Have a yen for Chinese or Korean cuisine? Can your appetite be sated only by the nasal-clearing, smoldering heat of Szechwan style cooking? Are the cravings that consume you affixed on succulent sushi and eye-watering wasabi. If all four of these options sound good but you can’t make up your mind, there’s only one dining destination that–under one roof–can satisfy your appetite for all these palate-pleasing Asian cuisines. Yen Ching, a popular Northeast Heights restaurant named for a city in Northern China, specializes in Chinese, Korean and Szechwan cuisine and has an all-you-can-eat (AYCE) Japanese sushi bar to boot.
Yen Ching is a veteran in Albuquerque’s cramped competition for Chinese food customers, launching nearly 20 years ago in the venerable Trade Winds hotel on Central Avenue. Years later, Kathy Chao and her husband Joe moved their restaurant to the Montgomery Crossing shopping center on the southeast corner of the Montgomery and Wyoming intersection, a location in which business has thrived. Long-timers might remember a second Yen Ching on Fourth Street. That restaurant didn’t last long after the Chaos sold it.
Like many Chinese restaurants in the city, Yen Ching features an AYCE Chinese buffet for lunch and like most, this one is hardly memorable. It includes all the fried, heavily breaded and “candied” items that typify a Chinese buffet in America where trough-diving buffet goers strive to get more than their money’s worth. Not surprisingly, ordering off the menu is a much better way to go. Not only do your entrees reach your table piping hot instead of Sterno hot, they’re much tastier.
An asterisk (*) denotes menu items considered spicy. Most Szechwan-style entrees derive their heat from a distinctly aromatic pepper that is applied copiously on many Yen Ching entrees. Despite the generous use of Szechwan pepper, the degree of heat is easily manageable to native New Mexicans. The Ta Chen Chicken, featuring all white meat chicken with hot spices is more piquant than the chicken you might find inside a flauta, but not by much.
Served on a fiery wok, Yen Ching’s bulgogi is surprisingly good with a barbecue marinade that isn’t quite as sweet as you’ll find at many Korean restaurants. While for the most part tender, we’ve also encountered some of that annoyingly gristly matter that typifies lower cuts of beef.
Yen Ching’s AYCE sushi is a bargain at just shy of $20 per person for dinner (just a bit more than the price of two spider rolls) and includes many nigiri (a piece of fish on a bed of rice) and maki (roll style) sushi favorites. From among the former, you can’t go wrong with unagi, a fresh water eel said to have stamina-giving properties. The unagi is drizzled with a sweet teriyaki sauce and is absolutely delicious.
Among the roll-style sushi, the spider (soft shell crab) and calamari rolls are in an upper class. Both feature lightly battered (tempura) fish (well, crab and calamari respectively) served warm and drizzled lightly with teriyaki sauce. There’s something comforting about the delicate crunch of tempura enrobed in a rice bed.
Yen Ching’s television commercials are punctuated by an annoying, nasally-sounding jingle calling for “Yen Ching tonight.” At least it’s not turning off the clientele which continues to frequent this long-time favorite.
4410 Wyoming, N.E. #N
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 24 February 2006
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: AYCE Sushi