Fork & Fig – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Fork & Fig, a Modern Eatery on Menaul Just East of Louisiana

Listen to Billy Joel’s 1983 doo wop hit Uptown Girl and you’ll probably get the impression that uptown is synonymous with uppity or at least upscale.  The lyrics describe a working-class downtown man (ostensibly Joel himself who’s originally from blue-collar Long Island) trying to win the heart of a wealthy, white bred uptown girl (Joel’s future wife Christie Brinkley). The perception of uptown’s haughtiness were reenforced in “The Contest” episode of Seinfeld in which John F. Kennedy, Jr. lived in trendy uptown.  When they finally came into money, the Jefferson’s moved on up, too.

Until just a few years ago, the Albuquerque neighborhoods around which conversations typically centered were Old Town, downtown, Nob Hill and even EDo (East Downtown).  Uptown was solely where the Coronado and Winrock Malls were.  With the closure of the Winrock Mall and subsequent launch of ABQ Uptown, a pedestrian-friendly, open-air lifestyle center, Albuquerque’s uptown area seemingly became “the heart of the city’s modern shopping and business district.”

The dining room with open kitchen at Fork & Fig

Though it may appear national chains such as the Elephant Bar, Dave & Buster’s, Bonefish Grill and Romano’s Macaroni Grill dominate the uptown culinary landscape, actually only 45 percent of the uptown area’s 75 restaurants are national chains.  Local mom-and-pop restaurants continue to thrive against the onslaught of deep-pocketed corporate competition.  Enter into the fray Fork & Fig, a modern eatery which opened its doors just before the calendar flipped to February, 2015. 

Fork & Fig is an exemplar of locally owned and operated.  After having worked as a personal chef in Los Angeles and Phoenix, Josh Kennon, a Deming native credentialed at Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale, decided to try his hand at owning and operating his own restaurant.  Though Fork & Fig specializes in gourmet burgers, sandwiches, wraps and salads, you can also get more substantial offerings (such as steak) on a take-out basis.  The restaurant, which has neither a freezer or a fryer, emphasizes fresh, local ingredients. 

Citrus Salad

Compared with some of the megalithic chains in the area, Fork & Fig is practically Lilliputian, seating only 40 patrons in its 1,500 square-foot space. Diminutive, however, doesn’t mean dull and drab.  Fork & Fig is a hip and happening venue sure to excite both even the most discerning palates.  Seating is in personal space proximity (which means you have a good view of what’s being delivered to your neighbors’ tables) with bar-like seating overlooking an exhibition prep kitchen and, when they’re not swamped, you can even interact with the chefs.  

In Albuquerque The Magazine‘s annual “Best of the City” peoples’ choice poll for 2015, Fork & Fig was named “Best New Restaurant.”  That’s quite an honor considering the high quality of new restaurants launched in 2015.  In January, 2017, Fork & Fig was one of a handful of Duke City eateries highlighted by Young Professionals of Albuquerque for inclusion in list naming “5 Eateries Perfect For Your Lunch Break.”  Since its launch, Fork & Fig has remained a consistent presence on Yelp’s list of “best restaurants in Albuquerque.”  It’s certainly a restaurant going places.

Sesame Salad

If there’s one thing a smallish restaurant with no freezer and no fryer can’t do, it’s be all things to all people.  It makes better sense to focus on a select few items and prepare them exceptionally well.  The few, the proud, the delicious at Fork & Fig is comprised of eight sandwiches (Sammys), five burgers (Burgs), three wraps, three greens (salads), five sides, a sour du jour and a dessert du jour as well.  With the Sammys, Burgs and Wraps, you also receive one side (Cotija corn, grilled zucchini, potato gnocchi, cherry tomato salad, green chile slaw).  Please note that because of menu rotation, some of the items described below may not be available when you visit.

8 February 2015: It’s probably not polite to drool when servers deliver a meal to your neighbors, but such is the hazard of close proximity seating.  The burgers, in particular, are drool-worthy.  They’re skyscraper tall with thick beef patties topped with sundry ingredients and imagination.  Sometimes, however, you feel like a burger and sometimes you don’t.  In the rare latter event, it’s nice to know you can find something as good as the Grown-Up Grilled Cheese Sandwich (four cheeses, tomato fig relish and bacon on Hawaiian bread).  This magnificent melange of sweet, unctuous and smoky deliciousness is indeed an all grown up version of the sandwich we all loved as children.  The Cotija corn, a grilled ear of corn topped with shredded Cotija cheese) is a terrific foil.

The Fig with a Cool Watermelon Gazpacho

8 February 2015: Save for the sacrosanct green chile Philly at Philly’s N’ Fries, I’m at a loss to recall a single transformative or even memorable steak sandwich in the Duke City. Fork & Fig’s Ribeye Sammy (ribeye, caramelized onions, smoked Gouda and creamy chimichurri on a ciabatta bun) aims to change my thinking. The ribeye is on the thin side (similar to a Mexican steak), but it’s tender and nary fat nor sinew rear their yucky presence. The chimichurri is indeed creamy, but a bit more of it would have been nice. The green chile slaw doesn’t have much personality or piquancy, but it doesn’t take anything away from the Ribeye Sammy.

8 February 2015: Uber chef Marcus Samuelsson believes “Salad can get a bad rap.  People think of bland and watery iceberg lettuce, but in fact, salads are an art form, far from the simplest rendition to a colorful kitchen-sink approach.”  It’s with this approach that Fork & Fig creates the four salads on its Greens menu.  You’ve probably had a salad similar to The Citrus (berries and orange supremes, mixed greens, candied walnuts and goat cheese with a blood orange vinaigrette), but you’ll probably enjoy The Citrus more.  The blood orange vinaigrette should be bottled and sold. 

Cubano

24 June 2017: Humorist Fran Lebowitz once remarked “A salad is not a meal.  It’s a style.”  Most of us will agree with at least the first part of that quote.  Salad is definitely not a meal!  That said, salad can be a very enjoyable first course, a precursor to something less spartan.  Much as we might enjoy Fork & Fig’s The Sesame, we’re happy in the realization that something more substantial will follow–not that this salad is small by any means.  The sesame (greens, avocado, candied ginger, heirloom carrots, orange supremes, pickled red onion and sesame vinaigrette) is an excellent salad, one in which the combination of sesame seeds and sesame vinaigrette impart a discernible nutty flavor, something akin to sunflower seeds.  The sesame flavor is a perfect complement to the peppery arugula while the orange supremes and especially the candied ginger add a delightful contrast.

24 June 2017:  While mathematicians may get their jollies in contemplating the golden ratio (a special number found by dividing a line into two parts so that the longer part divided by the smaller part is also equal to the whole length divided by the longer part), burgerphiles would rather contemplate ratios which make a perfect burger: the ratio of meat to fat and the ratio of beef to bun to ingredients.  Fork & Fig got the first ratio (meat to fat) just right on the eponymous Fig (beef, caramelized onion, Swiss cheese, fungi, truffle fig aioli, bacon, greens, crispy onion and tomato on a brioche bun).  The beef, prepared a medium degree of doneness, is moist, juicy and very flavorful, about as flavorful as some very good steaks.  Alas, the ratio of bun to beef to ingredients was a bit askew.  Before we had consumed even half the burger, the bun had crumpled under the moistness and volume of the beef and accompanying ingredients.  We had to finish the burger with a fork.  By definition (at least mine), it’s no longer a burger when a fork has to be used.

Opera Cakes

24 June 2017:  Virtually every sandwich purveyor in the Duke City, it seems, offers its rendition of a Cubano.  Virtually all of them are formulaic copies of the other, most often served panini style.  Kudos to Fork & Fig for employing a buttery croissant as the canvas for its Cubano (sliced ham, pulled pork, Swiss cheese, aioli grain mustard, kosher pickle). Two things stand out about this Cubano: the aioli grain mustard and kosher pickle.  Two things are in short supply: pulled pork and sliced ham.  Had more substantial portions of these proteins been piled on, this sandwich would be in contention for “best in the city.”

24 June 2017:  Fork & Fig offers a dessert du jour.  Good fortune smiled upon us when opera cakes were the delight of the day.  Essentially petit fours, a French term which literally translates as “small oven,” the opera cakes are bite-sized pastries.  Nine different cakes are available, but only five to an order are ferried over to your table and you don’t get to choose which five of the nine you’ll get.  Live dangerously.  If the five–apple crumble cake, pistachio, tiramisu, raspberry and lemon tart–which graced our table are any indication, you can’t go wrong with any of the five.  They’re small slices of decadent deliciousness.

Albuquerque’s Uptown area is far from the uppity and exclusive neighborhood so often stereotyped in song and literature.  In restaurants such as Fork & Fig, all are welcome no matter your neighborhood.

Fork & Fig
6904 Menaul, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 881.5293
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 24 June 2017
1st VISIT: 8 February 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Grown-up Grilled Cheese, Cotija Corn, Ribeye Sandwich, Green Chile Coleslaw, The Fig, Cubano, Watermelon Gazpacho, Opera Cakes

Fork and Fig Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pop-Up Dumpling House – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pop-Up Dumpling House Within the Talin Market

 “And her dumplings were so light they would float in the air and you’d have to catch ’em to eat ’em.”
~Author: Fannie Flagg

Think you know dumplings? Believe you’ve tried almost every type of dumpling there is? That’s what I thought until discovering a Wikipedia page called “List of dumplings” which essentially opened up a large world of ne’er sampled dumplings. For the glass-is-half-full types among us, this list is a challenge…an opportunity to broaden our dumpling horizons. Alas, such a horizon (and waist) broadening experience will mean crossing many borders.  Not surprisingly, not every dumpling type is to be found in the Duke City, although you just might be surprised at just how many types of dumplings you can find within our little slice of heaven on Earth.

Your veritable “around the world in fifty dumplings” tour should start at Ming Dynasty where the dim sum menu showcases such Chinese dumpling treasures as crab Rangoon, har gow (shrimp dumplings), shumai (steamed dumplings stuffed with prawns), sausage buns, steamed barbecue pork buns, shrimp stuffed bean curd and several others prepared so authentically and so well you might swear you’re in Hong Kong. For a dumpling tour of Japan you need go no further than Magokoro where some of the best gyoza (a mix of chicken and pork potstickers) is to be found. For the best dumplings in the exotic Indian sub-continent, track down the Karibu Cafe’s mobile kitchen where the samosas are sumptuous. Better yet, visit the Cafe on Eubank. There’s no need to meet in the mountains of Nepal to enjoy momos, steamed or fried vegetable and meat dumplings with flavors as impressive as Mount Everest.   Visit Namaste for these momentous momos.  One of the Duke City’s best kept secrets is the Arirang Oriental Market where you’ll find the best Mandu (Korean potstickers) in New Mexico

Susan Creates some of the Best Dumplings in New Mexico

Enthusiasm in Europe runs high for dumplings. At the Red Rock Deli, you’ll want to play Russian roulette with the restaurant’s incomparable sweet and savory pierogi and nalesniki. Even if you can’t pronounce them, you’ll also want to order pyzy, grated Polish potato dumplings. For the best fruit filled empanadas (blueberry is the bomb) in town, a trip to the Golden Crown Panaderia is in order while savory empanadas are made incomparably well at The Farmacy.  If you’re one of the few Duke City diners who hasn’t visited El Modelo for their fabulous tamales, your around-the-world tour should be reason enough to drop everything you’re doing.  These are arguably the best tamales in New Mexico.  Several metropolitan restaurants offer delicious versions of Italian dumplings, one exemplar being Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho where you can enjoy mouth-watering gnocchi, ravioli and tortellini. If Southern-style chicken and dumplings are more your style, Bucket Headz is your hook-up.

“”What’s this?” you ask. “Empanadas and tamales are a type of dumpling?” “Ravioli, too?” According to Wikipedia and several dictionaries, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Not only are empanadas, tamales and ravioli a type of dumpling, but so are matzo balls, wontons and even Yorkshire pudding. Most dictionaries are rather noncommittal in firming up a definition for the term “dumpling,” though most seem to agree dumplings include a portion of dough or batter that is usually steamed or boiled…though they can be baked or fried. The Kitchen Project goes a bit further: “It can be a batter or dough rolled out that is cooked by itself or filled with anything from meat to fruit. It can be a main dish, side dish or dessert.”

Hot and Sour Soup

The term “dumpling” is even used as a descriptor for people and animals, the context being “something soft and rounded like a dumpling, especially a short fat person or animal.” Thankfully at 6’1” that sobriquet probably won’t ever be used to describe me. With such versatility and universality, we can probably agree that the dumpling is practically a food group in itself. There isn’t a culture on planet Earth that doesn’t enjoy dumplings in one form or another, finding extraordinary satisfaction in biting into a filled or unfilled, crescent-shaped or not, fried, steamed, boiled, sweet or savory, main course or dessert…culinary conundrum.

Egg Drop Soup

Unless you consider Chef Boyardee’s “Raviolios” a type of dumpling, my sole experience with dumplings was with empanadas and tamales–until the Air Force sent me to Massachusetts.  There this unacculturated, bumpkinly hayseed from Peñasco discovered Italian dumplings at such paragons of dumpling deliciousness as Mario’s Italian Restaurant in Lexington.  Later when my friends frequented the “Combat Zone,” Boston’s notorious red light district, for adult “entertainment,” I walked the streets of Chinatown in pursuit of dumplings in the area’s dumpling houses.  Despite the name, dumplings weren’t the exclusive offering at these dens of dumpling deliciousness; they also offered an extensive array of Chinese delicacies.

Hot and Spicy Cucumbers

Albuquerque’s very first dumpling house launched in September, 2014 within the sprawling confines of the Talin Market.  The curious appellation Pop-Up Dumpling House implies it’s a mini-restaurant not tied to one brick-and-mortar edifice that doesn’t function as a full-time restaurant.  True enough this Pop-Up enterprise is open only on Fridays and Saturdays in Albuquerque and on Mondays in Santa Fe.  Step into Albuquerque’s commodious Talin Market and the aromas emanating from the dumpling house don’t just pop up; they lure you in like an irresistible siren’s call.  It’s a delicious detour you’ll want to repeat over and over again.

A small menu belies the huge flavors you’ll encounter at the Pop-Up Dumpling House.  Aside from dumplings, the menu offers a number of noodle dishes including an addictive beef noodle soup, beef chow fun and dan dan noodles.  Two mini sandwiches–a “duckwich” and a braised pork belly sandwich–what many of us would consider “finger foods” are also available as are appetizer sized bowls of spicy steamed eggplant and hot and spicy cucumbers.  As at sushi restaurants everywhere, you place your order on a paper menu you can mark up with your lunch or dinner choices.  Your meal will be delivered minutes later with the dumplings likely being the last item you receive as they’re prepared to order.  That’s right!  They don’t sit under some heat lamp until someone orders them.

Beef Noodle Soup

True to the name on the marquee (if the pop-up restaurant had one), the big draw at this Pop-Up is dumplings–delicious, delectable, overstuffed delights–which are handmade by a friendly Sichuan family. Watching Susan at work is a real treat. She handcrafts each and every dumpling, paying meticulous attention to her work. The dumplings are engorged (not an exaggeration) with your choice of lamb, rib eye, shrimp, traditional (pork), vegetarian, wild coho salmon and (on occasion) lobster. Eight plump dumplings comprise an order (or you can split an order into four dumplings of two different types) along with your choice of hot and sour or egg drop soup. Your choice from among three dipping sauces–traditional, spicy or Sichuan-style–completes your order and frankly, that may be more than enough.

15 July 2016: During our first three visits we’ve enjoyed three different dumplings: traditional pork, rib eye and lobster.  These dumplings aren’t exactly standard in size or shape, but the telltale hand-pinched seal that keeps the filling in place is readily apparent.  It’s a Tupperware-like seal that prevents the filling from spilling out while the dumplings are immersed in a boiling bath which renders them soft, but chewy.  Bite into them and you expose the minced protein with which the dumplings are stuffed.  Tiny bits of carrot and scallions punctuate the pork and lamb.  Though most familiar to anyone who frequents Chinese restaurants, the traditional pork dumplings may be the most satisfying.  From the lamb-filled dumplings, we just didn’t get much of the gaminess that characterizes lamb.  With the sweet, briny flavor of lobster, the lobster dumplings transported us to the coast of Maine where even locals would enjoy them immensely.

Ribeye Dumplings

Though the dumplings need absolutely no amelioration, the dipping sauces provide an additional level of flavor and interest.  For New Mexicans used to piquant flavors, neither the spicy or even spicier Sichuan-style sauces will be much of a challenge, but they do boost the flavor profile.  Both the spicy sauce and the Sichuan-style sauce are redolent with aromatic, herbaceous notes  inherent from a unique peppercorn-like spice we’ve experienced at a few Asian restaurants.  In any case, with or without sauces, the dumplings warrant a return visit on their own.

23 June 2017: Hot and sour soup and egg drop soup have become such de rigueur options at Chinese restaurants that it’s a surprise when something else is offered.  It’s even a greater surprise when either soup is more than just passable.  The Pop-Up Dumpling House’s hot and sour soup borders on greatness.  No!  Make that this hot and sour soup is great!…as in among the very best in the city great.  This intensely flavored elixir actually lives up to its name, imparting a vinegar sweetness and Sichuan and black pepper heat.  It’s also served hot.  The steamy, nasal-clearing heat rises up to cure whatever may be ailing you.  My friend Bill Resnik, he of the encyclopedic culinary knowledge and a far better cook than I, did point out that the hot and sour soup didn’t have two of his favorite ingredients, wood ear mushrooms and lotus petals.  I hadn’t missed them until he pointed out their absence.  Ingredients not withstanding, you’ll enjoy this soup.

Beef Chow Fun

9 July 2016: You can easily fill up with even a half order (four) of dumplings and a bowl of hot and sour soup.  Don’t let that sway you against ordering yet another outstanding soup.  The beef noodle soup, a swimming pool-sized bowl redolent with the olfactory-arousing aroma of star anise and rich with mildly astringent bak choy is fabulous!  Long, thick noodles swim in the coffee-colored broth where larger than bite-sized chunks of beef are submerged.  This is the type of soup which tastes just as good, if not better, the next day.  It’s not likely you’ll finish it during your visit unless you forego having dumplings and that would be a shame.

9 July 2016: Hot and spicy cucumbers are a perfect foil for the beef noodle soup, providing the type of contrast which goes oh so well with the rich, sweet-savory broth.  Thin-sliced cucumbers cut diagonally are seasoned with oil, red chile flakes and Sichuan pepper, rendering them deliciously piquant and reminiscent of the cucumber pickles often served at Korean restaurants with banchan (side dishes) offerings.  The hot and spicy cucumbers are delightfully crunchy and positively addictive and if you like the hot and spicy flavor profile, the hot and spicy soup is a palate-pleasing pairing.

Duckwich

9 July 2016:  When she was a young child, one of my nieces referred to Beef Chow Fun as “fun chow.” From the mouth of babes oft emanates great wisdom. Beef Chow Fun can indeed be fun chow. The term “Chow Fun” applies to both a type of noodle and a popular stir-fried dish with meat and vegetables. Only very wide noodles, usually made from ground rice, qualify as chow fun. At a minimum, they’re usually about an inch-wide and can range in length from six to twelve inches. At the Pop-Up Dumpling restaurant, the noodles are stir-fried with bak choy, carrots, white onions and celery. While the addition of vegetables may sound healthy, chow fun shouldn’t be considered a health food as it’s fairly oily and calorific though so delicious, it’s hard to show much restraint.

15 July 2016: If you’ve got just a little room left after polishing off an order of dumplings and soup, one of the two sandwiches on the menu may be a nice option. Neither sandwich comes close to breaking the bank, each setting you back south of four dollars. The duckwich is a thing of great beauty—tender tendrils of moist, cold duck, thin slices of green apple and a smear of Hoison nestled in the same dough from which dumplings are made. Providing only five or six bites, let’s face it, this is finger food, but it’s duck and it’s delicious. The contrast of rich duck and tangy green apple slices is particularly pleasing. If duck isn’t what your heart desires, there’s also a braised pork belly sandwich with the inimitable flavor of smoked bacon with a fatty texture.

My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver Enjoys the Eggplant

15 July 2016: One of the most irrefutable truths in the Albuquerque culinary world is that no restaurant prepares eggplant quite as well as Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho. It’s eggplant the way the culinary gods intended eggplant to be made. Despite his undying devotion to Joe’s stuffed eggplant, my friend Sr. Plata isn’t eggplant monogamous. He’ll try eggplant anywhere and any way its prepared. The Pop-Up Dumpling House’s version, spicy steamed eggplant is the antithesis of Joe’s in that it’s assertive and piquant, very reminiscent to a version you might have at a Korean restaurant. Silky eggplant is made hot and spicy courtesy of chili and Sichuan sauces. Much like tofu, eggplant absorbs and complements flavors very well. It’s an excellent canvas for the piquant pepper based sauce.

23 June 2017:  Some of my more seasoned readers probably remember an American line of canned Chinese food products bearing the Chun King label.  In the early 1960s, Chun King was bringing in $30 million in annual revenue and accounted for half of all U.S. sales of prepared Chinese food.  Chun King wasn’t exactly authentic, having been created by a company which specialized in pizza rolls and frozen pizza.  Seeing “Chongquing Noodles” on the Dumpling House rekindled memories of the Chun King products of yore.  There’s no way, of course, the Dumpling House would serve anything as inauthentic as Chun King’s canned food.  Chongquing Noodles have been described as “spicy and numbing noodle.”  That description had me at “spicy.”  The first thing you’ll notice about the Dumpling House’s Chongquing Noodles is its brownish-reddish color, a bit reminiscent of the contents of a spittoon.  That color is courtesy of Szechuan style red oil,  a red oil made with red pepper powder and other Chinese spices.  For this fire-eating native New Mexican, the level of heat on this noodle dish barely registered, but more prevalent was its saltiness.  A bit of desalinization would have helped what would otherwise have been a very nice, warming and comforting dish.

Chongquing Noodles

Popping in to the Pop-Up Dumpling House will enhance your appreciation for the humble and incomparably delicious dumpling.  It’s a great place to start your own “around the world in 50 dumplings” tour.

Pop-Up Dumpling House
Talin World Food Market
88 Louisiana Blvd, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 268-0206
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 23 July 2017
1st VISIT: 9 July 2016
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Beef Noodle Soup, Pork Dumplings, Ribeye Dumplings, Lobster Dumplings Hot & Sour Soup, Egg Drop Soup, Beef Chow Fun, Hot & Spicy Cucumbers, Dan Dan Noodles, Chongquing Noodles, Spicy Steamed Eggplant, Duckwich

Pop-Up Dumpling House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pad Thai Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pad Thai Cafe Thai Cuisine

Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain likened his first experience tasting Thai food to “like discovering a color I never knew existed before. A whole new crayon box full of colors.” With so many vibrant colors available, most people don’t settle for one fairly basic color (let’s say black) in a box full of crayons. Unfortunately, settling is precisely what many diners tend to do when eating at Thai restaurants. Although the menu may be replete with dozens of exotic options, many diners focus exclusively on ordering that one Thai dish with which they’re familiar, that ubiquitous dish more innocuous than bold, the dish which provides flavor without venturing outside the safe comfort zone that bespeaks of the unknown. For many diners, that one dish is Pad Thai.

Howie “The Duke of Duke City” Kaibel, the charismatic Albuquerque Community Manager for Yelp, is the type of guy who has explored every crayon in the box and played with every color combination imaginable. He’s the kaleidoscopic, polychromatic, tie-dye guy who’s too whimsical and creative to remain in a monogamous relationship with any one basic color. Howie long ago gave up on Pad Thai because he wanted to explore the myriad of other options available at Thai restaurants. Here’s how he describes the basic black equivalent in a menu full of vibrant colors: “Pad Thai is “essentially the spaghetti ‘n meatballs of Thai food,”…”the starter dish,”…”the sweet, sorta hum-drum intro.”…”Pad Thai is so user friendly: noodles, chicken, lime, peanuts. Yummy stuff but pedestrian.” It’s a sentiment we share.

The Cozy Confines of Pad Thai Cafe

Howie doesn’t denounce Pad Thai as an inedible or bad dish. He just doesn’t find it as interesting or delicious as other options available at Thai restaurants. We also share in that opinion. So, when Howie recently proclaimed he’d experienced “the best darn Pad Thai I’ve ever had” at a Duke City Thai restaurant, my curiosity was piqued.  Fittingly that restaurant is the Pad Thai Cafe.  He reasoned that “when you’re ordering from a place called the Pad Thai Café, you have to try the flagship.” That made great sense to me. Pad Thai (the restaurant as well as the dish) is located at the sprawling Talin Market on Louisiana just north of Central.

As to why Pad Thai is so popular that some diners never deviate from ordering it, attribute that, at least in part, to more savvy diners who, when introducing less worldly friends to Thai food, steer them toward Pad Thai. Perhaps, they reason, Pad Thai is less exotic and intimidating than other dishes on the menu and it resembles Chinese stir-fried dishes with which the neophytes might be familiar. As with many other Thai dishes, Pad Thai does offer an intricate balance of textures and flavors—salty, sour, sweet and piquant (added to taste in the form of chilies). Bean sprouts and peanuts add a subtle though desirable crunch, a foil for the soft rice noodles and protein of your choice. Finding Pad Thai’s combination of spices and seasonings appealing and its flavors mild and easy on the palate, many diners never “graduate” beyond Pad Thai and don’t ever try anything else on the menu.

Egg Rolls

As of 2007, there were at least 11,600 Thai restaurants operating across the globe, many of them bearing the name Pad Thai. It’s a good bet that almost–if not all–those 11,600 Thai restaurants offer Pad Thai on their menus. Every one of Albuquerque’s two dozen or so Thai restaurants certainly does. In 2014, Andrea Lin, erstwhile restaurant critic for the Albuquerque Journal, published a primer on finding Pad Thai in the metropolitan area. She sampled Pad Thai at six Thai restaurants, finding desirable qualities in each and shortcomings in some. Her observations didn’t include much hyperbole or exaltation. That’s typically how it goes with Pad Thai. Even its most ardent aficionados don’t describe it in terms reserved for more transformative dishes.

Having fewer than a dozen tables in a rather Lilliputian space benefits the Pad Thai Café greatly in that the wonderful aromas emanating from the kitchen aren’t distributed beyond the relatively confined space. You’ll imbibe those aromas with alacrity even as they increase your appetite and cause involuntary salivation. Those enticing aromas preface a dining experience sure to be memorable. The menu is familiar though not quite the compendium larger restaurants offer. Still, you’ll find most of the dishes with which you’ve fallen in love at other Thai restaurants—and a Pad Thai dish that may well be the best in the city. But, I digress.

Chicken Satay

As is human nature, once you’re comfortably seated you’ll take a gander at the restaurant’s thematic trappings. More than at any Thai restaurant we’ve visited in Albuquerque, the Pad Thai Café’s walls are festooned with framed photographs of Thailand’s royal family. Thankfully (for the sake of your appetite) you won’t have much time to ponder restaurant walls adorned with the smiling countenances of The Donald or Hillary because a complimentary pair of egg rolls will soon capture your focus. The golden-hued, mostly vegetable egg rolls are served with a bright red sweet and sour sauce. They’re quite good, a portend of appealing appetizers soon to follow.

19 March 2016: Make one of them the chicken satay. Satay is Thailand’s version of shish kebab, a savory meat Popsicle constructed from skewered strips of beef, chicken or lamb and designed to be dipped in a traditional peanut sauce or cucumber sauce. In Thailand, satay is one of the more popular street foods, commonly purchased directly from food stalls (so why isn’t there at least one food truck in Albuquerque dedicated to the proliferation of satay?). The satay at Pad Thai Café is terrific, lightly coated in a yellow curry and imbued with a pronounced grilled flavor. Six satay are served per order and they’re so good, you may order a second batch.

Tod Mun Pla

19 March 2016: Though the satay stands out on its own, the two dipping sauces elevate the skewers to perhaps best in town quality. Unlike far too many peanut sauce concoctions in the Duke City, the Pad Thai Café’s version isn’t as cloying as a Reese’s peanut butter cup. It’s got a nice balance of savory and sweet flavors. Texturally, the sauce is more ground peanuts than peanut butter. Even better is the cucumber sauce, a delicious dish of chopped cucumbers, peanuts, red peppers and red onions in a tangy-vinegary sauce. The cucumber sauce provides a pleasant balance of sweet, sour, savory and piquant with no one overly dominant flavor.

19 March 2016: Thai fish cakes (tod mun pla) are not to be missed at the Pad Thai Café. Sold on many a street corner in Thailand, this street food favorite makes for a wonderful appetizer at sit-down restaurants, too. Although ten fish cakes constitute an order, some of the fish cakes are barely bite-sized (though their flavors are much larger). Infused with a red curry which imparts a pungent flavor, the fish cakes are lightly battered and wok-fried to a golden-hue. The consistency of each is firm, but “bouncy,” meaning they have a nice “give” when you bite down on them. The cucumber sauce is a perfect foil for the fish cakes.

Pot Stickers

31 March 2016: Pot stickers are an extremely important part of the Chinese New Year’s feast which is celebrated throughout Asian countries such as Thailand with a significant Chinese population. Not only are pot stickers believed to bring wealth, it is said that as they cook, they recover family wishes of generations past. Whether or not the Pad Thai Café’s pot stickers bring you fortune, you will believe yourself fortunate to have them on your plate. These golden-hued dumplings are more crispy than any other deep-fried pot stickers in Albuquerque. They’re also served with the best dipping sauce. While most dipping sauces tend to be a rather humdrum derivative of soy sauce, this sauce is an amalgam of pepper, garlic, soy, chili and perhaps other seasonings. It’s a lively sauce with a balance of heat, savoriness and sweetness. Eight pot stickers are served per order.

Papaya Salad

2 June 2017: The most popular dish among women in Thailand is papaya salad.  Even if it means admitting I’m very much in touch with my feminine side, I’ll gladly admit to loving papaya salad.  Along with curry, it’s the one Thai dish that serves as my benchmark for how good a Thai restaurant is.  The papaya salad at Pad Thai is right up there with the transcendent papaya salad at An Hy Quan.  That’s rarefied “best in the city” air.   Crisp strips of unripened papaya, crunchy raw green beans and a piquant mix of chiles, garlic, tomatoes fish sauce and lime juice make it the perfect cooling summer starter.  Pad Thai’s version is very balanced with delicious, healthful elements throughout. 

Massaman Curry

19 March 2016: The massaman curry is superb though you’re well cautioned to spoon on the accompanying rice in moderation. Too much rice and you risk a curry dish that isn’t as moist as you might like and won’t be as piquant as fire-eaters enjoy. Prepared to your exacting specifications for heat (Thai spice for me), the curry is counterbalanced with coconut milk, potatoes and crushed peanuts. This spicy yet sweet concoction provides a pleasing layer of flavor to your protein choice (pork works very well) and the potatoes. It’s a massaman curry with a wonderfully balanced flavor profile.

If you’ve noticed my use of the adjective “balanced” throughout this review, that’s by design. Perhaps more than at any other Thai eatery in Albuquerque, the Pad Thai Café is successful at creating and serving dishes with the balance of flavors that is truly the heart of Thai cooking. Every Thai chef should strive to imbue every dish with at least two of the five major flavors (sweet, sour, spicy, salty and bitter), a sort of yin and yang balance. In my estimation, too many of Albuquerque’s Thai restaurants forego balance and serve dishes which are overwhelmingly sweet (some would say “Americanized”).

Pad Thai

19 March 2016: One of the biggest culprits is Pad Thai (the dish, not the restaurant). Sure you can squeeze some lime to give it a slight sour bite or sprinkle on chilies to give it piquancy, but often the results are more like an adulterated dessert than a savory, balanced dish. I suspect Howie discerned the balance of flavors in the Pad Thai Café’s signature dish. That balance allows you to appreciate the savory flat rice noodles and crushed peanuts, the pleasant funkiness of the fish sauce and slight sourness from tamarind (which accounts for the dish’s reddish hue) without worrying about tooth decay from a cloying dish. Howie may have undersold how good this Pad Thai dish is…and it’s even better when you heat it up the next day because you probably won’t finish the generous portion on your plate.

31 March 2016: You might think that a dish called drunken noodles would be made with copious amounts of alcohol, but that’s typically not the case. Several theories abound as to the unique name. One posits that the dish was devised by someone who came home drunk and created the dish from available ingredients (why then isn’t it called “drunkard’s noodles?).” Still another origin theory attributes the name to the dish’s sloppy, drunken appearance. This theory has little credibility unless you really care about the aesthetic qualities of the dish. Most of us are interested only in its deliciousness. The Pad Thai Café’s version is the best I’ve ever had—stir-fried wide rice noodles with fish sauce, chili, garlic, basil, baby corn, carrots and broccoli and your choice of protein (beef, chicken, pork or shrimp). The concoction is stir-fried with chili added to your exacting degree of piquancy (still another theory as to this dish’s name has to do with how much beer you’ll drink to combat its heat). There are many elements on this dish that make it a star: velvety rice noodles impregnated with sauce, a balance of flavors that appeal to different taste buds and the addictive properties of capsaicin from the chilies.

Drunken Noodles

31 March 2016: Several years ago, I visited a sandwich shop in Charleston, South Carolina which had recently been named one of the best 21 sandwich shops in America. In a head-scratching moment as inexplicable as the popularity of Justin Bieber, this restaurant essayist visited one of America’s most heralded best sandwich shops and ordered…hold on to your seats…laab. Yes, laab. Gasp! Laab is a very popular “cooked salad” typically found on the menu at Thai and Lao restaurants, not sandwich shops.

Laab is essentially a minced meat (pork, chicken or beef) dish with healthful elements of a salad. The Pad Thai Café’s version is made with grilled minced pork, lime juice, fish sauce, chili powder, roasted rice powder, shallots, green onions, Kafir lime leaves, cilantro and mint. There are few salads as refreshing courtesy of fresh sprigs of Kafir lime, cilantro and mint which counterbalance the heat and pungency of the fish sauce and chili powder. This is not a boring composed salad; it’s an adventure in complementary and disparate flavors working very well together.

Laab

31 March 2016: When you discover a restaurant as amazing as the Pad Thai Cafe, you’ve got to share it with your friends.  For the most part that means sharing my observations on this blog.  Among my cherished readers are three of my very best friends, fellow foodies who’ll drop what they’re doing to join me for a meal to validate the veracity of the claims on my blog. My second visit to the Pad Thai Cafe was with Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott: Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate; and the dazzling Deanell.  They were all surprised at the diversity, explosiveness and balance of flavors in every dish we enjoyed.  By meal’s end, there was near unanimous consensus that the Pad Thai Cafe is the Duke City’s very best Thai restaurant. 

2 June 2017:  My friend Bill Resnik expressed similar sentiment when I introduced him to Pad Thai.  We had actually intended to visit the Pop-Up Dumpling House within Talin, but it was closed.  Pad Thai Cafe is no consolation prize.  More than any Thai restaurant in the Duke City, it emphasizes a balance of flavors…and more than at any other Thai restaurant in town, even fire-eaters may have to be cautious about the degree of piquancy in the dishes.  “Medium” heat at Pad Thai is easily the equivalent of “Hot” at other Thai restaurants while the “Hot” should be reserved solely for those of us with asbestos-lined tongues.  Bill is one such masochist.  He adds prik nam pla (a ubiquitous condiment made with incendiary bird peppers) to even the most piquant of Thai dishes.

Yum Woon Sen

12 June 2017:  Pad Thai is the only Thai restaurant in the Duke City in which I don’t regret not having ordered a curry dish.  That’s because everything else on the menu is absolutely fantastic.  As is characteristic of adventurous diners, I often order dishes heretofore unknown to me.  Invariably that means discovering wonderful new options such as the Yum Woon Sen, a bean thread noodles salad.  While that may not sound particularly exciting, it encapsulates much of what aficionados love about Thai cuisine:  the invigorating freshness of just-squeezed limes; the distinctive herbal-licorice flavor of Thai basil,  a balance of crunchy and chewy ingredients, the pungency of the fish sauce, and just enough piquancy to set your tongue tingling.  Pad Thai’s version is constructed with pork, shrimp and wood ear mushrooms topped with fish sauce, sugar, carrot, onions, cilantro and Thai chilis a plenty.  This is a new favorite. 

16 June 2017:  The translation of Thai dishes is often surprising.  Yam Nuea Nam Tok, for example translates to waterfall beef or beef waterfall, but it also translates to grilled beef salad.  The terms waterfall beef or beef waterfall are appropriate from the standpoint that you’ll be deluged with flavors with every bite of this savory-sweet-piquant-tangy dish constructed with lime, fish sauce, chili powder, roasted rice powder, sugar, green onion, cilantro, lemongrass, shallots and mint.  Legend has it, however, that the term waterfall beef comes from the sound the steak makes once the beef begins to hiss from the sizzling juices.  Grilled steak, lean and flavorful, is the main ingredient, a terrific compliment to fresh, aromatic ingredients Americans don’t usually serve with steak–even as a side salad.  This salad has it all: tart and tangy sour notes from the lime, aromatic freshness from the herbs, crunchy and crispiness from the veggies, vibrancy and heat from the chillies and complete satisfaction afterwards.

Yam Nuea Nam Tok, a wondrous beef salad

2 June 2017:  With the exception of the transcendent Chinese sausage fried rice at Ming Dynasty,  most fried rice is of the take it or leave it variety.  It’s just not very exciting, but it’s generally better than the simple white rice served with many Asian dishes.  The Pad Thai Cafe offers two fried rice alternatives to plain white rice.  Don’t miss out on the green curry fried rice (green curry, rice, fish sauce, sugar, green peas and basil) with your choice of protein.  It’s fried rice at its self-actualized best, as good as fried rice can possibly get.  The green curry permeates each rice kernel, imparting its pungent piquancy courtesy of fresh, young green chilis which tend to make green curry more potent than other curries.

Green Curry Fried Rice

19 March 2016: Our inaugural visit transpired when mangoes weren’t in season so we didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy our favorite mangoes and sticky rice dessert. Sensing our disappointment, our server offered to put together a dish she promised we’d enjoy. It was a magnificent masterpiece, a dessert worthy of a place in the pantheon of great Duke City desserts. Picture a scoop of mango ice cream (replete with chunks of mango) and a scoop of coconut ice cream atop layers of sticky rice and coconut milk with shaved almonds tossed in for balance. This dessert should be a permanent fixture on the menu.

Mango and Coconut Ice Cream with Sticky Rice and Coconut Milk

2 June 2017: Most Thai restaurants offer sweet sticky rice with coconut milk and fresh, ripe mango in season. Out of season, the best restaurants will advise you not to order this dessert when the mangoes aren’t perfectly ripe. That’s advice one and all should heed. When in season, mangoes with sweet sticky rice make a refreshing dessert contrasting the sweet tanginess of mangoes and the near cloying flavor of coconut with the neutral to sweet flavor of sticky rice. The very best mangoes and sticky rice dish I’ve ever had comes from Albuquerque’s Thai Cuisine.  If that dessert is a perfect Bo Derek “ten,” the mangoes with sticky rice at Pad Thai is a nine.  Quite simply, it’s a must-have.

Mangoes with Sticky Rice

Named for a dish that had never before “wowed” me, the Pad Thai Café would be a restaurant we’d have on our regular rotation if we had a regular rotation. It’s one of the very best Thai restaurants in the Duke City.

Pad Thai Cafe
110 Louisiana Blvd, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 266-0567
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 June 2017
1st VISIT: 19 March 2016
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET: Chicken Satay, Tod Mun Pla, Massaman Curry, Pad Thai, Mango Ice Cream with Sticky Rice, Egg Rolls, Laab, Drunken Noodles, Potstickers, Mangoes with Sticky Rice, Green Curry Fried Rice, Yum Woon Sen, Yam Nuea Nam Tok

Pad Thai Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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