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
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
COST: $$
BEST BET: Thom Kha Soup; Massaman Curry, Pineapple Curry, Spring Rolls, Thai Iced Coffee

Click to add a blog post for Thai Tip on Zomato

Bangkok Bite – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Bangkok Bite Thai Cuisine

Several years ago during an ice-breaker introduction at project team meeting,  we were all asked to introduce ourselves and explain where we were from.  Introducing myself as being from Massaman Curry, New Mexico drew absolutely no reaction, leading me to conclude two things: (1) my colleagues knew absolutely nothing about the Land of Enchantment and probably wondered if I needed a passport to get to Phoenix; and (2) despite one of our corporate values being “risk-taking,” none of them had ever dined at a Thai restaurant.  These conclusions were reaffirmed during a break when one colleague commented about all the strangely named places in “Mexico,” citing Tacos (Taos?), Captain (Capitan?) and Lost Curses.

When an introductory situation calls for giving my place of birth, my deadpan reply is generally “I was born in Saginaw, Michigan,” a reference to a 1964 song of that title performed by Lefty Frizzel.  Because my delivery is so straight-faced (like a mendacious politician delivering a campaign promise), rarely are my impish replies called into question.  It would be impossible, however, to maintain a straight-face should someone dig more deeply about Massaman Curry.  It’s hard to remain impassive when you’re drooling.  Yes, Massaman Curry does have that effect on me sometimes.  For years it’s been my ut assolet choice during an inaugural visit to any Thai restaurant. But I digress…

Bangkok Bite Dining Room

It could well be argued that there IS a Massaman Curry, New Mexico and that it’s clustered in the two-mile span between Constitution and Menaul on Wyoming. Within that stretch you’ll find what is probably the largest concentration of Thai restaurants in the state. At the southeastern-most flank is the elder statesperson (at only ten years) in Thai Tip.  About half a mile north is Tara Thai Cuisine, also on Wyoming’s east side.  Half a mile further north on Wyoming’s west side, the Hoffmantown Shopping Center is home to both Sizzling Thai and Bangkok Bite. Drive less than a mile west on Menaul and you’ll find Krung Thai. That’s five Thai restaurants in close proximity to each other.  That’s a lot of Massaman Curry!

Bangkok Bite opened its doors in March, 2015. True to its name, the restaurant’s emphasis is on Thai cuisine as it’s prepared in the capital city of Bangkok. Unfortunately there’s no way to duplicate the experience of dining on the famous floating river market outside of Bangkok where local cuisine is prepared on floating kitchens right on boats. Experiential aspects aside, you can find wonderful cuisine on the “dry” sections of Bangkok, too. As with all cuisine of the region, Bangkok’s food tends to emphasis the flavor profiles of sweet, salty, hot and greasy. Steamed rice is served with different types of nam prik (chili dipping sauces) and soups.

Deep-Fried Dumpling

Ensconced within the fairly monochromatic (can you say stucco?) Hoffmantown Shopping Center, Bangkok Bite has one of the smallest storefronts on the complex, standing out only because of its signage’s yellow Asian font style. The dining room is fairly Liliputian, too, with just about a half-dozen ten four-top tables in close proximity to one another. Even the menu is abbreviated, a far cry from some of the compendium-like menus at other Thai restaurants. Within that menu, you’ll find a smattering of soups, salads, noodle dishes and of course, Massaman Curry.

When you’ve got a limited number of appetizers from which to choose, the decision should be easy, right? Not necessarily. Appetizers at Thai restaurants are not just a precursor to larger deliciousness, they’re often a memorable highlight, sometimes even better than the entrees they precede. Dumplings are always a safe and delicious bet. We expected Thai-style dumplings, the type made from fresh steamed rice noodles, but delivered to our table were the crescent-shaped dumplings more common in China. These are the dumplings to which many Americans refer as potstickers. Engorged with juicy pork and chives in a golden-brown skin with a crispy bottom and springy, chewy sides, the dumplings are served with a thin soy-based sauce which complements them well.

Pad Thai

The introductory Thai dish for many diners, especially those of the unadventurous ilk, is Pad Thai. It’s the “safe” choice for the trepidacious of taste. In that respect it’s a sort of the “fried chicken” of Thai cuisine. Pad Thai is generally good. It’s filling, tasty and…passable, but I’ve never had exceptional, life-altering, transformative Pad Thai. My Kim loves it, however, and she’s fine with it being “just good enough” (which might explain why we’ve been together for thirty years) and it suits her sweet-tooth. The Pad Thai at Bangkok Bite is just fine…as good as you’ll find at any good Thai restaurant in town. It’s just not especially memorable which makes it par for the course. If I’d had my druthers, it would have been covered in prik nam pla, my favorite Thai chili and fish sauce condiment.

A friend of mine from Santa Fe who shares my passion for Massaman Curry considers its fragrant bouquet a sort of aromatherapy. Her ritual involves not only bending down to inhale the comforting aromatic spices, fresh herbs, rich coconut and full-flavored curry, but in using her hands to fan its steaming aromas upward to her awaiting nostrils. She loves the purity of Massaman Curry by itself and does not mix it with the steamed rice which customarily accompanies the curry. On the basis of this practice, she might not have liked the Massaman Curry at Bangkok Bite.

Massaman Curry

That’s because the steamed rice isn’t plated separately from the Massaman Curry. At Bangkok Bite, the twain does meet, whether you want it to or not. Although there is a clear demarcation between rice and curry, my friend would find it too easy for the two to mix and not in the proportion she would like. She makes a good point! The Massaman Curry is a harmonious interchange of sweet and savory flavors in a rich, yet mild and thoroughly delightful dish. Alas, perhaps because of its plating, there just isn’t enough curry and there’s too much rice. The ratio of curry to rice should be about 65/35 or the rice absorbs the curry and renders the dish a bit on the dry side. By itself, the Massaman Curry is a pleasure to eat, but is best when plated separately from rice.

It’s become increasingly rare for Thai restaurants to cite “seasonal availability” as reasons not to have mangoes with sticky rice on the menu year-round. Alas, the mangoes are generally not those grown in Southeast Asia, but those grown in Mexico and other tropical nations in the western hemisphere. Proximity has increased their availability greatly, much to the detriment of American waist lines. Paired with sticky rice in rich, sweet coconut milk, there may be no dessert which couples fresh, tangy fruit with a sweet-savory complement so deliciously. The mangoes and sticky rice at Bangkok Bite will remind you why “off-season” can be so painful.

Mangoes with Sticky Rice

The aforementioned stretch of pavement on which several Thai restaurants can be found will probably never be known as “Little Thailand,” but anyone jonesing for another Thai restaurant to add to their rotation should visit soon…and often. Bangkok Bite is a welcome addition to the Duke City’s Thai cuisine scene.

Bangkok Bite
8246 Menaul Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 291-3831
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 6 June 2015
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Massaman Curry, Pad Thai, Dumplings, Mangoes with Sticky Rice

Click to add a blog post for Bangkok Bite on Zomato

1 2 3 8