Noda’s Japanese Cuisine – Rio Rancho, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Mrs. Noda
The energetic Mrs Noda

Note: On December 16, 2010, Noda’s Japanese Cuisine, a Rio Rancho institution for a dozen years, closed its doors.  Owners Masayasu and Setsuko Noda have retired and will be relocating back to Japan.  It was initially announced that their son, an accomplished chef, would be looking for a new home for the restaurant many consider the very best Japanese restaurant in the state. Nearly five years later, we’re still waiting.

Noda’s may very well be the very best Japanese restaurant in New Mexico, an off-the-beaten-path treasure whose unassuming facade belies sophisticated and wonderful cuisine.  Tucked away in Trinity Plaza, a nondescript shopping center, that facade is quickly dispelled when you walk in to a dimly lit dining room whose subtle, but romantic ambience and attentive, but not hovering wait service portend something special. Noda’s has become so popular, in fact, that in 2006 it expanded and now occupies the entire building in which it has been housed from its humble beginnings. At one time, Noda’s shared space with other tenants.

Cherry blossoms, soft lights, hanging Japanese lanterns and subtle blue toned walls provide a tranquil environment ameliorated by the faint tintinnabulation of the dozens of wind chimes given to the Nodas by their customers. Interspersed among the Japanese accoutrements are an occasional Kokopelli and even a Navajo Kachina.

Miso soup and salad
Miso soup and salad

You can’t help but decelerate from the day’s maddening pace, even if you’re at Noda’s just for lunch. When not tied up in the kitchen, Mr. and Mrs. Noda meet and greet all their customers and with enough visits may get to know you by name.

An intriguing menu showcases authentic Japanese treasures prepared exceptionally well. The taste arsenal varies from sublimely sweet (as in a thick teriyaki sauce with a tangy taste and a subtle hint of ginger) to sushi for which you need a mouth lined with asbestos to consume. The teriyaki sauce isn’t quite syrupy thick, but it’s wholly unlike the runny sauce proffered at other restaurants. It’s a perfect complement to salmon, beef or chicken.

If you love fried chicken, a must have is Noda’s crunchy chicken seasoned with teriyaki. The chicken is crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside. If ginger is your preference (I prefer Mary Ann), the ginger beef–thinly sliced beef sautéed and seasoned with a thin ginger sauce–will please your palate.

Tuna steak J.C. style served slightly seared.
Tuna Tataki NJC Style

Donburi is a specialty of the house at Noda’s. A general term for “bowl,” donburi is also the name of Japanese dishes in which a bowl of cooked rice is topped with other items. The spicy tuna donburi, for example, might remind you of eating sushi in a bowl (thank you Bill Resnik for that line). The perky, spicy beef donburi features a pow in every bite, making you grateful that the rice is cutting the heat of the beef somewhat.

The photo below depicts spicy tuna and yellowtail donburi accompanied on the side by wasabi, the house soy sauce (not nearly as salty as the commercial brand) and ginger, the typical accompaniment for sushi.  As with sushi, the vinegared rice might be warm (as when served with anago) or cold (as when served with spicy tuna).  If you like your donburi even more incendiary than standard, ask for a side of the spicy mayonnaise.  It’s pure dynamite.

Perhaps the most “sushi-like” donburi bowl is the Anago Tempura Sushi bowl. It starts off with a bowl of sushi rice which is topped with a savory water eel (Anago) sheathed in some of the best Tempura in New Mexico, green chile (also sheathed in Tempura), avocado, cucumber, green onion and flying fish roe. This mouth-watering concoction showcases the unique talents in the kitchen.

Spicy white tuna and bluefin donburi
Spicy white tuna and bluefin donburi

Plating at Noda’s is an eye-pleasing art form. Everything is where it should be for optimum harmony, balance and appearance, a sort of plate syzygy. The balance of color, texture and appearance makes diners give pause to reflect on how great everything looks before their taste buds confirm what their eyes already know.

Order one of the daily specials, cod kara-age for example, and you’ll be asked if you want the entree by itself or bento box style.  The bento box is a lacquered and embellished with beautiful and ornate flowers, but the real beauty is seen when you remove the lid and gaze upon the partitioned box and its apportioned treasures.  Tempura vegetables, rice, two California rolls, and pickled cucumbers fill their compartments, seemingly in an attendant role to the main entree.

As purveyors of sushi, Noda’s may have no equal in New Mexico–in terms of taste, degree of heat and perfect preparedness of the rice–despite not having a traditional sushi bar.

Mr. Noda delivers sushi to our table.
Mr. Noda delivers a boatload of sushi to our table

Mr. Noda also confirmed that the restaurant uses a blend of real wasabi and the doctored horseradish most restaurants use. You can tell the difference. Real wasabi has an earthy taste and won’t make your eyes water.

  • The “too spicy to handle” sushi, available only on the dinner menu, lives up to its name. Be forewarned that your eyes will water even if you don’t dip that green chile and spicy tuna laced and ultra-potent maki roll into the wasabi and soy sauce mix.
  • For a less potent piece of wonderful sushi, you can’t beat the green mustard roll (fresh tuna, cucumber and avocado with a wasabi mayonnaise sauce) which is one of the best sushi rolls in the Duke City area. It’s not only sublime in taste, but has a unique esthetic in that each green mustard roll is topped with a single crisp potato chip.
  • Among the other terrific sushi options are the spicy tuna tempura roll (made with fried rice) that lulls your tongue to sleep before awakening it with a fiery aftershock of deliciousness.
  • The green chile tuna roll features green chile that not only has an “off the comal” taste, it’s got capsaicin potency to spare. I often wonder how the green chile flavor can be so much more pronounced on sushi than on most New Mexican entrees. That’s the case at Noda’s where the chile tastes as if just plucked off the comal.
  • If nigiri sushi (consisting of a piece of fish on a bed of rice) is your preference, the unagi (eel) is outstanding. A propeller-headed friend of mine reminded me that Unagi is also the name of a monstrously large eel from the video game Super Mario 64. Unagi is said to have stamina-giving properties. Containing 100 times more vitamin A than other fish, unagi is believed to heighten men’s sexual drive.
Noda's Green Mustard Roll and a Spicy Tuna Tempura Roll.
More sushi from Noda’s

If tuna turns you on, the dinner menu’s Tuna Tataki NJC (Noda’s Japanese Cuisine) style will quell your lust. Seared on the outside and perfectly pink inside, this tuna is artfully presented on a green banana leaf and is topped with daikon radish, green onions, micro greens and Japanese seasonings. It’s probably the best seared tuna in the metropolitan area.

Terrific tuna is also available in a unique Noda’s appetizer called Tuna Millefeuilles, an appetizer rarely seen in New Mexico. Millefeuilles is generally a type of pastry consisting of two thin sheets of pastry laid on top of each other (like a sandwich) with a spread (such as butter) on the inside and a thin layer of icing on top.

Noda’s takes creative license with this appetizer, by layering fresh mozzarella cheese and tuna in between thin cracker-like sheets that included shaved almonds and seasoned with a basil dressing. The basil dressing complements the mozzarella well, but this appetizer might have been better with a wasabi mayonnaise.

Beautiful bento bowl
Beautiful bento bowl

All entrees are accompanied by leafy garden salads and miso soup. The salads are garnished with crunchy puffed rice and a spry ginger dressing. The miso soup with cubed tofu is invariably warm and consistently among the best of its genre in the state.

Noda’s offers only two dessert options, a homemade green tea ice cream which is fabulous and a vendor provided plum sorbet that will totally blow you away. The plum sorbet is refreshing, as smooth as velvet, creamy and with a pronounced taste of fruit at its very freshest. This is guilty pleasure sorbet that you’ll want to consume by the box.

In 1999, Noda’s was selected by Albuquerque Journal food critic as Japanese restaurant of the year. I’d go one further and name it Japanese restaurant of the year for any year.

Plum Sorbet, refreshingly delicious
Plum sorbet

Some photos courtesy of Bill “Roastmaster” Resnik.

Noda’s Japanese Cuisine
2704 Southern, Suite #13
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 4 June 2009
# OF VISIT: 18
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Donburi, Sushi, Teriyaki

17 thoughts on “Noda’s Japanese Cuisine – Rio Rancho, New Mexico (CLOSED)

    1. I don’t think this restaurant will be opening up again any time soon, however, we are in luck. Some of the former staff of Noda’s are doing some interesting things. Firstly, in relation to food, the owner, Kelly, of Nagomi Japanese Restaurant is an alumni of this restaurant chain and the food tastes impeccable! Secondly, one of the waitresses, Isabel, runs a small entertainment team called Heaven Sent Gaming focusing mainly of Japanese style arts/media.

      Either way the Noda’s restaurant knew talent, and they knew Japan better than anyone I’ve met outside of Japan, and I used to live in Tokyo for several years. Love ya’ Mr. and Mrs. Noda!

  1. When I heard that Noda’s, my all-time favorite Sushi place, was closing,
    there were rumors that some of the family might return to N.M.. Is there any truth to that rumor??

    1. When Noda’s closed in December, 2010, the Rio Rancho Observer indicated “Noda’s, which has been in Rio Rancho for 12 years, is shutting down temporally until it can find a new location. It’s currently located at 2704 Southern Blvd. A manager at the restaurant Friday said the owners, Masayasu and Setsuko Noda are retiring and moving back to Japan and leaving the restaurant to their son. She said they hope to reopen as soon as they can find a new location.”

      After nearly 18 months, Noda’s devotees are still waiting.

  2. Nodasan,

    We miss you. We understand your wish to move on, but understand our with that you would fulfill our dreams by coming back to the place where you and your excellent food were so dearly loved. Best wishes!

  3. Does anyone have any updates on a new Noda’s??? I would give my right arm for some crunchy chicken and yaki harasu

  4. We miss Noda’s. No place in the metro area compares. I have had Sushi in many other states, costal and non-costal, nothing compared to our little Noda’s. So sad to lose the autheticity and genuine love built in their food. Enjoy retirement, we will miss you!

  5. The Nodas could not have picked a worse time to go home. Does anybody know how they are doing or what part of Japan they are from?

  6. Noda’s Japanese Cuisine is the Best. The most delicious and unique Japanese cuisine in the world! I’ve been around the world (veteran), and nothing compares to their tastes, flavors, and the love they put into their food! Thank you for letting me be a part of your family.

  7. Japanese dining in the Albuquerque/Rio Rancho area will never be the same without Mrs. Noda in the kitchen and Mr. Noda running the dining room. These two wonderful, energetic people will be sorely missed by anyone who had the good fortune of wandering into their restaurant. We wish them much luck in retirement and their return to Japan.

  8. The traditional Japanese dishes were excellent, the sushi and sashimi were not as good as other places notably Shogun and Crazy Fish.
    Loved my Don Katsu and Udon noodle dishes.
    Rather spend my driving time going downtown to Central for sushi.
    Admittedly we had only been to Noda once.
    I’ve always felt all critics and reviewers should make 2 (two) trips minimum to anything they’re going to review be it a restaurant, a movie or a play.
    I’m just saying…………………..

  9. According to Andrea Lin’ blog there is devastating news. Mr and Mrs Noda have retired and moved back to Japan as their lease expired. The potentially good part of the news is that their son is staying and hoping to reopen in a new location. I hope that this new location will be around the corner from my front door, not so far away.

  10. We finally got around to Noda’s a couple of weeks ago. It is at least as good, or better, than you described. Per your recommendation I had the“too spicy to handle” sushi and the green mustard roll-absolutely wonderful. Child Bride went with Katsu Donburi. The only competition around is Kokoro (with a much smaller menu) and a place I used to hate until ownership changed , Mr. Sushi (not quite as good but I can walk there from home).

  11. I completely agree with you on the food at Nodas!

    I read your write up on Noda’s several years ago and am now addicted to the Green Mustard Rolls. Sorry to say, that is all I get there …. I get it to go to enjoy at home with a a movie and a glass of wine. At first bite, there are no words to describe this other than Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm and you can’t seem to stop until all six of them are gone!

    Mr. and Mrs. Noda are wonderful people.

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