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Krung Thai – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Krung Thai Restaurant on Menaul just west of Wyoming

Krung Thai Restaurant on Menaul just west of Wyoming

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.

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Mermaid waterfall at Krung Thai entrance

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.

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Lao Sausage, housemade on the premises

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.

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Fried 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.”

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Vietnamese Noodle Bowl with Pork Skin, Shrimp, Crushed Peanuts, Lettuce, Pork, Egg Rolls and Fish Sauce

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.

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Tom Kha, an outstanding Thai soup

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.

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Mangoes with sticky rice

As long as Grandma is helping out at Krung Thai, it will remain one of the most authentic Thai restaurants in the Duke City.

Krung Thai
7923 Menaul Blvd NE
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 292-9319
LATEST VISIT: 4 May 2013
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 20
BEST BET: Lao Sausage, Fried Chicken Wings, Tom Kha, Mangoes with Sticky Rice, Vietnamese Noodle Bowl

Krung Thai on Urbanspoon

Category: Albuquerque, Asian, Thai
  • Jim Millington says:

    Back before I got old, way back in the olden days as my sister always said when she was trying to agitate Mom (“Tell me about the olden days Mom”), I actually had to go to work every day. My office was practically across the street from Krung Thai and I ate there at least once a week and loved it. It was a good restaurant but seemed more like the best Thai food (Street Food) than the other places around town. Since I became one of the 47% I don’t go by as often as I would like. My charming Child Bride has a habit of ordering the same thing anytime she goes to a particular restaurant simply because she ate it once and didn’t die. Her first question upon going in any door is “What did I have last time?” even if it is something she hated and it is almost impossible to get her to order anything else even by reminding her that the last ten times she came it became garbage can filler. This doesn’t mean it was bad in any way. It just means SHE didn’t like it and she didn’t die. She found something here which I can’t remember and I really miss Krung Thai but I just gave up and stopped taking her. I am just going to drag her in again. She probably won’t remember what she had last time. I just hope they don’t have fried calamari on the menu. She loves stir fried but if there is the slighted trace of breading it becomes trash but nothing, even telling her in advance that it is breaded and she will hate it, will stop her from ordering it.

    May 12, 2013 at 9:33 AM
  • Edward Sung says:

    As much as I love Thai food, I’ve only had it once the entire time I’ve lived in Albuquerque, and it was at Krung Thai. I can’t even remember what I had, but I do recall it being delicious!

    I think what it is, is that as much as I love Thai food, I love Vietnamese a little bit more, so whenever I get the craving for SE Asian flavors, I end up at a Vietnamese place. I really ought to switch up my game, though. ABQ may be wanting in a few cuisines, but we sure have a wealth of Thai and Vietnamese restaurants.

    May 13, 2013 at 9:25 AM
  • Sandra F. says:

    We order from Krung Thai probably once a week or so, although we have never dined in. Green curry is my favorite in the city – yes, I like it better than Thai Tip. The ginger stir fry is very good too. Vietnamese spring rolls with peanut sauce are a must, they are fresh and very tasty. Salt and pepper squid and fried rice are also some of our regular orders. It’s good stuff.

    May 13, 2013 at 11:08 AM
  • Hannah says:

    Gil! Like Edward, I tend to eschew Thai in favor of reliably excellent Vietnamese all over town. However, this post really makes me want to eat at Krung Thai, and so I shall — you convinced me!!

    p.s. Did you know you got a lovely write-up on Metafilter?
    http://www.metafilter.com/128040/When-it-comes-to-food-I-find-it-impossible-to-be-monogamous

    May 14, 2013 at 6:55 AM
    • Gil Garduno says:

      Hi Hannah

      I’m relieved that your second flight (courtesy of your suitcase) on Friday night left you relatively unscathed. As someone who ocassionally trips over his own shadow, I can certainly empathize with your adventure.

      Has Edward ever taken you to Lotus of Siam in Vegas? No Thai food in New Mexico compares. We have good to very good Thai restaurants and great Vietnamese restaurants. Krung Thai is quite good, but their Tom Kha borders on greatness.

      What a nice thrill to read the Metafilter write-up. Traffic to my site reached 4,000 visits yesterday courtesy of Metafilter and the Travel Channel’s celebration of New Mexico’s burgers last night.

      Gil

      May 14, 2013 at 8:59 AM
      • Hannah says:

        Re: Lotus of Siam. We went for lunch once that I can recall. However, Edward has been to dinner there (without me), and he agrees that it’s the best Thai he’s ever had.

        Maybe one day.

        May 14, 2013 at 10:05 AM
  • Edward Sung says:

    Hi Gil — I just stopped by to chime in about the Metafilter link. I did not know about the Travel Channel thing. Excellent!!

    Re: Lotus of Siam, alas, it is true that Hannah didn’t get to join me for the dinner I had there (I was visiting family on a solo trip). If I recall correctly, what I had that night was some spicy chicken wings, a prawn and red curry dish, and a crispy duck dish, with mango sticky rice for dessert. I thought I was going to pass out from sheer ecstasy. I had no idea Thai food — or food, for that matter — could be so sublime. I don’t know if others would have the same response, but that food just absolutely hit 100% on every flavor I love. Even the mango sticky rice made every other mango sticky rice I’ve ever had seem like rice pudding with canned peaches. Few places really live up to the hype for me, but Lotus completely surpassed even my high expectations.

    That night at Lotus might have ruined me for other Thai restaurants, because, paradoxically, I just haven’t had as much enthusiasm for Thai restaurants since then. Whatever it was that happened to make that dinner so perfect, I know that all other Thai food from now on will be #2 or lower. I’m even afraid to go back to Lotus!

    May 14, 2013 at 2:20 PM
    • Gil Garduno says:

      Hi Edward

      Thank you so much for the very kind mention on Drive to Place my very favorite podcast. I’ve learned so much from you and Hannah.

      I, too, have been ruined for other Thai restaurants by Lotus of Siam. Every time we visit Vegas we try to hit several name restaurants and always come away regretting that we didn’t have more (or all) of our meals at Lotus. It is simply the very best Thai restaurant I’ve ever visited, by far. By my very subjective rating scale, it’s a full seven points better than Krung Thai.

      The Travel Channel will reprise the BurgerLand episode showcasing New Mexico’s green chile cheeseburgers this evening at 6PM (maybe 6:30). You’ll enjoy it.

      Best,

      Gil

      May 15, 2013 at 8:39 AM
  • Edward Sung says:

    We don’t have cable at home, but I am “obtaining” the episode as we speak!

    May 15, 2013 at 3:13 PM
  • Sissy says:

    I am going to Abq this week and want to go to a Thai Resturant…I was told about Thai Cusine, Salathai (which were her favorites) and Orchid (which was not her favorite)… Tell me what you think? Because you gave “Lotus” in LV “7” point higher than Krung Thai I am not so sure about going there. I Love Thai and as you know, there is NO good Thai places here in SF. I go to a couple everytime I go to Phoenix…sooooo as soon as you get this can you send me a reply…I am going soon!
    Sissy

    May 26, 2013 at 11:12 PM
    • Gil Garduno says:

      Hi Sissy

      It’s so nice to hear from you. I hope all is well.

      It would be so much easier to recommend a Vietnamese restaurant in Albuquerque because we’ve got so many excellent ones. One of the problems with Thai restaurants in New Mexico is a lack of balance on the flavor profile of many dishes. Optimally Thai dishes should have a balance of salty, sweet, sour and piquant flavors. In New Mexico (especially at Orchid Thai), Thai restaurants tend to over-emphasize the sweet aspects of Thai cuisine.

      So, my favorite Thai restaurants are those who display at least a modicum of balance on the flavor profile of a dish. Thai Cuisine and Siam Thai are the most consistent in doing so. If you love your curry on the incendiary side, Thai Cuisine is your best bet. The most aromatic Thai restaurant in town is Siam Thai whose fragrant bouquet envelops you the minute you step into the restaurant. Most of the food, especially the curries, deliver on the promise made by those aromas.

      Happy Eating

      Gil

      May 27, 2013 at 8:10 AM

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