Within a few weeks after its launch in late 2003, it seems all the restaurant critics for Albuquerque’s periodicals had waxed poetically effusive about Cafe O, a novel counter eatery whose menu purports to offer a “taste of the world.” Considering those food critics are all women, I pictured genteel dainty sized portions of water cress embellished finger foods and flavored teas served on real china.
Although tea was an integral part of the menu, it certainly wasn’t served on fine china and it definitely wasn’t your standard American tea. It’s boba tea which proved to be such a huge success that the proprietors Vi Luong and his wife Hoa launched a boba tea franchise that’s setting Albuquerque on fire.
The biggest draw to Cafe O is in the promise of an exciting, fresh menu as crafted by Hoa and her sister. The first menu item catching my eye was a Saigon Sub, known in Vietnam as a Bahn Mi and in most circles, as one of the best sandwiches anywhere. Cafe O’s version was absolutely wonderful, a perfect marriage of roasted marinated pork and other ingredients on a French baguette.
The menu also offers several freshly prepared hand-rolled spring rolls served chilled and served three per order. These spring rolls are the antithesis of fried Chinese egg rolls which have become blasé and boring. Cafe O enlivens its spring rolls with the imaginative use of diverse and complementary ingredients all served with taste awakening sauces. Erudite eaters will opt for the “sampler roll” offering in which you choose any three spring rolls–including other rolls that cost the same as the sampler itself.
A popular choice is the Tsunami Roll which features grilled salmon, shrimp, lettuce and cucumbers served with an eye-watering Wasabi cream sauce. The fresh salmon and intense Wasabi sauce will form a concordant Conga line in your mouth.
Aficionados of seared tuna won’t be able to resist the Tuna Roll–seared tuna, lettuce and cucumbers served with the aforementioned Wasabi cream sauce. It’s similar to a maki style sushi roll but enveloped by spring roll skins.
For a terrific taste contrast, try the Mango Salmon Roll which includes grilled salmon and a mango/pineapple salsa served with Ginger Vinaigrette. The tangy freshness of mango and the fishy salmon taste form a marvelous marriage of dissimilar ingredients.
The Beef Thai Roll features beef, Thai peanut sauce, rice noodles, lettuce, cucumbers and cilantro served with O sauce, a lively Nuoc mam fish sauce that emboldens the experience. For a spicier kick, you can add Sriracha hot chili sauce to any roll.
Vietnamese cuisine enthusiasts will love Cafe O’s noodle bowls, among which the Cafe O Bowl (a meal for two) is our very favorite. Served in a ten inch square plate, the bowl is a mélange of fresh ingredients that includes rice noodles, lettuce, cucumbers, cilantro, onion crisps, roasted peanuts, roasted pork, shrimp and sliced egg rolls served with O sauce. The fried egg rolls are fabulous!
Located within the confines of Noble Collectibles, you find yourself surrounded by comic books, videos, video games, trading cards and other affectations of the collector. The dining area is relatively miniscule, but you certainly can’t say that about the truly wonderful tastes experienced at Cafe O.
8216 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
CLOSED SEPTEMBER 1st, 2007
LATEST VISIT: 6 October 2005
# OF VISITS: 6
BEST BET: Saigon Sub, The O Roll, Beef Thai Roll