Pad Thai Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pad Thai Cafe by the Talin Market

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

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

The Cozy Confines of Pad Thai Cafe

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

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

Egg Rolls

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

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

Chicken Satay

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

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

Tod Mun Pla

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

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

Pot Stickers

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

Massaman Curry

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

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

Pad Thai

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

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

Drunken Noodles

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

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

Laab

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

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

Mango and Coconut Ice Cream with Sticky Rice and Coconut Milk

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

Pad Thai Cafe
110 Louisiana Blvd, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 266-0567
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 31 March 2016
1st VISIT: 19 March 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Chicken Satay, Tod Mun Pla, Massaman Curry, Pad Thai, Mango Ice Cream with Sticky Rice, Egg Rolls, Laab, Drunken Noodles, Potstickers

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

Thai Spice – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Thai Spice on Paseo Del Norte

“Thai food ain’t about simplicity.
It’s about the juggling of disparate elements to create a harmonious finish.
Like a complex musical chord it’s got to have a smooth surface
but it doesn’t matter what’s happening underneath.
Simplicity isn’t the dictum here, at all.
Some westerners think it’s a jumble of flavors,
but to a Thai what’s important, it’s the complexity they delight in.”
~
Chef David Thompson

Complexity of flavors, disparate elements, a jumble of flavors…these are the expectations diners have come to expect from Thai restaurants. The underlying foundation of Thai cuisine, going back to Chinese influences as early as the 10th century, is to achieve a satisfying and exciting taste experience through the relationship between five fundamental tastes: sweet, salty, spicy, sour and bitter. Properly balancing these flavors is the true essence of Thai cooking.  Overemphasizing any of these fundamental tastes, particularly “sweet” and a Thai restaurant risks its cuisine being labeled “Americanized.” 

A bright, capacious interior

For a cuisine to be considered “Americanized” isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Generations of Americans have grown up enjoying American Chinese foods developed by Americans of Chinese descent.  Such familiar offerings as chop suey, crab Rangoon, pepper steak, fried wontons, sesame chicken and even the ubiquitous fortune cookie are beloved by Americans, few of whom ever question their “authenticity.”  Similarly, Americans have long embraced Italian-American cuisine,  As with Chinese food, Italian American dishes such as garlic bread, shrimp scampi and even marinara sauce are based heavily on the culinary traditions of the mother land, but they were “invented” here.

So why shouldn’t Americans enjoy dishes that may not be perceived as “authentic” as those dishes are prepared in the “old country?”  How many of us would even know how these foods are prepared in the old country?  These are the questions I asked myself during my inaugural visit to Thai Spice.  My focus was perhaps more on discerning the “balance of flavors” than it was in enjoying one of the dishes set forth before me.  Did the fact that this offending dishes had–at least to my palate–overemphasized a fundamental taste, make it a bad dish or have I become an insufferable food snob? 

Egg Rolls

These were matters I had to discuss with my good friend and like-minded food enthusiast Bill Resnik who joined me on my second visit one day later.  Bill, too, had visited Thai Spice previously and like me, he thought the food was generally good, but overemphasized sweet at the expense of balance.  Together we would determine if those previous visits were anomalies or if it even mattered.  Besides, Bill reasoned, prik nam pla (a traditional Thai sauce made from chilis and fish sauce) can fix anything. 

Looking around the restaurant, it certainly didn’t seem to matter to the throngs of diners seated and those queued up for a seat to become available. Thai Spice is evidently a very popular restaurant, a fact borne out not only by lunch crowds but by mostly fawning reviews on Yelp and Zomato.  One Yelp commentator even indicated “the food here tastes just like it does over there (in Thailand).  Further, the restaurant’s general manager  told the Albuquerque Journal that “It’s called Thai Spice for a reason–it’s spicier than other Thai restaurants.”    Bill and I can handle (and would welcome) a slight overemphasis on spiciness, but sweet we can’t abide.

Spring Rolls

Thai Spice opened its doors in May, 2015.  It’s located in the Villa de Paseo retail center on  the northwest intersection of Paseo Del Norte and Wyoming, occupying a space which previously housed a short-lived gyros restaurant.  It’s a very attractive space appointed with decorative touches as well as wall-mounted flat screen televisions.  Attractiveness applies even to the straws served with your beverage.  Inserted into the mouth of the straw is a flower shaped from the top of the straw itself.  Enterprising engineer that he is, my friend Bill spent ten minutes reverse-engineering that flower.

7 January 2016: As regular readers of this blog know, all of my very favorite Thai dishes are curry dishes.  To say I love curry is an understatement.  In fact, even my favorite meteorologist shares that name–as in KRQE’s pulchritudinous Kristen Currie who clears my bleary eyes every weekday morning.  It pains me, therefore, that my introduction to Thai Spice was in the form of the most inordinately cloying curry.  The Pra Ram, described on the menu as “simmered with red curry, spinach, peanuts and vegetables” is nearly dessert sweet, akin to a sweet peanut soup.  Even the bitterness of the spinach didn’t put a dent on the sweetness and the vegetables promised on the menu description were nonexistent.  Because my server didn’t ask about my preferred level of heat, I assumed the Pra Ram would have some level of piquancy.  Sadly it did not.  Worse, this dish could have formed the basis for a lasting opinion of this restaurant.

Pra Ram

7 January 2016: Egg rolls are somewhat anomalous at Thai Spice.  Most Thai egg rolls we’ve had at other Thai restaurants aren’t much thicker than a cigar.  In appearance, these are similar to Chinese egg rolls–thick and plump.  That’s where the similarity to Chinese egg rolls (which have become the most boring egg rolls among all Asian restaurants which serve them) ends.  These golden hued beauties are engorged with silver noodles, ground pork and vegetables (mostly cabbage).  You don’t have to charter an expedition to locate pork; it’s plentiful in each egg roll.  They’re delicious and are served in quantities of four per order.  The accompanying sauce is a fairly typical sweet plum sauce that lends little to the egg rolls.

8 January 2016: Even better than the egg rolls are the spring rolls.  Served two per order, each is as thick as a missile and stuffed with rice noodles, shrimp or chicken, basil and vegetables.  The vegetable to shrimp ratio skews heavily toward the vegetables, but it’s not something you’ll mind because the fresh basil’s invigorating presence seems to enliven all other components.  The spring rolls are served with a cloying peanut sauce nearly as sweet as the Pra Ram.  Fortunately, a condiment caddy on the table has a squeeze bottle of Sriracha sauce (like my friend Niko Harada, I like Sriracha on my Sriracha).   Then there’s the prik nam pla with its lime and chili bursts of flavor.  Both are highly preferable to the peanut sauce though if you don’t have an asbestos-lined-tongue, you’re advised to go easy.

Shrimp Salad

8 January 2016: The Thai Spice salad menu lists eight different salads, ranging from the traditional larb to a seasonal mango salad.  With both my visits transpiring in January, the mango salad wasn’t available, but it’s hard to call the shrimp salad a consolation prize.  This salad is constructed with green onions, red onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, chili and cilantro on a bed of lettuce.  An ingredient not listed is sugar yet it makes its presence felt (although not nearly to the degree it does on the Pra Ram).  The ingredients on this salad are fresh, invigorating and complementary.  Better still, the salad showcases the balance of flavors that is the hallmark of Thai cuisine.

8 January 2016: Four items, all fish-based, festoon the seafood menu.  Each item seems to emphasize a different flavor profile.  One fish dish is made with curry (with hopefully more balance than the Pra Ram) and another with a sweet and sour sauce.  Bill’s choice was the hot and spicy fish filet which he requested be prepared “New Mexico hot” instead of “Thai hot.”  This dish is sauteed with onions, basil, mushrooms, lime leaf, carrots and bell peppers in a piquant chili sauce.   As is often the case in Thai restaurants, one highlight is the freshness and aesthetic presentation of the vegetables which are prepared a tad under al dente.  Both vegetables and fish inherit the heat and flavor profile of the chili sauce without compromising their own inherent flavors.  This is a very enjoyable dish!

Spicy Fish Filet

8 January 2016: The spicy ginger fish (fried fish sauteed with onions, ginger, mushrooms, bell peppers and carrots in a spicy chili sauce) has a rather similar flavor profile and balance of flavors, the differentiating element being ginger.  The coupling of spicy chile sauce and fresh ginger is one of life’s most delicious combinations and because of that pairing, this dish shines.  The fish are light and flaky though just slightly elastic, generally a sign it’s been slightly overcooked.  Still, this is a dish we’d order again…and again.

In retrospect, had I not visited Thai Spice a second time my judgement would have been too rash and limited on too small a sample size.  Only one dish out of the six sampled lacked balance and overemphasized one flavor.  That one dish won’t cross my lips again though I suspect it’s probably a dish other diners enjoy.  The moral of the story is not to judge a restaurant after only one visit and based on solely one dish.

Spicy Ginger Fish

There aren’t many Thai restaurants in the far Northeast Heights.  Thai Spice has cornered the market, but it would probably have done so even with several competitors.  It’s a very solid restaurant that provides excellent value, hearty portions and friendly service.

Thai Spice
7441 Paseo Del Norte, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 503-1521
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 8 January 2016
1st VISIT: 7 January 2016
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Spicy Ginger Fish, Spicy Fish Filet, Spring Rolls, Egg Rolls,

Thai Spice Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Loving Vegan – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Loving Vegan Closed Its Doors on Friday, November 13th, Two Days After My Inaugural and Only Visit

My adovada adoring amigo Ruben likened the irony to an episode of Seinfeld.  Two weeks into his experiment with an ostensibly healthier vegan diet, he was craving sushi and needed his sushi-specific pangs of hunger sated.  No sooner had we finished a very satisfying sushi soiree at Albuquerque’s only vegan sushi restaurant than our waitress apprised us the restaurant would be closing for good two days later.  “Serenity now,” we cried, mimicking Frank Costanza when faced with a stressful situation.  It just didn’t seem fair that we would make such a delicious discovery only to have plans for future meals dashed. 

Loving Vegan gave it the “old college try,” initially launching in June, 2012 on Coors Blvd before relocating in November, 2013 to a much more heavily trafficked Nob Hill location.  In its relatively short life, Loving Vegan garnered a loyal following and a very prestigious honor.  Within a year of opening, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) named Loving Vegan the “top restaurant for vegan sushi” in the United States and Canada.  The citation from PETA read: “Loving Vegan earned our top prize because it truly proves that any food can be made deliciously and healthfully without animal products. Cheers and congratulations to Loving Vegan — this number-one award is well deserved!”

Interior of Loving Vegan

Despite being a relative newcomer competing against vegan restaurants in such population centers as Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Ontario (Canada) and Baltimore, to veteran observers of the Duke City dining scene, it  came as no surprise that Loving Vegan would be accorded such an honor. After all, it was founded by Kathy Punya, one of Albuquerque’s most active restaurant impresarios.  Among Kathy’s other eateries are a number of Sushi King restaurants throughout the Duke City as well as one in Rio Rancho.  Kathy Punya knows sushi! 

Kathy also knows restaurants.  After all vestiges of Loving Vegan have been cleared out, one of her other restaurants, Soul and Vine, a downtown fine-dining gem will be moving in.  Parking in Nob Hill is probably only slightly better than in the downtown district, but Nob Hill may be more heavily trafficked in the evening hours than is the downtown area, especially by the dining demographic.

In 2013 PETA named Loving Vegan the best Vegan Sushi Restaurant in America

Ruben and I were pleasantly surprised at the diversity and depth of the Loving Vegan menu.  Not only did the menu list a tremendous variety of sushi (nigiri, sashimi, rolls, hand rolls and chef’s specials) options, a separate  menu showcased Bento boxes, rice dishes, pan-fried noodles, noodle soups, Chinese stir-fried dishes and chef specials.  The chef specials included Pad Thai and three curry dishes including a vegan duck curry dish that beckoned me to try it.  Loving Vegan’s menu was as ambitious and inviting as any menu in any of Albuquerque’s many Asian restaurants. 

As we discovered, diners didn’t need to be of the vegan or vegetarian persuasion to enjoy a meal at Loving Vegan.  If we hadn’t known better, in fact, we would have sworn there was little discernible difference between some of the vegan sushi we enjoyed and sushi at traditional “fishy” sushi restaurants throughout the Duke City and that’s not just the horseradish-heavy wasabi talking.  Before finding out about the restaurant’s impending closure, it pleased Ruben to no end that despite his new healthful dietetic lifestyle, he’d be able to continue enjoying sushi.

Miso soup

By no stretch of the imagination is miso soup veganThe basis for this traditional Japanese favorite is dashi, a fish-based (fermented bonito or skipjack tuna fish shavings) broth and a salty fermented soybean paste.  A vegan-friendly version can be made fairly easily by substituting vegetable stock for the dashi.  Loving Vegan’s rendition has the pungent, salty qualities of traditional miso soup and had it been served hot instead of lukewarm, it would have been even more enjoyable. 

We initially wondered if the sheer number of ingredients on each sushi roll was a deliberate attempt at “masking” the flavor of the vegan ingredients, but it dawned on us that most American sushi rolls also tend to constructed from a preponderance of ingredients.  The vegan spicy tuna crunch roll was an exception in that the sole listed ingredients were vegan spicy tuna and cucumber inside with tempura flakes and sweet sauce on top.  Frankly, we didn’t spend much time trying to discern the nuanced differences between vegan tuna and its “regular” sushi counterpart.  That’s more indicative of our genuine appreciation for its deliciousness than any perceived lack of scientific curiosity.  This was a very good roll.

Left: Loving Vegan Roll; Right: Vegan Spicy Tuna Crunch Roll

We also disposed of the Loving Vegan Roll (green chili tempura, avocado, cucumber, vegan lobster inside; deep fried with spicy mayo, sriracha, and sweet sauce on top) rather quickly.  It wasn’t until we had wiped it out that we asked ourselves about the flavor of the vegan lobster.  Neither of us discerned, either texturally or flavor-wise, any lobster-like flavor.  We did, however, note that the “green chili” wasn’t especially reminiscent of New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile.  Any heat we gleaned from this roll had its genesis in the wasabi and sriracha.  Still in all, we enjoyed the Loving Vegan Roll very much. 

Framed and captioned photographs on the walls proved very enticing–true food porn, none more alluring than the grilled portobello (SIC) roll (a unagi roll with cucumber, salmon and sweet sauce on top).  “Mock” unagi was nearly as good as its eel-based counterpart thanks largely to a generous application of the sweet “eel sauce.”   If the rapidity with which we dispensed of this roll is any indication, we enjoyed it thoroughly…and as with our previous vegan sushi conquests, we didn’t spend much time trying to determine its composition though I now surmise roasted eggplant may have been the basis for mock unagi.

Grilled Portobello Mushroom Roll

Albuquerque apparently didn’t love Loving Vegan enough to keep it operating, but Ruben and I certainly wish it would have survived the test of time.  With sushi this good, a vegan lifestyle might be even be more than palatable. It just might be delicious.

Loving Vegan
3409 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 11 November 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Miso Soup, Grilled Portobello Mushroom Roll, Loving Sushi Roll, Vegan Spicy Tuna Roll

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