La Sirenita – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

La Sirenita on Fourth Street

My good friend and frequent dining companion Bill Resnik is one of the most altruistic and selfless people I have the privilege of knowing. Every year he grows out his naturally white beard so he can portray Santa Claus at hospitals and nursing homes throughout the metropolitan area. Because he stands 6’5″ most of his friends look like elves standing next to him and there’s probably not a chimney he can slide down, but when he dons his padded red and white Santa suit, he IS Santa. With his characteristic light-hearted and whimsical approach, he keeps children of all ages and dispositions spellbound, their wide-eyed wonder reflecting the magic of the season.

The rest of the year when he’s not playing Santa, Bill joins me in performing another type of public service. That’s what we call it when we visit a restaurant about which very little information is available (not even on Urbanspoon). Boldly going where no other critic has gone, we’ve discovered some gems over the years—restaurants which remain among our favorites–but we’ve also had more than our share of disappointments, most of which aren’t chronicled on this blog (if you can’t say something nice….). Public service can be painful!

Salsa and chips at La Sirenita

The spirit of adventure in visiting heretofore undiscovered restaurants is usually accompanied by a bit of trepidation, uncertainty and doubt. Fortunately we’ve learned not to judge a restaurant by its street-facing façade or we might not have visited La Sirenita, a Mexican restaurant which opened in December, 2011, but eleven months later had still not been added to Urbanspoon. Considering some restaurants have Urbanspoon listings even before they’re open for business, we wondered if that was a portend of (mediocre) things to come.

La Sirenita, which translates from Spanish to “the little mermaid” is almost directly across the street from the Mexican Consulate on Fourth Street. Its immediate next door neighbor to the north is La Familiar, a Duke City institution founded some thirty years ago. To its south is the defunct 4 Aces Grill. As might be expected from its name, the specialty of the house is Mexican seafood or mariscos. La Sirenita is housed in a sprawling one-room complex with a seating capacity of eighty. Seating is more utilitarian than it is comfortable. Save for a few framed photographs of Zacatecan architecture and scenery, there’s not much to look at.

Ceviche Mixto

You could almost say that about the menu, too, because it’s relatively austere, offering only about thirty items with maybe a third of those being breakfast entrees. Even the mariscos offerings are limited to a handful. A large menu does not, however, a great restaurant make and sometimes a small menu packs a lot of great food. We were optimistic that was the case when the complimentary salsa and chips were ferried to our table. The salsa is thin and fiery with a discernible hint of cucumber powder whose influence made the salsa’s flavor profile much more interesting. It’s a very good salsa, one made for dipping because it’s too thin for scooping. The chips are low in salt, fresh and crisp.

One of the few mariscos items on the menu is tostadas de ceviche, a favorite (if not obsession) of Bill’s. The ceviche is available in three varieties: pescado (fish), mariscos (seafood) or mixto (a combination of fish and seafood). The ceviche mixto is somewhat different than we’ve found in other mariscos restaurants. Unlike the pescado and pulpo (octopus) which are redolent with lime, cilantro and cucumber, the shrimp are not catalyzed in the citrus juices which make ceviche so good. The shrimp are also pink which means they’ve been boiled and they’re whole, not chopped. Additional sliced limes were not provided should we have wanted a squeeze or two for more citrus flavor.

Empanadas: cheese, chicken and carne desebrada with rice and beans

Empanadas are among the pleasant surprises on the menu and not solely because they’re offered as entrees, not as appetizers. Available in three varieties—cheese, chicken and desebrada (shredded beef)—these empanadas are like those grandma used to bake (if your grandma was a great cook). The empanadas are hand-made and freshly baked so they arrive at your table steaming hot. Even though covered with lettuce and crema fresca, wisps of fragrant steam will escape as your fork cuts into the fresh bread cover. The empanadas are generously stuffed with high-quality ingredients and no annoying fillers. You’ll want to ask for one of each type. The chicken (my favorite) is moist and tender–mostly white meat. The melted Mexican white cheese is thick and melty, but not gooey and messy. The desebrada is moist, tender tendrils of well-seasoned shredded beef.

Another surprisingly good entrée is the chile relleno. A large poblano is overstuffed with cheese, chopped tomatoes, cilantro and crema fresca. The poblano has no piquancy, but if that’s what you crave, the relleno is served with an almost luminescent green salsa which you can spoon over the relleno. With or without the kryptonite-colored salsa, the chile relleno is delicious. As with most entrees at La Sirenita, the chile relleno is served with beans and rice, both of which are quite good.

Chile Relleno with beans and rice

Public service can be delicious! Bill and I are always elated when we visit an undiscovered gem. La Sirenita is one such gem, a restaurant we’ll visit again.

La Sirenita
1601 Fourth Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 26 November 2012
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Horchata, Salsa and Chips, Empanadas, Chile Relleno

La Sirenita on Urbanspoon

Rey’s Place – Albuquerque, New Mexico (RELOCATED)

Rey’s Place Mexican Restaurant on Edith

Rey’s Place has relocated and now shares space with La Familar, the terrific Mexican restaurant owned by Michael “Rey’s” lovely bride Luz.  La Familiar is located at 1611 4th Street, N.W.  Its menu includes all the wonderful foods you’ve loved for years at Rey’s Place: gorditas, enchiladas, caldo de rez and so much more.  Whether you visit for excellent Mexican food or Michael’s mellifluous guitar and sensational singing voice, Rey’s La Familiar will soon become one of your favorite restaurants.    Call Rey’s La Familiar at 808-242-9661 for more information.

Human brains are wired so that the way we perceive the flavor of food is actually a synthesis of how it looks, tastes, smells and feels.  Four senses are actively engaged as we’re masticating, licking, sipping or sucking our food.  The one traditionally recognized method of perception apparently not crucial to enjoying the dining experience is the sense of hearing.  Until rather recently, the effect music has on the enjoyment of our food hadn’t been thoroughly studied scientifically. 

In 2011, the Journal of Culinary Science & Technology determined through a series of experiments that food tastes best when served with quiet classical music in the background.  If the music was played at a level higher than the optimal 62-67 decibels, diners enjoyed the taste of their food less.  The experiments also revealed that silence–the absence of at least some ambient sound–actually detracts from the enjoyment of eating and makes the restaurant setting uncomfortable.

The comfy, cozy confines of Rey’s Place

The skeptic in me wonders how classical music impacts people who liken “long hair music” to the sound made by mating cats while the quasi-scientist in me wants to know what the enjoyment of food would be like with rap, rock and country music playing in the background and at various decibel levels.  Ostensibly, various types of musics were used in the experiments, but readers are left to speculate their effects.  One can surmise, for example, that the rock music with a fast beat would probably increase the rate of chewing.  Rap music would probably have many of my wizened friends looking for a short rope and a tall tree.

Duke City diners need go no further than Rey’s Place at 6400 Edith Boulevard, N.E. to enjoy excellent Mexican and New Mexican food and, if your timing is good, get to listen to an impromptu jam session.  A large decorative-only blue guitar in front of the restaurant is a precursor to things to come.  There are two smaller (but functional) guitars on one corner of the dining room.  Both the staff and diners have been known to pick up those guitars and belt out a tune or two.  You can check out some of the staff’s musical stylings on Reverbnation then imagine yourself enjoying an enchilada dinner at Rey’s Place as the music plays in the background.

Salsa and chips

Rey’s Place has been serving Albuquerque since 2010, but remains a fairly well-kept secret largely because of it’s off-the-well-beaten-and-well-eaten-path.  Its location, in an industrial and warehouse area, means it will remain largely a destination restaurant albeit one very popular with savvy neighborhood blue and white collar workers.  Rey’s is open Monday through Friday from 7AM to 3PM and on Saturdays and Sundays from 8AM to 3PM.  More than most restaurants in Albuquerque, it’s a restaurant with personality–one which jams.  The heart of the restaurant is its owner Michael Sierra, an affable host who takes the time to visit with his guests to ensure they’re enjoying their dining experience.  Michael is a larger than life personality with a very high likeability quotient and a great singing voice.  Dining at Rey’s is like dining at his home.

Rey’s also has a very customer-oriented four-point mission statement: (1) We give you our best Albuquerque welcome; (2) We are attentive to your needs; (3) We advise you that every dish we serve is prepared from scratch, that it takes a little longer than most; and (4) We serve you a hot delicious New Mexican food plate that we’re proud to say, ” is hard to match.”  Rey’s recognizes that slower hand-made food is the key to the very high quality of their Mexican and New Mexican food.  Shortcuts aren’t taken in the preparation of the food.  It’s all made from scratch with no additives (and thankfully no cumin) to “stretch” the red chile.   That uncompromising attention to detail and authenticity is reflected in some of the very best red chile I’ve had this year, a pleasantly piquant a pure, earthy blend with a rich flavor.

Con queso with chips

The menu is a refreshing change of pace from the humdrum (but usually delicious)  menu you come to expect from Mexican and New Mexican restaurants in the city.  The Mexican dishes section of the menu includes such mouth-watering delicacies as lengua (tongue) a la Mexicana, barbacoa (a restaurant specialty), and gorditas, an entree Rey’s touts as a meal and a half.  The menu also features nine different types of tacos, some of which you won’t find anywhere else in town.  Four tortas (sandwiches crafted on bolillo bread), seven types of hand-held burritos, four caldos (including caldo de rez, a Gil favorite), six burgers and six different types of enchiladas are also available.  This is a menu from you’ll want to sample every item.

You’ll want to start your Rey’s experience with salsa and chips.  The salsa is special, some of the very best in town.  It’s reminiscent of the salsa at Sadie’s Dining Room in terms of piquancy, viscosity and flavor.   Best of all, the plastic molcajete in which the salsa is served is nearly full when it arrives at your table.  You’ll probably run out of chips before you finish the salsa.  The chips are thin, light and crispy which is fine for this salsa because unless you’re a bona fide fire eater, it’s made for dipping more than for scooping.

Stuffed sopaipilla with beans and rice

Fundido, a Spanish term for melted or molten cheese, has been used to describe everything from the gloppy, pedestrian baseball stadium nacho cheese to richly indulgent fondue quality cheese.  Neither is a good representation of true queso fundido, the type of which is served at Rey’s Place.  Rey’s queso is an amalgam of molten cheeses and a spicy chorizo in perfect proportion to one another.  The cheese starts off hot and thick and like most queso fundido, will coagulate and harden as it cools and because the portion is rather sizable, it will cool down..  That’s when you ask the accommodating staff to reheat it for you.   It’s just as good reheated.

Seeing diners at adjacent tables all enjoying stuffed sopaipillas had a not-so-subliminal effect during my inaugural visit.  It’s no wonder this dish is so popular.  Talk about an orchestra effect on your taste buds.  The sopaipilla is engorged with ground steak, beans and a lettuce-tomato garnish then slathered with chile.  The red chile has a nice bite to it without the residual bitterness of impure chile.  It’s got endearing earthy qualities that will imprint themselves on your taste buds and memories.  The whole beans are perfectly cooked and delicious while the rice is fluffy, light and better than most Mexican-style rice. 

Caldo De Res

If you’re the type of person who likes curling up in front of the fireplace with a steamy mug of cocoa on a cold winter day, you’re probably the type of person who appreciates a good soup.  Mexicans appreciate a good soup very much, especially caldo de res, a rich beef stock brimming with rich, fork-tender bits of meat from a beef hock and vegetables (celery, carrots, potatoes, cabbage and even corn-on-the-cob) topped with cilantro.  Made well, it will cure whatever ails you more effectively than any chicken noodle soup.  Rey’s rendition of caldo de res will most assuredly cure the winter blahs or any other time blues.  It’s an excellent soup with a broth you’ll  slurp up with gusto.  The vegetables are perfectly prepared, fresh and delicious.  It’s served with rice and a small plastic cup of finely chopped green peppers and tomatoes.

While Rey’s Web site is effusive about the restaurant’s entire menu, only one item occupies a place of prominence on a wall where it shares space with framed artwork.  The poster extolling the virtues of Rey’s gorditas is both explanatory in nature and a delicious marketing tactic. Read the poster and you’ll probably order the gorditas plate.  Gorditas are basically deep-fried pockets of cornmeal or flour dough engorged with a savory mixture.  At Rey’s the corn or flour cakes are slow-cooked on the grill, sliced open and stuffed with your choice of carne asada, carne adovada, barbacoa, carne desebrada (tender, slow-cooked shredded beef), shredded chicken, carnitas and carne molida (ground steak). The carne adovada-stuffed gorditas are terrific. The combination of the corn masa cake and the red chile marinated, tender pork make for a very interesting and wholly delicious pairing.  The gorditas plate is served with rice, beans and red or green salsa.  By the way, shame on Taco Bell for that abomination they’ve tried to pass off as a gordita.

Gorditas engorged with carne adovada, beans, tomatoes and lettuce

If you prefer your carne adovada unencumbered by such trivialities as a cornmeal pocket, lettuce and tomatoes (delicious though they might be), you’re going to love Rey’s carne adovada plate.  This is carne adovada prepared the way your sainted abuelita might have made it.  The red chile marinated pork is so tender you could chew it with your gums, so good it might make you swoon.  It’s a carne adovada so good I’d introduce my friend Ruben Hendrickson to it.  Ruben, as faithful readers know, is an adovada aficionado who prepares it better than most restaurants.  Getting his seal of approval on carne adovada means it’s not only good, it’s in rarefied company.  I believe he’d place Rey’s carne adovada in that category.

As much as Ruben loves carne adovada, he doesn’t wax eloquently about his love for it on a thematic blog as does a Duke City blogger so passionate about her culinary passion that she launched a blog to celebrate the best huevos rancheros in New Mexico.  Her Huevos Addiction blog is a terrific read with her review of Rey’s huevos rancheros inspiring me to try her favorite dish.  Rey’s huevos rancheros are simplicity itself–corn tortillas on the bottom, fried eggs on top and the whole thing slathered with chile (red and green for me).  The huevos are served with sides of beans and papitas (some of the best in town).  Simplicity does not mean plain or boring, not as long as you’ve got Rey’s red chile (described on Huevos Addiction as “for those who have said their prayers.”)  

Huevos Rancheros with papitas and beans

One item which rarely warrants more than a mention on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog are tacos.  It perplexes me as to why diners would ever order a taco plate.  Tacos are among the least expensive items to make, tend to be overstuffed with lettuce and tomatoes and are rarely worth writing about.  I could write a book about Grandma Gloria’s tacos.  At three tacos per order, you won’t go away hungry because an order also includes beans and rice.

So what makes these tacos so unique?  It starts with a fried corn tortilla that’s obviously not out-of-the-box.  The tortillas are lightly fried with char marks which seem to indicate some time on a comal.  The tacos are engorged not with shredded or ground beef, but with a well-seasoned hamburger patty.  That’s a first for me.  The de rigueur lettuce, tomatoes and shredded cheese are there, too, and while some restaurants serve a side of house salsa for their tacos, Rey’s provides a ramekin of chile pequin salsa made from a 112-year-old family recipe.  You’ll want to spoon it on generously or maybe even dip your tacos into this unique salsa.

Grandma Gloria’s Tacos

Many diners, no matter how sophisticated they might consider themselves to be, have an aversion to eating tongue (lengua in Spanish).  Contrary to some opinion, the texture of lengua is not akin to shoe leather nor is it comparable to menudo.  At Rey’s, the lengua is sliced into small cubes and is prepared with onions and green chile.  If you didn’t know what you just ate, you might think you had roast beef, albeit a very moist and delicious roast beef.  The lengua isn’t tough, sinewy or chewy in the least.  It’s the type of tongue action you can brag about to your mom. 

Rey’s burger menu includes one whose name is sure to appeal to the macho among us.  It’s the “Man Size” burger, a full pound of beef on lightly toasted sourdough.  The burger is served with lettuce, onions and a white-yellow cheese blend.  Of course you’re going to want to garnish it with Rey’s terrific green chile.  The sourdough is a surprisingly good canvas for the moist beef patty and garnishes.  The burger is served with a nice amount of fries.

Rey’s Place features home-cooked Mexican and New Mexican food prepared with love and served by a cheerful staff who wants nothing more than for you to enjoy your dining experience.  It’s ambitious goal is to be the best New Mexican food restaurant in Albuquerque.  It may well get there.  The question is whether it will receive honors and accolades before and more often for its music as for its food.

Rey’s Place
6004 Edith Blvd NE
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 18 January 2013
1st VISIT:  16 October 2012
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa and Chips, Stuffed Sopaipilla, Queso Fundido, Calde de Rez, Gorditas, Carne Adovada Plate, Huevos Rancheros, Grandma Gloria Tacos, Lengua, Man Size Burger

Rey's Place  Mexican  Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Kim Long Asian Cuisine – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED 1 JULY 2015)

Kim Long Asian Cuisine, a Vietnamese restaurant which launched on September 9, 2010

Growing up on a relatively unsophisticated Northern New Mexican diet featuring such staples as beans, tortillas and chile could hardly be considered a training ground for gastronomic appreciation. Though I thoroughly enjoyed my mom’s cooking it was hardly with the realization that I was feasting on one of America’s very best regional cuisines. Frankly, in the 1960s, only someone with prescience would have thought New Mexican cuisine could eventually garner worldwide acclaim. My siblings and I actually thought we were deprived because we weren’t eating Wonder bread sandwiches, pizza and Big Macs.

Similarly, my friend and Intel colleague Huu Vu who grew up in Vietnam had no realization that the simple foods on which he was raised would someday be considered part of the world’s most delicious, artfully composed and healthy cuisines. To him and other citizens of impoverished Vietnam, food was sustenance, fuel to keep them going. Huu related to me that in Vietnam, you ate to live. You learned to stretch your meals with fillers such as rice. The vegetables and herbs (typically fresh mint, basil, cilantro, bean sprouts) which accompany pho (the superb Vietnamese beef noodle soup) weren’t just flavor additives. They were added to pho to make it go further…to fill hungry bellies.

The interior of Kim Long’s Asian Cuisine

Most people eventually come to the realization that the cuisine on which they grew up is special, and for many of us, no other cuisine will ever replace it as our favorite. My epiphany as to just how special New Mexican food really is came in 1977 when the Air Force sent me to Massachusetts. While you could hardly call fried clams, tuna subs and incomparable Italian food a “consolation prize,” they could not take that place in my heart that was exclusively reserved for New Mexican food.

My friend Huu was sixteen when he moved to San Francisco where a world of culinary exploration awaited. With an open mind and an inquisitive nature, he tried it all, but ultimately concluded that nothing was quite as wonderful as the Vietnamese food on which he grew up–and which his mother began sharing with the Golden Gate City when she opened up Le Cordon Bleu, a wonderful hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese restaurant I visited in 2001, about a decade before meeting Huu.

Bloating Fern-Shaped Cake with Ground Pork and Shrimp

When Quoc Luu invited me to visit Kim Long, an uptown area Vietnamese restaurant he and his family opened in September, 2010, it was a foregone conclusion that Huu would accompany me on what would be the inaugural visit for both of us. I wanted Huu to refute or validate an audacious claim on Kim Long’s Web site: “There are many Vietnamese restaurants in Albuquerque that are not authentic. Because the only way to get authentic food is to cook it at home; we took the opportunity to capitalize on this market.” Huu’s educated palate and sense of smell can ferret out any pretenders quickly. With one spoonful of pho, he knows whether or not it’s made the traditional ways. He’s as much a stickler for authenticity in Vietnamese food as I am about the foods of my Land of Enchantment.

Alas, the east-facing signage belies its authenticity. That signage reads “Kim Long Asian Cuisine,” not a name many would associate with a Vietnamese restaurant. Having driven by it several times, Huu, in fact, thought it to be yet another in a seemingly endless parade of bad Chinese restaurants dotting the Duke City’s culinary landscape. That assumption is heightened by the twin dragons flanking the sign. As it turns out “Kim Long” is not the name of anyone in the Luu family, but a term which translates from Vietnamese to English as “Golden Dragon.”

Egg Rolls

As if further confusion is needed, the restaurant’s interior clearly indicates the previous tenant was an American restaurant of some sort. The black and white tiled floors seem more apropos for a fifties throwback diner while wall panels bordering the ceiling read “Grill,” “Deli,” “Sandwiches” and “Salads.” A large flat screen television hangs on a faux Anasazi style fireplace. A single songbird serenades the large dining room while an aquarium of colorful sea life adds an air of tranquility. The aspect most telling that this is a Vietnamese restaurant is in the hospitality and friendliness of the staff. Quoc, as it turns out, is a fellow Intel employee who toils on the night shift, not that he wouldn’t have been absolutely gracious and welcoming otherwise.

A few Americanized touches not withstanding, Kim Long is a paragon of authenticity.  The Luu family has raised its own chickens, making organic poultry and home-grown eggs standard offerings.  Quoc has bold plans for the restaurant, planning a menu expansion that will include banh mi, the fabulous Vietnamese sandwich.  Unlike other Duke City purveyors of banh mi, Kim Long will bake its own baguettes.  The aroma of freshly baked breads and the wondrous seasonings, herbs and spices used on other menu items will make the restaurant one of the city’s most olfactory arousing.  “Olfactory arousing” is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a term anyone would use for durian, the world’s “stinkiest” fruit. Durian exudes an aroma reminiscent of garlic and tropical fruit to those rare souls who enjoy it.  Dissenters such as my stand-up comic friend Bill Resnik insist its malodorous emanations are more reminiscent of feet and perspiration.  Kim Long’s durian shake is one of the best, most authentic I’ve had.

Spring Rolls (2 rolls): Vietnamese Pork, Shrimp, Lettuce, Basil and Vermicelli Noodles Rolled in Fresh Rice Paper; served with a sweet peanut sauce

The menu features a few surprises neither Huu or I had seen in other Albuquerque Vietnamese restaurants. For instance, Huu pointed out that one of the ingredients on the egg rolls is taro, an ingredient prevalent in health-conscious California, but not in the Duke City. The egg rolls, served three to an order, are quite good–so good, in fact, that the Web site touts them as an example of the menu’s authenticity, indicating the recipe has been passed on from generation to generation. The taro influence is somewhat muted because taro tends to absorb the flavors of ingredients with which it’s paired.

Another surprise (for me) was something called a bloating fern-shaped cake with ground pork and shrimp, essentially a gelatinous rice-flower cake topped with chopped dry shrimp, dehydrated pork and scallions and served with undiluted fish sauce and potent chilis. This appetizer, served in ten small plates in dim sum fashion is a specialty of Hue in Central Vietnam. This dish has a very unique flavor and texture and is an absolute joy to eat though as I quickly found out, it’s not to be eaten oyster-shooter style. Following Huu’s lead, I liberally spooned on the undiluted fish sauce and ate it as I might eat jello. This is adventure eating and it’s a real treat.

Fried Flour Cake with Egg and Green Onion

Kim Long’s spring rolls are yet another terrific appetizer–Vietnamese pork, shrimp, lettuce, basil and vermicelli noodles rolled in fresh rice paper. These met with Huu’s seal of approval as he lamented that some restaurants have stooped to using Chinese egg roll wrappers which are not of the quality he demands. The spring rolls (three to an order) are served with a Hoisin peanut sauce studded with julienne carrots and daikon. The invigorating freshness of the basil and the snap of perfectly prepared shrimp are my favorite qualities in spring rolls and these qualities are very much in evidence at Kim Long.

The appetizer about which Quoc is most excited is a fried flour cake with egg and green onion, a surprise considering it is a Chinese dish. The recipe for this treasured family dish is several generations old though it has yet to be passed on to Quoc or his siblings. It’s a secret recipe I want! At first glance, the cubes of fried flour look vaguely like fried tofu and even have a similar texture, but the flour cakes are redolent of a faint bacon-like smokiness and are absolutely delicious when coupled with a piquant sriracha-hoison sauce. The faint sensation of bacon is only fitting considering the fried flour cakes are served on a bed of what looks like scrambled eggs or more appropriately like the eggs used on fried rice. This is yet another terrific starter.

Hue Style Vermicelli Soup: Spicy Lemongrass Noodle Soup with Beef

My friend Huu, like many Vietnamese people, can eat pho for breakfast, lunch and dinner with pho snacks in between. It’s his favorite dish, what he considers the benchmark for great Vietnamese cuisine. It’s a dish he makes often at home and still orders when he goes out. With one spoonful, he validated the authenticity of Kim Long’s pho. One telltale sign of authentic pho, he says, is whether or not the beef stock is made with bones, preferably leg and knuckle bones with the unctuous marrow which makes pho taste meaty and rich. The pho at Kim Long comes in a bowl the size of a small swimming pool. It’s served steaming hot with a bowl of vegetable and herbs.

My choice was the Hue-style Vermicelli soup, a spicy lemongrass noodle soup with beef. The beef, perhaps flank steak or eye-of-round, is sliced painfully thin and cut across the grain for a smooth texture. The soup also includes Bo Vien (Vietnamese style meatballs), an entire pig’s foot and even blood sausage. It’s not dumbed down for American tastes and is as flavorful as any soup in town. The fragrance of spices–cinnamon, cloves, coriander, fennel and star anise–is intoxicating, a perfect counterbalance for the refreshingly light ginger-like taste of the lemongrass.

Pho Sate Kim Long: Kim Long Rice Noodle Served with Dried Sate Chili

While the Hue-style Vermicelli soup might well be the star attraction at many a Vietnamese restaurant, it’s not the best soup at Kim Long. That honor goes to the Pho Sate Kim Long, a rice noodle pho made with dried sate chili. The sate elevates this pho above other phos, imparting a potent spicy-smokiness that transforms an otherwise wonderful bowl of pho into a transcendent fiery flavored experience. It’s got a kick that’ll clear your sinuses, but it’s not just the heat that you’ll fall in love with. When combined with cinnamon, cloves, coriander, fennel and star anise, the sate is addictive.

Spices alone don’t a great pho make.  The Pho Sate Kim Long includes thinly sliced rare beef, meatball, soft tendon and skirt flank as well as lemongrass and scallions.   Tiny globules of marrow float on top of the soup, evidence of the pho’s authenticity. You can add as much as you’d like from a separate plate of cilantro, mint and bean sprouts.  Everything you add contributes to a flavor profile as beguiling and perhaps second in deliciousness only to the transformative spicy beef stew at Cafe Dalat among all phos in the Duke City.

Broken Rice Served with Six Flavors: Chinese Fried Rice, Grilled Pork, Shredded Pork Skin, Pork Pie, Shrimp and a Fried Egg

My second visit was as delightful as the first with an introduction to new flavors prepared in true and authentic ways, certainly in ways not prepared by other Vietnamese restaurants in the Duke City.  While other restaurants serve broken rice dishes, in many cases not even the broken rice is authentic.  Broken rice is more expensive than standard rice so in some cases, the “broken rice” dishes are made with conventional steamed rice.  Not so at Kim Long.

The broken rice is fashioned into a cube strategically placed at the twelve o’clock position on a square plate which is artfully decorated with an array of six different flavor components: Chinese fried rice, grilled pork, shredded pork skin, pork pie, shrimp and a fried egg.  The broken rice is intended to be eaten with the fried egg served over easy so the yolk runs down onto the rice.  With a little of the diluted fish sauce, it’s a delightful treat.  From among the six flavors on the plate, the most surprising is the grilled pork, a bone-in pork chop grilled to perfection, not served as two to three-inch grilled pork strips  as often served at other Vietnamese restaurants.  The grilling influence is apparent in the light smokiness, but the savory, smoky flavor profile also includes a hint of sweetness I suspect comes from just a bit of brown sugar and fish sauce.  In any event, it’s one of the best “pork chops” in Albuquerque.

Fried Rice with Chinese Sausage

Another Chinese-influenced dish on the menu is fried rice with Chinese sausage. If you’ve never had Chinese sausage, you’re in for a treat. Texturally it’s similar to some hard, dry pork sausage, but its sweet-salty-smoky flavor is what stands out. On the fried rice, it’s cut into small cubes, joining carrots, peas and bean sprouts.  Only at Ming Dynasty will you find Chinese sausage fried rice as good as this one.

One of the most healthful and delicious of Vietnamese entrees is Vermicelli, thin and translucent rice noodles in a bed of small ribbons of lettuce, mint, cilantro cucumber, bean sprouts and onions surrounded by a generous portion of grilled pork and egg rolls.  The vermicelli noodles, grilled beef and egg rolls are warm while the salad ingredients are cool, a contrast that works exceptionally well.  Add the contents of the accompanying bowl of fish sauce only upon the salad because the grilled beef is absolutely perfect as is.  

Vermicelli served with Grilled Pork and Egg Rolls

Kim Long has every right to tout its authenticity in preparing Vietnamese cuisine in traditional ways passed down from generation to generation. It has every right to lay claim to being one of Albuquerque’s very best Vietnamese restaurants.

Kim Long Asian Cuisine
2325 San Pedro, N.E., Suite 1E
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 503-7279
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 24 November 2012
1st VISIT:  25 March 2011
# of VISITS: 3
COST: $$
BEST BET: Spicy Lemongrass Noodle Soup with Beef, Bloating Fern-Shaped Cake with Grinded Pork and Shrimp, Spring Rolls, Fried Flour Cake with Egg and Green Onion, Vermicelli with grilled pork and egg rolls, Pho Sate Kim Long

Kim Long Asian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

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