Backstreet Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Behind this Entrance to Old Town is the Backstreet Grill and its Capacious Patio

Old Town Albuquerque.  Locals love it.   We appreciate its unique architecture and have tremendous affection for its character and personality.  We hold its religious celebrations in reverence and admire the passion with which its secular fiestas are celebrated.   We delight in reminding “colonists” that it’s older than many New England cities which dominate history books.  Old Town is where we take all our friends and family who visit us.  Much as we love it…and we do love it, many of us don’t visit Old Town as much as its proximity and charm might warrant.

Ask locals why they don’t frequent Old Town and the more “honest” ones will likely tell you it’s because it’s no longer solely ours.  We have to share it.  While we don’t consider Old Town a “tourist trap,” we feel “trapped by visitors” when we can’t find convenient parking and when maneuvering around a shop is akin to an obstacle course with the primary obstacle being visitors walking around with mouths agape and eyes distracted by our local culture.  It’s a real quandary because we love visitors, too.  We’re very proud that they’ve chosen to spend a little bit of time (and hopefully a lot of their money) in this little paradise we call home.

Backstreet Nachos

The Old Town Merchants Association recognizes the value of local residents who visit and recommend Old Town throughout the year.  In 2015, the Association announced a “We Love Locals” promotion, a tangible way (that includes gift baskets, hotel stays, dining certificates, shopping sprees, guided tours and more) to show their appreciation.  Ever the proud gastronome, the emphasis of my promotional efforts would have centered on all the great restaurants in the Old Town area.  Yes, there are great restaurants in the Old Town area, several of which rank among the city’s most highly esteemed.

If its been years since you last visited Old Town for the sheer pleasure of dining in one of its esteemed eateries, it’s time to get reacquainted with dining at one of the city’s greatest treasures.  Perhaps you might want to take the love of your life to Restaurant Antiquity, named in 2015 as “one of the thirteen most romantic restaurants in America” by TABELog, a highly regarded online foodie community.  Two Old Town area restaurants–La Crepe Michele and Duran’s Central Pharmacy–were touted in 2015 by national real estate resource Moveto as among “15 Albuquerque Restaurants Will Blow Your Taste Buds Out Of Your Mouth.”

Cup of New Mexican Gumbo

There’s probably no better way for locals and visitors alike to immerse themselves in culture than by partaking of our incendiary and incomparably delicious cuisine.  Old Town’s New Mexican restaurants include long established standards such as Monica’s El Portal, Ben Michael’s Restaurant, and La Placita Dining Rooms. There are a number of “new kids on the block,” too.  Recent restaurant additions (perhaps since your last visit) to the Old Town area include the Quesadilla Grille (2010), Vinaigrette (2012), Central Grill & Coffee House (2014) and Backstreet Grill (2012).

After our inaugural visit, my Kim was so impressed that she chided me for not having taken her to the Backstreet Grill before.  My pathetic and pitiful excuse was that I’d been tortured for nearly a decade with songs from the Backstreet Boys, one of the most popular boy bands of the 1990s.  Knowing full well that I actually liked “I Want It That Way,” (forgive the earworm) she didn’t buy my excuse.  Truth is, I’d wanted to try the Backstreet Grill for more than a couple of years, but didn’t want the commotion and hullabaloo of  teeming masses in an all too confining space (seating for fewer than 20 guests).

The Backstreet Supreme

When the Backstreet Grill moved from its Lilliputian location to a more capacious venue in June, 2014, my excuses started to make even less sense than some Backstreet Boys lyrics.  It wasn’t until discovering there’s a “back way” to get to the Backstreet that we finally made it.  The back way involves parking not in the Old Town Plaza (and good luck finding a spot there), but in the commodious parking lot south of the Albuquerque Museum.  From a parking lot space close to Old Town Road, you’ll espy an archway with a viga on which the Backstreet Grill name is scrawled.  It’s literally feet from the parking lot to the restaurant though the noisy world seems further and you’ll hardly notice the parked cars with an east-facing view that includes the verdant Tiguex Park.

The Backstreet Grill has grown up and out since its initial launch in 2012.  Now situated in Old Town Plaza’s former carriage house building, it can accommodate nearly 200 diners.  Weather permitting, many of them opt to dine al fresco in a spacious patio shielded from the sun by towering trees.    The interior dining room is resplendent in dark, masculine woods with a matching ceiling.  Both booth and table seating are available, the latter offering more personal space.  Walls are festooned with vintage black-and-white photographs of Old Town when the area was much more pastoral and certainly would not have been considered a tourist draw.

Duck Tacos

It didn’t take long for us to realize the amiable and extremely knowledgeable server attending to us was chef-manager Christopher “Chris” James. When we peppered him with our usual litany of questions (i.e., does the chile contain cumin) about the menu, his answers were a give-away.  With a rare precision, in-depth knowledge and passion, he explained nuances of the dishes which interested us.  More importantly, not only does he understand his dishes, he can “sell” them.   Chef James is a friendly and peripatetic presence at his restaurant, simultaneously overseeing the kitchen operation while lending a hand wherever it’s needed.  

Peruse the menu and you’ll quickly discern what while it’s got elements of both, it’s neither New Mexican nor Mexican cuisine.  Chef James calls it “an innovative hybrid” that showcases ingredients, dishes and techniques from throughout the Southwest as well as Baja California and coastal Mexico.  Call it a hybrid if you’d like, but in short order, you’ll be calling it delicious.  The menu is segmented into several distinctive categories: breakfast, starters, soups and salads, tacos and burritos, burgers and sandwiches, the Mexican pizza and sides.  Read solely the names of each dish and you might be inclined to think “been there, done that,” but study the composition of each dish and you’ll fully gain an appreciation for the chef’s creativity.

Tenderloin Steak

16 October 2015: The triple-layered Backstreet Nachos, for example, are a wide departure from the gloppy cheese and vapid jalapeño-based nachos found at ballparks and bad restaurants. Think chile con queso, smoked pork shoulder, Hatch green chile and corn and black bean relish garnished with queso fresco, toasted pumpkin seeds, cilantro and cool ranch sour cream.  All nachos should aspire to such deliciousness, such innovation, such sheer bravado.  Every ingredient lends something to the plate, a melding of tried and true flavors that go very well together both texturally and flavor-wise.  The cool ranch sour cream tempers the fiery Hatch green chile while the toasted pumpkin seeds and corn and black bean relish lend delightful textural properties. 

26 March 2017: In 2015, an Albuquerque man craved his mom’s posole so much that he ignored her commands to stay away from her posole, broke into her home and stole it. The posole pilferer was later arrested on a residential burglary charge. Perhaps someone should warn the Backstreet Grill to keep its New Mexico Gumbo under lock and key. It’s good enough to risk breaking and entering. So what does gumbo have to do with posole? The Backstreet Grill’s signature New Mexican gumbo is chock full of Andouille sausage, chicken, rice, okra, Hatch green chile and posole. The posole and green chile no only make this gumbo uniquely New Mexican, but they elevate it in flavor. The posole imparts its corn-imbued savory, hearty qualities to what would be a very good gumbo.

Deconstructed Shrimp Tacos

16 October 2015: Several years ago uber chef Dennis Apodaca showed Albuquerque the delicious possibilities of incorporating rich, fatty duck into New Mexican and Mexican dishes at his pioneering restaurant Eli’s Place (formerly Sophia’s Place).  Perhaps the most popular dish at the Backstreet Grill also utilizes delectable duck in an innovative way.  Three duck tacos (red chile braised duck legs, topped with corn and black bean relish, mango mole sauce, Cotija cheese, cilantro and toasted pumpkin seeds stuffed into three corn tortillas) may have you craving canard for your next meal.  The mango mole sauce performs some sort of magic on the shredded thin shards of duck deliciousness, imparting that magic on your happy taste buds.  The cool element that seems to define contemporary tacos is provided by the ubiquitous corn and black bean relish.

16 October 2015: Some of those ingredients make their way onto one of the most innovative pizzas in the city. The Backstreet Supreme, described as “the original that started it all – fully loaded and awesome” earns its name. The canvas for this masterpiece is a fourteen-inch flour tortilla with a base of mozzarella and Menonita cheese topped with smoked pork shoulder, corn and black bean relish, pineapple pico de gallo, Hatch green chile, toasted pumpkin seeds, cilantro and Cotija cheese. The cheesy triumvirate lends elements of creaminess and saltiness in nice proportion to other flavor profiles. When the pineapple pico de gallo makes its presence known, it’s a perfect foil for the Hatch green chile. Now, a flour tortilla “pizza crust” means some dry, brittle edges, but they won’t get in your way of enjoying this delicious orb. Supreme seems to be a common descriptor for pizzas. This one earns it!

Sweet Potato Maple Layered Cheesecake

26 March 2017: Because of my indifference to steak, my Kim has threatened to take away my “man card.” Having been born and raised in Chicago, the “Hog Butcher for the World,” she loves meat and pork in all their forms while my tastes are far more eclectic. Her initial shock when I ordered the tenderloin steak at the Backstreet Grill was replaced by the realization that I would only order the steak if it’s served with a phalanx of “meat disguisers.” True enough, the nine-ounce portion of lean, juicy tenderloin steak is seasoned with smoked Spanish paprika and topped with a roasted pineapple demi-glace. The Spanish paprika (pimento) imparts not only a pleasant piquancy, but a slightly woodsy flavor that tempers the tangy-sweetness of the roasted pineapple. The combination is a steak sauce several orders of magnitude superior to what you’ll find at most restaurants (especially those who rely on commercially bottled sauces). Tenderloin, of course, is a juicy, tender and tasty cut of beef that needs no amelioration (unless you’re not of a pronounced carnivorous bent). On the side is a brick of thyme-grana scalloped potatoes and warm, seasonal vegetables.

26 March 2017: As is her custom, my Kim had her Baja Shrimp burrito “de-constructed,” meaning she wanted the tortilla on the side. She cuts the tortilla into “New Mexican spoons” which she uses to scoop up as much of the burrito ingredients as she wants. Don’t ask me how this makes sense to her? Just trust that it does. The Baja Shrimp burrito is prepared “California style” with sautéed tequila-garlic shrimp, lettuce, rice, pineapple pico, cilantro and sour cream ranch sauce served with tomatillo salsa verde. What my Kim enjoyed most were the pineapple pico and sour cream ranch. What she didn’t like (especially the cumin-infused rice), she pushed to the side.

16 October 2015: Desserts are limited, but interesting, especially the Spanish red chile flan.  Alas, sometimes seasonality trumps interesting–as in the case of a sweet potato maple layered cheesecake.   This wedge-shaped cheesecake is ultra-rich and decadent.  It’s not meant for one person alone.  As with so many cheesecakes served at so many restaurants in Albuquerque, this one isn’t baked on the premises, but comes from a restaurant supplier. 

The Backstreet Grill may just be the restaurant that brings locals back to Old Town and once there, it’s a good bet you’ll be back.

Backstreet Grill
1919 Old Town Road, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 842-5434
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 26 March 2017
1st VISIT: 16 October 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $$
LATEST VISIT: Duck Tacos, Backstreet Supreme, Backstreet Nachos, Sweet Potato Maple Layered Cheesecake, Tenderloin Steak, Deconstructed Shrimp Tacos, New Mexico Gumbo

Back Street Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Daily Grind – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Daily Grind on Cutler

Sometimes–such as when Teri, a faithful reader of this blog, recommended I visit The Daily Grind–being a lexicologist can be a detriment.  The first thing that came to mind was the drudgery of the software development project to which I was assigned.  Since the 1800s, “grind” has been synonymous with boring, tedious work as in “grinding away.”  Why then would I want to visit The Daily Grind when the daily grind was visiting me everyday in the form of SQL databases, configuration scripts and dot-net framework.

My Kim, who’s got all the common sense in the family, clarified that the type of grind to which Teri was referring had nothing to do with the tedium of the dog-eat-dog routine. The Daily Grind Teri recommended is a coffee shop she and her husband consider awesome. The term Daily Grind as used in the restaurant’s name refers to the daily grinding of coffee, a routine prefacing the luxurious indulgence in a steaming cup.  The Daily Grind proudly serves Allegro Coffee, a subsidiary of Whole Foods which roasts flavorful coffee from Arabica beans.  Two cups of cafe au lait sold me on this coffee.

Beyond the landscaping and water feature is the Daily Grind’s patio

The Daily Grind has been making the daily grind easier to bear since 1996.  For seven years–until September, 2013–the coffee shop operated in the East Downtown district before relocating to the Calibers Center on Cutler Avenue just west of Washington.  The Daily Grind is located in a battleship grey corrugated steel building. If not for the signage and picture windows in the restaurant’s storefront, first-timers might think they’ve mistakenly arrived at an industrial complex of some sort.  Compounding doubts newcomers might as to whether they’ve reached the right location is that The Daily Grind is sandwiched between I40 on its south and a diversion channel about a quarter mile north.  Its next door neighbors are a gun store and pro shop and a fly and tackle shop, not the usual coffee shop neighbors.

The weirdness continues when you discover there is no entrance up front.  Instead, you have to navigate a concrete path that takes you past a rock garden with interesting water features.  The coffee shop’s entrance precedes the patio where umbrellas provide cooling shade.  You can choose to dine in a capacious dining room or, weather permitting, a delightful patio.  When you walk in, your eyes will instantly be trained on the glass pastry case in which scrumptious pastries and cookies baked on the premises are on display.  This lexicologist also detected exposed grinding gears on the clock just over the window to the kitchen.  Two grinding gear mirrors hang on a dining room wall.

The capacious dining room

The Daily Grind is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  During our inaugural visit we spent at the coffee shop on a unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon, we were surprised both at the eclectic crowd and volume of take-out and eat-in traffic.  Our server told us the crowd was a mix of loyal patrons who followed their favorite coffee shop to its new home and newcomers like us.  The Daily Grind has all the elements that make coffee shops popular: a friendly, attentive wait staff; an inventive and diverse menu; an attractive milieu; and of course, good coffee.

A multi-page menu includes distinctive breakfast, lunch and dinner items, focusing on traditional American favorites prepared with creative touches.  The fourteen item breakfast menu, served all day, includes an array of sweet (pancakes, French toast), savory (Cheddar waffle BLT, breakfast bagel), piquant (huevos rancheros, chile pocket) and healthy (yogurt).  The lunch menu includes leafy greens, panini sandwiches or burgers.  The dinner menu features only seven items, some of which you might find at a gourmet restaurant.  Don’t make your dessert decision based on the menu.  You’ve got to visit the pastry case to select the sweet treat that’s just perfect for you.  In the three years in between our first and second visit, the menu had changed substantially.  As with all good restaurants, changes to the menu are inevitable to keep things fresh.

Gourmet Fries Topped with Blue Cheese and Caramelized Onions

12 October 2013: Appetizers, sub-titled on the menu as “To Share…Or Not” are few in number (five), but they’re sure to please, especially if you love French fries.  Grind gourmet fries (available also from sweet potatoes) are not only  calorically endowed, but inventive.  Consider bacon, cheese, sour cream and green onion fries; Philly cheese steak fries; Truffle Parmesan fries; Blue cheese and caramelized onion fries; Carne Adovada with Cheddar fries; and a loaded sweet potato.  The blue cheese with caramelized onion fries are a turophile’s dream courtesy of sharp, deep blue-veined blue cheese crumbles melted atop medium-cut fries.  The caramelized onions lend a sweet contrast to the blue cheese’s sharp, tangy qualities

12 October 2013: Within the sandwich menu, you’ll find only a couple of paninis, but they’re memorable.  All sandwiches are prepared on locally baked bread from Le Paris French Bakery in Albuquerque.  Sandwiches are served with housemade potato chips or fries and cornichon pickles.  The chips are crispy, but not brittle and they’re low in salt.  A bowlful of cornichons isn’t enough to sate pickle lovers so the four that accompany your sandwich are strictly a tease.

DailyGrind05

The Cubano with housemade potato chips and Cornichon pickles

12 October 2013: As with most sandwich shops in Albuquerque, The Daily Grind offers its own version of The Cubano, the Cuban sandwich or as it might be called in Cuba–a sandwich.  Over the years, many liberties have been taken with the Cubano with tradition pushed by the wayside.  The Daily Grind’s Cubano is a pressed panini stuffed with ham, turkey breast, pickle, Swiss cheese and cilantro mayo.  Many Cubanos are made with mustard which, some might argue, throws off the balance in the sandwich’s flavor profile.  The cilantro mayo provides very complementary flavor notes that allow the ham, turkey breast and Swiss to sing.

12 October 2013: On Nancy’s Curried Chicken Salad Sandwich, a baguette is hollowed out and ingredients are stuffed where soft bread innards used to be.  The chicken salad is constructed from shredded chicken breast, pineapple, golden raisins, celery and curry mayo.  It’s a terrific sandwich with savory and sweet (but not overly so) notes that coalesce into a surprisingly delicious combination.  The curry mayo, pineapple and golden raisins provide the sweet elements while the shredded chicken breast lends savory qualities.  If you love curry, you’ll love this sandwich.  If you don’t love curry, you’ll probably still like this sandwich.

DailyGrind06

Nancy’s Curried Chicken Salad Sandwich with housemade potato chips and Cornichon pickles.

25 March 2017:  For those of you who like word play almost as much as you like sandwiches, the “Dressed Up Pear Essentials Panini” will get your attention.  Picture white wine poached pear, ham, bacon, Swiss, brie and balsamic reduction on a baguette.  The sandwich is a bit on the diminutive size, but it’s huge in flavor and especially in flavor contrasts that complement one another.  The crisp, smoky bacon contrasts beautifully with the crispy poached pear while the ham and brie are a marriage made in kitchen heaven.  Then there’s the balsamic which lends a slight tang to the entire sandwich.

Dressed Up Pear Essentials Panini

25 March 2017: New York City’s prestigious Waldorf-Astoria Hotel is not only renowned for its upscale and luxury accommodations, but for its culinary innovations.  The Waldorf-Astoria is credited for having invented Eggs Benedict as well as the Waldorf Salad which the hotel first served in 1896.  The Daily Grind’s take on the Waldorf Salad, fittingly called “Waldorf – Grand Style,” is a very tribute to the salad made famous at the most famous hotel in New York City.  It’s constructed from a mound of baby greens, red and green apple slices, sliced pear, candied walnuts, dried cranberries and raspberry vinaigrette.  If you like fresh, invigorating flavors with leafy green goodness and sweet-tangy fruit, this is the salad for you.

Waldorf Salad – Grind Style

12 October 2013: Desserts are truth in advertising.  The advertising comes from the glass pastry case under which are displayed some of the Duke City’s most delectable desserts: pies, cakes, cookies and more.  The truth comes as your taste buds confirm what your eyes have been telling you.  These are absolutely amazing desserts, some of the very best in the city.  The French Silk Pie, very much reminiscent of French gateaus, may be the best I’ve had in the United States.   It’s smooth, rich and best of all, not too sweet (courtesy of the semi-sweet chocolates).  The pie is topped with blueberries which provide a terrific contrast to the chocolate.

12 October 2013: Peñasco’s Sugar Nymph’s Bistro has long held the distinction of serving what I believe are New Mexico’s very best scones.  The Daily Grind’s raspberry scones are right up there with Sugar Nymph’s.  That’s rarefied air.   The Daily Grind’s scones are both moist and crumbly, dense and light, sweet and savory and absolutely addictive.   So, too, are the cinnamon rolls which are brick thick with icing spread generously as if by trowel.

German Chocolate Cake

25 March 2017:  When we espied the German chocolate cake destined for our table, we wondered whether we should eat it or challenge Taos mountaineer Dave Hahn to climb it.  Eating it in one seating might prove as formidable as one of Hahn’s twenty-one expeditions to Mount Everest.  A taller slab of German chocolate cake we’ve never seen: three layers of thick coconut layered in between moist chocolate and topped by a chocolate ganache.  It’s a cake you have to eat in layers, too.  We managed to put a dent in it, but had enough left over for two additional desserts.  

25 March 2017: If you’re served green key lime pie, there’s a good bet either food coloring was added or the pie mix came out of a box.  In the Florida keys, no restaurant can expect to stay in business for long if it serves green key lime pie.  Key lime pies should always be pale yellow, usually a good indication that actual key lime juice is used.  The Daily Grind’s key lime pie is very reminiscent of those we enjoyed so much when traveling through Florida where the key lime pie has been designated by the state legislature as “the official pie of the state of Florida.”  The Daily Grind’s version has a tart, but not lip-pursing, flavor.  It’s also very aromatic, another sign of authenticity.  One unique feature of this pie is that it’s drizzled with sweetened condensed milk which proves a nice foil to the tartness of the lime.

Key Lime Pie

The Daily Grind is a true respite from the daily grind, the type of coffee shop you’d frequent if it was in your neighborhood or that you wouldn’t mind driving a half hour for, especially with the promise of warm raspberry scones awaiting you.

The Daily Grind
4360 Cutler Avenue, N.E., Suite A
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 883-8310
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 25 March 2017
1st VISIT: 12 October 2013
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: Cafe Au Lait, Cinnamon Roll, French Silk Pie, Nancy’s Curried Chicken Salad Sandwich, Cubano, Green Chile Cheese Fries, Raspberry Scone, Gourmet Fries with Blue Cheese and Caramelized Onions, Waldorf Salad – Grind Style, Dressed Up Pear Essentials Panini, German Chocolate Cake, Key Lime Pie

Daily Grind Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Huong Thao – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Huong Thao Vietnamese Restaurant on Juan Tabo

In the year 2000 (ancient history by restaurant standards) when the Duke City had only a handful of Vietnamese restaurants, only one was listed on Zagat Survey’s Millennium Edition of the top restaurants in the Southwest. That restaurant was Huong Thao which was widely regarded at the time as perhaps the city’s very best Vietnamese dining establishment. Zagat Survey accorded Huong Thao a rating of “24” which categorized it as “very good to excellent.” The restaurant was praised for its “delicious traditional foods” and was singled out for its “no-puff” policies back when smoking was still allowed in Albuquerque dining establishments.  

In 2002, Huong Thao eked out a win over other highly-regarded Vietnamese restaurants in La Cocinita magazine’s (defunct) 2002 second annual critic’s choice awards. Garnering praise from an august body of panelists were the “herb-filled spring rolls” and “oh-so-crispy grilled pork.” Today, Huong Thao is a venerable presence, an elder statesperson among a phalanx of very good to outstanding Vietnamese restaurants throughout the Duke City. It remains a formidable favorite to this day because it’s not only retained loyal patrons, it’s cultivated new aficionados.

Huong Thao’s Dining Room

From the very beginning, Huong Thao has held a reputation as a Vegan-friendly restaurant, earning accolades throughout the 1990s and beyond from the Vegetarian Society of New Mexico for its “great food” and “many vegetarian options.” Although the word “Huong” translates from Vietnamese to “scent of the flower” and “Thao” translates to “herbal,” the restaurant was actually named for its founder. Though she long ago sold her eponymous restaurant, the fragrant bouquets which always wafted from Huong Thao’s kitchen remain part and parcel of the restaurant experience. Huong Thao (the restaurant’s founder, not the restaurant) continues to perform fragrant feats of culinary magic, albeit at her son Bill’s restaurant An Hy Quan. Not surprisingly, An Hy Quan is not only the city’s very best Vietnamese vegetarian restaurants, but one of its best restaurants of any genre.

Over the years, our visits to Huong Thao have been infrequent, in part because this Northeast Heights restaurant is the furthest east from our home of any Vietnamese restaurant in Albuquerque. My return visit in March, 2017, after an eleven year absence sure makes me wish I’d listened to my friend and fellow epicurean Jim Millington who long ago urged me to return. My flimsy excuse had been that Huong Thao had begun offering sushi (which no Vietnamese restaurant should ever do), but Jim also assured me the restaurant’s sole focus had also long ago returned to its Vietnamese cuisine. If there is one excuse that only partially absolves my transgression of not having visited sooner, it’s that Huong Thao does not have a street (Juan Tabo) facing presence and is set back in a nondescript shopping center.

New Mexico Spring Roll

Unlike several other Vietnamese restaurants in the city, Huong Thao’s menu isn’t a veritable compendium of all possible Vietnamese deliciousness. With fewer than sixty appetizers and entrees, its menu is roughly half the size of the menu at some restaurants. Study the menu and you’ll be hard-pressed to find any of your favorites absent. In fact, the menu offers several items not widely seen in the Duke City. The appetizer menu, for example, includes an asparagus and crab meat soup. Among unique entrée offerings are stir-fried curry, shaken beef and mung bean crepes. The menu is a delight to peruse, offering something for everyone who loves Vietnamese cuisine.

22 March 2017: When you do visit Huong Thao, there’s really no excuse for not having the restaurant’s amazing spring rolls. After all these years, these zeppelin-sized spring rolls are still the biggest (and among the very best) in the city–two rice paper rolls per order engorged with pork (and or shrimp and tofu), noodles and fresh vegetables. New Mexicans, of course, will order the New Mexico Spring Roll (green chile and avocado with chicken, tofu or shrimp). This is an idea whose time has come, further confirmation that green chile improves the flavor of everything it touches. The green chile isn’t especially piquant, but it has a nice roasted flavor. Fresh avocado and cilantro lend the essence of freshness. The accompanying fish sauce is a bit on the sweet side, but that’s easily remedied with a liberal application of the chili sauce on your table.

Boneless Stuffed Chicken Wings

24 March 2017: Despite pretty obvious limitations—they’re messy, they don’t give you a lot of meat and they’re so small it takes a lot of them to put a dent on your appetite—chicken wings have become a veritable culinary institution in America. In many cases, however, the only difference between the chicken wing at one eatery and another is the sauce with which they’re served. There’s not much originality in the concept. Some Vietnamese and Thai restaurants have an answer to the homogeneity of the ubiquitous chicken wing—stuff it.

Huong Thao’s boneless stuffed chicken wings are terrific, the complete antithesis of the limitations listed above. Somehow, the chef has managed to debone a chicken wing; stuff it with ground pork, clear noodles and mushrooms; and deep-fry it. Frankly, it resembles a small fried game hen, pumped up like a football (no Tom Brady jokes here) and fried to a crispy, golden brown. The stuffing is addictive with pungent, earthy notes that complement the crispy chicken skin. The accompanying fish sauce is wholly unnecessary.

Spicy Beef Soup (Bun Ho Hue)

22 March 2017: My very favorite entrée is the Hue-style spicy beef soup (bun bo Hue), the spicier, heartier, livelier, more flavorful cousin to pho. It’s the best (and only) reason to eschew pho. Huong Thao’s rendition is, by far, the “beefiest,” most beef-concentrated version of Hue-style soup I’ve ever had. Some of that is courtesy of the beef, meatloaf, tendon and pork hock swimming around in the aromatic beef stock, but look closer and you’ll see lots of the fatty globules which characterize soup that starts with beef and pork bones. Some diners may consider the pork hock and tendon a bit off-putting, but they lend so much personality to a soup already brimming with soul-warming and assertive flavors. Its spiciness comes from lots of lemongrass, shrimp paste and a tangle of aromatic herbs.

24 March 2017: While it seems the Land of Enchantment competes with Mississippi for last place in virtually every quality of life factor, there is one area in which the Magnolia State reigns supreme. That would be in the preparation of catfish. I’ve often lamented (probably ad-nauseum) the lack of great catfish dishes in New Mexico, but should qualify that doesn’t apply to the way Vietnamese restaurants prepare catfish. Café Dalat and before that May Hong have quelled our yen for catfish many times. In Huong Thao’s deep-fried catfish in ginger sauce, we found another superb catfish dish. The ginger sauce is applied lightly as opposed to the lacquered on sauce at Café Dalat, but it is no less potent. That sauce enlivens the flaky fish. Perhaps in deference to queasy diners, Huong Thao serves its catfish sans head which is a shame because there’s plenty of flavorful flesh in fish cheeks.

Deep-Fried Catfish in Ginger Sauce

Huong Thao remains one of the city’s best and most popular Vietnamese restaurants. Don’t just take my word for it (considering the eleven year gap between visits). Ask anyone who knows and loves Vietnamese cuisine and they’ll tell you.

Huong Thao
1016B Juan Tabo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 292-8222
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: New Mexico Spring Rolls, Boneless Stuffed Chicken Wings, Rice Noodle Bowl Grilled With Lemongrass and Sliced Pork, Stir Fried Egg Noodles With Pork, Deep-Fried Catfish in Ginger Sauce, Spicy Beef Soup,

Huong Thao Vietnamese Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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