Ay Caramba! That tired old Spanish expression was part of American pop culture long before Bart Simpson popularized its usage on episodes of The Simpsons animated television series. The expression translates to “confound it!” or maybe “Holy Cow” and is generally used to register surprise. You can almost imagine the Mexican equivalent of Robin, the Boy Wonder of Batman fame exclaiming “Ay Caramba” as he and his crime-fighting partner stumble onto yet another perilous plight.
My hopes were that I’d be exclaiming “Ay Caramba” at how great the food is at this mom-and-pop restaurant which launched in 2005. After all, my friend and colleague Steve Coleman has a relatively high opinion of the restaurant’s “sister” restaurant in Canutillo, Texas, a restaurant owned by the brother of Albuquerque’s Ay Caramba. It appears good cooking runs in the family.
Ay Caramba’s menu is replete with many traditional favorites of northern Mexico as well as the wonderful mariscos found along Mexico’s coastal seaways…but Ay Caramba!…the menu doesn’t include Ceviche, one of the items that defines Mexican seafood.
Complementary salsa arrives at your table shortly after you do. The jalapeno and roasted tomato salsa makes sparse use of cilantro and cumin, two overused spices which sometimes detract from the salsa’s inherent flavor. The chips are thin but robust enough to scoop up the salsa. Expect to consume two bowlfuls before your entrees arrive (that’s saying the salsa is excellent not that the service is slow).
The beverage bounty includes traditional Mexican aguas frescas including horchata, the beverage made from ground-up rice, sugar and cinnamon. Ay Caramba’s version isn’t as cereal sweet as you might find at other Mexican restaurants, but it’s quite refreshing.
Hoping to duplicate the incomparable flavor and magical properties of seafood marinated and “cooked” in lime juices, I ordered Ay Caramba’s plate of three tostadas con camarones (shrimp tostadas) with three limes. The magic just wasn’t there. The shrimp is of perfect texture (not rubbery or flaccid) and delicious in its own right, but when you’ve got Ceviche on your mind, there just isn’t a worthy substitute.
Carnivores will enjoy the pork tamales bathed in red chile. The masa isn’t so thick it dominates the pork and the chile is an ameliorant, not an overly prominent flavor.
Business is slow at this southwest heights restaurant, hopefully a sign that Albuquerque diners have yet to discover it and nothing else.
5555 Zuni, S.E. #24
LATEST VISIT: 22 May 2006
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Tostadas con Camarones, Salsa, Tamales