JERRY: By the way Newman, I’m just curious. When you booked the hotel, did you book it for the millennium New Year?
NEWMAN: (smug) As a matter of fact, I did.
JERRY: Oh, that’s interesting, because as everyone knows, since there was no year zero, the millennium doesn’t begin until the year two-thousand and one. Which would make your party one year late, and thus, quite lame.
It’s likely only Jerry Seinfeld and a few chronologically savvy people even know that “2000” and “the Millennium” are not synonymous. When it first launched and for years thereafter, a popular Duke City Vietnamese restaurant was actually named 2000 Millennium Restaurant, a semantically incorrect term. Today, the name on the marquee reflects the year in which the restaurant was launched (which also happens to be the reason behind its quaint name).
Aside from its quirky, uniquely Albuquerque name and an intriguing menu (which includes a few items heretofore not found in the Duke City), what draws the most attention to the 2000 Vietnam Restaurant is the Saigon Express Emissions Testing facility in a garage attached to the restaurant. Its presence has undoubtedly engendered trite scatological references to emissions and Vietnamese food. Diners who have moved on beyond sophomoric humor have discovered that “Y2K” and succeeding years have been very good years for Duke City diners who love Vietnamese cuisine.
Situated on the southwest corner of Zuni and San Mateo, 2000 became so popular that in 2010, a sibling restaurant named 2000 II (or is that 2000, too?) opened on Juan Tabo just north of Central. As with all of the city’s Vietnamese restaurants, 2000 draws from a wide demographic cross-section that includes servicemen from nearby Kirtland Air Force Base and medical personnel from the Lovelace Medical Center among others. The restaurant is usually more than half full even during off-hours and near capacity at lunch.
The menu is a veritable compendium of Vietnamese food favorites, but the overwhelming favorite appears to be the rice noodle or egg noodle soup with duck leg. At least one swimming pool-sized bowl of this elixir seems destined for each table. Diners wash it down with any number of beverages including the largest selection of Vietnamese style shakes in Albuquerque, sixteen in all. The shakes are available with or without boba, the gooey, gelatinous globules that seem to inherit the flavor of the shake.
Aside from perusing the multi-page menu which offers more than 150 items, you’ll want to check out the daily specials scrawled on a slate board by the restaurant’s entrance. That’s where we found the garlic chicken wings, four lightly-breaded pterodactyl-sized wings with plenty of meat on their bones and lots of garlicky flavor. The wings are served with a sweet and sour (mostly sweet) sauce that is wholly unnecessary. Try it, but you’ll quickly discard it because these wings stand on their own.
The menu also offers several banh mi, the Vietnamese sandwich analogous to America’s submarine sandwich or hoagie. Unlike its American counterpart, however, the banh mi focuses not on piling on cold-cuts, but on a balance of ingredients including pickled vegetables (daikon, shredded carrots), jalapeños, cilantro and thinner meats than adorn American sandwiches. The canvas for the ingredients is a long, thin baguette with its own balance of textures–a pillowy inside and crusty outside. Alas, if the baguette is toasted for too long, an unwelcome flavor component–char–becomes part of the equation. Such was the case during our most recent visit.
Perhaps the only soup or pho which can steer me away from the egg noodle soup with a duck leg is the spicy beef noodle soup, which is brimming with flavor. Spicy is perhaps a misnomer if your definition for spicy includes piquancy. Instead, this is a soup that inherits a mildly piquant flavor profile from the sundry spices used to season it. The soup is redolent with the distinctive flavors of those spices as they meld with beef and noodles. This is a soup which will tantalize your taste buds and possibly make you swoon in appreciation.
Perhaps no culinary culture in the world can grill pork as well as the Vietnamese. The pork is thinly sliced into small strips and is ever so slightly caramelized, but what is most discernible about this porcine perfection are the sweet-smoky aroma inherited from a marinade of sweet, tangy and savory ingredients. The marinade imbues the pork with exotic qualities. Grilled pork is served on everything from banh mi to vermicelli dishes to a thin noodles with cheesecloth-like pattern. In combination with these “patter” noodles, the grilled pork just sings.
The fragrant aromas from 2000’s kitchen will waft toward you like a sweet, savory, seductive siren. Those aromas are a precursor to exotic deliciousness belying the restaurant’s proximity to an emissions testing station.
2000 Vietnam Restaurant
601 San Mateo Blvd SE
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 2 March 2013
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: Grilled Pork with Thin Mesh Noodles, Spicy Beef Noodle Soup, Garlic Chicken Wings, Durian Shake, Watermelon Shake