Amerasia & Sumo Sushi – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Amerasia and Sumo Sushi on Third Street

Amerasia (Dim Sum) and Sumo Sushi on Third Street

Carpe Diem Sum–“seize the dim sum” at AmerAsia, the Alibi’s perennial selection for best dim sum in the city honors (diem sum, as spelled on AmerAsia’s menu is also a correct spelling). Dim sum, a Cantonese word that can be translated to “a little bit of heart,” “point of heart” and “touch the heart” has its genesis in the Chinese tea houses of the Silk Road.  Weary sojourners would stop at tea houses for tea and a light snack (ergo, touch the heart).  Over time, the popularity of the tasty little treasures offered at these tea houses led to larger restaurants serving dim sum meals until mid-afternoon, after which other Cantonese cuisine was made available.  Today, dim sum buffets are a popular offering throughout the United States.  Albuquerque’s most venerable practitioner of the traditional culinary art of dim sum is AmerAsia which has been serving Albuquerque since 1978.

Though AmerAsia has been around for nearly thirty years,  out of blind loyalty to Ming Dynasty we avoided trying it, reasoning  there is no way anyone could serve dim sum quite as good as the popular Cantonese restaurant.  Thankfully AmerAsia’s diem sum captured the unfettered affections of a Chowhound poster from Phoenix who calls herself “Tattud Girl.” For years, the Tattud Girl has been telling one and all about AmerAsia’s delicious treasures. In April, 2006, her posting included photographs of those delights. While one picture may be worth a thousand words, her photographs appealed to all ten thousand of my taste buds and prompted our first of soon to be many visits. The diem sum photos on this review are, in fact, courtesy of the lovely and talented Tattud Girl (who, as it turns out is quite the world traveler, also going by the sobriquet “Wanderer 2005.”

Hyangmi Yi delivers diem sum treasures to eager diners

Hyangmi Yi delivers diem sum treasures to eager diners

At the very least, AmerAsia proved that Albuquerque has room for two popular dim sum restaurants. At the very most, some say it’s every bit as good as Ming Dynasty when it comes to delicious diem sum…although Ming Dynasty serves more than twice as many dim sum items, including a huge array of seafood). For that all Duke City diners should be thrilled. AmerAsia serves diem sum for lunch Monday through Saturday from 11AM to 2PM and for dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings from 5:30 to 8:30PM. It is the perfect dining destination when one entree just won’t do and you want a multi-course meal that tantalizes your taste buds with varied sensations (including sweet, piquant, savory and sour).

The heart and soul of AmerAsia is Korean born proprietor Hyangmi Yi who enthusiastically greets all patrons and flits around the restaurant’s dining rooms pushing her tiny treasure filled cart. Hyangmi actually worked at AmerAsia for 24 years (she hardly looks any older than 24 years old herself) before buying the restaurant. She is part waitress, part greeter and full-time ambassador for the tiny restaurant and the craft she obviously loves. You can see the diners’ eyes light up as she approaches. Many appear to be seasoned veterans of diem sum dining and know exactly what they want. Most of the items are small (or at least served in small plates), giving the impression that you can try everything on the 22-item menu and still have room left over. We tried that and were able to sample fewer than half of the heart pleasing treats. Budget conscious diners beware because your bill of fare is tallied by adding up the number of plates on your table, each plate’s bounty costing $2.75.

Pork buns and more (courtesy of Kathy Perea)

While many of Ming Dynasty’s dim sum offerings are so authentic (such as chicken feet and shark fin soup) that many Americans shy away, AmerAsia’s diem sum is more innocuous, totally non-threatening to unacculturated diners. By no means does that imply AmerAsia’s diem sum is Americanized. You definitely won’t find heavily breaded and candied sweet and sour meats doused liberally with offensive sauces. Instead, you’ll find perfectly seasoned palate pleasing treats you’ll absolutely love, such as:

Sichuan Salad, a refreshing salad comprised of thick noodles and julienne carrots and celery in a slightly sweet vinegar dressing. The noodles are served cold and like many Asian noodles, can be eight to twelve inches per strand. They’re thick and delicious. This is an excellent way to start your meal.

Some of the very best diem sum anywhere!  Photo courtesy of Kathy Perea.

Some of the very best diem sum in Albuquerque! Photo courtesy of Kathy Perea.

Beef Noodles, a very spicy beef served over soft noodles with a broth nearly as piquant as the chili sauce on each table.

Chicken and Peanuts, steamed dumplings with julienne chicken, water chestnuts and peanuts. These dumplings might be reminiscent of something you’d have at a Thai restaurant.

Curry Pastry, a flaky pastry stuffed with curry pork and onion. The pastry is as flaky as you might find on a chicken pot pie flaky while the curry is sweet and pungent.

Beef Jiao Tzu, a dumpling stuffed with beef and garlic then deep fried. The breath-wrecking garlic and beef combination leaves a definite impression on your taste buds. This was the only item we ordered two portions of (more a consequence of being full than of preference).

Bao Zi, a steamed, white raised dough stuffed with Chinese barbecue pork. We’ve had steamed buns at several Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants but we’ve never had any as pork filled and delicious as these.

Sesame balls for dessert (Picture courtesy of Kathy Perea)

Scallion pancakes, delicious layered pancakes flecked with sweet scallions.

Chinese Spare Ribs, spareribs in a relatively mild Sichuan hot sauce. We actually expected something akin to the lacquered in sweet syrup Chinese barbecue spare ribs served at inferior restaurants. Amerasia’s spare ribs definitely were not of that ilk.

Crispies, crispy wonton skins covered in powdered sugar and cinnamon, somewhat reminiscent of beignets. These are a perfect way to end a wonderful meal.

In 2007, a second Amerasia was launched in a converted antique filling station on Third Street just north of Lomas.  For a while, Hyangami kept the original restaurant open, but eventually she closed the long-familiar Cornell restaurant which, though very charming, was quite space constrained and a bit “seasoned.”

Sumo Sushi

Sumo Sushi

Not only does the reborn 3,500 square-foot Amerasia have a well-appointed, stylish and expansive new home (150 guest capacity), Hyangami partnered with her brother Woo Youn in sharing the sprawling edifice’s space to house Sumo Sushi, a highly regarded 2007 entrant into the Duke City dining scene.  Sumo Sushi is an attractive milieu, starting with a semi-circular sushi bar on which a large ceramic sumo wrestler squats pensively as if to oversee the operation.  The sushi is, as reputed, some of the very best in town and the Japanese menu includes other traditional Japanese dishes such as tempura, teriyaki and udon noodles.

The green chile roll has a pronounced roasted green chile flavor which some New Mexican restaurants fail to capture.  The crunchy roll is coated on the outside with fried tempura batter crumbs that give it a nice texture and the inside is refulgent with cooked shrimp, cucumber and other complementary ingredients.  If your preference leans toward nigiri style sushi, the Vitamin A enriched unagi (fresh-water eel) is terrific.  Unagi is cooked and coated with a sweet sauce reminiscent of teriyaki.

Sushi at the Sumo Sushi restaurant on Third Street

Sushi at the Sumo Sushi restaurant on Third Street

AmerAsia has definitely captured the heart of many Duke City diners, giving every indication that even without a full Chinese menu, it is one of the four or five best Chinese restaurants in the city.

Diem Sum Images Courtesy of Kathy “Wanderer 2005” Perea

Amerasia & Sumo Sushi
800 3rd St NW
Albuquerque, NM
(505) 246-1615
Web Site
1ST VISIT: 21 October 2006
LATEST VISIT: 4 February 2011
COST: $$-$$$
BEST BET: Sichuan Salad, Beef Jiao Tzu, Golden Dumplings, Curry Pastry, Chicken and Peanuts

AmerAsia - Sumo Sushi on Urbanspoon

Lindy’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Lindy's on Route 66

Lindy’s on Route 66 is one of the Duke City’s oldest restaurants

In March, 2005, Albuquerque’s East Downtown area was featured on ABC television’s “The View” in a segment on the “top five up-and-coming” areas in the nation” as determined by real estate experts. Several blocks away sits Lindy’s Coffee Shop, an anachronism for which there will always be a place. Situated on historic Route 66, it may be a living reminder of Albuquerque’s nostalgic past, but has assured its future by serving hearty, homestyle meals for more than 75 years.

Lindy’s is one of Albuquerque’s longest continually operating restaurants, having launched in 1929 as the Coney Island Cafe. In the 1960s, it was purchased by Narke Vatoseow who renamed it Lindy’s Coffee Shop. Remnants of its past include a long lunch counter at which long-time patrons congregate to catch up, red vinyl booths that you stick to on hot summer days and vintage Coca-Cola memorabilia.


Lindy’s on Route 66 has operated continuously since 1929

In 1999, Gourmet magazine feted Lindy’s in a feature called “Sentimental Journey Through America’s Main Streets.” In 2002, Jane and Michael Stern celebrated Lindy’s on their Roadfood Web site. Despite such national recognition and its longevity, many Duke City residents have never heard of this unassuming historical treasure–and it’s likely the folks at Lindy’s like it that way. It allows them to maintain the personal touch and comfortable pace its clientele has come to love.

Breakfast is served all day long and during breakfast hours you can order anything off the menu. American comfort food favorites, bounteous sandwiches, salads and New Mexican entrees hold prominence on the menu, but you can also order Mediterranean specialties. It’s a safe bet everything on the menu is somebody’s favorite.

Sour Cream Enchiladas

Sour Cream Enchiladas

My early favorite is the sour cream enchiladas, three flat cheese enchiladas served Christmas style (both red and green). The green chile sauce is slightly more piquant than the red chile and while neither will singe your tongue, they’re both very flavorful.  Most sour cream enchiladas I’ve had incorporate both chicken and cream of chicken soup, but at Lindy’s you can also have this entree with beef.  Another difference is that a huge dollop of sour cream is added after the rest of the entree is baked.  It imparts a mild and not too tart flavor that complements the chile very well.

Better chile is slathered on the Frito pie which includes a generous tossing of Frito corn chips garnished with a mountain of lettuce, tomato, onions and Cheddar cheese. Scale down that garnish and you’ll uncover one of the best Frito pies in the city.

Eggs, bacon and fried potatoes

Eggs, bacon and fried potatoes

Breakfast favorites include a traditional American breakfast of bacon, fried potatoes and eggs. The eggs are prepared to your specifications.  The potatoes are small, delicately cubed and well-salted spuds reminiscent of very good French fries with a soft texture inside.  The star of this triumvirate, however, is the bacon.  It’s the type of bacon only old-fashioned American diners seem to serve best–three six-inch strips of porcine perfection fried perfectly.  if you’re tired of bacon as stiff and dry as jerky, you’ll love the pliability of this bacon.  It’s crisp on the edges and beautifully bendable elsewhere with just the right amount of fattiness for flavor.

You can add a short stack of fluffy, golden brown pancakes with syrup to any breakfast for a pittance. The syrup comes unheated, but you ask for it to be nuked for a steamy syrupy treat.  The wait staff is very accommodating.

A short stack of pancakes

A short stack of pancakes

In its annual food and wine issue for 2013, Albuquerque The Magazine‘s staff sampled “every dish of nachos in the city” and selected Lindy’s nachos as the ninth best in the city.  The magazine described these nachos as having been “sent by the Greek gods themselves.”

In 2003, the Vatoseows launched Lindy’s American Cafe in a Northeast Heights former location of JB’s. Larger accommodations (seating for 140 patrons) than the downtown restaurant allowed for a more expansive menu, but the new cafe lasted just about a year. It must be true that there’s only one Lindy’s.

500 Central, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-2588

LATEST VISIT: 28 December 2008
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sour Cream Enchiladas; Frito Pie; Pork Chops; Pancakes; Bacon

Lindy's Diner on Urbanspoon

Paradise Donuts – Bosque Farms, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Paradise Donuts in Bosque Farms

Paradise Donuts in Bosque Farms

Though often boorish and crude, America’s favorite everyman philosopher Homer Simpson is prone to occasional bouts of insight. Who can argue with such Homeric sagacity as, “donuts, is there anything they can’t do.” At first browse that statement may appear clouded, make that glazed, but it’s a statement replete with credibility–and not solely with police officers.

Cultural anthropologist Paul R. Mullins posits that one of the best ways to examine a culture is by looking at its eating habits and regional cuisines. He reasons that Americans don’t really have a culinary culture we can call our own, that the American culinary experience is an amalgam of appropriated customs and cooking techniques. The best evidence of this, in his mind, is the donut whose lineage can be traced to the Chinese, French, Germans and Dutch.

In his terrific tome Glazed America: A History of the Doughnut, Mullins examines the evolution of the donut and juxtaposes the rise and fall of its popularity against the development of America’s consumer culture. He exploits the negative stereotypes and perceptions surrounding donuts (think indolent cops and Homer Simpson’s obesity), detailing how the donut has been equally regaled and reviled, the latter often without merit. When it comes to donuts, Mullins argues, Americans don’t sit on the fence–they either love them or they don’t.

If you love donuts, I mean if you really love donuts, options, unlike their effect, are slim. Albuquerque has in recent years seen the demise, departure or diminished numbers of Krispy Kreme, Shipley’s Donuts, Winchell’s Donuts and even Dunkin’ Donuts. Whether it was an onslaught of health-crazed fanatics, reduced ranks in the police force or a combination of other factors, the Duke City can hardly be called the Donut City.

Paradise behind glass

Paradise behind glass

For donuts, Homer clones like me head to Bosque Farms and pay a visit to Paradise Donuts, a regional chain with superior donuts. In fact, these may be the very best donuts in the Land of Enchantment, not that there’s much competition. In business since 1967, Paradise Donuts maintains that the secret to its donuts is a flour blended to be as light and fluffy as air with an incredible shelf life. The other key is that Paradise Donuts, unlike their competitors, focuses solely on donuts.

These are beautiful donuts–imperfect orbs glazed or decorated with sprinkles or engorged with fruit and cream fillings as well as rectangular-shaped long johns, donuts twisted around themselves and even cinnamon rolls. The variety is incredible–buttermilk, chocolate, blueberry, vanilla cake, cherry, apple cinnamon, banana, chocolate chip, chocolate raspberry, pumpkin, strawberry lemon and oh so much more.

Variety is one thing, but where Paradise Donuts excel is in taste. The glazed donuts are melt-in-your-mouth sugary deliciousness, the kind of donuts that leave traces of luscious, lickable glaze on your fingers. The sprinkles are liberally applied to cover most of the top surface of donuts they decorate. The fillings and toppings are rich and delicious. Maple topping tastes like maple, lemon filling tastes like lemon.

A glorious six-pack of donuts

A glorious six-pack of donuts

Paradise Donuts are so good that on some days, the bakery runs out by ten in the morning. They’re so good, savvy donut addicts will call in and reserve a dozen or more. They’re so good you don’t mind the short drive to Bosque Farms, especially considering you can pick up a dozen donuts then have a burger at Benny’s Mexican Kitchen. These donuts will have you behaving like Homer Simpson. Mmmmmm donuts!

Paradise Donuts
1370 Bosque Farms Blvd
Bosque Farms, New Mexico

LATEST VISIT: 27 December 2008
BEST BET: Maple Iced Bar, Chocolate Cake Donut, Cinnamon Roll, Glazed Donut, Glazed Twist Donut

Benny’s Mexican Kitchen – Bosque Farms, New Mexico

Whenever I need to leave it all behind
Or feel the need to get away
I find a quiet place, far from the human race
Out in the country

Before the breathin’ air is gone
Before the sun is just a bright spot in the nighttime
Out where the rivers like to run
I stand alone and take back somethin’ worth rememberin’

Whenever I feel them closing in on me
Or need a bit of room to move
When life becomes too fast, I find relief at last
Out in the country.”

Benny's Mexican Kitchen

Benny's Mexican Kitchen in Bosque Farms, New Mexico

In today’s dog eat dog rat race world (two bad animal metaphors in one sentence), who doesn’t dream of a peaceful idyll to which you can escape? Somewhere out in the country. *Appropriately the group expressing that sentiment so well in the above lyrics is Three Dog Night whose hit song “Out In The Country” made it to #14 in the pop charts back in August, 1970.

I know doctors, lawyers, scientists and people from other vocations who make their escape just fifteen minutes south of Albuquerque–to country life in verdant Bosque Farms.

Situated on the east side of the Rio Grande on a flat meadowy valley, Bosque Farms is a coalescence of rural, suburban and agricultural lifestyles along the braided routes of the historically significant Camino Real (the Royal Road) which skirts the Rio Grande.

Salsa and chips

Salsa and chips at Benny's Mexican Kitchen

Bosque Farms provides the relaxed rural atmosphere of a small village with the convenience of big city amenities nearby. It’s the type of village Oliver Wendell Douglas of Green Acres fame would have loved.

There’s something relaxing about seeing contented horses and fatted cows grazing on green grass as you drive toward the village from the north and take in the fresh aroma of dewy alfalfa. Yellow caution signage depicting a farmer on a tractor precedes acres of plowed fields. Other handmade signs offer hay or alfalfa for sale. This is truly country living just 20 minutes from Albuquerque.

While approximately three-quarters of Bosque Farms’ residents work in the Duke City, the village also claims several family owned and operated retail businesses within its boundaries. It’s no surprise that you’ll find numerous mercantiles supplying farmers with all they need to plant and harvest bountiful crops. What might be a surprise to city dwellers is the existence of a terrific restaurant which would be a hit in either the city or the country: Benny’s Mexican Kitchen.

The Benny Burger

The Benny Burger, one of the very best green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico!

Benny’s Mexican Kitchen has been serving Bosque Farms for more than thirty years. A second location in nearby Los Lunas is equally well known to Valencia county residents, but probably not to many Albuquerque citizens.

Perhaps befitting a small village, Benny’s is a relatively small restaurant those who don’t understand life in the country might describe as nondescript. That’s because they might not understand the premium small towns put on neighbors. The menus at Benny’s include advertisements for local businesses, similar to what you might see on a church bulletin. You might also see a posted notice announcing an upcoming benefit for a neighbor about to undergo an expensive operation or a fund-raising announcement for a  young fiesta queen candidate. That’s just the way it is out in the country.

You won’t find WiFi connectivity at Benny’s, but you will find a skill crane in the corner. These three pronged clawed contraptions will frustrate you at every turn no matter how deftly you maneuver the crane in an attempt to grab a stuffed animal. Benny’s is replete with charm–that and surprisingly good New Mexican food including some twists you won’t see in the big city.

Deep Fried Burrito

Benny's Deep-Fried Burrito

The menu features an assemblage of traditional New Mexican favorites: breakfast burritos, handmade tamales, green chile stew as well as a variety of sandwiches. It is best known for its deep-fried bean or beef burrito (emphasis on the “or”). Don’t dare call it a chimichanga; that’s an Arizona creation some self-respecting New Mexican restaurants just won’t put on their menus.

The deep-fried burrito is one of the specialties of the house. It’s about six-inches in length and topped with a garnish of fresh tomato and lettuce as well as shredded Cheddar cheese. The chile is a deep red, probably ground from chile pods and carefully strained. It is an earthy chile with plenty of flavor and a piquant bite.

Not surprisingly, you can feel and hear the crunch of the deep-fried tortilla as you cut or bite into it. It is a surprise to discover the tender beef encased within. It’s carne adovada tender and delicious.  In its 2008 “Best of the City” edition, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Benny’s deep-fried burrito an Editor’s Pick for “best deep-fried frijoles.”

Another item for which Benny’s is famous in this part of the country is the Benny Burger, the king-sized version of which is a stacked beauty comprised of  double meat, double cheese, guacamole, green chile, mustard, pickles, onions, lettuce and tomatoes..  Because one might not be enough, you’ll want the king size version of this outstanding burger.

Taco plate

The Taco Plate at Benny's

I’ve heard tell that it’s one of the best green chile cheeseburgers in the entire state, an audacious claim to be sure. The inclusion of guacamole on a burger is an interesting twist, one that the Carl’s Junior franchise has  offered in its burger repertoire for years. It’s also a delicious one–if it’s the Benny burger version.  The guacamole and green chile marriage is my favorite way to go green.

After lustily consuming Benny King (the double meat, double cheese version of the Benny Burger), I’m ready to proclaim the rumors accurate. This is one of the very best green chile cheeseburgers in a state which serves the best green chile cheeseburgers in the entire universe. In fact, in the Albuquerque metropolitan area, I don’t know if there’s any comparable. About six-inches in circumference and skyscraper high, the Benny King burger is a two-fisted masterpiece of ingredients that go well together.  It’s so highly regarded, it was a natural for inclusion into the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.

Green chile stew

Green chile stew

If you’ve ever lamented the impotence of the wimpy salsa (maybe made in New York City) served at some New Mexican restaurants, make the trip to Bosque Farms for a salsa your tongue will salute. Even though it’s heat comes from jalapenos and not New Mexican green chile, it’s a flavorful, endorphin-packing salsa. It’s served with warm, crisp, lightly-salted tortilla chips.

Benny’s taco plate features three crispy taco shells engorged with seasoned ground beef, lettuce and shredded cheese. Top them with salsa and you’ve got a delectable meal. The taco plate comes with rice and beans though you can opt for two orders of beans or rice.  Only the rice is unremarkable.

Remarkable is a good adjective to describe Benny’s green chile stew. There are literally hundreds of  recipes for green chile stew, all very personal yet most fairly standard, at least in terms of ingredients–cubed potatoes, green chile, stewed tomatoes, cubed pork, onion, garlic, etc..  The best recipes include something just a bit different or extra.  At Benny’s, it’s a few niblets of  sweet corn.  Corn is best scraped right off the cob and it wouldn’t surprise me to find out if this corn came from a nearby farm.  No matter how well ingredients may go together, if they’re not completely cooked (potatoes too hard or soft, cubed pork too tough, etc.), there’s just something lacking.  At Benny’s the green chile stew is perfectly prepared and a delicious prescription for winter doldrums.

Carne Adovada

Carne Adovada

Carne adovada is another Benny’s specialty.  It’s great on the deep-fried burrito and even better on its own.  The shredded pork is marinated in a cumin-free red chile and is as tender and moist as any in the Duke City area.  It’s topped with melting shredded cheese and served with Spanish rice and beans.  The best carne adovada is practically “melt in your mouth” tender.  Benny’s is that good.

Beverages include the usual fountain drink suspects as well as canned soda and fruit juices. Even better are old-fashioned milk shakes: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and pineapple, all made with hand-scooped ice cream. They are refreshing and delicious.

Benny’s Mexican Kitchen
1675 Bosque Farms Blvd.
Bosque Farms, NM

LATEST VISIT: 27 December 2008
1st VISIT: 19 May 2007
COST: $$
BEST BET: Deep-Fried Burrito, Benny King Green Chile Cheeseburger, Salsa, Taco Plate, Pineapple Shake, Chocolate Shake, Carne Adovada, Green Chile Stew

Benny's Mexican Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Mai Thai Thai Cuisine – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Mai Thai Thai Cuisine on Eubank

When my buddy Bill Resnik invited me to try a new restaurant called Mai Thai, I immediately wondered if Albuquerque was experiencing a misguided retro renaissance to days gone by when kitschy Polynesian themed night clubs and restaurants were in vogue.

For those of you too young to remember, in the 1960s, 70s and even early 80s, Americans held a huge fascination for the South Seas, an interest propelled by veterans returning from the Pacific theater after the second war to end all wars.  Presiding over the “Tiki” movement was an entrepreneur named Victor Bergeron who founded a popular Polynesian themed restaurant chain named Trader Vic’s.  His restaurants provided temporary departures into escapism replete with waterfalls, torches, carved figures and bamboo huts, all designed to evoke an island ambience.

Bergeron is also renown for the invention of a vibrant and refreshing rum cocktail called the Mai Tai.  Introducing the Mai Tai to the Hawaiian Islands inspired the slogan for his entire business, “Tahitian for the very best Mai Tai.”

Fresh Spring Rolls

Alas, the restaurant Bill invited me to has nothing to do with a faux Polynesian adult beverage and doesn’t even have a liquor license.  It’s also not named “Mai Tai,” but “Mai Thai” as in “my Thai” and maybe as in soon to be “my favorite Thai restaurant” for a lot of Duke City diners if my inaugural visit is any indication.

Mai Thai is located on Eubank north of Lomas and south of Constitution in a site that previously housed several other Thai restaurants.  Thai Dining, Queen of Sushi and Pataya Thai and Rabieng Thong all probably believe the location to be cursed because all were short-lived in that building.  If years of restaurant experience from the restaurant’s owners mean anything, Mai Thai should succeed where the others did not.

Mai Thai is owned by Thanakith “Kit” Chanthvong and his effervescent better half Sam.  Kit handles the kitchen as he has at several of Albuquerque’s best Thai restaurants while Sam is the consummate hostess with a perpetual smile, a role she previously held for five years at Thai Cuisine on Albuquerque’s West side.  They opened Mai Thai in August, 2008.

Laab Gai

Both Kit and Sam were born in Laos but their Thai lineage run deep.  So does their menu.  It’s well organized, segmented into appetizers, soups, salads, noodle dishes, stir-fry, curry, seafood, rice, side dishes, dessert and beverages.  It’s a veritable compendium of all my favorite Thai foods.  In 2009 they will eliminate their all-you-can-eat buffet, citing wastage and cost as the reason, but with all the menu has to offer, serious Thai aficionados won’t mind.

If you order your entree “hot” you might want your appetizers delivered in between bites as fire-extinguishing palate cleansers.  That was my thought when consuming incendiary green curry.  The appetizer which might have done the trick is the fresh spring rolls, two to an order.  Translucent rice paper envelops shrimp, fresh cucumber, carrots, cilantro, daikon and thick rice noodles.  The spring rolls are accompanied by a peanut dipping sauce (fish sauce, chili sauce, lime juice, shredded carrots and other ingredients).  Like many Thai dishes, it offers several taste sensations (sweet, savory, piquant, tart) to appeal to different taste buds.

Green Curry (Kang Kiew Wan)

Fiery hot Thai food isn’t subtle; it doesn’t sneak up on you.  It’s also not for everybody (and Mai Thai will prepare it to your exacting specifications of piquancy), but if your tongue is laced with asbestos, it’s the only way you’ll have it.  One of the wonderful aspects of Thai cuisine is that its incendiary qualities aren’t your taste buds singular focus.  No matter how fiery an entree might be, your taste buds can still discern other qualities–the sweetness of coconut milk, the tanginess of citrus, the savoriness of fresh, crisp vegetables, and so forth.

One of the most inspired entrees is laab gai, ground chicken mixed with green onions, dried red peppers, ground roasted rice and freshly squeezed lime juice with flourishes of cilantro on top.  At some restaurants laab gai looks and has a texture similar to clumpy and crunchy granola, but not so at Mai Thai where this popular salad has an exciting flavor and texture.  The rice is first baked then ground, giving it a nice crunch.  The ground chicken comes from all white meat seasoned to perfection.  The melding of tart lime juice and the fragrant, fresh flavor of cilantro coupled with the piquant red peppers provides a taste triumvirate you’ll enjoy immensely.  This is some of the best laab gai in town.

Also quite good is the Kang Kiew Wan, green curry mixed in coconut milk with bamboo, eggplant, bell peppers and your choice of chicken, pork, beef, shrimp or vegetarian.  It is one of six curries on the menu and one for whom the standard bearer for me has always been the green curry at Thai Cuisine.  The green curry at Mai Thai might be better.  It is thinner than some green curry I’ve had, but it is intensely flavored and not solely in terms of piquancy or sweetness (from the coconut milk).  The bamboo shoots and eggplant are cooked to perfection.  In fact, all ingredients meld together wonderfully.

Mangoes with sticky rice

The menu offer several traditional Thai desserts including mangoes with sticky rice.  This classic desert pairs fresh mangoes (in season) with sweet coconut milk and sticky (glutinous) rice to form a refreshingly delicious post-prandial delicacy.

Mai Thai joins other terrific Asian restaurants such as Ming Dynasty, Taj Palace and Yummi House as popular Eubank dining destinations and not just with the Sandia Labs crowds.  Duke City residents have another reason to head east.

Mai Thai Thai Cuisine
1225 Eubank Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 19 December 2008
COST: $$
BEST BET: Mangoes with Sticky Rice, Green Curry, Laab Gai, Spring Rolls

Mai Thai on Urbanspoon