Ohana Hut – Albuquerque, New Mexico
In horse racing, the Triple Crown signifies winning all three of the sport’s most challenging thoroughbred horse races—The Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. This is considered the greatest achieved in thoroughbred racing, a feat accomplished only twelve times. The thespian community considers as its Triple Crown, winning a competitive Academy Award, an Emmy Award and a Tony Award in acting categories. Only twenty-two actors or actresses have earned this rare distinction. What makes winning a Triple Crown in any competitive event so exciting for fans is its rarity. It happens so infrequently that fans clamor for it to happen.
At the 2015 Taste of Rio Rancho event, Street Food Blvd pulled off a Triple Crown of sorts, earning three first-place awards: best appetizer, best entrée and People’s Choice. It’s a feat no other Rio Rancho restaurant has managed in the event’s auspicious six year existence. Considering the City of Vision is home to some of the very best restaurants in the metropolitan area (including Joe’s Pasta House, Namaste, Café Bella), that’s quite an achievement. What made this coup doubly impressive to many of the throngs in attendance is that Street Food Blvd is not a brick-and-mortar operation. It’s a food truck which in sweeping three key awards, made the audacious proclamation that food trucks can compete with any restaurant.
Michael Gonzales, the affable owner of Café Bella and a pretty formidable chef in his own right, first told me about Street Food Blvd’s chef-owner-operator-designer Raul Maestas a couple years ago, but it wasn’t until experiencing the chef’s brilliant fusion of New Mexican and Asian flavors at Taste of Rio Rancho that I really took notice. So did more than a thousand guests who lined up to experience the culinary talents that would sweep the annual showcase of Rio Rancho’s burgeoning restaurant scene. My friend and fellow judge at the event Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, predicted greatness for Chef Maestas.
Chef Maestas launched Street Food Blvd on March 1, 2013. His approach, as revealed on the Street Food Blvd Web site: “Well, using only the best ingredients is a big part, but having an unrelenting love and passion for creativity and providing great food at an affordable price is the other part.” An ambitious “mission statement” further speaks volumes about what he’s trying to do: “We started humbly but with a grand plan: To create the finest street food New Mexico has ever tasted, end of story.” With such ambition and commitment, it was only a matter of time before a broader stage would be needed to showcase the chef’s immense talent.
In the spring of 2016, that broader stage became a reality when Marble Brewery asked Chef Maestas to launch a restaurant presence at its Westside location. You won’t see any exterior signage indicating the restaurant exists (hence no photo of the restaurant) and in fact, until they’re seated many guests aren’t cognizant it’s there. Then they espy the menu placards at their tables. Some will order entire meals off those menus. Others will order an item or two to supplement what they ordered from one of the food trucks regularly parked (Monday through Friday from 4PM to 9PM and from 12PM to 4PM and 4PM to 11PM on Saturday and Sunday) in front of the Brewery.
Though my Kim and I don’t imbibe adult beverages when either of us plan to drive, we’ve found both the downtown and westside Marble Brewery locations as friendly and yes, even family oriented as possible. In that respect they’re very much reminiscent of the pubs we frequented during our years in England. Better still, we’ve enjoyed cuisine from food trucks and the Ohana Hut with our delightful dachshund Dude (he abides) on the shaded patio. During an outing in June, 2017, Dude was one of a menagerie of four-legged children to visit the brewery. We’ve always believed dog lovers to be the highest caliber people and reaffirmed that belief during our visit.
Chef Maestas calls his restaurant-within-a-brewery Ohana Hut. The term “Ohana” translates from Hawaiian to “family” and the inexorable ties which bind all families together. Fittingly, Ohana Hut serves Hawaiian food and sushi. If your mind’s eye is picturing Spam-based entrees and luau type food, you’re in for a treat. There’s so much more to the cuisine of Hawaiian than those stereotypes. Hawaiian cuisine is heavily influenced by the Asian immigrant workers who settled the island paradise, but it’s also got elements of Polynesian ingredients and techniques as well as foods brought over by European and American visitors and Christian missionaries. The result, similar to what you’ll experience at Street Food Blvd, is a delightful mélange of flavors.
26 November 2016: Our own introduction to Ohana Hut came on a Saturday afternoon when we visited the Brewery to partake of “a little South in your mouth” courtesy of the Supper Truck. As we waited for our order, we perused the menu at our table and absolutely knew we had to order the 808 Nachos (808 being the Hawaiian area code). Within a couple of bites we knew we’d be back. The 808 Nachos—a picturesque pile of teriyaki chicken, crab and rice served over tortilla chips and topped with spicy mayo, green onion, Furiyaki (a dried mixed seasoning), teriyaki sauce and jalapeños–are terrific, very much reminiscent of sushi meets teriyaki meets nachos. With sweet, savory and piquant notes in perfect proportion to each other, these nachos take a back seat to no other nachos in a state where great nachos are plentiful.
3 December 2016: Our second visit transpired on a cold, windy day in which our bellies craved the warmth and comfort of soup. Apparently we weren’t alone in our thinking as we witnessed several bowls being delivered of Saimin, a noodle and broth soup inspired by Japanese ramen. Considered the national dish of Hawaii (take that Spam), it has become so ubiquitous on the Islands that it’s available even on the McDonald’s menu. Hawaiians consider it the ultimate comfort food. Ohana’s Saimin Noodle Bowl (Hawaiian noodle, egg, green onion, chicken and dashi Japanese broth) does indeed have the nurturing, comforting properties of all good soups, but we didn’t find it quite as flavorful as the ramen we’ve had at Naruto or O Ramen. Still on a cold day, it’s a godsend.
3 December 2016: As you enter the Brewery, look for the slate board on which chef’s specials are listed. We happened upon a special that sounded too good to pass up. Sporting the intriguing name “Sushirrito,” we reasoned it must be some sort of burrito-sushi fusion. Instead of a flour or corn tortilla, a sheet of Nori (paper-like, edible, toasted seaweed) serves as a wrapper in which the other ingredients–rice, sesame seeds, tortilla chips, chow mein with spicy mayo and unagi with your choice of chicken breast or Korean-style barbecue chicken–are nestled. It will never be mistaken for a New Mexico style burrito though dipping it into a wasabi-soy sauce dip will give you a similar endorphin rush from the heat.
3 December 2016: One restaurant trend that never seems to go out of fashion, at least in Albuquerque, is sliders–scaled-down versions of burgers or sandwiches. Sliders are a tease–never big enough to sate you, especially when they’re good. The Dakind Sliders Trio (Teriyaki Ground Beef, Teriyaki Chicken and Spam topped with American cheese) are a terrific triumvirate. Nestled within pillowy soft, sweet Hawaiian bread, each sandwich is barely more than four or five small bites. When you’re splitting them two ways, they don’t go a long way. Your memories will last longer than the experience of eating them.
3 December 2016: While enthusiastic about the entire Ohana Hut menu, our server was especially fond of the sushi which she assured us is as bold and imaginative as it is delicious. You might think the most incendiary roll on the menu would be the Ghost Pepper Roll. After all, the ghost pepper rates over one-million on the Scoville scale and is considered one of the world’s ten hottest peppers. Ghost peppers aren’t actually found on the eponymous roll, but ghost pepper mayo is. The foundation for this roll is actually a California roll topped with salmon, pistachios, avocado, unagi sauce and of course, the ghost pepper mayo. If you’re looking for serious heat, this isn’t your best choice, but if you’re looking for a thoroughly delicious sushi roll, this one is hard to beat.
3 December 2016: The distinction of being Ohana Hut’s most fiery sushi roll belongs to the Spicy Tiger Roll. While many purveyors of fine sushi offer their version of a tiger roll, you won’t find much heat on most of them. The difference-maker on this one is (believe it or not) is Cheetos crunchy flaming hot cheese snacks which are crushed into red dust that tops the roll. As with the ghost pepper roll, the foundation for the spicy tiger roll is a California roll which is supplemented by tiger shrimp and shredded crab. The flaming hot Cheetos make this roll so piquant that only fire-eaters will want to dip them into a wasabi-soy mix. My Kim scraped off the Cheetos and sent them my way.
3 December 2016: You read it here first–one of my choices for “Gil’s Best of the Best for 2016” is Ohana Hut’s Blue Velvet Swirl, a colorful cake with a lemon creme cheese filling topped with kiwi, white chocolate and hazel nuts. It’s the best dessert my Kim and I have shared in quite a while. As pleasing to the palate as it is to your eyes, it’s one of those rare desserts which shouldn’t be shared. You wouldn’t want to miss a single nibble of this wonderful cake! 9 June 2017 Update: Our server apprised us that the Blue Velvet Swirl is no longer offered on the menu. Apparently this dessert’s inventor is no longer on staff. It will be greatly missed.
9 June 2017: According to popular legend, the origin of potstickers came about rather serendipitously. Apparently a Chinese chef intended to boil traditional dumplings in a wok, but he walked walked away and the water boiled off. The dumpling stuck to the wok and crisped up, producing what we now know as the potsticker, which in Chinese literally means “stuck to the wok.” Ohana Hut’s potstickers (pan-seared and steamed chicken potstickers served with a ponzu sauce in which green onions and sesame seeds swim merrily) hold true to the tradition of Chinese potstickers. Served five to an order, they’re a delicious way to start a meal. More than most, these are engorged with chicken and are just a bit larger than bite-sized.
9 June 2017: It seems de rigueur that every sushi restaurant in the Land of Enchantment serve a sushi roll christened either green chile roll or New Mexico roll, sometimes both. The most standard aspect of the New Mexico roll is that one of its chief ingredients is (no surprise here) green chile. Ohana Hut’s version is constructed with spicy crab, cucumber, avocado and fresh green chile topped with spicy mayo, unagi (freshwater eel) sauce and Sriracha. It’s a beauteous serpentine roll with complimentary-contrasting sweet (unagi sauce) and piquant notes (courtesy of the freshly roasted green chile, spicy crab, spicy mayo and Sriracha). These complimentary-contrasting flavor profiles work extremely well together–so well, in fact, that the wasabi-soy sauce mix is redundant and wholly unnecessary. Ohana Hut’s New Mexico roll may be the best of its kind. Perhaps someday the New Mexico State Legislature will consider it for the state’s official state sushi roll.
9 June 2017: It stands to reason that a chef specializing in Hawaiian cuisine would offer a Hawaiian roll. Ohana Hut’s version is terrific: vinegared rice wrapped around spicy tuna and topped with avocado, ahi tuna, sesame seeds and micro greens drizzled with spicy mayo and unagi sauce. Characteristic of spicy tuna used for sushi, this glorious tuna is diced into small pieces emboldened by either spicy mayo sauce or sriracha hot sauce. The ahi tuna, on the other hand, is sashimi-quality tuna sliced into thin sheets. It’s tuna two ways, both delicious. So are the contrasting sauces–the sweet unagi sauce and the piquant spicy mayo.
9 June 2017: Spicy tuna is a staple of sushi bars, a favorite in both Japan and the United States. Dip the roll into an American wasabi(mostly doctored horseradish) and soy sauce and you’re on the bullet train to flavor town (watching too much Guy Fieri lately). Spicy tuna rolls are meant to be incendiary so you’ll be forgiven if you dunk the roll in its entirety into the wasabi-soy mix. Heighten your enjoyment with the accompanying ginger, as effective a palate cleanser as you’ll find.
9 June 2017: If you don’t have a sense of humor, you might not appreciate the Hawaiian term Haole which means “a person who is not a native Hawaiian, especially a white person.” It’s a more precise term than the Japanese word gaijin which simply means foreigner. Chef Maestas takes no offense with the term, offering a unique no-rice, no seaweed sushi roll called (what else) the Haole Roll (crab, daikon and avocado wrapped in fresh ahi tuna topped with green onion, jalapeño and Haole sauce. Sashimi-quality ahi tuna is the star of this roll, but the complimentary ingredients make this unique composition a delight to enjoy.
9 June 2017: The term “volcano roll” probably conjures images of a maki roll spewing out molten contents. The only thing about this roll that gushes is your effusive compliments and a few oohs and aahs. Many sushi bars serve volcano rolls, but as is often the case there’s nothing standard about their composition. Ohana Hut’s baked volcano roll is constructed from crab, avocado, spicy tuna, Atlantic salmon baked with spicy mayo and topped with unagi, green onion, tobeko and bonito flake. An asterisk (*) denotes this is a spicy roll, but it’s certainly not overly spicy.
9 June 2017: After receiving the crushing news that Ohana Hut no longer offers the Blue Velvet Swirl dessert, we were told the only dessert now available is Mochi, a term which for me brought to mind the Mexican corrido “Los Mochis.” Mochi is a unique Japanese concoction crafted from specially treated short grain glutinous rice. Ice cream enclosed in mochi is a popular Japanese dessert treat, one which Ohana Hut mimics very well. Though several ice cream flavors are available, we opted for two contrasting flavors: chocolate and mango. Both were terrific!
In the familial spirit of Ohana, you’ll want to take friends and family to the Ohana Hut where you’ll share some of the very best sushi and Hawaiian food we’ve had in New Mexico (just don’t share the Blue Velvet Swirl). Lest I forget, the Triple Crown award-winning Street Food Blvd still prowls the mean streets of metropolitan Albuquerque, pleasing teeming masses with uniquely creative and delicious fare.
5740 Night Whisper Road, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 9 June 2017
1st VISIT: 26 November 2016
# OF VISITS: 3
BEST BET: 808 Nachos, Spicy Tiger Roll, Blue Velvet Swirl, Ghost Pepper Swirl, Dakind Sliders Trio, Saimin Noodle Bowl, Spicy Tuna Roll, New Mexico Roll, Hawaiian Roll, Haole Roll, Baked Volcano Roll, Hawaiian Mochi