Namaste Restaurant – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Namaste: Incomparable Indian and Nepalese Cuisine in Rio Rancho

Several years ago while leading my organization’s e-business marketing and communication effort at Intel, I had the great fortune of hiring a phenomenal Web developer recently arrived from India. In the process of filling out one of our complicated employment forms he transposed his name, writing his last name then his middle initial and first name instead of the way hinted at on the complicated form.

As a result, during the entire time he worked for us we all called him Kolli, his last name. He was too polite to tell us his first name is actually Srini. Over time Srini became more acculturated, maybe even a bit “Americanized” (he’s now a huge Dallas Cowboys fan), but he’s never lost his personal warmth, good humor and impeccable manners.

Namaste’s Beautiful Dining Room (Hard to Believe This Was Once A Pizza Hut)

Politeness and great manners seem to be a hallmark of Indian people…or at least those in the service industries. When colleagues ask for a romantic dinner recommendation, I frequently suggest one of the area’s Indian restaurants where impeccably attentive service and consistently excellent food impart the effect of making diners feel like welcome royalty.

Maybe the Best Buffet in the Metropolitan Area

Most Indian restaurants, like my friend Srini, embody the spirit of a traditional Indian salutation, “Namaste” which is said while holding one’s hands pressed together near the heart with head gently bowed. Namaste is translated as “I bow to the divine in you,” a sign not only of respect but of deference in that the greeter recognizes not just good, but the fact that there is divinity in other people. It is something from which we oft unpolished and uncouth Americans can learn.

Daily Rotating Buffet

Rio Rancho has a restaurant named for that most reverential of greetings. It opened in late July, 2008 in the small, age-worn strip mall which previously housed Tawan Thai cuisine and before that a number of other restaurants. It was a seemingly cursed location in which restaurants seemed destined to fail.  Because of its outstanding service and incomparable cuisine, Namaste has reversed the trend of failure and become a very popular dining destination in the City of Vision. Along with the incomparable Joe’s Pasta House and the superb Cafe Bella, Namaste belongs on the pantheon of the very best restaurants in the metropolitan area. 

In 2018, Namaste relocated a few hundred feet to an edifice which previously housed a Pizza Hut.  You won’t recognize the transformation which seemingly removed every vestige of its predecessor save for the very familiar building shape.  Namaste is a beautiful, bright and airy space adorned with colorful art, including several depicting the mighty Himalayas.  Seating is well-spaced and comfortable.

Even More Buffet Options

Namaste is owned by Shree Prasad Gurung who was a mainstay at the India Palace for several years before striking out on his own. His wife Sandhya and brother-in-law Hem are the ownership triumvirate responsible for preparing not only the cuisine of India, but several Nepalese dishes as well. The charming Sandhya still has family in Nepal which was affected by the devastating earthquakes of 2015.

Sandhya, the heart and spirit of Namaste, Poses With a Painting of Her Done by Her Aunt

It’s with increased rarity (at least in Albuquerque) that you find any restaurant which greets you before the door with irresistible aromas. In that respect, Namaste is indeed an anachronism because it does capture you before the door with wafting emanations that bid you welcome and which just may have a Pavlovian effect on your taste buds. With Siam Thai, another victim of the Cabrona virus, having shuttered its doors, Namaste  may be the most aromatically arousing restaurant in the Albuquerque area.

Refreshing and Delicious Mango Lassi

Similar to most Indian restaurants in the Duke City area, Namaste offers a very inexpensive for the quality lunch buffet. It’s not quite as Bacchanalian as the buffet at the now defunct India Palace, but it provides an excellent introduction to its diverse and delicious offerings. As much as you’ll enjoy the buffet, your dining experience is Namaste is incomplete if you don’t take it to the next level. That would be returning for dinner when the quality is an order of magnitude better. During dinner, the ambiance speaks of refinement and only part of that is attributable to the absence of diners who visit the buffet three or four times in one seating. The lights are subdued and tones are hushed in the evening.

Fabulous Naan

Among the appetizer selections on the buffet, you might find vegetable samosa, crisp patties stuffed with spiced potatoes and green peas. Samosas have reportedly been an Indian specialty since before the tenth century. They are delicious as is or dipped into one of the various chutneys. Namaste offers several excellent chutneys–onion, mint, tamarind and more–none of which are subtle in their impact on your taste buds. Flame imbibing New Mexicans will love the jalapeño chutney, a neon green amalgam of the fiery pepper, vinegar and other spices. The vinegar balances the heat of the jalapeño while the jalapeño cuts the tartness of the vinegar. It’s as good, if not better, than many salsas we’ve had.

Of course one of the best ways to enjoy the chutneys is with naan, the incomparable Indian flat bread which is a staple accompaniment to most hot meals in India. Naan bears some resemblance to pita bread and, like pita bread, is usually leavened with yeast. It is cooked in a tandoor, a cylindrical clay oven fired by charcoal where the temperature at the bottom is maintained at 800 degrees Fahrenheit. The tandoor oven is from which tandoori cooking derives its name.

Paneer Pakora

The menu features several variations on the freshly baked white flour bread. Those include garlic naan in which the naan is garnished with minced garlic. There’s also cheese naan in which the white flour bread is, you guessed it, stuffed with cheese, the incomparable paneer (farmer’s cheese).  Another intriguing naan is the kashmiri, freshly baked white flour bread stuffed with cashews, pistachios, raisins and cherries. At first glance you might think thin-sliced pizza or even lavosh, the flat, thin Armenian flat bread. After a bite or two, you might notice a semblance in flavor to the ubiquitous Christmas fruit cake. That’s because of the cherry and raisin influence which not only adds sweetness, but color to the naan. That sweetness isn’t overwhelmingly cloying like fruit cake; it provides a nice contrast and balance of flavors.

21 June 2015: Turophiles, those of us who love cheese in all its fetid and aromatic forms, know all about paneer, the soft, crumbly farmer’s cheese native to India. Who among us hasn’t enjoyed saag paneer (cooked spinach studded with cubed of fried paneer cheese) and mutter paneer (peas and farmer’s cheese in a tomato based sauce, spiced with garam masala)? Because it’s not offered on the buffet, fewer have enjoyed paneer pakora, slices of homemade cheese stuffed with mint and spices, wrapped in garbanzo bean batter and deep-fried. At four to an order, these golden-sheened beauties are absolutely delicious. Paneer isn’t nearly as “melty,” gooey and oozy as say, goat cheese and it’s not as sharp as even the mildest Cheddar, but it’s got a very pleasant and mild personality that couples well with the mint chutney.

My Kim’s Very Favorite: Tandoori Chicken

When you mention tandoori cooking, you’ve got to include tandoori chicken in the discussion. Namaste marinates its chicken in a fabulous array of exotic spices then broils it over mesquite in the tandoor oven. The mesquite imparts a smoky redolence to the chicken that renders it impossible to stop eating. Namaste’s tandoori chicken may just be the best we’ve had in Albuquerque. The dinner menu offers several tandoori specialties, all prepared in the cylindrical clay tandoori oven and fired by charcoal to a constant temperature at the bottom of 800 degrees Fahrenheit.

Several lamb dishes are prepared on the tandoori oven. Among them are lamb tikka kabob which is lamb marinated in herbs and spices and lamb seekh kabob, spicy ground lamb molded on skewers and broiled in the tandoor oven. The lamb on the tikka kabob is cut into slightly larger than bite-sized cubes. The lamb seekh kabob might is cylindrical in shape, like a short, fat cigar, and in texture might remind you of rolled up gyros meat. The plate on which the lamb dishes are presented arrives at your table with a sizzling flair. It is lined with grilled onions and peppers which lend to the flavor explosions. Both lamb dishes will convert even the most staunch non-lamb eaters. In part, that’s because none of the characteristic “gaminess” of lamb is evident, but also because both dishes are very well flavored and enjoyable to eat.

Chicken Vindaloo

24 January 2011: The tandoori chicken is similarly delicious and also served two ways. The first is chicken tikka kabob, or delicately spiced boneless chicken breast cut into large pieces. This chicken is tender and perfectly seasoned. The second presentation is of tandoori chicken, a leg and thigh combination marinated and broiled over mesquite. Still the very best chicken dish on the menu is the chicken tikka masala, boneles chicken with creamy tomato sauce and exotic herbs and spices. Preparation of chicken tikka masala is a two-step process. First the chicken is baked in a tandoor then cooked in a thick, creamy “gravy” of tomato sauce, cream and spices. The charcoal tandoor oven imparts an unmistakably distinctive smoky flavor to the chicken while the creamy tomato sauce imparts a sweet piquancy to an absolutely marvelous dish.

24 January 2011: My very favorite vegetarian entree at any restaurant is mattar paneer, green peas with Indian farmer cheese (paneer) in a creamy gravy. Paneer is a fresh, unaged, non-melting cheese made by curdling heated milk with lemon juice or some other food acid. It’s not necessarily the type of cheese you’d want to snack on as you might a slice or two of Kraft singles, but it’s the perfect cheese for the creamy gravy seasoned to perfection. Mattar paneer is rich and utterly delicious, prepared to your level of piquancy. No one in New Mexico does it better than Namaste.

Lamb Vindaloo

You might also opt to make dinner an adventurous event by trying one of the menu’s six Nepali dishes. Santa Fe used to have a Himalayan restaurant for years, but Nepali dishes in Albuquerque were scarce until Namaste. The Nepalese diet consists heavily of lentil and rice dishes along with vegetable curries and a side dish called anchar, which are pickled vegetables and fruits (tomato, mango, cucumber, etc.), much like a chutney. There are many similarities to Indian food in Nepalese cooking.

26 October 2008: It may surprise you to discover similarities to Chinese food as well. That’s especially true in Kathmandu where the most popular lunch and snack item served are steamed or fried vegetable and meat dumplings known as “Momo.” Namaste features both chicken and lamb momo. Both consist of ten dumplings stuffed with ground and spiced chicken or lamb served with a piquant and delicious tomato achar. It’s easy to see why this would be the most popular dish in Nepal.  For an instance you might wonder where the sweet and sour plum sauce is that often accompanies dumplings, but the achar will quickly win you over. 

Chicken Momo

21 June 2015: When the Gurungs moved to New Mexico, they soon fell in love with green chile and have been roasting two sacks per year of the best Hatch has to offer. it stands to reason that they’d eventually incorporate green chile into their menu. Over the years, the green chili (SIC) chicken curry has become one of the most popular dishes offered at Namaste. One of the reasons New Mexicans have adopted this dish as one of their own is that the green chile has plenty of heat, even more than the restaurant’s incendiary chicken vindaloo. The curry incorporates a variety of aromatic spices that waft toward your nostrils like a fragrant breeze, possessing a flavor profile that’s sweet, savory, piquant and addictive. It’s akin to a thick gravy punctuated with larger than bite-sized pieces of chicken. In 2015, Albuquerque The Magazine accorded this dish a “Hot Plate” award signifying its recognition as one of the “most interesting, special and tasty dishes around.”

24 December 2015: Manhattan Chef Dan Barber likes to say that “clean plates don’t lie.” It’s an adage that describes all my dining experiences at Namaste. Only the combination platters challenge fulfilling Barber’s adage. Namaste offers five combination platters, each as delicious as they are bountiful. Each platter comes with your choice of dal (a yellow lentil soup) or chicken with rice soup as well as your choice of plain or garlic naan. As if this isn’t enough, dessert is also provided, either Kheer (rice and cream), Gulab Jamun (fried dough in sweet syrup), Gajar ka halva (described below) or mango custard depending on which of the five platters you order.

Combination Platter
Non-Vegetable Dinner Combination Platter

My favorite of the combination platters is the Non-Vegetarian dinner combination (Chicken Tikka Masala, Shrimp Sang, Lamb Curry). This platter should come with a warning label. Not only is it exceptionally delicious, it features three of the richest entrees on the menu. You’re well advised to temper the richness with the Raita, an Indian yogurt and cucumber condiment which soothes your palate and stands up to the creamy richness of the entrees. Indian cuisine isn’t always noted for its contributions to seafood, but the shrimp sang dish warrants plenty of love. This dish features several large shrimp nestled in a rich pureed spinach and cream sauce. The sweet shrimp snap when you bite into them and provide a nice contrast to the rich creaminess of the dish. It’s my favorite of the three entrees in this combination platter, but not by much. All three are outstanding!

30 July 2016: Ask the dear-hearted Sandhya to recommend a dish and she’s likely to tout the incendiary deliciousness of the chicken vindaloo. Vindaloo dishes didn’t originate in India, but in Europe and weren’t originally intended to be piquant, but garlicky-vinegary. The transformation to a fiery dish is rather recent, but there’s no going back. The blends of spices and seasonings that give Vindaloo its signature heat are here to stay. There’s an Indian restaurant in New York City which prepares a vindaloo dish so potent that chefs wear gas masks to protect them from the heat level. Namaste’s chicken vindaloo isn’t nearly that piquant, but it does have a very pleasant burn. Moreover, it’s got an amazing flavor. It’s no wonder it’s Sandhya’s favorite dish.

Lamb Chops

8 November 2019:  Frequent virtually any Indian restaurant under spacious skies and you’ll probably notice the prevalence of lamb on the menu.  My friend Kishore certainly took notice.  He revealed that in India, lamb isn’t a very common meat.  In fact, when friends and family sit down for a meal in which meat is served, the meat is almost invariably goat.  At Indian restaurants across the fruited plain, lamb is a substitute for goat.  For Americans who love larger, more meaty portions of meat, that’s a good thing.  Goat chops aren’t nearly as meaty as lamb chops.  When it comes to meaty lamb chops, you won’t find any more substantive than the lamb chops marinated with yogurt, herbs, and spices, cooked in the tandoor oven) at Namaste.  Nor will you find a greater portion size–four inch-thick chops prepared on the tandoor oven at just a shade under medium.  Our experience with many Indian lamb chops has been of thin chops cooked to a “well done” degree of doneness with extensive caramelization on the sides.  Not so at Namaste where the lamb chops retain a pink strip in the middle and a juiciness all carnivores crave. The result is a hearty but succulent chop replete with an addictive aroma imprinted on our taste buds (and if we’re honest here, on our fingers). These chops impart a “I’ll never wash my hands again” quality.

Aloo Matter

18 June 2022:  Potatoes and peas.  On an American or English table, that just doesn’t sound very intriguing and not at all exotic.  Translate potatoes and peas to Indian—aloo (potatoes) mattar (peas) and all of a sudden you’ve got a dish that sounds mysterious and delicious.   That Northern Indian curry dish may well be the most delicious way to enjoy potatoes and peas.  Namaste’s version is among the very best we’ve ever had.  Cubes of potato are cooked until soft with tangy spices and sweet, fresh peas converging together to treat you to a wholesome dish that pairs with some of the most indulgent curry imaginable.  Every spice in the combination of spices used to concoct the curry is in perfect proportion.   Aloo mattar is a must have at Namaste!

21 June 2015: Meals at Namaste are extraordinary and you’ll savor each and every bite as you experience flavor combinations and taste explosions that will enrapt all ten-thousand of your taste buds. As challenging as it is to stop eating, make sure to save room for a dessert specialty that this restaurant prepares better than any other Indian restaurant of my acquaintance. It’s Gajar Ka Halwa (halwa for short), a sweet and dense confection made with carrots, butter and milk. Though the julienne carrots are served warm, they’re not mushy in the least, but retain a discernible crunchiness. Namaste adds shaved almonds for an even crunchier contrast. This is a rich dessert as good, if not better, than any carrot cake.

Gajar ka Halwa, one of my favorite desserts in the world

8 November 2019: My Kim’s love of Namaste’s mango custard is at least the equal of my love for halwa.  Namaste’s version is slightly thicker than the restaurant’s mango lassi, my very favorite Indian beverage, but it’s not quite as thick as an American pudding.  The flavor of fresh mango comes across well and is punctuated by shaved almond slivers which lend a textural and flavor contrast.  For my ingenious Kim, a few grapes tossed into the mango custard makes her favorite Indian dessert even more luscious.

You might notice that my rating for Namaste is the highest I’ve accorded to any Indian restaurant in New Mexico. Namaste may not be as big or ostentatious as its competition, but in my estimation, it’s much better. My friend and colleague Tushar Desai, a Bombay native and globetrotter who’s traveled extensively across the fruited plain as a project manager for Microsoft confirms this, saying Namaste is in the top three to five Indian restaurants at which he’s dined in North America. That’s exceedingly high praise from a true connoisseur whose opinion I value.

Rasmalai and Mango Pudding

On November 14th, 2015, Namaste launched its second location in the Albuquerque metropolitan area. Located at 110 Yale in the University of New Mexico area, the new location will bring the best Indian food in the state to a wider demographic.  Alas, the UNM area Namaste shuttered its doors courtesy of the Cabrona Virus having relocated faculty, staff and student customers to alternative work spaces.

The only thing that could have improved our visits to Namaste would have been sharing our meal with Srini, who in his infinite politeness, tells me I can still call him Kolli as long as I call him friend.

Namaste Restaurant
1580 Deborah Road, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 896-3126
Web Site | Facebook Page
1st VISIT: 18 June 2022
LATEST VISIT: 12 February 2022
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Naan, Kasmiri Naan, Lamb Momo, Mix Grill Tandoori, Gajar ka Halwa, Green Chili Chicken Curry, Mutter Paneer, Chicken Tikka Masala, Non-Vegetable Combination Platter, Chicken Vindaloo, Lamb Chops, Lamb Vindaloo, Rasmalai, Aloo Matter

28 thoughts on “Namaste Restaurant – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

  1. I was fortunate enough to have tried the chow chow from the Nepalese side of the menu at the now closed restaurant across from UNM. I have tried a number of Chinese style “Manjurian” dishes at Indian restaurants, but mostly they tasted like Indian food made with some Chinese vegetables. The “Chinese” style chow chow (or chow mein) at Nepalese restaurants seems to be a little closer to the true Chinese flavor (based on the ones I have tried at Namaste and in Oklahoma City). The one at Namaste, though, was the best out of the ones I have tried. It is not Chinese food–Namaste has their own take on the flavors. However, I think it is as if you could take the best from Nepalese food and combine it with what is good about Chinese food, and come up with something that has the essence of both. In any case, I think Namaste did a really good job on this dish.

  2. Well Gosh Dingit! Had a craving for greasy fried Fish n Chips so went up atop The Hill on 528 to L o n g John Silvers ! Got sidetracked and ordered what turned out to be horridly overcooked strip, Fried Clams. On the way espied what looked like the closure of a great Pizza Hut and thought I almost read the sign to be Namaste.
    Alas and while understandably Gil is dancing as fast as he can….(for Newbies, the expression is from a somewhat edgy film way back when given he’s trying to keep up with Metro A’s everchanging scene, nevertheless it is confirmed Namaste is now and as firsted by Larry McGoldrick, the professor with a perspicacious palate who can apparently dance fastest!

    1. When it comes to dancing, Larry is a svelte John Travolta to my corpulent dancing bear, Fred Astaire to my Elaine Benes, Gene Kelly to my Barney Fife, a graceful Baryshnikov to my elk on roller skates…on an ice rink. The professor with the perspicacious palate dances with the elegance of a swan. I dance like a zombie going after fresh meat.

  3. We had tried the buffet years ago and thought it just average. Saw your review and the fact that they have Momo. I discovered momo a few years ago in Grand Junction and love it. Namaste’s Lamb Momo is very good. We also had the Goat Vindaloo, also very good, although we would have preferred it hotter. The big surprise was the Sag Paneer, which had the best paneer cheese I have ever had. It is usual almost tasteless. Here it was definitely cheesy tasting. The other thing we liked is that you can get a half order of many of the menu items. We plan on going back and just getting a larger variety of half orders.

    1. I learned long ago never to judge a restaurant by the quality of its buffet. Namaste is one of the area’s best examples of an outstanding restaurant with just an average to good buffet. Given my druthers, I’d never try a buffet but most of my visits to Namaste were with business colleagues who never ordered off the menu.

      If you loved the sag paneer (which is wonderful), you’ll also enjoy the mutter paneer and the paneer pakora. Both are superb!

  4. As we are often wont to do Saturday evening we became the very last people in the area to visit Namaste. I was thrilled to consume their Goat Vindaloo while the Child Bride ordered her usual and customary chicken Saag (After all she has eaten it many times and never died). Both were great as well as the naan. I should get to Rio Rancho a little more often.

    Now off for a few weeks in the land of Sushi, Udon, Yakitori, Curry and Sumo.

  5. We were treated very rudely there today. It was very disappointing. It used to be such a great place. They must be having problems and going downhill.

  6. Simply wonderful! Outstanding food & great service. Support your local independent restaurants! It kills me to see Applebee’s & Chili’s parking lot’s full with a Gem like this in our area. We dine here for dinner often.

  7. I have lost count of how many times I have been to Namaste. We always experience wonderful cuisine and warm, friendly service. I recommend Namaste every chance I get. By far, Namaste has the best Indian food I have ever tasted. I’ve also learned I have quite an addiction to the Nepalese side of the menu.

  8. Namaste is the best India restaurant of all other Indian restaurants that we have been in ABQ. We drive there from NE height ( a half hour drive) whenever we like to have Indian cuisine. Their dishes are very savory, creamy but not greasy. Try their food. You will definitely like it.

    1. And now they have one in the University area! We love Namaste and go to the one in Rio Rancho all the time. But our son lives by UNM and we will go to their other location with him

  9. Being Indian, I took two others who had just arrived from India. All three of us loved the food the first time there. YUM YUM is the word. Go Steelers.

  10. This has become our favorite Indian restaurant in Albq. vicinity. My wife and I have been at Namaste at least 20 times and have never had a mediocre meal. She is a vegetarian and loves the dal makhani. The chicken kebab is wonderful and the Nepalese dishes interesting and flavorful. We are happy to make the 20 mile drive to Rio Rancho to visit Namaste. It’s THAT good.

  11. We have been going there since they opened and have brought dozens of our friends there as well. We and many of those freinds are regulars and fully enjoy every visit.

  12. We moved here from the East coast, where there were many great Indian restaurants, and have found Namaste to be better than most. They have the best Bhindi Masala around for okra lovers, the service is attentive and knowledgeable. Everything we’ve tried has been excellent, including their Saag dishes, which are especially well done here. We also love the way we receive the traditional greeting when we enter, with the palms folded as if in prayer, and a little bow.

  13. You won’t find better food or a nicer staff. This place is a must! I’ve been about 10 times now with family and friends. You won’t be disappointed.

  14. i have eaten here about 8 times so far, and it really does get better each time i go. the buffet is a nice combination of tried-and-true dishes as well as something unusual thrown in. my kids absolutely love it, particularly the carrot halvah mentioned above. please visit this place – i would love to see it succeed.

  15. I was so happy to see the new restruant open, have been there several times, took guest and will keep going. The food is great and so are the owners and family

  16. On my first trip there, they had a wonderful carrot/nut dessert. I was told they have it every Wed and Sat or Sun. As much as I miss the Thai restaurant that was there before, Namaste is also wonderful.

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