Viet Noodle – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Viet Noodle on Montano in Albuquerque’s West Side

On April 3, 2013, University of New Mexico (UNM) Vice President for Athletics Paul Krebs sent out a very simple and succinct tweet confirming the hire of head men’s basketball coach Craig Neal. The one-word tweet read simply “Noodles.” Noodles, of course, is the sobriquet Neal received in high school on account of his tall and thin stature. The hire was very enthusiastically received by both fans and players who were witness to the strong impact he had on the program as long-time assistant coach.

Albuquerque has always been a Lobo basketball crazed city and it has embraced Noodles who guided his team to 27 wins during his first season as head coach. While the UNM Lobo Club would like to believe that “Everyone’s a Lobo! Woof, woof, woof!,” there are a smattering of New Mexico State Aggie supporters strewn throughout the city. There is also (and this will be hard for diehard Lobo fanatics to grasp) a large segment of the local populace who not only don’t like the Lobos, they don’t like sports.

The interior of Viet Noodle

Among the latter are people for whom a one-word tweet reading “Noodles” has an entirely different meaning than the hiring of a basketball coach. To them noodles are a soul-satisfying comfort food the audible inhalation of which is heartily enjoyed whether those noodles are chilled or steamy hot. Whether thin and translucent or thick and dense, noodles evoke warm memories of childhood (when we first discovered that food could be both delicious and fun) and of times when they nourished and comforted us. When times get rough, noodles have always been there for us.

Arguably the metropolitan area’s preeminent practitioners at preparing perfect noodles are the 37 Vietnamese restaurants in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho. Most of the city’s Vietnamese restaurants are clustered in the International District, a section of Southeast Albuquerque stretching roughly from the state fairgrounds area to Kirtland Air Force Base. There are two Vietnamese restaurants in Rio Rancho with the only other Vietnamese restaurant west of the Rio Grande being Viet Noodle in the Paradise Hills area. It’s sandwiched between Spinn’s Burger & Beer (home to one of the city’s very best green chile cheeseburgers) and Little Caesar’s Pizza.

Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce

As the only game in this section of town, Viet Noodle has a captive market, but Duke City diners are a persnickety bunch. If a restaurant doesn’t cut it, it’s not going to last long. Viet Noodle has been going strong now for five years and there’s no surcease in sight. On the day of our inaugural visit the number of sit-down diners was greatly eclipsed by to-go orders. Friends who live in the area tell me that’s about par for the course for this popular eatery.

Unlike many of the area’s Vietnamese restaurants, Viet Noodle’s menu is somewhat abbreviated, not a compendium listing over a hundred dishes. Viet Noodle is also not a traditional sit-down restaurant in which you peruse the menu and a server takes your order. Instead, you’ll place your order at a counter above which are posted lighted meal and beverage options. Don’t mistake the concept for Vietnamese fast food. It’ll take a few minutes for your order to be delivered to your table. While you wait, you’ll want to take a gander at the colorful photographs festooning the walls of life in Vietnam.

Egg Rolls with Fish Sauce

Forget the perfunctory Pepsi products. Viet Noodle has one of the most comprehensive beverage menus of any Vietnamese restaurant in Albuquerque. The most popular (and my early favorite) is the Iced Vietnamese Coffee, a concoction of sweetened condensed milk and strong black coffee poured over ice. A number of smoothies and shakes are also available as are boba beverages. Whether in tea or shake form, boba are gooey, gelatinous globules that seem to inherit the flavor of the drink (strawberry-banana is a good combination).

There are fewer than fifty items on the food menu including a limited number of appetizers and several vegetarian options. The most popular starters are egg rolls and spring rolls. The egg rolls are tightly-packed, golden-hued rolls stuffed mostly with vegetables and served with a clear fish sauce for dipping. Translucent rice paper wrappers envelop vermicelli noodles and vegetables on the spring rolls which are served with a Hoisin and peanut sauce.

Vermicelli with Pork and Egg Roll

One of the most popular noodle entrees on the menu is vermicelli which you can order with tofu or with pork and egg roll. It’s interesting that in Italian “vermicelli” translates to English as “little worms.” While that doesn’t sound especially appetizing, vermicelli in the hands of a Vietnamese chef is a delicious combination of long and thin pasta, julienne carrots and daikon, cucumbers, lettuce, crushed peanuts and fish sauce added to taste. The pork should have the characteristic sweet and savory grilled flavor that makes Vietnamese style pork a very special entree. At Viet Noodle, the grilled flavor just doesn’t come through.  The pork has sweet and savory notes, but without the grilled influence, there’s nothing special or memorable about the dish.

The association that comes first to mind when you mention Vietnamese noodles is pho, the luxurious broth-based noodle soup centering on a broth base made from chicken, beef, or seafood. The combination noodle soup (rare steak, brisket, tendon, tripe and beef ball) is a popular option. Served in a swimming pool sized bowl, it’s replete with tangles of noodles, green onions, cilantro and the unique spices that give pho its addictive flavor profile. My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, described Viet Noodle’s rendition of pho as “tasty with a nice aroma,” adding that “there is better pho in the Duke City, but not on the west side.”  A few squeezes of sriracha will give the pho more “personality, but you shouldn’t really need any ameliorants to make a great pho stand out.

Combination Noodle Soup

Viet Noodle’s Web site boasts of the restaurant’s “strict commitment to quality” and “the highest standards for food, service, atmosphere and value.” These are elements to which all restaurants should adhere, especially restaurants serving noodles, an entree that elicits nostalgic feelings of warmth and joy for many of us.

Viet Noodle
4411 Montano Road, N.W., Suite B
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 792 – 5252
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 8 November 2014
COST: $$
BEST BET: Spring Rolls, Egg Rolls, Vietnamese Iced Coffee, Combination Noodle Soup, Vermicelli with Pork and Egg Roll

Viet Noodle Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

4 thoughts on “Viet Noodle – Albuquerque, New Mexico

    1. Larry, I only had one dish at Viet Noodle (I can’t remember what it was) and haven’t been back since. Whatever it was, it was Harry Connick Jr. not Frank Sinatra. Gil’s Spicy Beef Soup recommendation will send me to Cafe Dalat as the drive to Central Avenue is shorter than to central Hanoi. Sadly, there’s a lot of faux Pho in ABQ.

  1. I traveled in North and South Vietnam early this year and there are too many regional (local, even) differences to go into here in the comment box, but I did pick up a Vietnamese saying which translates in English as “The smaller the kitchen the better the food.” I had amazing dishes in Vietnam and often peeked back in the kitchen and saw the Wizard of Oz working magic in a 200-square-foot area.

    The key to Pho I learned is “how long as the broth been marinating?” Sadly, most Pho in ABQ is created that morning rather than 48 hours earlier. I have eaten Vietnamese food all my life and never realized I was eating a pale-copy of the original until I visited Vietnam. Not unlike listening to Harry Connick Jr. instead of Frank Sinatra.

    1. How I envy you, Tom. My first Air Force boss was married to a beautiful Vietnamese woman who prepared the best and most authentic pho I’ve experienced. She shared another secret to great pho–a beef stock made with bones, preferably leg and knuckle bones with the unctuous marrow which makes pho taste meaty and rich. You should be able to see tiny globules of marrow floating on top of the soup.

      Since I’ve yet to find pho to approximate the very first pho I ever had, I tend to order other soups at Vietnamese restaurants. The Spicy Beef Soup at Cafe Dalat and at May Hong is my very favorite soup in New Mexico. A number of comments following my review of Cafe Dalat seem to validate that other diners concur with that sentiment.

      Bravo to your analogy of Connick and the Chairman of the Board.

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