in a popular dish known as Bibimbap. It’s one of the most popular dishes in Korea and its popularity has been exported to Korean restaurants in America.  Arirang offers two versions, my favorite being Dolsot Bibimbap.  This version is served in a hot stone pot.

Dolsot Bibimbap starts with rice served in the hot stone bowl in which it is prepared, the rice at the bottom of the bowl crackling as it continues to cook and caramelize.  Layered atop the rice are slender strips of perfectly seared sirloin and namul, the aforementioned pickled and spiced vegetables in all their flavorful and colorful glory.  The dish is then crowned with a single fried egg.  You will then stir in gochujang, a Korean chili paste, to taste.  On the Scoville scale the chili paste won’t register very high, but it’s got a wonderfully fruity flavor with just enough bite to complement the dish.    This is a delicious dish with complementary and contrasting flavors coalescing wonderfully.

Dolsot Bibimbap

14 June 2016:  Over the past few months it’s been a highlight of my workweek to introduce my friends Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick and the Dazzling Deanell  to restaurants they might not otherwise have known about or visited.  We get together every Tuesday for lunch.  They were absolutely blown away by Arirang which Larry proclaimed “Best of Breed” among Korean restaurants.  One of the pleasures of dining with good friends is our mutual willingness to share the bounty of our table.  We think nothing of reaching over and spearing a forkful of food from each others’ plates.  This practice means we all sample more than just what each of us order. 

14 June 2016: One of the more interesting dishes on Arirang’s menu is JapChae, one of seven dishes on the “Noodles” section of the menu.  Its description: “stir-fried mixed vegetables, beef, vermicelli noodles and toasted sesame seeds” could frankly describe a noodle dish in virtually every other Asian culinary culture.  One of the most distinct aspects of this dish is the vermicelli which is slightly thicker than the vermicelli in say, Vietnamese cuisine.  The vermicelli is also made from mung bean, not rice noodles.  Vegetables are stir-fried to a crispy perfection and the beef has the telltale flavor of Korean barbecued beef with its sweet-savory notes.  Sesame seeds are a nice touch.


The Arirang Oriental Market offers wonderful Korean comfort food at reasonable prices served by friendly attendants.  A meal here may inspire you to stock up from the treasures in the grocery aisles so that you can try replicating your experience.

Arirang Oriental Market
1826 Eubank, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 255-9634
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 14 June 2016
1st VISIT: 9 June 2012
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Dolsot Bibimbap, Bulgogi, Namul, Mandu, JapChae

Arirang Oriental Market Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Asian Pear – Albuquerque, New Mexico

My Friend Bruce “Sr Plata” in front of Asian Pear in Downtown Albuquerque

Careful Father, this stuff will melt your beads.”
~Lt Colonel Henry Blake, MASH 4077

Just as Hogan’s Heroes helped establish the perception many Americans (at least of my generation) had about German food, the television show MASH was the first introduction many of us had to Korean food. Set in South Korea during the Korean War, the series centered around a group of resilient doctors, nurses and support staff in an isolated hospital compound which saw more than its share of wounded. Not only did each half hour episode depict–sometimes rather graphically–the horrors of war, it painted a rather poignant and entirely accurate picture of sacrifice and hardship.

Some of the sacrifice and hardship came at the hands of the kitchen staff which concocted some of the most unsavory fare conceivable (imagine a restaurant today serving creamed turnips, spam lamb and cream of weenie soup). Indigenous cuisine was apparently even worse because no matter how bad chow hall food was, the MASH team didn’t walk down to the nearby village for a meal of Korean food. And, as the quote above illustrates, when they did partake of Korean food, the impression given was that it was almost lethally piquant. 

Asian Pear Dining Room

Compared to the cuisines of other East Asian nations, the rise in the popularity of Korean food across the fruited plain was painfully slow. In fact, only in recent years have Korean restaurants become a thriving part of the American culinary mainstream. According to, much of this is attributable to the insular nature of Korean restaurants which, by design, initially catered to other Koreans, not to the teeming masses. The unwillingness of Koreans to compromise on authenticity can be contrasted to the pandering to American tastes by other East Asian cultures who dumbed down their dishes to appeal to the masses. Can you say Pad Thai or General Tso’s chicken or even sushi?Korean food may be the least Americanized of East Asian cuisines meaning that within Korean restaurants you won’t find any one dish unrecognizably dumbed down for American tastes (as Pad Thai has been at Thai restaurants across the fruited plain).  That means purists curious about traditional Korean cuisine can still find it easily and as relatively unspoiled as if served in Seoul.  Indisputably the most popular Korean dish among American diners is bulgogi, the marinated and grilled beef dish to which diners often refer as Korean barbecue.  Today it’s possible to find bulgogi served at non-Korean restaurants where it is discernibly more Americanized.

Asian Pear Menu

Albuquerque has been blessed with the presence of at least one Korean restaurant for nearly four decades.  Chris and Kye Lovato started it all with the long defunct Fu Shou House which they operated in the Kirtland Air Force Base area until 1993.  That year the Lovatos moved to the Scottsdale Village Shopping Center where they reopened as Fu Yuang.   Over the past four decades, there have been (and still are) other Korean restaurants operating in the Duke City, but in terms of sheer numbers, Korean restaurants in Albuquerque pale compared to restaurants from other East Asian nations.The January 12th, 2015, addition of Asian Pear, did little to impact the disparity in the number of Korean restaurants compared to the surprisingly high number of Vietnamese and Thai restaurants in the Duke City.  Unlike many of them, however, but the Asian Pear concept appears a promising candidate for expansion (wishful thinking here).  The restaurant’s marquee is underscored by “fresh and healthy Korean BBQ and Japanese food,” but it would not be inaccurate to add “inexpensive” and “delicious.”   Asian Pear is located in the bustling downtown area right next to the long-established Skip Maisel’s on Central Avenue.    It sits in the space previously occupied by the Teriyaki Kitchen.

Vegetable Pancake and Kimchee

You’ll walk past an expansive seating area to get to the counter where you’ll place your order from a large-print menu over a window to the kitchen.  The menu is segmented into plate entrees, bowl entrees, bento boxes and sides, but daily specials shouldn’t be overlooked.  Plate and bowl entrees are served with your choice of steamed rice, fried rice or chap-chae (Korean-style glass noodles) as well as vegetable sides.  Bento boxes also include steamed rice, tempura (shrimp, carrot and onion), bean sprouts and two pot stickers.  The low, low prices will have you doing a double-take with the most expensive entrees being south of ten dollars.One other pleasant aspect of dining at Asian Pear is the eagerness of the staff to have you sample more than what you order.  It’s an approach which will introduce you to items you’ll probably order the next time you visit.  Shortly after you’re seated, expect complimentary vegetable pancakes and kimchee to be delivered to your table. The accommodating and friendly staff is even receptive to substitutions, a “have it your way” attitude with which some restaurateurs just won’t be bothered.   You’ll be more than pleasantly surprised at how eager to please the Asian Pear staff is.

Wonton Soup

The vegetable pancake is imbued with three of my favorite food characteristics: freshness, flavor and free.  Though relatively small in portion (they are free, after all), they’re addictively good.  That’s the point.  We’re sure to order the full-sized version next time we visit.  The kimchee, a dish of fermented cabbage and other vegetables, doesn’t have the eye-watering piquancy of kimchee we’ve had elsewhere, but it’ll tantalize your taste buds with its spiciness and personality.With temperatures hovering around 30 degrees on the day of our inaugural visit, only a steaming bowl of soup could take the chill out.  Fortunately Asian Pear had two options available–wonton soup and ramen.  Unlike some wonton soup found in the Duke City, the wontons in this version are stuffed with chicken and are half-moon shaped (like dumplings).  Replete with scallions, this wonton soup has a pleasant and not-too-salty flavor, but more importantly on a cold day, it’s got warming properties needed to brave the weather. 


Over the years, my very favorite Korean entree has become bibimbap which is not only fun to say, but fun to eat.  Bibimbap, which translates from Korean to mixed rice,” is a savory Korean dish which usually incorporates rice, pickled vegetables, sauces, and in some cases, meats and eggs.  The rendition at Asian Pear includes a sizable portion of  smoky, sweet-savory meat (your choice of pork, beef or chicken) that contrasts nicely with the various pickled vegetables (namul) and the mildly piquant spicy chili paste.  Stir vigorously and you’ve got a wonderful melange of deliciousness.    My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” is as enamored of kalbi (sometimes spelled galbi) as I am of bibimbap.  Kalbi, which translates to “ribs” is a Korean barbecue dish centered around cooking marinated beef short ribs until the outside is crisp and caramelized and the inside is tender and juicy.  With ten ribs on the plate, Asian Pear’s portion size is generous though my carnivorous friend would have appreciated even more of this delicious meat candy. 


In its annual Food & Wine issue for 2017, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Asian Pear a Hot Plate Award signifying the selection of its Jeon (Vegetable Pancake) as one of the “dishes…that’s lighting a fire under the city’s culinary scene.”  Considering the thousands of potential selections, to be singled out is quite an honor. 

While we certainly enjoyed every morsel of every item we sampled at Asian Pear, what blew us away most is the exemplary customer service…and we’re not the only ones to praise the amazing aim to please attitude among the staff.  Every Yelp review for Asian Pear is effusive in its praise for the service.  Asian Pear hasn’t done much to advertise its presence on Central Avenue, but gushing word-of-mouth praise from its guests has made this little treasure on Route 66 a great food, great value, great service destination.  NOTE:  This is the 900th review published on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog. 

Asian Pear
508 Central Avenue, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 766-9405
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 15 December 2015
COST: $$
BEST BET: Kalbi, Bibimbap, Kimchee, Vegetable Pancake, Fried Rice

Asian Pear Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fu Yuang – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Fu Yuang, Albuquerque's best Korean restaurant

Fu Yuang, Albuquerque's best Korean restaurant

“I’ve eaten a river of liver and an ocean of fish!
I’ve eaten so much fish, I’m ready to grow gills!
I’ve eaten so much liver, I can only make love
if I’m smothered in bacon and onions”
~ Hawkeye Pierce
MASH 4077, Korea

For eleven years, televisions across the fruited plain were tuned in to CBS where the antics of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) enthralled audiences with a unique blend of crude hilarity and heartfelt humanity.  Set in South Korea during the Korean War, the series centered around a group of resilient doctors, nurses and support staff in an isolated hospital compound which saw more than its share of wounded.  We grew to love the ensemble cast of Hawkeye Pierce, Trapper John McIntyre, Hot Lips Hooligan, Henry Blake, Frank Burns and Max Klinger.

Not only did each half hour episode depict–sometimes rather graphically–the horrors of war, it painted a rather poignant and entirely accurate picture of sacrifice and hardship.  Man’s inhumanity toward man was not only portrayed on the battlefields, but in the kitchen presided over by a cook as much outside his element as a vegan at a chophouse.  In its infinite wisdom, the Army assigned Private Igor, a trained mechanic, not to the motor pool where he belonged, but to the kitchen where he concocted such unappetizing dishes as creamed turnips, spam lamb and cream of weenie soup.

The interior of Fu Yuang

Fed up with the never-ending parade of powdered food and the post-prandial gastronomic distress (not to mention taste bud torture) it caused, Hawkeye instigated a near revolt when Igor offered him a choice of liver or fish. “Are we gonna stand for this? Are we gonna let them do this to us? No! I say, No! We’re not going to eat this dreck any more! (chanting) We want something else!”  Indigenous cuisine was apparently even worse because no matter how bad Igor’s chow was, Hawkeye and crew didn’t walk down to the nearby village for a meal of delicious Korean food. 

My father-in-law, who served in the Korean War (where he says he passed out blankets) once told me most Koreans in war-ravaged Korea barely eked out a subsistence and basically lived day-to-day.  On the rare occasions in which he partook of Korean food, it didn’t agree with him (an understatement).  Because of those experiences, it would be another sixty years before he next ate Korean food.  In 2003, we took him to Fu Yuang, Albuquerque’s premier Korean restaurant.  At Fu Yuang he fell in love with a cuisine he thought he’d never eat again and had no idea would be so good.

Some of the very best potstickers in Albuquerque with a terrific dipping sauce

Like my father-in-law, Chris Lovato served in Korea where he met his wife Kye (and ostensibly, enjoyed much better Korean food).  After his military career, the Lovatos settled in Albuquerque where they began a three decade plus Korean restaurant venture that continues today.  Chris passed away in 2008 and Kye has since retired, but their restaurant remains in good hands with their effervescent daughter Mia Lasco succeeding her mother in the kitchen.  Mia obviously paid very close attention; she’s every bit as good a cook as her mother was.  The front of the house is also in good hands with Mia’s husband Chris, the hyper-energetic host and waiter, making sure everyone feels welcome.

Fu Yuang, which translates from Korean to “prosperous garden,” has been comfortably ensconced in the Scottsdale Village shopping center since 1993.  Prior to that, the Lovatos owned and operated the beloved Fu Shou House just outside Kirtland Air Force Base.  Aside from the outstanding food, one commonality all Lovato family restaurants have shared over the years is friendly, attentive service.  Fu Yuang is as convivial and inviting a restaurant as you’ll find in the Duke City. It is sparsely decorated, nearly austere when compared to the over-the-top flamboyance of some of the city’s Asian chains, but it offers a quiet coziness, reasonable prices and generous portions of the best Korean food in New Mexico.

The best egg drop soup in Albuquerque

The best of the restaurant’s appetizers, all of which are excellent, is the exquisite golden fried mandu (Korean style dumplings), luscious pockets of beef served with a soy sauce based dipping sauce with a flavor profile that is sweet, tangy, piquant and savory. Alas, sometimes the day’s ration of mandu goes fast and you might have to start your meal with something else.  A good choice are the crab and cream cheese stuffed wontons, an appetizer for which at other restaurants you might have to form search party to locate anything but the wonton wrappers.  Not so at Fu Yuang where the cream cheese practically oozes out as you bite into it.  This is a rich treat sure to please everyone at the table and it’s not cloying as at some restaurants.

As it is at many Korean restaurants, Fu Yuang’s most popular entree is bulgogi, Korea’s signature dish which many Americans refer to as Korean barbecue. Bulgogi  is a harmonious marriage of sweet, savory and spicy tastes presented on a sizzling hibachi.  It is the perfect entree with which to introduce diners to Korean food.  They will quickly fall in love with the thin strips of lean beef marinated in fresh garlic and soy sauce then stir-fried nearly to the point of caramelization with yellow and white onions and carrots.  At Fu Yuang, the meat is tender with nary any sinewy or fatty pieces.  The “barbecue” sauce is wholly unlike any American barbecue sauce you’ve had.  It’s not “lacquered” on as some American barbecue sauces are, but its sweet-citrus (the hint of pineapple is notable) profile is addictive.

Bulgogi, a house specialty

Bulgogi, a house specialty

If your tastes lean toward the spicy or piquant but you don’t want to stray far from the sweet and savory tastes of bulgogi, the Taejigogi Kochu’jang (just call it spicy pork) might call out to you.  Extra lean pork slices are marinated in a chili pepper sauce then stir-fried with carrots and yellow and green onions. Like the bulgogi, it is served on a sizzling cast iron hibachi that arrives at your table steaming.  Similarly, rib aficionados will absolutely love bulkalbi, organic bone-in beef short ribs marinated in Fu Yuang’s sweet and savory soy and garlic sauce then stir fried. Similar in taste to bulgogi, these bite-sized ribs are lean and absolutely delicious.

While Korean meals traditionally feature small plates of sundry appetizers and side dishes all served at the same time, they are served only by request at Fu Yuang. Assorted salads (known as namul) comprised of pickled, spiced and hot and spicy vegetables accompany kimchee, the fiery cabbage-based staple of Korea which is heavily seasoned with garlic and chile (and at Fu Yuang is also seasoned with anchioves). The best description I’ve read of these appetizers equates them to “like Korean tapas, only better.”

My friend Sr. Plata with a steaming hibachi of bulkalbi

Fu Yuang’s menu includes several “Jieges & Gook” or dinner soups.  Similar to Vietnamese phos, they are served in swimming pool-sized bowls ideal for sharing (not that you might want to considering how good they are). If your tastes lean to soup of the nasal-clearing variety, it’s the Yukejang which will call loudest. Not quite as piquant as served at other Korean restaurants, it is still redolent with the olfactory arousing aroma of chili pepper paste. Served at nearly scalding temperature, this rich red-orange hued elixir includes spicy beef, fresh garlic, daikon radish slices, bean sprouts, yellow onions, green onions and chapch’ae noodles.

In yet another memorable episode of MASH, Major Frank “Ferret-Face” Burns panicked when he saw local farmers burying what he believes to be a landmine.  Hawkeye revealed “It‘s a kimchee pot, Frank.  Kimchee.  Pickled cabbage.  They ferment it in the ground. There are millions of these buried all over Korea.”  This episode served to reinforce stereotypes many people have about kimchee which can certainly have odoriferous properties.  In comparison to kimchee I’ve had at the homes of Korean families in the Air Force, Fu Yuang’s rendition is rather mild.  It’s also not as piquant as other kimchee I’ve had, but it’s still a very good kimchee.

Assorted salads (known as namul)

Assorted salads (known as namul)

“Bibimbap” may sound like a word describing a hip hop beat, but other than bulgogi, it may be the most popular and well-known Korean dish in existence.  Some cynics actually decry it as leftovers disguised as a gourmet dish.  There may be some merit to that description.  Bibimbap starts with rice served in the hot stone bowl in which it is prepared, the rice at the bottom of the bowl crackling as it continues to cook.  Layered atop the rice are slender strips of perfectly seared sirloin and namul, the aforementioned pickled and spiced vegetables in all their flavorful and colorful glory.  The dish is then crowned with a single fried egg.  You will then stir in gochujang, a Korean chili pepper, to taste. 

Bibimbap can be literally translated to “mixed meal,” because it’s constructed from sundry items often already prepared.  If this is a leftover, you can have me over for a Bibimbap dinner any time, but it’s a good bet it won’t be nearly as good as Fu Yuang’s rendition.  It’s simply the best I’ve ever had.  There are many reasons it’s the essence of deliciousness, the least of which is the coalescence of flavors and textures, the mixing of great individual items combining to form rare greatness.

Bibimbap, a delightful dish

Fu Yuang certainly excels in Korean food, but the menu also includes two entire pages of Chinese specialties in the categories of beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, vegetables and fried rice. The Chinese food is fairly Americanized (sweet and sour type entrees), but better prepared than Chinese food at most Chinese restaurants.  Variety (as if you could ever get tired of the wonderful Korean entrees) or temporary insanity might be the only reasons to order Chinese food over Korean food at Fu Yuang, but on the one time in which we’ve had Chinese food (a memorable lemon chicken), we found it quite good.

If you are in a sweet and sour mood, the Korean version of sweet and sour pork or chicken is excellent.  Unlike the thickly breaded meats lacquered with a crimson candied sauce served in many Chinese restaurants, the sweet and sour sauce at Fu Yuang is nearly transparent and the breading is very light.  Best of all, the sauce most definitely has a sour pronouncement; it does not taste like candied meat.  The pork has nary a hint of sinew or fat.  It’s tender and juicy and slathered with just enough sauce for flavor.



The lunch menu is relatively abbreviated though you can order off the diner menu during the noon hour as well. Lunch specials include the very best egg drop soup in Albuquerque as well as two crab and cream cheese wontons.  The egg drop soup is of a thick consistency with generous bits of chicken and miniscule pieces of carrots, onion and celery.  The soup has a very smooth, comforting flavor and is always served hot.

Fu Yuang is one of Albuquerque’s most vegetarian friendly restaurants, offering a variety of options–and not solely of the salad variety, but if salad is what will sate you, the Korean salad is not to be missed. A generous plateful of organic greens drizzled with a sweet sesame vinaigrette is good enough to make converts out of carnivores.

Korean style sweet and sour pork with brown rice

There are other restaurants in Albuquerque which serve Korean food, but none have been doing it as long or as well as Fu Yuang.  Had Private Igor served food as wonderful as Duke City diners enjoy at Fu Yuang, even the perpetual get-out-of-the-Army schemer Corporal Klinger would  have reenlisted.

Fu Yuang
3107 Eubank, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico

LATEST VISIT: 20 October 2011
COST: $$
BEST BET: Bulgogi, Bulkalbi, Golden Fried Mandu, Taejigogi Kochu jang, Korean Sweet and Sour Pork, Lemon Chicken, Bibimbap

Fu Yuang Korean & Chinese on Urbanspoon

Sakura Sushi & Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico


Sakura Sushi & Grill in Paradise Hills

In describing “food porn,” The New Yorker once wrote, “The point is to get very close to what you are filming, so close that you can see an ingredient’s “pores” which then triggers some kind of Neanderthal reflex.  If you’re flicking from channel to channel and come upon food that has been shot in this way, you will be hardwired as a human being to stop, look, and bring it back to your cave.”

Madison Avenue, which is virtually synonymous with advertising, recognizes the impact food porn has on the American consumer.  That’s why we’re bombarded with television commercials and magazine ads depicting spectacular displays of visually stimulating, sleek and sexy, glorious deliciousness–food not only as edible art, but as a medium that elicits a carnal response.

Perhaps no modern medium utilizes food porn more effectively than the Food Network whose programming seems tailored to arouse a salivatory response and a lascivious desire to eat.  Its veritable pantheon of celebrity chefs recognizes that the appeal to viewers (who obviously can’t smell or taste their creations) is in the way food looks on a plate–its colors, symmetry and design patterns.

Sakura Sushi & Grill in Paradise Hills

Sakura Sushi & Grill in Paradise Hills

Perhaps the most visually appealing moment on any Food Network program occurred during a 2005 Iron Chef battle between challenger Michael Symon and Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto.  In one of the most memorable moments in the show’s history, Morimoto created a complex sushi roll resembling an ornate stained glass window that incorporated asparagus, the secret ingredient for the evening.

The roll was so geometric, so visually stunning and beautiful that rather than wanting to attack it lustily, the judges remained agape at its beauty.  Judge Alex Guarnaschelli commented, “that stained glass window could have been a family crest from somewhere in the 14th Century in Japan.  Like, “this is my stamp, this is who I am.”  Morimoto managed to transcend food porn and elevate an item of beautiful food back to the realm of edible art.

Many Asian cultures, especially the Japanese, have a different attitude toward food than what Madison Avenue tries to convey.  It’s an attitude of appreciation for meals prepared with care, presented beautifully and consumed in moderate portions.  Contrast that with what has become an American obsession for food meant to appear almost sexy on the plate served in profligate portions.

Miso soup and salad

Miso soup and salad

In Asian restaurants, plating–the presentation of beautifully arranged food–tends to be an art form with plates of various shapes, finishes and colors the canvas on which the edible art is presented.  Food also tends to be more “three-dimensional” in that the shape and cut of ingredients and the way they are arranged on a plate is synergistic and symmetrical, not necessarily and completely uniform, but esthetic.

Reviewing the menu at Sakura Sushi & Grill in Albuquerque’s Riverside Plaza on the West side, you’ll certainly get the sense that the restaurant has an appreciation for the art form of plating food on the plate.  The menu includes color pictures of every menu item in its appetizer, fresh roll, tempura roll and baked roll sections and select items on the entree, fried rice, noodle, Korean dinner, lunch special and dessert sections.

The pictures depict food that is beautiful with colors that jump out at you with their vibrancy and which seem to hint strongly at freshness of ingredients.  The pictures show artful arrangements which suggest great care in the precise and deliberate placement of ingredients on the plate. Whether food porn or edible art, I suppose, is contingent on how hungry you are when ogling that menu.



Sakura Sushi & Grill opened in the summer of 2009, but despite the name, it is not related to Sakura Sushi on Wyoming.  The latter has a menu featuring sushi as well as Thai and Laotian entrees while the former focuses primarily on Japanese (mostly sushi) and Korean food.  Sakura is a Japanese word meaning “cherry blossoms” which are very important to Japanese culture.  The name Sakura is also apparently a very popular name for girls in anime, an abbreviation of Japanese animation.

Situated off Coors Boulevard on Albuquerque’s burgeoning West side, Sakura Sushi & Grill joins Ichiban and Sushi King as reasons West-siders no longer have to cross the Rio Grande to find good sushi.  It was recommended to me by Barbara Trembath, one of my personal E.F. Huttons (when she speaks, I listen) when it comes to great food in Albuquerque, Boston and San Francisco.  Barbara raves about the freshness of Sakura’s sushi and sashimi and the chef’s prowess in selecting great fish.

Sakura’s storefront is unremarkable, just one of many nondescript shops ensconced in the sprawling Riverside Plaza, a vast assemblage of professional offices, boutique shops and restaurants.  Step into the restaurant, however, and the restaurant is anything but plain.  Its cynosure is the sushi bar backdropped by a vibrant red wall festooned by framed art.  A small pergola sans climbing plants provides yet another visually appealing point of focus while you dine.



The menu is segmented into several sections with glossy photographs of entrees and appetizers accompanied by vivid descriptions detailing the ingredients of each.  Some entrees, such as the Korean dinners, are served with steamed rice, miso soup and salad while others,such as the Noodle dishes are served sans rice (most restaurants will not serve two starches together).  The “Entrees” section of the menu features several Teriyaki dishes (salmon, chicken, shrimp, beef, seafood and vegetable) as well as traditional Japanese dishes such as pork katsu and grilled unagi.

Four fried rice dishes–beef, shrimp, chicken and vegetable–are available as main entrees.  One entire page on the menu is dedicated to sushi and sashimi dinners as well as donburi dishes which might best be described as sushi in a bowl.  Three sizes of “love boats” are available in which sushi and sashimi are decorative shipmates on a unique boat-like serving vessel.  Lower priced lunch specials take up an entire page on the menu.

Sushi occupies the largest part of the menu and Sakura offers it in various forms: baked rolls, vegetable rolls, house rolls, tempura rolls and fresh rolls.  An entire page lists Sakura’s salads, only one of which is of the boring garden variety.  These salads showcase fresh fish: tuna tataki, spicy tuna, salmon, sashimi, albacore and seafood.  The appetizers are inventive sights to behold.

The Heart Attack: Deep-fried spicy tuna, cream cheese in a jalapeno with masago and house sauce

The Heart Attack: Deep-fried spicy tuna, cream cheese in a jalapeno with masago and house sauce

Sakura’s miso soup is fairly standard, at least in the the way in which it is prepared in Japanese restaurants throughout America.  Tragically that means miso soup has become the bouillon cube of Asian soups, made by dissolving miso paste into a stock (usually vegetable).  Very few restaurants actually use the traditional Japanese dashi stock.  Served steaming hot, it is nonetheless a comforting soup that diners have come to expect with sushi.

The salad is fairly nondescript–a brimming bowlful of iceberg lettuce with a parsimonious sprinkling of a peanut and ginger based salad dressing.  It’s served cold and is good, but hardly memorable.  If you want salad, go for one of the seafood salads; those you’ll remember.

While such de rigueur appetizers as edamame (fresh green baby soybeans in a pod) are available on the menu, it’s intriguingly named starters such as the “Heart Attack” which savvy diners will order, particularly if you appreciate a little piquancy with your meals.  The Heart Attack starts off with a large jalapeno, the cavity of which is stuffed with cream cheese and spicy tuna, all of which are deep-fried then topped with masago (small orange fish eggs) and a spicy house roll.  This is a terrific way to start a meal at Sakura.  It’s not so piquant that you’ll need a fire-extinguisher for your mouth, but it will get your attention.

The Spicy Tempura Tuna Roll (Spicy tuna sheathed in tempura with eel sauce, spicy mayo and smelt egg)

The Spicy Tempura Tuna Roll (Spicy tuna sheathed in tempura with eel sauce, spicy mayo and smelt egg)

Donburi is a general Japanese term for “bowl,” however, the term also refers to a bowl of cooked rice with some other food served on top.  Some donburi dishes, unagi or tuna for example, might remind you of eating sushi in a bowl which is essentially what you’re doing.  In Japan, donburi is considered a traditional fast food offering though many Americans aren’t adept enough at chopsticks to consume it quickly.

Sakura’s donburi entrees exemplify Japanese plating in its most artistic form.  Steamed rice at the bottom of the bowl form a bed upon which other ingredients are decoratively laid.  Unagi (Japanese freshwater eels) is a delicious option.  unagi 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.

In addition to being very good for you, it is very good to eat, perhaps in large part due to the “unagi sauce” generously applied.  Real unagi sauce is made from a reduction of eel bone broth, soy sauce, rice wine and sugar, imparting sweet qualities which complement the eel very well.  The texture of unagi is much like that of any soft fish and like fresh fish, it does not have a “fishy” taste, especially when unagi sauce is slathered on.

Sashimi Dinner: White Tuna, Red Snapper, Tuna and Salmon

Sashimi Dinner: White Tuna, Red Snapper, Tuna and Salmon

Korean food aficionados will be thrilled to find many of the familiar Korean standards: bulgogi, bulkalbi and bimimbap, for example.  Bulgogi, the national dish of Korea sometimes referred to as Korean barbecue, is a harmonious marriage of sweet, savory and spicy tastes presented on a sizzling hibachi.  It is the perfect entree with which to introduce diners to Korean food.  They will quickly fall in love with the thin strips of lean beef marinated in fresh garlic and soy sauce then stir-fried nearly to the point of caramelization with yellow and white onions and carrots.

My friend and frequent dining companion Bill Resnik, a far better cook than many working in the trade, usually orders bulgogi if for no other reason to compare it to the bulgogi he makes at home.  Invariably, restaurant served bulgogi falls short of his rendition.  That was the case at Sakura because the meat was not as tender as the choice meat he uses.  Indeed, the meat did have more sinew than great bulgogi should have.

The 911 Roll: Spicy tuna roll with avocado on top, chili oil, red pepper and sweet dressing

Sushi is the name on the marquee and what Barbara had assured me was of incomparable freshness.  Not only is it as fresh as you can get it in landlocked Albuquerque, it is plated magnificently–far better than my pedestrian camera skills can depict.  As is the case with many diners (and a common way to order in Chinese restaurants of old) we opted for one from column A, one from column B and one from column C.  In this case, one tempura roll, one baked roll and one fresh roll.

The tempura roll was a spicy tuna tempura roll with spicy tuna inside then deep-fried in a tempura batter and topped with eel (unagi) sauce, spicy mayo and smelt eggs.  The plating is somewhat like a kaleidoscope, a cacophony of vibrant colors in a beautiful design on a triangle shaped plate.  Fortunately it’s not too good to eat, because this is a very good maki (rolled) roll.  As we were to discover with other rolls, the vinegared rice is perfectly formed and prepared (not necessarily an easy thing to do). The spicy tuna lives up to its name with enough piquancy to get your attention even without help from the wasabi and spicy mayo.

By virtue of its name, you might also expect the 911 roll to require a mouth lined with asbestos just to eat.  Then there’s the ingredients with which it’s constructed–spicy tuna with avocado on top, chili oil, red pepper and sweet dressing.  That’s akin to pouring gasoline on a fire.  It’s been my experience that with few exceptions, sushi rolls usually don’t achieve the descriptive level of heat touted on the menu without generous wasabi baths and that’s the case with the 911 roll.  Instead, focus on the complementary melding of flavors, just how well they all go together.  This is a delicious roll.

The Volcano Roll: Krab and cucumber inside baked salmon; spicy tuna on the outside with spicy mayo sauce

The Volcano Roll: Krab and cucumber inside baked salmon; spicy tuna on the outside with spicy mayo sauce

The Volcano roll also hints at fiery qualities:krab, cucumber and baked salmon inside, spicy tuna on the outside with spicy mayo sauce.  The Volcano roll comes from the “baked sushi” section of the menu.  It arrives on your table inside a foil wrapping and warm to the tongue.  One of the dictates of sushi protocol is to get it all in with one bite, slowly savoring the concordance of ingredients.  The sheer size of the Volcano roll makes this a tough proposition.  It is an enormous roll, cut thick and brimming with ingredients.  Fortunately it’s also brimming with flavor.

Freshness isn’t exclusive to the sushi rolls.  Sashimi dinners, which come in three price points, showcase fresh fish.  The least expensive sashimi dinner features white tuna, red tuna, red snapper and salmon, all of which have the hue and aroma of healthy freshness.  There’s a lot of purity in sashimi where there’s nothing else between you and the fish, but wasabi and soy sauce should you choose to use it.

Sakura subscribes to a time-honored post-meal tradition by providing all guests a non-alcoholic digestif in the form of a Korean tea.  The tea serves two purposes–to aid in digestion and as a palate cleanser.  It’s served at room temperature and includes ginger, cinnamon and sugar with the surprising addition of pinons floating atop the the liquid.  Aside from its healthful qualities, it’s a delicious way to end a meal.

Sakura Sushi & Grill
6241 Riverside Plaza Lane, NW Suite C-1

Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 890-2838
1st VISIT: 2 February 2010
LATEST VISIT: 10 April 2010
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Bulgogi, Unaki, Dessert Tea, Sashimi, Sushi

Sakura Sushi and Grill on Urbanspoon

Kimchy Cabana – Niles, Illinois

To the unenculturated, the pungent emanations of Korean kimchy (pickled and fermented cabbage) are malodorous and offensive to the olfactory senses. To the Korean people, however, kimchy is so much more than a national dish; it’s a family treasure handed down from one generation to another over the millenniums. The influx of Korean war brides following the Korean War and beyond has meant the gradual introduction into the American mainstream of kimchy and other Korean culinary arts.

Having experienced Korean cuisine from coast to coast, it has always impressed me to find Korean food remarkably consistent–usually at least good and often excellent. Kimchy Cabana certainly ranks with the best I’ve had yet. Our inaugural dining experience was made even better because we shared our meal with two of Niles’ finest law enforcement officials, my brother-in-law Chuck and his commander, true gentlemen for whom the badge truly represents integrity and dedication to the public.

Our meal started with the traditional Korean family meal offering of small dishes featuring spicy and pickled vegetables. Most Korean restaurants alternate these vegetables on a daily basis but always include kimchy which is typically the eye-watering star of the show. Every vegetable tantalized our taste buds with taste sensations which ran the gamut from piquant to sweet. Another perfect prelude to our meal was a kimchy pancake appetizer which is certainly among the very best of its kind I’ve ever had.

Incomparable Korean barbecue was featured fare as we enjoyed all we could eat of beef and pork bulgogi–broiled, thin-sliced tender beef and pork marinated in a barbecue sauce which creates a harmonious melding of sweet, savory and spicy tastes. The pork was slightly more spicy and therefore more to my liking. Our bulgogi was prepared at our table on a sizzling cast-oven plate and had no discernable fatty or sinewy pieces.

During our second visit, we also had chicken bulgogi which just didn’t meet the high standards of its pork and beef counterparts, but would otherwise still be considered very good.

Kimchy Cabana
9020 Greenwood
Niles, IL

LATEST VISIT: 18 June 2004
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Bulgogi, Pork Bulgogi, Kimchi Pancake

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