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
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.


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
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
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
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

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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

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Thai Vegan – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Thai Vegan on Osuna

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
– William Shakespeare

Contrary to the Bard of Avon’s most famous sonnet, what something is named does matter.  It matters at least as much as what it is.   Some would say, in fact, that a name is everything.  If a steak restaurant was named Rotted Meat, it’s unlikely it would entice enough diners (much less pedantic critics) to ever discover it serves four-star gourmet quality cuisine.  Diners would stay away in droves and those intrepid enough to visit would likely find the suggestive nature of its name  greatly diminishes the deliciousness of the food.

A restaurant’s name is its identity.  The right name imprints a good and lasting impression on a restaurant’s customers.  It’s an effective way to draw first-time visitors to a restaurant, if only to satisfy their curiosity.  Choose the wrong name and your restaurant could be subjected to pejoratives and ridicule. Zagat’s, one of the most prolific print and online sources of user-generated restaurant reviews rounded up what they consider the worst restaurant names they could find — “silly, sexually suggestive, potty referencing and all.”

Thai Vegan’s exotic dining room

The list was comprised of Asselina, an Italian restaurant in New York; Beaver’s Choice, an Arizona Scandinavian eatery; Big Wong, a New York City Chinese institution; Crabby Dick’s, a Mid-Atlantic seafood chain; Crapitto’s, a Houston Italian diner; Fu King, a Chinese restaurant in Florida; Goat Lips, a Florida deli; 9021Pho, a Beverly Hills Vietnamese restaurant; Phat Phuc, a Vietnamese noodle Bar; and Pink Taco, a Las Vegas taco restaurant.  It’s possible the double-entendre and scatology will appeal to the sophomoric among us–at least the first time we visit.  After that, return visits are unlikely if the food isn’t up to par. 

Rather than risk scaring potential customers away or worst, bringing in an “undesirable” crowd, most restaurant owners play it safe and give their restaurants fairly generic, but descriptive names that leave no doubt as to what type of food is proffered.  Albuquerque’s Thai Vegan restaurant, for example, will never be mistaken for a restaurant which serves steak and chops.  The name is clearly indicative of the type of food this restaurant serves.  What the name doesn’t come close to describing is just how good Thai vegan food can be under capable hands. 

Dumpling Assortment: Red Chili Dumplings, Steam Curry Dumplings, Veggie Dumplings

At Vegan Thai, the capable hands belong to chef-owner Pat Phomnoi and they’re on display for all diners to admire in two Albuquerque locations–the original on Osuna and one in Nob Hill–and one in Santa Fe. It’s obvious from Thai Vegan’s “I love me” wall that the original restaurant’s success spawned the need for expansion. One section of the wall just as you walk in is plastered with all the “best of” accolades the restaurant has earned over the years from such publications as Albuquerque The Magazine, the Albuquerque Journal, The Daily Lobo and more. Not only has it earned honors as the city’s best vegan restaurants, but in recent years has also been recognized as the city’s best Thai restaurant.

Chef Phomnoi launched Vegan Thai in 2010 at the former site of Lotus Cafe, quickly winning over the hearts of many of its predecessor’s devotees and bringing in the niche demographic of vegans wanting high-quality Thai cuisine.  No matter your preference, Vegan Thai will win you over when you step into the restaurant and are immediately enveloped in the olfactory arousing aromas of spices and sauces.  If you had any doubts before walking in, the fabulous fragrances will dispel them as they waft toward you like a sensuous siren’s call.

Papaya Salad

Thai Vegan will appeal to your visual sense as well.  The attractive dining room is adorned in gold trim with a gold symbol resembling a seahorse particularly prominent.  An aquarium teeming with goldfish seems strangely out of place though it does add to an already tranquil ambiance.  Service is friendly, attentive and employs tandem concepts.  The waitress who takes your order may not be the one to deliver it.  Whichever waitress is closest to you at any given time will be the one to refill your drink order or check up on you.

The menu is very similar to that of many Thai restaurants with a few surprises thrown in.  For example, the appetizers include not only edamame (soybean pods more commonly served in Japanese restaurants), but French fries, too.  Perhaps because of the commonality of the pairing, the menu also lists eight burgers–tofu burgers, legume veggie burgers, soy burgers, wheat meat burgers and wheat and soy burgers, all of which you can have with fries.  Many entrees are available with your choice of soy chicken, soy pepper steak or soy fish.

Green Curry with steamed brown rice and tofu pepper steak

30 July 2011: Dumpling appetizers come six to an order or you can request an assortment of each of three types of dumplings: veggie, steam curry or red chili.  The dumplings are decoratively plated on a bed of lettuce, julienned carrots and purple cabbage.  The steam curry dumplings stand out largely because of the green curry sauce drizzled on top.  The red chili dumplings   have a crispy texture as if deep-fried.  The red chili is more cloying than it is piquant.  One of this appetizer’s best qualities is that when you’re done with the dumplings, you still have a salad well sauced with green curry and red chili.

30 July 2011: The menu offers eight different salad options including larb (the national dish of Laos) and papaya salad.  The papaya salad is as beautiful to behold as it is a joy to eat.  A bed of lettuce is browned with julienned papaya and carrots, minced peanuts, cilantro and purple cabbage flanked by tomatoes.  Ordered at medium piquancy, there was no discernible hint of heat on an otherwise very tasty, very fresh papaya salad.

Praram’s Plate with two spring rolls and a salad

30 July 2011: My waitress looked at me as if I had a death wish when I requested green curry at a “Thai hot” level, prompting me to question my own sanity.  I shouldn’t have.  The heat level was laughable–maybe one-tenth as piquant as the incendiary heat generated at Thai Cuisine.  That’s too bad because a little heat would have elevated the flavor profile of a pretty good green curry.  Even my Chicago born-and-bred better half thought the heat level to have been strictly “gringo.”  Stricken by a desire to experiment, I asked for the curry to be prepared with the soy pepper steak which will never be mistaken for the real thing, but shouldn’t be discounted either. 

5 May 2015: Thai Vegan’s daily lunch and dinner combinations are a bargain at under ten dollars. Both are served with steamed brown rice, a spring roll and salad with your choice of tofu, soy chicken, pepper steak or soy fish. For a pittance more, you can also have soy shrimp or soy chicken nuggets. If the curiously named Praram’s Plate (marinated soy chicken pan-fried with peanut sauce on a bed of steamed spinach) is any indication, these combination plates are special. The pan-fried soy chicken may not perfectly mimic the taste and texture of real white meat chicken, but it’s close enough to the real thing that not everyone will notice. The tofu chicken is drenched with a peanut sauce very much reminiscent of the peanut sauce often served with satay. For those of us who love peanut sauce, the profligate portion of sauce is very much welcome. The spinach also goes well with the peanut sauce. As Thai spring rolls tend to be, the spring roll is excellent.

Mangoes with sticky sweet rice

30 July 2011: Our mangoes with sticky rice dessert was a bit of a let-down. Though the mangoes were in-season, fresh and juicy and the sticky rice was perfectly prepared, this simple but elegant dessert favorite lacked coconut milk, the ingredient which coalesces all flavors in this dish.

So, what’s in a name?  In the name Thai Vegan, there’s the promise of very good and very healthy Thai food prepared before your eyes in a very attractive milieu.

Thai Vegan
5505 Osuna, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 884-4610
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 5 May 2015
1st VISIT: 30 July 2011
COST: $$
BEST BET: Papaya Salad, Green Curry, Mangoes with Sticky Rice, Dumpling Assortment, Praram’s Plate, Spring Rolls

Thai Vegan on Urbanspoon

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