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Taste of Himalayas – Los Ranchos De Albuquerque, New Mexico

Taste of Himalayas on Fourth Street in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque

At 40,000 1/2 feet, the imposing Rum Doodle is the highest mountain in the world, surpassing even Mount Everest, its alpine neighbor on the Himalayas.  Surmounted only by a group of audacious British mountaineers and their Yogastani porters in an odyssey fraught with misadventure, its ascent is the stuff of which mountaineering legends are made.  As if scaling the perilous precipice wasn’t dangerous enough, the intrepid climbers had to endure the inedible culinary miscreations of Pong, the expedition’s sadistic cook.

While Rum Doodle the mountain exists only in the 1956 novel The Ascent of Rum Doodle, there’s an immensely popular bar in Kathmandu named for the fictitious mountain.  The Rum Doodle Bar is legendary as the gathering place and watering hole of outdoor adventurers who visit prior to mountaineering expeditions on the nearby Himalayas.  The very best of them return after successfully ascending Everest, only one-hundred miles away.  They return to cement their place among a very exclusive club of climbers.

The Interior of Taste of Himalayas

Beginning with Sir Edmund Hillary, the first climber to summit Everest, climbers have returned to the Rum Doodle Bar to sign a summit register of the select few who have successfully climbed the highest mountain in the world.  The register is kept in locked glass cases behind the bar.   Signatories with connections to the Land of Enchantment include Taos resident Dave Hahn who has successfully reached the 29,035-foot top of Everest four times.  On May 30, 2003, former governor Gary Johnson joined that exclusive club.  Perquisites for members of this exclusive coterie include free food for the rest of their lives.  Alas, the Rum Doodle Bar’s menu is rather limited, listing only a hamburger, cheeseburger, mushroom pizza and cheese pizza. 

Burgers and pizza are hardly the traditional fare of Kathmandu, but they do seem to appeal to the adventurous international clientele which frequents the Rum Doodle Bar.  In fact, because of tourism, a number of hybrid “westernized” foods have been introduced to an already accepting culinary culture.  To indulge in local cuisine would be to dine on food which, because Kathmandu is such an ethnically and culturally diverse city, has taken inspiration from neighbors Tibet, China and especially from India.

Papadum with Mint-Coriander and Tamarind Chutneys

Until recent years, the foods of Nepal have not been readily available in the Land of Enchantment.  In July, 2008, Namaste Restaurant in Rio Rancho opened and though primarily an Indian restaurant, offered a smattering of dishes from Nepal. In Santa Fe, the Himalayan Cuisine restaurant offered dishes from Nepal, India and Tibet for several years before closing in 2013.  July, 2014 saw the launch of Albuquerque’s first restaurant showcasing the culinary fare of Nepal. 

Taste of Himalayas occupies the space which previously housed Paddy Rawal’s OM Fine Indian Dining Restaurant in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque.  Rawal was a magnificent shooting star talent whose departure from the Duke City left an indelible afterglow, gaining such a stellar reputation that he probably could have run for mayor of Los Ranchos and won.  Taste of Himalayas will assuage the loss and over time may even make some of us forget Paddy Rawal’s genius.

Himalayas Prime Choice Momos with Lamb

Chef Raji, a native of Kathmandu, probably didn’t spend much time at the Rum Doodle.  He seems far too spiritual and humble for cavorting with the hard-living, hard-drinking mountaineers.  He starts his day at the restaurant by burning incense at various points throughout the restaurant.  A statue of Buddha’s head overlooks the restaurant.  Buddhist wall hangings resembling aprons adorn interior doors while framed angels cover the window to the kitchen.  Both the wall hangings and angels are signs of respect in the spirit of namaste, Raji assured us. 

Raji was kind enough to give me a quick tour of the assiduous kitchen, even demonstrating the art of preparing naan on a tandoori oven (pictured below).  Baking naan, the wonderful leavened tandoori oven-baked flat bread, is not wholly unlike making tortillas.  The most significant difference is that after the dough is rolled into a ball, it’s slapped against the tandoori oven wall.  Over direct heat easily achieving 600-degrees, the naan is ready in just about 30-seconds.  After it’s extricated from the oven with a pair of tongs, a light brushing of ghee (clarified butter) is applied, giving the naan a beautiful sheen.

Chef Raji prepares naan on a tandoori oven

There are seven different naans on the menu:plain; garlic, cilantro and chive; ginger mint; onion; stuffed potato and cheese; rosemary olive oil and stuffed dried fruit.  The other available Tandoori bread is Tandoori roti whole wheat bread.  Unlike naan, roti is unleavened and is made from stone-ground wholemeal flour, but is no less delicious than its bread counterpart.  During our inaugural visit, we opted for the garlic cilantro/chive naan, a terrific choice.  The naan is soft and moist with the pinto pony char characteristic of its brief interlude with burning coals in the oven.  The triumvirate of garlic, cilantro and chive lends herbaceous properties that are accentuated with the steaminess of naan freshly extricated from the tandoori. 

Still another popular Indian bread is papadum, a cracker-bread made from flour then deep-fried to give it a crispy consistency.  You won’t be seated for long before a complimentary plate of papadum with two chutneys are brought to your table.  The papadum resembles hard taco shells, but is much more brittle and breaks apart rather easily.  The chutneys are magnificent in their contrasting and complementary properties.  The mint-coriander chutney offers a vibrant nasal-clearing piquancy with herbaceous noted while the tamarind chutney lends sweet notes tempered by sour-tangy properties.

Garlic Cilantro/Chive Naan

The appetizer menu includes a number of vegetarian and non-vegetarian items with which diners who frequent Indian restaurants will be familiar.  Those include chicken pakora and chana chaat.  Others are uniquely Nepalese and should be sampled by all diners wishing to expand their culinary footprint.  Soups and salads are also available.  Peruse the menu further and you’ll see items suffixed with the term “Manchurian,” a tribute to the culinary inspiration gleaned from China. 

Perhaps the one appetizer which best exemplifies the cuisine of Nepal is momos, a Nepali (and Tibetan) name for dumplings.  Momos are almost inarguably the most popular snack and fast food in Nepal.  In fact, there are more “momo corners” in Kathmandu than there are McDonald’s and Subways combined in New York City.  Enjoy momos one time and you’ll wish for a preponderance of this versatile dumpling which can be filled with a limitless variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian items.

Non-Vegetarian Lunch Special: Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Curry, Butter Chicken, Saag Paneer, Basmati Rice, Sweet Rice

Taste of Himalayas offers four different momos, three of which are vegetarian.  Available either fried or steamed, they are served eight to an order.  If you’ve got a carnivorous bent, the Himalayas Prime Choice Momos are your best best.  Stuffed with your choice of ground lamb (our choice) or chicken mixed with ginger, garlic and other premium spices in a dumpling wrap, they’re magnificent.  The accompanying dipping sauces are wholly unnecessary though the sweet-sour-tangy tamarind sauce plays very well with the richness of the lamb. 

While Taste of Himalayas doesn’t offer a buffet, it does serve a vegetarian and non-vegetarian lunch special of the day sure to please and sate budget-conscious diners.  On a tray large enough to feed a small family, the non-vegetarian plate of the day (pictured above) included two pieces of tandoori chicken, a sweet rice dessert, butter chicken, chicken curry, saag paneer and Basmati rice, all of which are at least very good.  The butter chicken is superb, boneless, skinless, marinated chicken pieces served in a richly flavored tomato and yogurt sauce with melted butter poured over the dish before serving.  It’s sinfully rich and delicious.

Lobster Malabar with Basmati Rice

For the seafood lover in you, Taste of Himalayas offers a number of dishes showcasing the fruits of the sea.  The Lobster Malabar, named for a prolific pepper producing region in India, this dish showcases lobster cooked in a tomato-coconut sauce.  Available in your choice of piquancy, the briny sweetness of seafood generally warrants no more than mild heat lest its flavors be obfuscated by piquant, pungent peppers.  At just south of twenty dollars, it’s a steal though you should accept that at this price, you’re not getting the most tender portions of the lobster.  Still, it’s a very good dish with the lobster very much at home in the tomato-coconut sauce.

The dessert menu lists six items.  For my friend, the dazzling Deanell Collins and for me, there’s no need to read any further than Gajar Halwa, the delightfully rich carrot-based treat we both love.  Composed of grated cooked carrots, sauteed nuts, clarified butter and milk, it’s a unique use of carrots sure to please lovers of carrot cake.  Taste of Himalayas’ version is on par with the Gajar Halwa at Namaste which means it’s the best in the metropolitan area.

Gajar Halwa

Aside from the vibrant and delicious cuisine, our experience at Taste of Himalayas was greatly heightened by the attentive, personal service.  In slightly more than an hour, we spent time in conversation with an energetic and personable chef, a delightful manager named Jamie Lee Curtis and a very cute server we called “wolf” after she described how the naan made her ravenous like a wolf.  Frankly, everything we tried had the same effect on us.

Taste of Himalayas
7520 Fourth Street
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque
(505) 899-4423
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 6 September 2014
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Gajar Halwa, Lobster Malabar, Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Curry, Butter Chicken, Saag Paneer, Basmati Rice, Sweet Rice, Garlic Cilantro/Chive Naan, Himalayas Prime Choice Momos with Lamb, Papadum

Taste of Himalayas on Urbanspoon

NM Rodeo Burgers – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

NM Rodeo Burgers In Rio Rancho

“Traveling with the rodeo
It’s the only life I’ll ever know
I started in New Mexico
Must have been a thousand years ago.”
~Lyrics to “Ride ‘Em Cowboy” by Paul Davis

Although my friends and I were all fairly accomplished horse riders in the svelte and carefree days of our youth, Peñasco didn’t have a high school rodeo team so we couldn’t show off our skills in the arena of competition.  Instead we entertained ourselves with such non-sanctioned “rodeo” events as hand-fishing for bottom-feeding suckers and tossing them into a chicken coop where a frenzied take-away melee would ensue with feathers and fish entrails flying.  We also enjoyed tossing wet bailing wire into electrical wires overhead.  if done right, the bailing wire returned to earth a smoldering ashen heap reminiscent of snake fireworks. 

Risking life and limb with thousands of volts of electrical current was child’s play compared to riding rambunctious young bulls who would invariably toss us to the ground with impunity.  My days of bull riding ended when a recalcitrant bull was spooked by a horse who aimed a kick at my flank, leaving me no recourse but to jump off into a fresh, fetid pile of horse and cow sh…er, excrement.  Memories of walking home to face my mom covered head-to-toe in manure were rekindled when a Burger King commercial for its new “rodeo burger” aired.  It wasn’t the brawny beef on the hoof we rode I associated with that commercial, but the dung pile into which I fell.  That’s the “appeal” chain restaurants seem to have with me.

The Rodeo Burgers Menu

I did a double-take when first spotting the NM Rodeo Burgers restaurant in Rio Rancho.  My first thought was of the maverick rodeo days of my youth then of America’s eagerly litigious society and its affinity for copyright infringement lawsuits.  A quick Google search revealed a number of Rodeo Burgers throughout the fruited plain and even Canada so copyright shouldn’t be an issue.  Side note: Even though Rio Rancho can’t claim the very first Rodeo Burgers restaurant across the fruited plain, the Land of Enchantment is one of several claimants to having held the very first rodeo in America.  That rodeo transpired in Santa Fe some 65 years before New Mexico joined the Union. Take that Texas!

The NM Rodeo Burgers is more a “joint” than a “restaurant.”  There are no indoor sit-down amenities save for a handful of concrete picnic tables where you can dine al fresco (or “al viento” on windy days).  To place your order, you can either drive up or walk up to the counter at the front of the edifice which once housed a  Weinerschnitzel (which long ago misplaced its “Der”).   While its address (900 36th Place, N.E.) may sound residential and unfamiliar, look for it off Southern Boulevard in the same cul-de-sac which is home to the Turtle Mountain Brewery.

The Rodeo Burgers Unique Hamburger Menu

The Rodeo Burgers menu (pictured above) may be limited in terms of sheer numbers, but for sheer variety look within the burgers themselves.  The Cowboy Burger, for example, includes spam and green bell peppers, two ingredients not often found in burgers around these parts.  The 8 Second Burger is even more uniquely adorned.  If you’re inclined to think these burgers were designed by a rodeo clown, you really need to lasso one before passing judgment.  

You’d think that with my personal rodeo experiences, my inaugural burger would have been the 8 Second Burger (in the rodeo vernacular, eight seconds is the length of time a rider should remain on a bucking bull for it to be considered a good ride).  Even cowboys start with baby steps, ergo the Cowboy Burger.  What caused me most trepidation is actually one of the best aspects of this burger.  That would be the Spam (ukuleles playing Home on the Range in the background) which, though a bit salty, complemented the beef very well.  The green chile, described as mild chopped green chile, actually has more bite than found in most green chile cheeseburgers.  The beef patty extended beyond the sesame seed buns and the burger was made fresh to order.  On the debits and credits side of the ledger, these were the credits.

The Cowboy Burger

On the debits side, the beef is prepared at medium-well, a degree of doneness which almost always means desiccated beef (no napkins necessary).  The green peppers are sliced into rather thick ribbons which makes them more prevalent an ingredient than all but the most ardent green pepper lovers would enjoy. The lettuce was a bit wilted.   Still, this is a burger I’ll order again if only to confirm how good Spam can be on a burger. 

The same can’t be said for the Rancher, a hot dog whose composition isn’t described on the drive-up menu.  Certainly the ranching profession is far from glamorous, but a restaurant creative enough to add Spam to a burger can certainly gussy up a hot dog with exciting and innovative ingredients.  Alas, upon wrapping the Rancher at home, it was nothing more than a toasted bun with a sliced hot dog.  No mustard.  No onions.  No relish.  No sense of rodeo adventure.  If the ordering protocol is to stipulate the ingredients with which you want your hot dog prepared, it certainly wasn’t described anywhere.  Grrrrr!

The Rancher

Rodeo Burgers shows some imagination and creativity in its menu, but must perform well on every single order or discerning diners won’t return.

NM Rodeo Burgers
900 36th Place, N.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 892-8386
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT:  5 September 2014
COST: $$
BEST BET:Cowboy Burger

Nm Rodeo Burgers on Urbanspoon

Ming Dynasty – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Ming Dynasty, the very best Chinese restaurant in New Mexico.

Ming Dynasty, one of the very best Chinese restaurants in New Mexico.

The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) was renowned as one of the greatest periods of governmental and societal stability in the history of mankind. Before long, history just might recognize the Ming Dynasty restaurant as one of, if not the, greatest Chinese restaurants in Albuquerque.  

Launched at 11AM on Sunday, April 27th, 2003, it returned our friend, proprietor Minh Tang and his loyal staff to the Duke City dining scene after the dissolution of an unsuccessful partnership that precipitated the closure of the great Beijing Palace. In Ming Dynasty, there’s a lot of addition by subtraction. Minh no longer has a partner to hold him back and he no longer offers a buffet that drew in patrons who didn’t necessarily know or appreciate real Chinese cuisine.  Beijing Palace’s buffet was living proof that you shouldn’t judge a Chinese restaurant by a buffet.  It wasn’t bad, but ordering off the menu is several orders of magnitude better.

Happy customers are typical at Ming Dynasty.

Happy customers are typical at Ming Dynasty.

Though his parents are southern Chinese, the youthful and exuberant Minh was born forty some years ago in Vietnam. The story of his family’s migration to America is one of fortitude, courage and determination. Should you get to know him well, he might recount it to you in his usual self-effacing and humble manner.  Similar to the large-bellied Buddha near the restaurant’s cash register, Minh sports a perpetual smile no matter how hectic and harried the day may be going.

About the only time the good-natured Minh lets his hair down is when Ming Dynasty hosts the annual dragon dance during Chinese New Year. He beats on the drums with the fervor of a real rock and roller.  He also greets some of his long-time customers and friends with “Buenos dias, como estas?”  It’s about the only Spanish he knows, but that’s more than many lifelong New Mexicans.

Dim sum cart

Dim sum cart

Prior to the Chinese New Year in February, 2008, Minh was invited to prepare hot and spicy pork chops on the CBS affiliate Channel 13′s morning show. At the unholy hour of 6:30AM, synchronized stomach growling among Albuquerque viewers could be heard all the way to China (or maybe that was just mine).

Minh is also the hardest worker of any restaurant owner I’ve ever met. Seven day work weeks without respite are typical. None of his wait staff can keep up with his multi-tasking routine of clearing tables, serving customers and keeping the kitchen running.

Dim Sum treasures (Photo by Bill "Roastmaster" Resnik)

Dim Sum treasures (Photo by Bill “Roastmaster” Resnik)

Ming Dynasty is more upscale and classy than its predecessor and like its predecessor, will draw more Chinese and Asian patrons than any other restaurant in town. I receive more feedback on Ming Dynasty than on any other Asian restaurant save for Budai with favorable comparisons to Chinese restaurants in New York City, Vancouver, Hong Kong and San Francisco often made. By the same token, I receive a lot of feedback from diners who “don’t get” Ming Dynasty and can’t understand my high regard for it.

Ming Dynasty’s decor is very traditional though unacculturated patrons might consider it a bit stereotypical. From the moon gate entrance surrounded by a ferocious dragon and a resplendent phoenix to the restaurant’s wasabi-colored walls, Minh can tell you the significance of every artifact, each having a purpose in his restaurant’s design.

Some of Ming Dynasty's dim sum treasures

Some of Ming Dynasty’s dim sum treasures

The menu is a veritable compendium of Szechwan and Cantonese cuisine, with more than 100 examples of authentic Chinese treasures prepared exceptionally well. A well-stocked tank with live lobster and crab is the source of some of the menu’s popular seafood entrees.

Ming Dynasty offers a wonderful Saturday and Sunday dim sum lunch (and you can ask for a dim sum menu every other meal). Dim sum, a Cantonese word meaning “a little bit of heart” has captured my heart and seemingly the heart of every Asian in Albuquerque.  Get there right at 11AM on Sunday morning and watch the restaurant fill up quickly.  There are seemingly three “shifts” of diners–those who get there as the restaurant opens, a second shift an hour later and a smaller phalanx of diners at about four o’clock.  Regardless of when you get there, freshness is a hallmark.

Minh escorts two dim sum carts through the restaurant (Photo courtesy of Bill "Roastmaster" Resnik)

Minh escorts two dim sum carts through the restaurant (Photo courtesy of Bill “Roastmaster” Resnik)

At Ming Dynasty, you might swear you’re in San Francisco, the domicile of American dim-sum dining (and four-time James Beard award-winning author Cheryl Jamison even compared Ming Dynasty’s dim sum to similar fare in Hong Kong). A fusillade of stainless steel carts make their way to each table, each cart wielding several different treasures. Most dim sum dishes come in multiples of two, three or four so it will behoove you to dine with someone you love.

Ming Dynasty’s 43-item dim sum menu includes a boatload of steamed seafood treasures such as seafood salad rolls, stuffed crab claws and shrimp-stuffed bell peppers. There are also steamed, baked and fried items of all shapes and sizes, including chicken feet (which are actually pretty tasty but a pain to eat because chicken feet tend to have a lot of cartilage),  fish maw, Mixal ox stew and shark’s fin gow.  Minh’s professional catering team can craft party trays with all your favorites for parties of all sizes.  On many a Saturday during the spring and summer, Ming Dynasty is actually closed because it is hosting a wedding.

Seafood salad rolls with Chinese mayonnaise

Seafood salad rolls with Chinese mayonnaise

Dim sum protocol dictates that you dispense with soy sauce which tends to mask the subtle flavors of some items. Instead, use Minh’s chili sauce, made on the premises, in moderation to enhance inherent flavors. I’ve also seen some patrons mix plum sauce and Chinese hot mustard to create a gunpowder hot and fruity sweet mix they swear enlivens the flavor of the dim sum even further.

Ordering off the menu is an adventure in decision-making. The 120-item plus menu includes many traditional Chinese favorites prepared with an authenticity you rarely find in New Mexico. In every respect, Ming Dynasty is a formidable, world-class Chinese restaurant with the operative word being “Chinese.”

Salt and Pepper Fried Chicken

Although he serves the sweet and sour standards, Minh’s offerings aren’t “Americanized.” The sauces he employs (lemon, plum, orange, etc) are subtle ameliorants, not candied and overwhelming such as served at other Chinese restaurants. Fellow gourmand and friend Bill Resnik often refers to the culinary offerings at other Chinese restaurants as “chicken in syrup sauce, twice chewed pork and pork tasting like fish.”

If you are in the mood for something sweet, my highest recommendations go to the orange beef or either lemon chicken or orange chicken. The pork chops in Peking sauce are also quite wonderful. All of Ming Dynasty’s sweet and sour meat entrees are lightly battered and replete with high-quality white meat, a contrast to the heavily breaded, dark meat served elsewhere.

More Dim Sum Treasures

If you want something on the spicy side, order the Twice Cooked Pork–fresh pork sautéed with green pepper, vegetables and a hot, spicy Hoisin and black bean sauce. This entree is proof that you don’t need to load up a dish with Thai peppers to make it firecracker hot.

Want fried rice? Minh makes the best fried rice in town, flavored with a unique Chinese sausage which has a savory and sweet taste similar to longoniza, the wonderful Filipino sausage. Chinese sausage, made from pork, has a distinctively reddish tint.  The rice is fluffy, not clumpy with green onions, eggs, green peas and a hint of soy sauce and sesame oil.

Fried rice with Chinese sausage, the very best fried rice in town

Minh’s salt and pepper chicken wings are an interesting, but delicious entree in that the prominent flavor profile isn’t salt or pepper, but rather green onions and minced garlic.  Never mind the misnomer, these chicken wings are absolutely delicious.  Each golden hued wing is lightly battered, a thin batter sheathe briefly concealing white and dark meat.  The meat is moist and tender with the influence of its seasoning quite prominent.

In the fall of 2005, Minh launched a satellite restaurant in the Chinese food starved east side of the Sandias. Ming’s Chinese Cuisine (12128 Highway 14 North, Cedar Crest) met with critical success from day one, but closed in 2008.   The restaurant was smaller (only twelve tables) and had a somewhat limited menu, but it brought great Chinese food to our neighbors in the east.

Shredded duck, a wonderful entree

If you think, I’ve got exclusivity of opinion as to how terrific Ming Dynasty is, buy a copy of Scott Sharot’s outstanding book New Mexico Chow in which he lists among his favorite restaurants in New Mexico, only two Chinese restaurants. One is Ming Dynasty and ABC Chinese is the other.  Sally Moore, one of New Mexico’s most prolific travel writers, also waxed poetic about Ming Dynasty in her terrific tome Culinary New Mexico

In her March 11, 2011 post on her Tasting NM Blog, my friend Cheryl Alters Jamison, the scintillating James Beard award-winning author listed “5 New Mexico Hot Spots for Chinese Food.”  Of Ming Dynasty she said, “This east-side establishment reminds me of the epic dim sum houses of Hong Kong, the capacious ones where families gather, carts roll continually, and you pick what you’d like when they come by. Carts piled with dim sum roll here too on weekends, but ordering off the menu at times that aren’t so busy keeps the little dishes fresher. There’s a full menu of Sichuan and other Cantonese too. The attentive owner will guide you.”

Quail marinated in five spice powder

Over the years, my colleagues and I have taken business partners from throughout Asia to Ming Dynasty and they offer the highest praise possible, “it’s as good as home.”  They don’t say that about P.F. Chang’s.

Ming Dynasty
1551 Eubank, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 296-0298
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 31 August 2014
: 27
: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Shredded Duck, Roast Duck, Pork Chops with Peking Sauce, Dim Sum

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