Sakura Sushi Thai & Laos Cuisine – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sakura Sushi Thai & Laos Restaurant on Wyoming

Opinions vary as to what the next “hot” cuisine in America will be.  As an independent observer of the New Mexico culinary condition, I’m more interested in how long it will take for that heat to make its way to the Land of Enchantment…and whether its sizzle will wow Duke City diners or pass us by.  In 2005, Bon Appetit declared Peruvian the next hot cuisine.  Apparently Albuquerque didn’t think it was so hot because Perumex, the city’s first and only Peruvian restaurant at the time both opened and closed the year of Bon Appetit’s proclamation.  Thankfully in 2011 Rene and Monica Coronado opened Pollito Con Papas to give the Duke City a second chance at a taste of Peru.  In 2013, Sara Correa launched Sara’s Pastries which gives Duke City diners a sweeter perspective on Peruvian cuisine.

If history repeats itself, perhaps Lao cuisine, the cuisine of Laos (officially the Lao People’s Democratic Republic) will follow Thai and Vietnamese cuisines as the hot cuisine embraced by ethnic-food ravenous American diners.  That would be my wish and my prediction.  Laos is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia bordered by Myanmar (formerly Burma), China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.  The influence of neighboring nations can be seen in Lao cuisine.  A French influence is also in evidence.  From 1893 to 1954 when it gained full independence, Laos was part of the Protectorate of French Indonesia.

Sakura’s Sushi Bar (Image Courtesy of Larry McGoldrick)

The geography and history of a nation is a strong determinant in its culinary culture, and while the influence of other nations may be in evidence, each country in Southeast Asia has stamped its own distinct mark on America’s palate.  Americans in cities fortunate enough to have a restaurant serving the cuisine of Laos have lustily embraced that distinctiveness.  Alas, Duke City diners have had to trek to Amarillo’s LM Restaurant to partake of this relatively new trendy dining sensation.

So what’s the Cuisine of Lao like?  It might help to understand that its closest “relative” is the cuisine of the Issan region of northern Thailand. New Mexicans who love their food a bit on the incendiary side would love  Issan style Thai food which is more highly spiced than cuisine at other regions of Thailand. Spiciness aside, there are other differences between Thai and Lao cuisine. Where Thai food is colorful and exotic, Lao food is more basic and simple. Interestingly, the savory dishes of Laos are never sweet and the concept of “sweet and sour” is considered foreign and bizarre.

Cheese and Green Chile Egg Roll with Plum Sauce

A Lao saying about its cuisine can be translated as “sweet makes you dizzy; bitter makes you healthy.  The cuisine of Laos incorporates a wide variety of bitter ingredients including mint and dill, two herbs generally ignored by their neighbors.  Other cooking herbs of vast importance in Lao cuisine are galangal, fish sauce, garlic, shallots and lemongrass. These ingredients help give the cuisine of Lao a more intense flavor profile than the cuisine of neighboring nations.  If a dish is intended to be sour, you can bet it’ll be intensely sour at a Lao restaurant.

Recent years have seen an increasing number of Asian restaurants in the Duke City serving more than one type of Asian cuisine.  Sakura Sushi has the pedigree to do it well. Still, you wouldn’t expect to find Lao cuisine in a restaurant named Sakura Sushi until you read the “subtitle” on the marquee: Thai and Laos cuisine. You might visit for the sushi, but you’ll keep coming back for the Lao.

Ceviche (Image Courtesy of Larry McGoldrick)

Located in in the former site of Asia Restaurant (which closed in 2007 after more than five years of inconsistent business), Sakura Sushi is owned and operated by Vong and Pialo Soumphonphakdy, both natives of Laos.  Vong, who previously plied his trade as sushi chef at Minato’s (closed) Eurasia (also defunct) and Neko Sushi (also closed) artfully wields his knives behind the sushi bar at Sakura.  His wife Pialo is the kitchen chef, preparing all the Thai and Lao cuisine.

The interior at Sakura reflects a Japanese theme more so than either Thai or Lao. The color palate includes wasabi green walls festooned with framed art depicting Geishas in their beautiful silk kimonos. During our inaugural visit, there were two things that told us this might be a special restaurant. The first was the loyalty of a gaunt septuagenarian seated at the table behind us. He dines at Sakura six days a week and has done so since the restaurant opened in the fall of 2007. We were determined to find out what engendered such loyalty.

The Ruby Red Roll

The Ruby Red Roll

That may have been answered with the second thing that struck us about Sakura Sushi. It was Vong’s sage-like conveyance of the rudimentary facets of sushi to a couple in their forties.  That couple’s sole experience with sushi had been limited to eating sushi from Trader Joe’s.  Under Vong’s tutelage, the couple went from sushi novices to sushi lovers in short order.  It was fun to watch them become more and more adventurous as their dinner went on.

13 January 2008: The menu currently features only seven Lao cuisine entrees with the better part of two pages dedicated to Thai cuisine. Not including sushi, there is also a page dedicated to Japanese cuisine as well as a page listing the sushi chef’s specialties. Appetizers include monkey balls (forget the double-entendre). Monkey balls are deep-fried wheat flour tempura balls stuffed with spicy tuna and mushrooms and served with a sauce comprised of fiery Sriracha, savory Japanese mayo, and sweet unagi sauce.

Lao Sausage (Image Courtesy of Larry McGoldrick)

The monkey balls are terrific, but the sauce elevates them to a higher plain.  It strikes a perfect balance between  sweet, savory and piquant flavors and presents them subtly so that you’re able to experience each of these taste sensations individually and in combination with one another.  This is the type of sauce you could literally put on anything and it would improve it.

22 December 2016: Another fabulous appetizer is the Japanese ceviche served in a tall goblet. While the refreshing, bright dish of citrus-marinated seafood has its roots in South American cuisine, variations are increasingly found in trendy menus everywhere. Conceptually Japanese ceviche is similar to its Latin American counterpart in that the seafood isn’t (ostensibly) catalyzed (cooked) by citrus juices.  Where it differs significantly is with its ginger-based sauce that mingles magnificently with the citrus to give this ceviche its flavor.  It’s not the intense ginger you get as if when shaving a ginger root, but a tempered version that works very well with a lesser citrus influence.  My friends Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate and Dazzling Deanell, both aficionados of Mexican sushi, were blown away by Sakura’s terrific ceviche.

Beef Laab (Image Courtesy of Larry McGoldrick)

The ceviche combines the very best of East meets West, fusing the flavors of Japan with a popular South American dish that really brings out the character of any raw fish.  Sakura’s version of ceviche includes shredded crab, butterflied shrimp and other sushi favorites such as tuna and salmon in a goblet showcasing micro greens, sesame seeds and spring mix lettuce.  This ceviche provides a delectable balance between the tang of citrus and the zesty kick of ginger.  It’s an absolute winner!

24 June 2012:  One appetizer sure to pique your curiosity is a cheese and green chile egg roll.  There are several things that make this an intriguing starter, not the least of which is the fact that cheese is not often used in Asian cuisine (save for that of India).  At first glance, it looks like a traditional egg roll and indeed, it is served with Sakura’s plum sauce.  Bite into it and you’ll be pleasantly surprised, but be forewarned.  The cheese is gooey and hot.  So is the chile.  The plum sauce isn’t really necessary, but it’s several orders of magnitude better than most sweet and sour sauce.

Lao Beef Jerky (Image Courtesy of Larry McGoldrick)

13 June 2008: A chef’s specialty needing no improvement is the Ruby Red Roll.  Inside, this maki style roll is engorged with shrimp tempura, spicy tuna and Gobo, a Japanese root.  On top, you’ll find fresh tuna, tobiko (flying fish roe) and sweet unagi sauce. The Ruby Red Roll earns its name.  At first glance you might even mistake the tobiko with a fruit jam, but one taste and you’ll know for sure you’re partaking of briny, delicious roe.  There are several inventive maki rolls on the menu, but you can also have sashimi or nigiri style sushi (vinegared rice topped with a bite-size, raw or cooked piece of either egg, fish, or other seafood.

22 December 2016: Aficionados of pork sausage will quickly become besotted with Sakura’s Laos Sausage Special, a plateful of pork sausage sliced diagonally. This sausage has the type of unmistakable reddish coloring that comes from a smoking process. The sausage is somewhere between a slightly coarse-ground and a fine-ground texture. Insofar as taste, you’ll be able to discern scallions, garlic, lemongrass and a bit of chile. Overall the taste leans toward mild with just a hint of piquancy. This is very good sausage, somewhat reminiscent of Chinese sausage.  Larry, whose predilection for piquancy leans toward masochistic, enjoys this sausage with Sakura’s fiery chili sauce, a weapon of mass deliciousness…and heat.

Moo Todd

Moo Todd

22 December 2016: Sakura’s rendition of the national dish of Laos is also quite good.  Every household in Laos has its own recipe for Laab, a minced salad crafted from your choice of ground pork or beef seasoned with lime juice, lemongrass, yellow and green onions, toasted puffed rice, rice powder, cilantro and mint. There is a synergy and freshness among the various ingredients.  There is also a profusion of deliciousness in how those ingredients meld with and swim in the citrusy tanginess of more lime than you’ll ever find in a Thai version of this quintessential Southeast Asia salad.  Dazzling Deanell was surprised at the flavor intensity of Sakura’s version.

22 December 2016: Several years ago during one of our many visits to Lotus of Siam (the best Thai restaurant in America) in Las Vegas, Nevada, we fell in love with an Issan style beef jerky appetizer.  Yes, beef jerky!  It’s not something you see in many restaurant menus, but you will find a Lao version at Sakura.  This is definitely not the desiccated hardtack quality jerky you might find at a gas station.  It’s surprisingly moist, unbelievably delicious and roughly the dimensions of a small finger.  Eight of these wondrously seasoned gems sit on a bed of thin noodles, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms and bean sprouts in a sweet-savory sauce you’d gladly lap up.  Larry called this dish “unforkable” in that you literally have to pick up each shard of jerky with your fingers because a fork just won’t pierce it without devolving its integrity.

Green Curry with Mussels and Rice

13 January 2012: The Thai side of the menu includes Moo Todd, stir-fried pork fillets with Thai hot black pepper, garlic and sweet soy sauce. These may be the best pork fillets we’ve ever had at an Asian restaurant. On their own they’re special, but the accompanying sauce, an inventive mango and crushed peanut sauce, imparts even more flavor. The mango-based sauce is rich, piquant and sweet. 

24 June 2012: The Thai menu includes several curry dishes including a rather unique green curry which is available with beef, chicken, mussels and shrimp.  Instead of the conventional greenish color, this curry is a brackish brown color.  Perhaps the green is reserved for the New Zealand green-lipped mussels.  There are eight of them on the dish along with green pepper, bamboo shoots, coconut milk and curry, of course.  The curry has a rather mild flavor profile in that both coconut milk and chili are used in moderation.

Green Chile Tempura (Image Courtesy of Larry McGoldrick)

19 February 2009: While sticky rice is the preferred way to eat rice in Laos, you can also opt for pork-fried rice.  Doing so will reward you with the second best fried rice dish in Albuquerque (behind the Chinese sausage fried rice at Ming Dynasty).  This rice includes scallions, carrots, green beans and even niblets of corn.  It has a pronounced smokiness resultant from having been fried in the chef’s fried rice sauce. 

22 December 2016: Asian restaurants throughout the Duke City have long incorporated New Mexico’s official state vegetable into their menus.  Virtually every purveyor of great sushi offers a New Mexico roll (or a similarly named maki roll) impregnated with green chile.  Some, including Sakura even offer green chile tempura, whole green chiles sheathed in a light, almost translucent batter.  Alas, we found Sakura’s version so greasy none of us enjoyed it much.  We also didn’t like the relatively anemic sauce which accompanied it.

Sakura’s unique rendition of mangoes and sticky rice

Dessert options include sweet rice with mangoes as well as green tea, red bean and plum wine ice cream.  The plum wine ice cream is refreshing and delicious, flecked with bits of rich, sweet plum.  In season, a popular choice is mangoes with sticky rice, a version quite different than you’ll find in the Duke City’s Thai restaurants.   The coconut milk is unsweetened and thick, blanketing the mangoes and the black (it’s actually purplish) sticky rice which is naturally sweet.  The mangoes and sticky rice offset the unsweetened coconut milk, providing a delicious and surprising contrast.

I don’t know if the cuisine of Laos will become the next “hot” thing, but I do know that if Sakura Sushi continues to do the things it did to impress us during our first, second, third and fourth visits, it has a chance to be a very successful restaurant in the Duke City.

Sakura Sushi Thai & Laos Cuisine
4200 Wyoming, N.E. C-2
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 294-9696
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 22 December 2016
1st VISIT: 12 January 2007
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 22
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Monkey Balls, Laab, Laos Sausage Special (Pork), Ruby Red Roll, Plum Wine Ice Cream, Pork Fried Rice, Miso Soup, Green Curry, Lao Jerky, Mangoes and Sticky Rice, Green Chile and Cheese Roll

Sakura Sushi Thai & Laos Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thai Heritage – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Thai Heritage Restaurant on Montgomery

Who among us hasn’t learned at least one thing about Thai culinary heritage from The Big Bang Theory? In a 2011 episode, for example, we learned that according to Thai tradition the last morsel of food, the greng jie, goes to the most important person in the room. At least that’s what Sheldon tells Penny when she reaches for the last remaining dumpling. Thanking everyone for the honor, she devours the dumpling. Sheldon’s retort: “I’ve seen pictures of your mother. Keep eating.” Some of us learned that Thai food is meant to be eaten with forks not chop sticks though in Thailand, they don’t put the fork in their mouth. It’s simply a tool to put the food on a spoon which then goes into the mouth.

We also learned that Sheldon, the quirky wunderkind with an obsessive compulsive tendencies orders mee krob and chicken satay with extra peanut sauce on Mondays. Every Monday! As an adventurous diner with polygamous culinary tendencies, the concept of ordering the same meal repeatedly is galling. When expressing my intolerance towards monogamous (monotonous?) diners to my Kim, she quickly knocked me off my high-horse, reminding me that whenever we dine at a Thai restaurant I always order a curry dish. Whether it be Penang curry, Masuman curry, yellow curry pumpkin curry, curry with catfish or Kristen Currie (if she was on the menu), it’s invariably a curry dish our server ferries to our table. She suggested my next curry meal should come with crow.

The Thai Heritage Dining Room

In truth, curry is a dish to which I graduated after having explored the myriad of other Thai food options. While Thai restaurant menus are replete with zesty, spicy, flavorful dishes, curry dishes are the pinnacle of deliciousness. Curry is Thai food self-actualized, Thai food as good as it possibly can be–complex, bold, pungent and aromatic. Curry satisfies my need for balance and order with sweet, savory and piquant notes in perfect proportion.  It’s layered with comforting richness and soul-warming flavor. So why deprive myself?

My Kim also chided me for calling some aspects of Thai cuisine across the fruited plain “Americanized,” recalling that she’s never heard me complain about the portion size of my curry being too small. Americans–me included–tend to like prodigious portion sizes which, in the land of the brave, are easily twice or thrice the portion size served in Thailand. She urged me to remember a wise Thai aphorism: “eat Thai food like the Thai do…sparingly.” Grrr, I hate that she’s always right, but she is my conscience and my buffer.

Chef Onuma Thongthip and our lovely server

When my friend and fellow culinary explorer Mary Kroner told me about a new Thai restaurant on Montgomery, my immediate thoughts were about what curry dish to try. Mary had raved about the green curry, one of my very favorite dishes. It took only a brief perusal of the menu to recognize that Thai Heritage may be the Albuquerque restaurant in which my every order might not be curry-centric. In the appetizer section alone, there are a number of dishes heretofore not seen on Duke City Thai restaurant menus. Their genesis is the Issan Province in northeast Thailand. Issan dishes are characterized by incendiary chilies, pungent fish sauces, lip-pursing sour bites and flavorful sauces.

Issan dishes are strewn throughout the menu including two salad dishes Thai food aficionados will recognize: larb (chopped chicken, mint, basil and red onions dressed with lime juice and ground red chilies) and papaya salad (shredded papaya mixed with garlic, lime juice, chilies, tomatoes and ground peanuts). It’s certainly a menu that deserves serious exploration. Your explorations will reveal several dishes—such as orange chicken and pineapple fried rice–more closely associated with Chinese restaurants than with Thai eateries. You’ll find that noodle dishes outnumber rice dishes by a wide margin. You’ll delight in seeing eight desserts on the menu, more than at just about any other Thai restaurant in town. Alas, there are only four curry dishes including a tempting pumpkin curry. Nonetheless, this is a menu in which even those of us who’ve tried everything (or think we have) will find something new.

Grand Tempura

Owner-chef Onuma Thongthip prepares every meal to order which means you’ll experience fresh Thai flavors at their alluringly aromatic best. As the name implies, Thai Heritage celebrates authentic Thai recipes handed down over generations. The gracious chef, a smiling, peripatetic presence strives to give her guests the experience of the fundamental Thai tastes in every meal you order, the harmonious combination of sour, sweet, salty and spicy. If you’ve ever lamented the over-emphasis of near cloying Thai food in the city’s Thai restaurants, the promise of balanced flavors should excite you. It’s a promise Chef Thongthip has fulfilled very well at her other restaurant, Thai Vegan.

Though tempura—battering and deep-frying vegetables or seafood—is most closely associated with Japanese cuisine, the technique for battering and frying foods was introduced to the Land of the Rising Sun by Portuguese explorers. Appreciating the lighter, less greasy frying style, the Japanese adopted and perfected tempura. With increased frequency, you’ll find other Asian restaurants serving tempura dishes though it’s not as common to find tempura in Thai restaurants.

Fried Papaya Salad

Intrigued at the prospect, we ordered not just any tempura dish, but Grand Tempura, lightly battered and deep-fried broccoli, pumpkin, zucchini, carrots and shrimp served with tempura sauce. A generous plateful of golden-hued, deep-fried planks arrived at our table. You know the batter is light when it’s almost translucent and you can see the native colors of the vegetables sheathed in that batter—the orange of the pumpkin and the light green of the broccoli, for example. The accompanying “tempura sauce” is very much on the sweet side and would be greatly improved with a bit of acid and salt.

Since first experiencing the transcendent papaya salad at An Hy Quan, Albuquerque’s premier Vietnamese vegetarian restaurant, we’ve craved the deeply satisfying balance of flavors in that dish. We often wondered if those flavors translated well to the frying process. Leave it to Thai Heritage to answer that deeply existential question for us. Yes, the menu does include a Fried Papaya Salad. Fried very lightly, a passel of shredded papaya is indeed infused with the flavors we love in its fresh counterpart—piquancy from Thai chilies, pungency from fish sauce, sweetness from sugar, savory notes from garlic and sour notes from lime juice. Sprinkled with finely crushed peanuts and garnished with sliced tomatoes and green beans, it’s a very enjoyable starter.

Spicy Noodles

In small part because my Kim got tired of me referring to Pad Thai, her favorite Thai dish, as “Pad Boring,” she tends to order more adventurously…and perhaps because she got tired of me proclaiming my love for it, she never orders curry. Ordering more adventurously doesn’t mean departing too far from noodles though it may mean ordering something that bites back. Spicy Noodles are a safe—and surprising (considering her heat level preference for green chile borders on “wimpy”) choice. This dish (stir-fried flat noodle with basil, bell peppers, onion, carrots and pork) is actually quite good though the incorrigible mad scientist in me wonders what it would be like smothered in curry.

This is usually the portion of my review in which I wax poetic about the latest curry dish to enrapt me…and by now you’re probably thinking “enough with the curry.” After a long and careful deliberation aided by my Kim’s encouragement, I ordered a non-curry dish (and it didn’t kill me to do so). Thai food fanatics are well acquainted with Tom Kha Kai and Tom Yum Koong, perhaps the most popular of all Thai soups across the fruited plain. Thai Heritage offers a number of alternatives, including a few we hadn’t seen before. My choice was the Tom-Yam Namkhon Noodle Soup (noodles with minced pork, pork ball, crispy wanton, sliced fish cake, boiled egg, pork snack, milk, chili sauce, Thai paste, bean sprouts and mushrooms in pork broth). If it sounds like an “everything but the kitchen sink” soup, you’re not far off the mark. The milky yellowish broth, somewhat reminiscent of Tonkatsu ramen broth, is brimming with deliciousness on and below the surface.

Tom-Yam Namkhon Noodle Soup

With eight dessert options available, you’d think picking one would be a challenge. Not so! Whenever mangoes with sweet sticky rice are on the menu, it’s soon at our table. We’re at the very tail end of mango season so mangoes aren’t at their peak of sweetness, but even a “semi-sweet” mango is delicious. Besides, the sweet sticky rice goes so well with mangoes that are just a bit on the green, tart side. Mangoes and sticky rice are one of the things we miss most about summer.

Picking two desserts wasn’t much more of a challenge than picking just one. That’s because the dessert menu includes roti. Described on the menu as a Thai-style pancake, it’s more akin to a circular flatbread. Roti is enjoyed everywhere from India to Malaysia. The roti at Thai Heritage is wholly unlike any roti we’ve ever had. Instead of resembling (to some extent) Indian naan, it resembled—both texturally and in terms of flavor—a very think puff pastry drizzled with chocolate. While enjoyable, it’s certainly not what we expected.

Roti

It really is hard to “eat Thai food like the Thai do…sparingly.”  When restaurants such as Thai Heritage prepare it so well, you’ll want to eat sizable portions.  Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay this October addition to the Duke City dining scene is that it got me to order something other than curry…and I loved it.

Thai Heritage Restaurant
6219 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 883-3989
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 17 December 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Roti, Mangoes with Sticky Rice, Grand Tempura, Fried Papaya Salad, Tom-Yam Namkhon Noodle Soup, Spicy Noodles

Thai Heritage Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hot Pink Thai Cuisine – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Hot Pink Thai Cuisine on San Pedro

Black socks and sandals, mixing plaids and polka dots, middle-aged men sporting the “pants falling down” look, T-shirts that accentuate the “spare tire” look, fat guys wearing culottes…  If there’s a fashion faux-pas out there, you can bet some of us XY-chromosome-enabled fashion Luddites have committed it and then some.  When it comes to fashion, many of us are as clueless as a pirate wearing two eye patches.  There is, however, one fashion statement we won’t make.  Among the six to seven shirts hanging (wrinkles and all) in our closets, none will be the color pink.  Nor will they be salmon, carnation, rose, Amaranth or any other shade of pink fashionistas invented in an effort to get us to wear pink.

For men, the only pink thing that’s really cool (despite what we tell our wives and girlfriends about their pink “unmentionables”) is the Pink Panther.  You know, the Pink Panther…the “one and only, truly original, Panther-pink (panther) from head to toe.”  Men have a very special affinity for the “rinky-dink” Pink Panther.  “He really is a groovy cat and what a gentleman, a scholar, what an acrobat!”   He’s everything we want to be, but aren’t cool enough to pull it off.  Alas, they don’t make intellectual cartoons like that any more.  Thank goodness for DePatie-Freleng (whoever they are) and United Artists for syndication.

Interior of Hot Pink Thai Cuisine

Perhaps only in Thailand do men not have an aversion to wearing the color pink. Traditionally every day of the week is assigned specific colors, some of which are considered lucky or auspicious and others which are deemed unlucky. Tuesday’s lucky color, for example, is pink while the day’s unlucky colors are yellow and white. On Wednesday, however, pink reverts to an unlucky color. In 2007, pink gained even more popularity because a Thai astrologer advised the ailing king to wear pink in order to heal quickly and remain in good health (in the pink, so to speak). As a result, millions rushed to purchase pink polo shirts.  (Hmm, will America embrace pink pantsuits should Hillary win the Presidential election?)

We’re always tickled pink when we hear of a new Thai restaurant in Albuquerque and were especially intrigued to learn of one sporting the curious appellation Hot Pink Thai Cuisine. We wondered if the “hot” part of its name was meant to bring additional luck on Tuesdays or perhaps it’s a description of the piquancy level. Hot Pink, it turns out, is a rechristening of the Thai Cuisine Express restaurant and is located in a small shopping center on San Pedro about a block north of Menaul. Though we’d never visited Thai Cuisine Express, we were acquainted with its reputation for serving perhaps the most incendiary Thai food in the Duke City.

Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce

Ironically our inaugural tarriance at Hot Pink occurred just before it was visited by Howie “The Duke of Duke City” Kaibel, the charismatic Albuquerque Community Manager for Yelp. Howie’s spot-on assessment: “Virtually nothing else changed with the name switch aside from, ironically, the spice level. They wussed out on me, man. It used to be that around here, “Thai Hot” translated to “engulf your mouth” and, later, your innards. No longer. They’ve gone temperate, or Not So Hot Pink. So if you’re a heat junkie, like moi, make sure to emphasize your foodie demise.” In his usual eloquent and balanced manner, he also noted that: “Otherwise, this remains a solid place to get comparatively fresh ingredients and solid interpretations of Thai standards.”

Grrr! Had I read Howie’s review earlier, it would have been “Thai hot” for me instead the rather benign just “hot,” but I digress. Hot Pink Thai Cuisine is Lilliputian in size, but all-enveloping aromas emanate from its kitchen. Step into the restaurant and the mingling of exotic Thai sauces, spices, vegetables and proteins has the pull of a seductive siren. Walls are tastefully appointed though orange (Thursday’s lucky color) is more prevalent than pink. Elephants, the official national symbol of Thailand, festoon the walls (along with Buddha and the requisite pictures of the Thai royal family) though there are no pink pachyderms anywhere.

Fish Cakes

Peruse the menu and you’ll espy many of the “usual suspects” found at every Thai restaurant in town. You’ll also find some items (such as the pumpkin curry) which aren’t quite as commonplace. The menu not only lists and describes each item, but includes full color photographs which may have you drooling before you even place your order. The menu proudly proclaims “we do not add MSG to any of our products or our recipes” and more audaciously warns that “Selection of Thai Hot are irreversible. Management accepts no responsibility for side effects on any spice level.” Methinks the latter warning may be unnecessary based on what we (and Howie) experienced.

The reasons men don’t wear pink aren’t solely esthetic. They’re practical, too. Spillage, particularly of messy sauces, is something at which men are especially adept (largely attributable to our enthusiasm for what we’re eating). Spillage would be as conspicuous on a pink shirt as the plumage of a peacock is during mating season. With chicken satay, we should all wear bibs because there’s bound to be spillage. Hot Pink’s chicken satay, a very delicious poultry Popsicle, is laden with curry, a key component of which is turmeric (which gives satay its characteristic yellow color). Four skewers per order are served with a peanut sauce and a cucumber sauce, both of which are on the sweet side and messy.

Pad Thai

On Fridays during Lenten season, salmon patties were a frequent guest at our family table. With enough salsa they were palatable, but nowhere in the deliciousness vicinity of Thai fish cakes, a common street food in Thailand. Thai fish cakes would proverbially kick sand on American fish cakes. Sliced into small pieces, the fish cakes are bite-sized morsels of concentrated flavor with spices and herbs complementing the fish. Lightly breaded and pleasantly piquant, they’re a perfect foil for the accompanying cucumber sauce whose sweet notes play very well against the savory, briny, spicy fish cakes. My Kim who doesn’t especially like seafood polishes these off with alacrity.

Because our visits to Pad Thai (the restaurant) on the Talin Market complex rewarded us with the best Pad Thai (the dish) we’ve had in New Mexico, my Kim is adamant that lightning can strike twice, that there may be more than one Pad Thai worth ordering. Hot Pink’s rendition of this overwhelmingly popular Thai staple, while good, pales in comparison to Pad Thai’s eponymous dish. This stir-fried Thai noodle dish made with egg, peanuts, shallots, sprouts and pork (Kim’s choice) is prepared in a moderate amount of oil, meaning it’s not nearly as greasy as some Pad Thai tends to be. The tender noodles contrast nicely with the sprouts, but this is not a dish in which you necessarily evaluate how ingredients work in smaller combinations. This is a dish you enjoy as a composite, a whole, a compilation of several ingredients which work well together.

Pumpkin Curry

We’ve only found a couple of restaurants in Albuquerque who serve pumpkin curry and one of them has closed down. It was, therefore, a thrill to find pumpkin curry at the Hot Pink. That thrill was exacerbated by the freshness of the pumpkin. This was not mushy canned pumpkin, but fresh pumpkin which the purveyors scoured the city to find. The pumpkin luxuriates in a large bowl of red curry made wonderfully fragrant and delicious with herbs and spices simmered in a rich and creamy coconut milk enriched with basil leaves, lime leaves, bell pepper and zucchini. If you’re a bona-fide fire eater, go for the “Thai hot.” Even my Kim, whose tolerance for heat extends only as far as Pace Picante Sauce, found the merely “hot” to be rather tepid.

Thank goodness for mangoes being “in season” because that means we can have mangoes with sticky rice, our very favorite Thai dessert. Made with steamed glutinous rice (that sometimes clumps) mixed with coconut milk and topped with mango slices, it is an addictive dessert—even if you don’t eat it the traditional way. That would be, rolling the rice with your fingers and scooping up mango slices, a rather messy way to eat anything. Hot Pink’s version is a wonderful way to finish a very satisfying meal.

Mangoes with Sticky Rice

While most men may not like the color pink in our fashion ensemble, most of us will like the Hot Pink Thai Cuisine restaurant…especially if when we dial up the heat level.

Hot Pink Thai Cuisine
2626 San Pedro, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 872-2296
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 23 July 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Mangoes with Sticky Rice, Pumpkin Curry, Chicken Satay, Fish Cakes, Pad Thai

Hot Pink Thai Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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.  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

Thai Tip – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Thai Tip on Wyoming just north of Constitution

Although short in stature, gregarious Tippewan “Tip” Sherrod, for whom Thai Tip is named, is as dynamic and passionate a restaurateur as you’ll meet in Albuquerque. If she’s not inundated with hungry patrons, she might take time out to recount her background as a midwife in her native Thailand as she extols the healthy qualities of Thai food. While she takes your order she might just tell you about the curative and healthful properties of your particular choice.

30 April 2005: The Thom Kha Kai (a traditional Thai soup based on coconut milk with the sweet scented spicing that comes from lemon grass and galganal, (a root similar to ginger), for example, is good for high-blood pressure. It’s also good for a hearty appetite. Served in a large tureen, you’ll ladle onto a bowl such ingredients as broken lime leaves, coriander, chili peppers, mushrooms and lime juice. The tanginess of the lime juice and the sweet, rich creaminess of the coconut milk are in perfect proportions to make for an aromatic and delectable soup. Tip’s version is among the very best in town and best of all, it’s prepared to order.

Spring Rolls and Thai Iced Coffee

30 April 2005: Tip is adamant about fresh food and doesn’t believe in pre- or re-heating. I don’t recall Tip’s explanation for what ailment Massaman (spelled mas su maan on the menu) curry can alleviate, but it certainly cured my hunger. Massaman curry is a Thai Muslim curry with flavors reminiscent of some sweeter Indian curries. It requires gentle, slow cooking and melds such ingredients as red curry, coconut milk, potatoes, onions and roasted peanuts. The aroma of a truly great Massaman curry is intoxicating while the flavors captivate your taste buds with contrasts of sweet and savory notes. At Thai Tip, the Massaman is a great one.

You can specify the degree of “heat” you want on many of your entrees. The intrepid diner might opt for “New Mexico hot” while those with asbestos-lined taste buds might opt for “Thai hot” which didn’t faze me during our inaugural visit (though during my second visit, the “New Mexico” hot brought healing tears of joy (at least that’s all I’ll admit to) to my eyes). Further confirmation of Tip’s “heart healthy” attitude is shown in the way she shapes the rice which accompanies your entrees–like a Valentine’s Day heart.

Pineapple Curry

You might notice that there was a span of more than ten years in between my first and second visits to Thai Tip. In no way should that be construed as my not having liked this extremely popular Thai restaurant. While we thoroughly enjoyed our inaugural experience, it’s not open for lunch on Saturdays when errands occasionally bring us to this part of town. During the interim between visits, friends and colleagues certainly let me know a second visit was long overdue.

30 April 2005: A nice introduction to Tip’s style is the assorted Thai appetizers menu item which includes two egg rolls, two chicken satay skewers, two fried dumpling pot stickers stuffed with chicken and vegetables, and two deep-fried wontons stuffed with ground pork and mixed with a touch of black pepper and potato. This appetizer menagerie is served with a mild peanut sauce and Tip’s own egg roll sauce which is a cloying, syrupy sauce with peanuts. My preference would have been for a more traditional cucumber sauce or for more chili (at least New Mexico hot) to have been added to either of the sauces.

1 September 2015: For a more singularly focused appetizer, you can’t beat Thai Tip’s spring rolls, two translucent rice wraps engorged with shredded lettuce, noodles, grated carrots, julienne cucumbers and shrimp. They’re roughly the size of a baby’s arm, so large that a woman in a nearby table couldn’t eat her entree after having filled up on the spring rolls. Served with a sweet-piquant (mostly sweet) sauce, these spring rolls aren’t just large in terms of size, they’re imbued with strong notes of freshness and flavor.

1 September 2015: During a recent deliberation on the qualities of Pad Thai (a dish I find mundane, but which he loves), my friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott admitted he’s only experienced transcendent Pad Thai once and it was at Thai Tip. Much as I love and respect my friend, not even his sage recommendation was enough to get me to order Pad Thai…especially when there’s pineapple curry (red curry, shrimp, bell peppers coconut milk and pineapple) on the menu. If you’re worried about the combination of coconut milk and pineapple rendering this dish cloying, you need not be, especially if you order the dish New Mexico hot. And it’s not that the chili obfuscates the inherent sweetness of other ingredients or that it numbs you (remember, in the Land of Enchantment, pain is a flavor), the heat serves as a balancing agent between sweet and savory ingredients. This is an excellent curry!

Even fire-eaters will need something to cool their blistered tongues after consuming an inferno-hot entree at Thai Tip. Thai iced coffee (sweetened imported coffee over crushed ice mixed with half and half) does the trick nicely. Not only that, it’s a delicious, hearty coffee for those of us who like our coffee as strong as our chile.

Thai Tip is far too good a restaurant for ten years to elapse between visits. With an improved employment proximity to this terrific Thai restaurant, look for me to make up for lost time.

Thai Tip
1512 Wyoming, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 323-7447

LATEST VISIT: 1 September 2015
1st VISIT: 30 April 2005
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Thom Kha Soup; Massaman Curry, Pineapple Curry, Spring Rolls, Thai Iced Coffee

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