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Hakata Asian Cuisine & Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Hakata Asian Cuisine & Grill

“Grrr!  What’s wrong with those Vietnamese?”  That’s not a bad bowl of  pho prompting a xenophobic rant on my part.  Those were the words of my friend Huu Vu when I told him a new Vietnamese restaurant by the name Hakata Asian Grill had opened up on Albuquerque’s west side.  A proud native of Vietnam, Huu wasn’t upset at the launch of  another restaurant showcasing the cuisine of his homeland.  He was unhappy about the name.

Hakata Asian Cuisine & Grill is the third restaurant featuring Vietnamese food to open in  the seven month period  which ended in  April, 2011.  That’s  great news for all adventurous Duke City Diners, and you would  certainly think my pho fanatic friend would be ecstatic.  The problem, Huu pointed out is that if you’re looking for Vietnamese cuisine, you might never visit the Asian Grill, Kim Long Asian Cuisine or now Hakata Asian Cuisine & Grill.  The first two hint of fusion cuisine  (certainly not Vietnamese) while Hakata is most assuredly a Japanese name.

Does this look like a Burger King?

In truth, both the Asian Grill and Kim Long Asian Cuisine serve more than Vietnamese food…but just barely.  The predominant cuisine showcased at both is Vietnamese.  You can count the number of “other” Asian dishes on one hand.  Hakata, on the other hand, has an entire page dedicated to Yakitori, a Japanese grilling technique showcasing  skewers of  marinated beef, seafood, poultry, lamb and vegetables.  Another seven pages are dedicated to Vietnamese cuisine.

So, why  name a restaurant Hakata when only one of seven menu pages actually serves food from the port city in western Japan?  It turns out one of the owners lived in Hakata for a time.  Hakata is one of Japan’s renown “Yakitori towns.” Locals love the fragrance of charcoal grilled, moist, delicious Yakitori.  You’ll love that fragrance, too.  It envelops you from the moment you walk in to the charming restaurant.

A true grill master

Hakata Asian Cuisine & Grill is located in an edifice which initially housed a Burger King restaurant and  which has since been the home of everything from a mariscos restaurant to a Burritos Alinstante.  It is situated just north of the Cottonwood Mall on a sprawling shopping center complex which resembles a ghost town.  If very good food is a predictor of future success, Hakata should break the long string of failed restaurants in the immediate area.

You have to look closely to find any vestiges of Burger King nor of any of its successors within the restaurant’s  interior.  Hakata bespeaks of subdued Japanese elegance.  Walls are relatively stark and seating is more functional than it is stylish.  The cynosure of this much metamorphosed restaurant is the modest grill in which a grill master deftly plies his trade in much the manner of a sushi chef performing feats of prestidigitation with knives.  The main difference is the scintillating aromas of sizzling meats and vegetables.

Two Skewers of Grilled Corn, Two Skewers of Yakitori (grilled chicken) and One Skewer of Beef

The yakitori menu is a veritable cornucopia of seasoned meats, seafood and vegetables,  eighteen items in all. Featured vegetables include asparagus, okra, Enoki mushrooms, green beans, green onions and sweet corn.  Meat skewers include chicken (meatball, wings, breast, spicy wings), beef, lamb, pork and juicy pork belly.  On the seafood arena, you’ll find shrimp, scallop, salmon and squid.  The commonality is perfect grilling, succulent seasoning and the intoxicating arena of meats, seafood and vegetables infused with the flavor of smoldering charcoal.

It’s that charcoal-infused flavor that elevates Hakata’s yakitori to some of, if not the best I’ve had in New Mexico.  If your standard for yakitori is the Terikayi Chicken Bowl chain, you’re in for a wonderful surprise.  The sweet corn is brushed lightly with teriyaki sauce which enhances the sweetness of the corn, each kernel of which is grilled to perfection.  The lamb is as good as you’ll find at many Mediterranean restaurants which specialize in grilled lamb.  You can easily imagine yourself eating it between pita.  The pork is juicy and delicious with nary a hint of annoying sinew.  Solely by virtue of Hakata’s yakitori, my friend Huu should forgive the restaurant’s nomen faux pas.

Summer Rolls with Fish Sauce

Most Vietnamese restaurants offer a version of Gỏi cuốn, which is often translated to either fresh roll, spring roll or summer roll.  Hakata is the first restaurant I’ve seen which offers both a spring roll and a summer roll and prepares them in distinctly different ways.  Though both are served at room temperature and crafted from translucent rice paper wraps, herbs and rice, the spring rolls are engorged with cold shrimp while the summer rolls are stuffed with crispy grilled pork.   Hakata’s summer rolls are a wonderful revelation, as delicious as any Gỏi cuốn (by any name) in Albuquerque.  Served two per order with a terrific peanut sauce, these rolls are a must-have.

The definitive Vietnamese food for my friend Huu is pho, the classic quick meal in Vietnam.  Served in bowls the size of small swimming pools, pho is crafted with fresh rice noodles and topped with your choice of beef slices (rare steak, well-done flank, brisket, tendon, tripe and beef-ball) and crowned with chopped green onion, cilantro leaves and sliced onion.  Hakata has a nice selection of beef and chicken noodle soups including some made with seafood (shrimp, squid, imitation crab or fish cake). My early favorite is the Sate Beef Noodle Soup, a lemongrass beef noodle soup made with herbs and spices designed to bring out a spicy flavor and an absolutely intoxicating fragrance.  It is redolent with crushed red chile flakes and garlic as well as the unmistakable lemon-minty aroma of lemongrass.

Sate Beef Noodle Soup (Special Spices and Lemon Grass Beef Noodle Soup)

Regular readers of my blog are probably tired of my lamenting the absence of great Southern-style catfish in New Mexico.  Only in Vietnamese restaurants is my yen for catfish sated.  Some Vietnamese restaurants prepare catfish so well it could make a Southerner pine for home.  Hakata’s rendition of crispy whole catfish is among the best in Albuquerque.  In fact it’s better than some catfish I’ve had in Mississippi, America’s catfish capital.  Alas, “whole” catfish doesn’t seem to translate to “head included” as pictured below.  Nonetheless, this is one succulent catfish.  It’s fleshy and moist with a subtle flavor profile.  At Hakata, the crispy catfish is served with a ginger sauce on the side.  This ginger sauce is wholly unlike the Day-Glo colored sauce often used on catfish in other  Duke City Vietnamese restaurants.  In fact, it’s little more than fish sauce with a week’s worth of ginger.  Perhaps out of habit, my druthers would have been for Tabasco sauce or nothing at all.

As many Japanese restaurants do, Hakata offers sake, the rice wine with such a versatile flavor profile.  Dessert options include green tea ice cream, a Japanese dessert favorite made from matcha, a specific tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony.  The green tea ice cream is served with a conical wafer.  Better is a dessert of tapioca and mangoes though out of season, mangoes don’t have the refreshing sweetness and juiciness characteristic of this Asian fruit favorite.

Crispy Whole Catfish with Ginger Sauce on the side

Hakata is a little bit of Japan and a lot of Vietnam.  It’s also a lot of flavors coalescing with inviting aromas on dishes sure to become diner pleasing favorites–even if my friend Huu doesn’t like the restaurant’s name.

Hakata Asian Cuisine & Grill
10131 Coors, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 29 April 2011
1st VISIT: 27 April 2011
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Sate Beef Noodle Soup, Fresh Summer Rolls, Sweet Corn Skewers, Chicken Skewers, Beef Skewers

Hakata Asian Cuisine & Grill on Urbanspoon

Doc & Eddy’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Doc & Eddy's in Albuquerque's Northeast Heights

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.
-
Cheers Lyrics

America has become increasingly homogenized as corporate chains have used catchy jingles, universal name recognition and multi-million dollar media budgets to spread their tentacles across the fruited plain and entice gullible  customers into their  copycat restaurants.  Despite the boring sameness perpetuated by corporate chains, Americans still crave a familiar, comfortable and welcoming gathering spot where “everybody knows your name.”  More than ever, American diners want to support restaurants that are part of the community, especially those which showcase local fare and local ingredients.

Local restaurants–mom-and-pops–the type of which will be celebrated by Ryan Scott’s compelling radio program “Break the Chain” also inspire loyalty because they’re owned and operated by our friends and neighbors, people like us who are invested in the community and share our passion for the Land of Enchantment.  That loyalty was very much in evidence as a four-person panel of culinary experts–me included–reviewed all nominations for the New Mexico Tourism Department’s update to the highly successful culinary initiative, the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.

The bar area at Doc & Eddy's

Nearly two-hundred different purveyors of New Mexico’s iconic green chile cheeseburger were nominated for inclusion on the Trail with tens of thousands of votes being cast by burgerphiles throughout the Land of Enchantment.  Not surprisingly, the list of nominees  garnering the most votes included some of the state’s most famous and popular bastions of burgers par excellence such as Blake’s Lotaburger,  the Buckhorn Tavern, the Owl Cafe and the Bobcat Bite.   What was surprising was the sheer number of restaurants not nominated in the previous celebration of New Mexico’s green chile cheeseburger.  It was obvious no one wanted to be left out in 2011.

One such establishment amassing a significant number of votes is Doc & Eddy’s which our learned panel recognized as a sports bar with a phalanx of pool tables.  None of us knew enough about this sports bar  to believe it could offer an edible green chile cheeseburger, much less one so obviously very highly regarded by its loyal patrons.  Similarly, in 2009 we were surprised at the outpouring of loyalty for the 300 Club Bar & Grill which none of our experts had known much about.  That, my dear readers is why we ask for New Mexico’s diverse citizenry to tell us which burgers are Trail worthy.

The Lobo Burger - green chile, mushrooms, bacon and cheese; a cup of green chile stew on the side

Doc & Eddy’s is indeed a sports bar and it does proffer a green chile cheeseburger though you won’t find a burger by that  specific name anywhere on the menu.  Instead you’ll find burgers with such  clever appellations as the  Buckeye Burger, the Rio Grande Burger, the Lobo Burger and the Aggie Burger (perhaps the only place in town in which a Lobo and an Aggie can be found in amicable proximity to one another).  Green chile is an ingredient in several of the sports bar’s burgers.

As with an increasing number of sports bars, Doc & Eddie’s pays close attention to its guests’  holistic experience–ambiance, libations and food, but similar to its beverage dispensing brethren, it subscribes to the template which seems to demand beer banners draped from the ceiling, posters of scantily-clad pulchritude and sports memorabilia.   The sport of choice for many  guests is pool; nearly twenty tables are available for a little action, but you can also engage in darts.  There are two distinct dining areas, the sunken south-facing dining area sitting behind glass.  Flat screen televisions are positioned strategically throughout the dining areas which are packed sardine-tight on nights in which Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-view events are broadcast.  Doc & Eddy’s does not have a cover charge for viewing these events.

Another view of the Lobo Burger

A fairly expansive, laminated two-page menu of New Mexico bar food favorites is a welcome surprise.  Burgers are referred to as “Heavenly Half-Pounders,” an audacious claim New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail voters have bought into.  The menu also offers more than a dozen appetizers and not just the usual New Mexico suspects (salsa, guacamole, con queso).  You can also have quesadillas, hot buffalo wings and more.  Calorie-counters will find seven salads, all topped with cheese and tomatoes and served with your choice of dressing and fresh breadsticks.  Six pizzas and a “man-sized” calzone are also available as are a number of Southwest Specialties and Deli-Style Sandwiches.  It’s an ambitious menu.

During my inaugural visit, I scanned the entire menu but focused primarily on the heavenly half-pounders, my objective to discover just what makes these bountiful burgers so beloved.  Being asked to what degree of “doneness” you want your burger grilled is always welcomed, but seldom do restaurants execute to the specificity you desire.  Doc & Eddy’s does.  At medium, the Lobo Burger is juicy, a perfectly charred grey-brown exterior and a nice pinkish hue in the middle.  An eight ounce patty is topped with bacon, mushrooms and green chile draped over by molten white Monterrey Jack cheese.  You’re free to add lettuce, tomato, white onions and pickles as you please.

The Scorpion Burger: Extra bacon, guacamole, grilled onions, mushrooms and three cheeses

The best burgers are only as good as their individual components and Doc & Eddy’s Lobo Burger is made with fresh ingredients prepared very well.  The bacon is crisp without being dry and stiff.  The green chile has a pleasant flavor with just a hint of piquancy (not quite incendiary enough for me) though there is no indication it’s been roasted.  The mushrooms (probably canned) are thin-sliced, but fleshy with just a hint of must. When done adding other toppings, this burger is a handful of moist deliciousness, a surprisingly good burger which has rightfully earned the adulation of its many voting fans.

Green chile is one of those rare ingredients which improves everything it touches and its absence is more than conspicuous in foods  on which it belongs (such as cheeseburgers).  The Scorpion Burger (extra bacon, guacamole, grilled onions, mushrooms and three cheeses) is one of those foods which would be better with green chile.  Much better!  Now, there are some nice aspects to this burger–the perfectly fried bacon, the unctuous guacamole, the sweet grilled onions…but a little chile goes such a long way.

All sandwiches and burgers are served with your choice of steak fries (skin on), onion rings, cup of soup, cottage cheese, or a side salad with your choice of dressing. The fries are Texas-sized with potato skins left intact. The onion rings are battered and large. Save for their size, both fries and rings are fairly typical of burger accompaniment. Given my druthers, it’s the green chile stew for me.

A “big, generous bowl” of green chile stew served with a tortilla and fry bread is but one of seven items on the Southwestern Specialties section of the menu.  Also available in cup-size, the green chile stew is much more piquant than the green chile on the burgers.  Attribute that to large bits of green chile and the fact that this dish is served steaming hot to accentuate its piquancy.  This green chile stew also includes potatoes, tomatoes, onions and more pork than I can remember having on any stew of its kind.

Doc & Eddy’s wait staff is very friendly and accommodating.  It was apparent they knew many of the patrons by name.  The burgers may be the reason diners visit this sports bar when they’re hungry, but taking a break from all their worries is why they return.

Doc & Eddy’s
6040 Brentwood Lane, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 884-2271
LATEST VISIT: 25 April 2011
1st VISIT:  24 April 2011
# of VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Lobo Burger, Green Chile Stew, Scorpion Burger, Onion Rings & Fries

Doc & Eddy's on Urbanspoon

Acapulco Tacos & Burritos – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Acapulco Tacos & Burritos

Acapulco Tacos & Burritos on San Mateo

Acapulco–just the name evokes images of pristine sandy beaches, translucent blue waters, a comfortable climate, luxury hotels, and world-class gourmet cuisine. There are many reasons Acapulco has earned its nickname of the “Mexican Riviera,” after the famous French resort area.

It’s unlikely Albuquerque’s three Acapulco Tacos & Burritos restaurants will ever be mistaken for one of Acapulco’s pricey and sometimes pretentious three- and four-star restaurants. There’s absolutely nothing pretentious about Acapulco Tacos & Burritos. To the contrary, these humble denizens of deliciousness seem to symbolize the wonderful simplicity of Mexican peasant food in the finest and most complimentary sense of the term.

An extensive menu of burritos and tacos...

An extensive menu of burritos and tacos…

Okay, maybe the crossed palm trees and bright sun painted on the restaurant’s colorful facade might be a bit over the top, but that’s the extent of its veneer and polish. These restaurants are little more than food stands specializing in take-out orders. Tiny picnic tables is where hungry patrons park themselves and wait for their orders to be filled.

The restaurant truly lives up to its name with an extensive menu of homemade burritos and tacos. Wood signage boasts “our famous homemade burritos built our business!” It’s a business that’s been going strong for more than a quarter century. The original restaurant location in the Southeast Heights has long been a popular dining destination for Air Force personnel stationed at nearby Kirtland Air Force Base.

One of the reasons is that money goes a long way at Acapulco Tacos & Burritos. Some burritos sell for under two dollars with the most expensive dinner plate costing less than five dollars. The price certainly belies the quality of the product. The basis for the burritos is a moist, delicious tortilla with an enticing “just off the comal” aroma and flavor. Each tortilla is beautifully flecked with spots of char. Although there are several breakfast burritos on the menu, you can order any burrito at any time of the day. It’s a beautiful thing!

The #6 burrito.

The #6 burrito.

For the hungriest patrons only “El Burrote” will do. Order El Burrote with the respective tone of voice it deserves. After all, it’s earned respect. Weighing in at about one pound, El Burrote is roughly the size of a triple burrito. It’s engorged with meat, beans, rice, lettuce, tomato and red or green chile. It takes two hands to handle this beauty which is big enough to share, not that you’ll want to because it’s so good.

Aside from the absolutely beguiling aroma of tortillas being warmed on the comal, the other prevalent aroma is that of New Mexican green chile. To most New Mexicans, that aroma is intoxicating; it’s like an irresistible siren’s call. The green regular burrito is the quintessential combination of outstanding ingredients prepared exceptionally well: an aromatically invigorating green chile, cheese, beans and tender, chunky meat.

Tacos

It’s a messy combination that you dare not try to eat while driving as it will make a mess of your clothing. Here’s betting you won’t follow that advice. You can always change clothes later, but you can’t always have a burrito as good as this one at its peak of flavor.  Alas, the green chile’s olfactory-arousing properties are betrayed by a lack of piquancy; the chile has a nice flavor, but virtually no bite.

The first product name on the marquee is Tacos though they’re not available in the number or variety of the burritos.  These tacos showcase seasoned shredded beef, shredded cheese, lettuce and chopped tomatoes on a hard-shell.  The shredded beef is moist and delicious, tender tendrils of machaca-style beef.  The tacos are served with salsa which is easily the most piquant offering at Acapulco.

A few years ago, Sarah Karnasiewicz who would go on to later become senior editor of Saveur magazine told me Acapulco Tacos and Burritos is a place she dreams of nightly in her chile deprived home of New York City.  For me the dream is of a green chile more piquant to truly bring out the flavors of what has long been one of my favorite burrito joints in New Mexico.

Acapulco Tacos & Burritos
840 San Mateo Blvd, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 268-9865

LATEST VISIT: 23 April 2011
# OF VISITS: 9
RATING: 21
COST: $
BEST BET: Green Regular Burrito, Chorizo Burrito, El Burrote, Tacos

Acapulco Tacos & Burritos on Urbanspoon