At 75 years of age, Grandma remains as energetic and feisty as ever though she’s quite unhappy that her well-intentioned and loving family have made her take Saturdays off. She’d just as soon work six days a week at the Krung Thai Restaurant on Menaul. Grandma’s not only an accomplished cook, she’s got several treasured family recipes locked in her vault of a memory. One of those recipes is for some of the very best Lao sausage in the Duke City.
Launched on New Year’s Eve in 2003, Krung Thai translates to “Thai City,” but the restaurant’s menu extends well beyond Thai cuisine. You’ll find Vietnamese and Chinese entrees, too, and you already know about the Lao sausage. Krung Thai is a family owned and operated gem resplendent with traditional Thai decor. The first thing you see when you walk into the restaurant is Suvannamaccha, a mermaid princess. Rivulets of water cascade down her body in a calming cadence. The bright orange-red colored walls are festooned with wall tapestries of ornately attired elephants, the national symbol of Thailand and a symbol of good luck.
A number of restaurants have held court at Krung Thai’s comfortable confines, diminutive digs which might accommodate fifty guests if the fire marshals aren’t watching. Seating is in personal space proximity. To optimists that means being able to see and inhale the aromas of the dishes destined for your neighbor’s tables. Those olfactory-arousing aromas may just trigger involuntary salivation. Dishes are presented exquisitely, an aspect of Thai culture for which great pride is taken.
The menu includes all the Thai standards with which Duke City diners have fallen in love as well as some items (such as a sauteed frog legs appetizer) not commonly found in the city. Entrees are segmented on the menu into Thai curry dishes, house specialties, stir-fried entrees and rice and noodle dishes. One of the restaurant’s best experiential aspects is being able to mix and match among cultures–a Lao appetizer, Vietnamese entree and Thai dessert, for example.
The sole Lao appetizer, of course, is Grandma’s Lao sausage which she makes on the premises. The sausage has a coarse texture, but a very delicate flavor that requires no saucy amelioration. Flecks of chili pepper flakes, scallions and lemongrass decorate the pork sausage which is sliced into bite-sized pieces. Grandma’s rendition of wondrous Lao sausage shows she’s not slowing down in the least.
Fried chicken wings are another popular appetizer, one we frequently order at Vietnamese and Thai restaurants because they’re generally prepared so much better than at American restaurants. The fried chicken wings at Krung Thai are large and meaty with a coarse breading. Bite into the crispy exterior and you’ll be rewarded with moist, tender and delicious chicken. You won’t need the sweet-tangy sauce accompanying the chicken wings.
Thailand’s close geographical proximity to Vietnam has meant a culinary interchange over the generations that has resulted in cooks from both cultures being proficient in both cuisines. If the Vietnamese noodle bowl is any indication, you certainly need not fear ordering Vietnamese dishes at Krung Thai. Served in a swimming pool-sized bowl, this is a terrific dish redolent with freshness. A tangle of translucent rice noodles shares space with lettuce, cilantro, butterflied shrimp, pork skin, grilled pork, egg rolls, crushed peanuts and fish sauce. It’s a melange of flavors and textures you’ll enjoy.
Thai dishes are among the most diverse in the world, incorporating at least four elements into the flavor profile of each dish: salty, sweet, sour and piquant. Most Thai dishes are not considered fully satisfying unless they combine all four tastes. Thai curry dishes are exemplars of this diversity of flavors in one dish. So, too, are Thai soups. In her 2006 review for the Alibi, the fabulous critic Jenn Wohletz called Krung Thai’s Tom Kha the “best tureen of coconut-lemongrass soup I’ve ever eaten.”
Tom Kha is an intensely aromatic and flavorful soup renowned for its rich and complex coconut-imbued broth and melange of flavors and seasonings. It arrives at your table in a silver tureen with a soup ladle for apportioning it (as if you could ever share any of this bounty). This aromatic elixir is redolent with the addictive aromas and flavors of lemongrass, galangal, Kaffir lime leaves, straw mushrooms, white onion and strips of tender white meat chicken. The creamy sweetness of the coconut is punctuated by the peppery pungency of the galangal, the tartness of whole Kaffir leaves and the citrus qualities of the lemongrass. It’s an absolutely delicious, heart-warming soup that will delight you.
Sharing a meal is so integral to the Thai culture that Thai people don’t exchange “how are you” greetings. Instead, they ask “have you eaten yet?” I should have been born Thai. Dispense with the small talk and pass the curry. There are few curries as satisfying as the Massamun Curry, a rich, satisfying dish that is Muslim in origin. Strips of chicken are simmered in a sweet curry paste along with potatoes, onions, bay leaves and crushed peanuts. It’s one of the sweetest of Thai curries, but you can have it served at your preferred level of heat (Thai hot for me). It’s a delicious dish.
While some critics decry Pad Thai as perhaps the most Americanized of all Thai dishes, the dish is one of the most historically significant of all Thai dishes–even though it’s only been around some seventy years or so. It’s true that all too often Pad Thai served in American restaurants is little more than a pile of noodles plated in a puddle of oil with cloying underpinnings. Made well, Pad Thai’s deliciousness reveals itself in bursts of savory and tart notes. Krung Thai’s rendition is a good one. The tangle of noodles, crushed peanuts, tamarind paste and chicken meld into a composite of ingredients which go so well together.
Sticky rice is a staple in parts of Thailand and forms the basis for one of the best, most popular desserts you’ll find at any Thai restaurant. The marriage of sweet coconut sticky rice and perfectly ripe mangoes is akin to harmony, melody and rhythm in music. When they work well together, they transport you to a better place. The very best mangoes with sticky rice we’ve found in Albuquerque is served at Thai Cuisine. Krung Thai’s version isn’t far behind.
As long as Grandma is helping out at Krung Thai, it will remain one of the most authentic Thai restaurants in the Duke City.
7923 Menaul Blvd NE
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 4 May 2013
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Lao Sausage, Fried Chicken Wings, Tom Kha, Mangoes with Sticky Rice, Vietnamese Noodle Bowl