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. 

Steam Dumplings (Photo Courtesy of Dazzling Deanell)

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.

That last honor–best Thai restaurant–places the emphasis on “Thai” cuisine, not “vegan” cuisine.  My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate rates Thai Vegan as the third best Thai restaurant in the Duke City, right behind the Pad Thai Cafe and Thai Tip.  When it comes to purity of flavors, Thai Vegan, he emphasizes, is spot on.  After his inaugural visit, he returned to Thai Vegan four times in a two week span.  I joined Larry and Dazzling Deanell on Larry’s fourth visit.  He was excited to see if maybe a more recent visit to Thai Vegan might persuade me to up my rating from “20” to “22,” the rating he would accord the restaurant on my scale.

Papaya Salad (Photo Courtesy of Dazzling Deanell)

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.

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.

Red Curry (Photo Courtesy of Dazzling Deanell)

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.

2 November 2017: 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.

Praram’s Plate with two spring rolls and a salad

2 November 2017: 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 crowned with julienned papaya and carrots, minced peanuts, cilantro and purple cabbage flanked by tomatoes.  Ordered at medium piquancy, there is barely a discernible hint of heat (at least to fire-eaters like Larry and me) on an otherwise very tasty, very fresh papaya salad.  Papaya salad is one of the most fresh and vibrant dishes on a Thai menu.  Even if newcomers don’t like anything else about Thai food, they’ll probably enjoy papaya salad.

30 July 2011:My server 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 innocuous–maybe a third 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. 

Mangoes with sticky sweet rice

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.

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: 2 November 2017
1st VISIT: 30 July 2011
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Papaya Salad, Green Curry, Mangoes with Sticky Rice, Dumpling Assortment, Praram’s Plate, Spring Rolls, Spicy Eggplant

Thai Vegan on Urbanspoon

Thai Boran – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Thai Boran at Village @ La Orilla on Albuquerque’s West Side

Many of us with a puerile sense of humor can probably recall giggling like silly school kids the first time we visited a Thai restaurant and perused a menu.  We went straight into the gutter the first time we came across such foods as phat prik and fuktong curry.  Even after learning that “phat prik” is actually a stir-fried chili dish and “fuktong curry” is a pumpkin curry, the sophomoric among us couldn’t order these dishes with a straight face.  It gets even worse when we actually learned how to pronounce the names of Thai dishes.  Not even Bob Newhart could order “cow pod guy” (chicken fried rice) or “cow pod moo” (pork fried rice) with his usual deadpan delivery.  That’s probably why so many of us will place our order by number instead of endeavoring to pronounce words we find a bit salacious or humorous. 

Let’s face it, denizens of the fruited plain tend to find the names of some Thai dishes humorous because the way they’re spelled or pronounced is similar to English sexual references or swear words.  Perhaps that’s why Thai restaurateurs tend to use clever word play, typically puns,  to name their eateries.  Instead of christening an eatery for an honored grandmother or treasured daughter whose name is “Porn,” it’s less offensive (or funny) to name a restaurant something like “Thai Tanic,” “Thairanosaurus” or “Thai and Stop Me.”  Instead of naming a restaurant for a beloved son named Poo, wouldn’t it be more inviting to name a restaurant something like “Eye of the Thai-ger” or “Beau Thai?”

Interior of Thai Boran. Photo Courtesy of Larry McGoldrick, the Professor With the Perspicacious Palate

Indulge me for one more paragraph of pithy covfefes.  Song titles and lyrics in particular seem to lend themselves to clever wordplay using Thai names.  From the Beatles, you’ve got “All You Need is Larb” and “Can’t Buy Me Larb.”   Who can every forget Andy Williams’ immortal “Thai to Remember?”  Or Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons singing “Big Girls Don’t Thai?”  Then there’s Hank Williams “I’m So Lonesome I could Thai.”  How about The Temptations “Curry Tomorrow?”  Okay, by now you’re probably thinking “that (Thai word for chili) is probably going to hell for his politically incorrectness.”  What’s the point anyway?

My point is Thai restaurant in the Duke City tend to have rather boring and straight-forward names: Thai Curry, Thai Heritage, Thai, Orchid Thai, Pad Thai, Thai Kitchen, Thai Tip.   Zzz!  The most cleverly named Thai restaurant in town is probably “Hot Pink Thai” and even that’s pretty parochial.  Give me a “Thai Me Up,” “Been There, Thai’d That” or “Tongue Thai’d” anytime.  My friend Schuyler is no doubt paraphrasing a Winston cigarette commercial of the 1970s, “what do you want good punnery or good taste?”  My retort is why can’t we have both?

Thai Toast

Upon learning of a new Thai restaurant launching at Village @ La Orilla, we dared hope a clever pun would grace its marquee.  Alas, the name “Thai Boran” may as well be “Thai Boring” to the punsters among us.  At least I had to look up “Boran” to learn it translates from Thai to “old, ancient or historic.”  Thai Boran is owned by restaurant impresario Kathy Punya, a native of Thailand who’s amassed quite a portfolio of restaurants, among them five Sushi Kings, Crazy Fish, Noodle King and Asian Street Food.   It’s located next door to Albuquerque’s first cinema eatery, the not-so-cleverly-named Flix.

Thai Boran is somewhat on the small side and contrary to any notion of “Thai Boring” I may have had, it’s got a very exciting menu featuring some items heretofore unavailable in the Duke City.  Among the eight uncommon to Albuquerque appetizers are Mee Krob, Sheldon Cooper’s favorite Thai dish and Thai toast.  There are six salads on the menu along with five soups.  Five one-of-a-kind specialty dishes adorn the Chef’s Collection section of the menu.  These include a Thai Boran Beef Steak, grilled and sliced marinated beef steak served with a spicy tomato sauce. Other sections of the menu are dedicated to curry, rice, pan-fried noodles, noodle soups and entrees.  All total there are 53 items on the menu.

Duck Curry

Sometime around 2010, toast become the latest artisanal food craze.  Yes, toast, the most popular of which is probably avocado toast (available at Cafe Bella in Rio Rancho).   The Washington Post believes in fact that “avocado toast has come to define what makes food trends this decade: It’s healthy and yet ever-so-slightly indulgent.”  Thai Toast may be Thailand’s answer to avocado toast, all indications being it’s a relatively new dish.  It’s certainly not a dish you find in other Thai restaurants across the Duke City.  Four small slices sans crust of egg-dipped white bread topped with ground pork, green onions, then deep fried are served with a cucumber salad.  At the very least, it’s a very interesting dish–not as good as other Thai appetizers, but good enough to try more than once. 

The curry section of the menu includes three curry dishes not all that common in Albuquerque: eggplant curry, pineapple curry and duck curry.  Duck curry (red curry, cherry tomato, grapes, bell pepper, basil, and coconut milk) has been among my very favorite curry dishes since first enjoying it at the transformative Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas, Nevada.   Thai Boran’s version is quite good showcasing tender slices of slow-cooked duck breast with enough fat for rich, unctuous flavor.  The combination of acidic cherry tomatoes and sweet grapes is especially intriguing, but what brings it all together is a rich red curry prepared at Thai hot (not for the faint of heart).  This dish is served with your choice of steamed Jasmine rice or brown rice. 

There aren’t many Thai restaurants in Albuquerque’s burgeoning west side.  Thai Boran is within a mile or so of Thai Cuisine, a long-time favorite.  Boring names not withstanding, both are among the city’s very best restaurants for Thai cuisine.

Thai Boran
3236 La Orilla Road, N.W., Suite B
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 492-2244
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING:  N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Duck Curry, Thai Toast

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

Fareast Fuzion – Albuquerque, New Mexico

On July 5, 2017, Fareast Fuzion Celebrated its Six Year Anniversary Serving Albuquerque

A Journal of Consumer Research study published in 2012 revealed that consumers equate eating meat with their concept of masculinity. To the dismay of spinach-lovers like Popeye, respondents indicated meat has a more masculine quality than vegetables. Study participants considered male carnivores to be more masculine than their vegetarian counterparts (ostensibly Bill Clinton was more masculine when he scarfed up Big Macs than he is now that he’s a vegetarian). “To the strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, all-American male, red meat is a strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, All-American food,” wrote the researchers. “Soy is not. To eat it, they would have to give up a food they saw as strong and powerful like themselves for a food they saw as weak and wimpy.” Researchers acknowledged that with a diet rich in manly meats, equally manly health conditions such as heart attacks are inevitable.

So, if we shouldn’t eat meat, what should we paragons of masculinity eat?  Certainly not quiche or kale!  Bruce Feirstein told us in 1982 that “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.” Sure, that title was a tongue-in-cheek satire of masculine stereotypes, but could there be a grain of truth there somewhere?  More recently, an author who goes by the very macho nom de plume Manly M. Mann declared “kale is the new quiche and manly men don’t eat that crap.” He also revealed two things you’ll never hear a manly man utter: “Tossed salad, please” and “hold the bacon.” On a more personal level, Mr. Mann emphasized that brunch has no place in a real man’s routine. As an avowed brunch lover, does that mean I’ll have to turn in my man card?

The 300-Gallon Aquarium Behind the Sushi Bar

There’s been internet chatter lately declaring that real men shouldn’t eat sushi, especially when it’s prepared maki style. Maki sushi, more commonly known as sushi rolls, is the most popular type of sushi across the fruited plain—proof manly men might say that the “Oprahization” of America is alive and well. Those masculine detractors of dainty deliciousness wouldn’t eat maki rolls if they were soaked in beer and wrapped in beef jerky. Canned sardines on crackers yes, but pretty sushi rolls resembling stained glass windows, frack no! Never mind that the Japanese sushi chef is considered heir to the samurai tradition. Only if Chuck Norris himself told the so-called real men that sushi rolls are what make him the apotheosis of manliness would real men reach for a California roll.

Fortunately my Kim considers it extremely manly that I love sushi rolls (and that I’m willing to carry her weighty purse when she’s tired). For her, 2017 has become the year of the sushi roll. After several years of eschewing sushi for the pleasures of seared animal flesh, she’s developed a craving for sushi (and no, she’s not with child). Instead of her usual “whatever you want” when I ask what she’d like to have, she’s asked for sushi on three occasions this year. The challenge with fulfilling her request is that Albuquerque has very few al fresco sushi opportunities where we can spend time with our debonair dachshund The Dude (he abides). Thus far, we’ve found only two—Sumo Sushi and Ohana Hut, both of which quelled her cravings.

Left: Egg Drop Soup; Right: Miso Soup

Make it three. After unsuccessfully scouring my geriatrically advanced memories for other sushi bars with dog-friendly patios, Google revealed a heretofore untried purveyor of not only sushi, but Thai and other Asian cuisines. My search revealed that Fareast Fuzion is the first sushi restaurant listed on Yelp’s listing of the best ten sushi bars in Albuquerque. Another site, threebestrated.com named Fareast Fuzion as one of the three best rated sushi restaurants in the Duke City—and, if the site is to be believed, their ratings are based on a 50-point inspection which considers everything from checking reputation, history, complaints, reviews, satisfaction, trust and cost to the general excellence.

On July 5, 2017, Fareast Fuzion celebrated its six-year anniversary serving Albuquerque in the familiar location on Central which for many years was the home of Bangkok Café, one of the first Thai restaurants in the Duke City. Long-timers might remember that back in the mid-1990s when Thai cuisine was oh-so-exotic for Albuquerque, Bangkok Café was named one of the city’s twelve best restaurants by the Albuquerque Journal. With more than fifteen years’ experience as a sushi chef and nearly as many years experience preparing Thai food, chef and owner Kham Seme and his family are gracious hosts. Their warmth and hospitality offset the painful route–through a maze of orange barrels and deeply pocked detours–it took to get there as motorists deal with the light-rail folly only politicians seem to want. My Kim quipped that it would have actually been easier to drive to Thailand.

Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce and Cucumber Salad

The restaurant’s cynosure is a 300-gallon saltwater aquarium behind the chef’s sushi station. Brightly illuminated to accentuate the water’s bluish tint, the aquarium is replete with several species of exotic saltwater fish, including a small shark which shirks attention (or perhaps it fears being sliced up into sushi). On the ceiling just in front of the sushi bar hangs a very impressive black kite somewhat resembling a Klingon bird-of-prey. A coyote fence separates the capacious patio from Central Avenue and hordes of frustrated drivers. Rivulets of water cascade down an exterior fountain, producing a soothing white noise effect. Our Dude relaxed in the shade as he took in the tranquil surroundings.

The menu is primarily Thai with a smattering of Chinese and non-sushi Japanese dishes as well. It’s a rather impressive, though not especially original menu grouped into related categories: soups, salads, noodle soups, Thai curry dishes, bento boxes, teriyaki bowls, fried rice, noodle dishes, stir-fried dishes and a kids’ menu. Appetizers are primarily Thai or Japanese. As you peruse the compendium-like menu, you may want to indulge in Thai iced coffee or one of the three teas: green, Jasmine or ginger. The former is a rather strong coffee offset somewhat by sweetened condensed milk. My Kim enjoyed the bite of the ginger tea.

Colorful Sushi

Shortly after ordering our chicken satay appetizer, our effusive server ferried over our soups of choice. For my Kim, it was a bowl of egg drop soup served hot to the touch. For me, only a bowl of miso soup should ever precede a meal of sushi. As usual, Kim’s choice was better (not that the miso soup wasn’t good). Egg drop soup Egg is made by “dropping” the whisked eggs very slowly into to boiling stock and stirring rapidly in one direction. The result is thin, wispy strands of silken egg. Rare (at least in Albuquerque) is the pronounced yellowish hue of this enchanting elixir. The miso soup, on the other hand, is on par with miso soup served throughout the city.

We found the chicken satay (four skewers) a bit on the chewy side and a challenge to extricate from the skewer. Displaying a nice grilled char, the chicken’s toughness made it more important that the accompanying sauces offset textural liabilities. The peanut sauce, ameliorated with coconut milk and red curry, has the characteristic sweetness of most Thai sauces and is very good, while the cucumber salad is probably the very best in the city. All too often cucumber salad tends to border on cloying, but this one had a delightful piquancy courtesy of very finely ground Thai chili peppers. We would have enjoyed the cucumber salad on shoe leather (but enough about the chicken).

Some of the Largest Sushi Rolls in Albuquerque

The sushi menu includes nigiri (slice of raw fish over pressed vinegared rice), sashimi (slices of very fresh fish served raw) and maki, the bane of real men. Sushi combos and sushi “happy” boats are also available. My Kim’s preferences lean more toward deep-fried fish than the raw fish real men might consider “bait.” Among the boatload of sushi we ordered (enough for her to enjoy over a period of three meals) were a “Super Crunchy Roll” (cream cheese, crab, avocado, white fish, deep-fried) and a “Crunchy Roll” (spicy tuna, scallop, tempura flakes on top, eel sauce). While their names might hint at similarity, they’re quite different. We found the Super Crunch roll to be too much of a good thing—good, but just a bit too much crunch, too much deep-fried texture.

As usual, we needed a “Japan meets New Mexico” fix which means green chile on a sushi roll. We found it in the Sandia Roll (salmon, tuna, yellow tail, shrimp, spicy mayo, tobiko and green chile) and the ABQ Roll (salmon, crab, avocado, special sauce and masago). In honor of visits to Maine, we also ordered (BOTVOLR will appreciate this) a lobster roll (lobster, cucumber, avocado, tobiko on top). As expected, it bore absolutely no resemblance to its New England counterpart. One commonality among most of the sushi rolls at Fareast Fusion is their size. Quite simply, these are the biggest sushi rolls you’ll find in Albuquerque. Our server told us some diners complain that they can’t devour them in one bite, but most sushi aficionados do believe bigger is better.

Super Crunch Roll

Fareast Fuzion is a restaurant where real men can get quell their carnivorous cravings with piquant curries which will test their manly mettles while the rest of us can sate our yen for sushi.  The staff is more than attentive and friendly and the ambiance is hard to beat.

Fareast Fuzion Sushi Bar & Lounge
5901 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 255-2910
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 July 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$-$$$
BEST BET: Chicken Satay, Thai Iced Coffee, Lobster Roll, Crunchy Roll, Super Crunchy Roll, Yummy Yummy Roll, Sandia Roll, ABQ Roll, Lady in Red Roll

Fareast Fuzion sushi bar & lounge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pad Thai Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pad Thai Cafe Thai Cuisine

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.

Papaya Salad

2 June 2017: The most popular dish among women in Thailand is papaya salad.  Even if it means admitting I’m very much in touch with my feminine side, I’ll gladly admit to loving papaya salad.  Along with curry, it’s the one Thai dish that serves as my benchmark for how good a Thai restaurant is.  The papaya salad at Pad Thai is right up there with the transcendent papaya salad at An Hy Quan.  That’s rarefied “best in the city” air.   Crisp strips of unripened papaya, crunchy raw green beans and a piquant mix of chiles, garlic, tomatoes fish sauce and lime juice make it the perfect cooling summer starter.  Pad Thai’s version is very balanced with delicious, healthful elements throughout. 

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

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. 

2 June 2017:  My friend Bill Resnik expressed similar sentiment when I introduced him to Pad Thai.  We had actually intended to visit the Pop-Up Dumpling House within Talin, but it was closed.  Pad Thai Cafe is no consolation prize.  More than any Thai restaurant in the Duke City, it emphasizes a balance of flavors…and more than at any other Thai restaurant in town, even fire-eaters may have to be cautious about the degree of piquancy in the dishes.  “Medium” heat at Pad Thai is easily the equivalent of “Hot” at other Thai restaurants while the “Hot” should be reserved solely for those of us with asbestos-lined tongues.  Bill is one such masochist.  He adds prik nam pla (a ubiquitous condiment made with incendiary bird peppers) to even the most piquant of Thai dishes.

Yum Woon Sen

12 June 2017:  Pad Thai is the only Thai restaurant in the Duke City in which I don’t regret not having ordered a curry dish.  That’s because everything else on the menu is absolutely fantastic.  As is characteristic of adventurous diners, I often order dishes heretofore unknown to me.  Invariably that means discovering wonderful new options such as the Yum Woon Sen, a bean thread noodles salad.  While that may not sound particularly exciting, it encapsulates much of what aficionados love about Thai cuisine:  the invigorating freshness of just-squeezed limes; the distinctive herbal-licorice flavor of Thai basil,  a balance of crunchy and chewy ingredients, the pungency of the fish sauce, and just enough piquancy to set your tongue tingling.  Pad Thai’s version is constructed with pork, shrimp and wood ear mushrooms topped with fish sauce, sugar, carrot, onions, cilantro and Thai chilis a plenty.  This is a new favorite. 

16 June 2017:  The translation of Thai dishes is often surprising.  Yam Nuea Nam Tok, for example translates to waterfall beef or beef waterfall, but it also translates to grilled beef salad.  The terms waterfall beef or beef waterfall are appropriate from the standpoint that you’ll be deluged with flavors with every bite of this savory-sweet-piquant-tangy dish constructed with lime, fish sauce, chili powder, roasted rice powder, sugar, green onion, cilantro, lemongrass, shallots and mint.  Legend has it, however, that the term waterfall beef comes from the sound the steak makes once the beef begins to hiss from the sizzling juices.  Grilled steak, lean and flavorful, is the main ingredient, a terrific compliment to fresh, aromatic ingredients Americans don’t usually serve with steak–even as a side salad.  This salad has it all: tart and tangy sour notes from the lime, aromatic freshness from the herbs, crunchy and crispiness from the veggies, vibrancy and heat from the chillies and complete satisfaction afterwards.

Yam Nuea Nam Tok, a wondrous beef salad

2 June 2017:  With the exception of the transcendent Chinese sausage fried rice at Ming Dynasty,  most fried rice is of the take it or leave it variety.  It’s just not very exciting, but it’s generally better than the simple white rice served with many Asian dishes.  The Pad Thai Cafe offers two fried rice alternatives to plain white rice.  Don’t miss out on the green curry fried rice (green curry, rice, fish sauce, sugar, green peas and basil) with your choice of protein.  It’s fried rice at its self-actualized best, as good as fried rice can possibly get.  The green curry permeates each rice kernel, imparting its pungent piquancy courtesy of fresh, young green chilis which tend to make green curry more potent than other curries.

Green Curry Fried Rice

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.

Mango and Coconut Ice Cream with Sticky Rice and Coconut Milk

2 June 2017: Most Thai restaurants offer sweet sticky rice with coconut milk and fresh, ripe mango in season. Out of season, the best restaurants will advise you not to order this dessert when the mangoes aren’t perfectly ripe. That’s advice one and all should heed. When in season, mangoes with sweet sticky rice make a refreshing dessert contrasting the sweet tanginess of mangoes and the near cloying flavor of coconut with the neutral to sweet flavor of sticky rice. The very best mangoes and sticky rice dish I’ve ever had comes from Albuquerque’s Thai Cuisine.  If that dessert is a perfect Bo Derek “ten,” the mangoes with sticky rice at Pad Thai is a nine.  Quite simply, it’s a must-have.

Mangoes with Sticky Rice

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: 16 June 2017
1st VISIT: 19 March 2016
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET: Chicken Satay, Tod Mun Pla, Massaman Curry, Pad Thai, Mango Ice Cream with Sticky Rice, Egg Rolls, Laab, Drunken Noodles, Potstickers, Mangoes with Sticky Rice, Green Curry Fried Rice, Yum Woon Sen, Yam Nuea Nam Tok

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

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

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