Thai House – Albuquerque, New Mexico
American fashion designer Zac Posen observed that “Chefs have the ego of an actor and fashion designer combined.” In comparison to private cooks, however, chefs are as modest as a cloistered nun. In a recent survey, PayScale.com, an online salary information company ranked occupations by ego size, asking 383,000 people how strongly they agree with the statement, “I am the top performer at my company for jobs similar to mine.” The highest scores were determined to reflect “either a high level of professional confidence, an inflated sense of self, or both.” The survey revealed that a whopping forty-three percent of us strongly believe we are our company’s top performer and that men and women are equally immodest.
Topping the list were private household cooks with a whopping 74 percent saying they were the very best. Private household cooks, in fact, edged out chief executive officers (CEOs), who routinely earn twice as much in median salary. Chefs and head cooks ranked eighth (out of 483 occupations ranked), just ahead of bartenders. This seems to indicate the food and drink industry is a prominent breeding ground for healthy egos. That chefs and head cooks ranked only eighth actually surprised the heck out of your humble blogger (who would certainly have ranked near the top for modesty). It’s been my experience that chefs, head cooks and restaurateurs in general are very egocentric and well, they should be.
Payscale.com obviously didn’t ask Busaba Jewsawusde to participate in its survey. More than perhaps any chef with whom I’ve spoken, she was hesitant to tell me much about herself or her restaurant. Though very kind and pleasant, she gave me the impression that she’d rather let her food do the talking for her. She did confirm that for 33 years she owned and operated Thai House on Buena Vista, about a block south of Central and just south of the University of New Mexico. It was a location with which Thai food aficionados across the Duke City were well-acquainted. We all loved the food, but the seedy location and bad parking made for widely spaced-out return visits (years, in my case).
With its 1985 launch, Thai House has seniority over all other currently operating Thai restaurants in the city. Perhaps another Thai restaurant preceded it in the Duke City, but the Thai House has had staying power–even if it no longer resides at its home of 33 years. In February, 2019, the Thai House relocated to a strip mall on Carlisle just south of where it crosses Indian School (it’s on the east side of the street). With a much better parking situation in a nicer area, all it needs is more customers. Unfortunately, as shown on the above photo of the restaurant’s exterior, you almost have to know it’s there. If you’re driving attentively on congested Carlisle, you’re not likely to see it.
As of my inaugural visit, Chef Jewsawusde was wearing every conceivable hat: greeter, server, cashier, chef and dishwasher. She related that her days start early with all the prep work that goes into running a restaurant. She also confessed that during one lunch session, she didn’t have a single guest. For a Thai restaurant of its caliber, that’s a sad, almost tragic statement. Thankfully, Jeff Chefetz, a faithful reader of this blog, alerted to me to Thai House’s new home. I can no longer use the excuse of being wary of the Thai House’s dubious location and parking situation. Its new home is more like a rebirth than a make-over. Its more capacious, it’s bright and airy and it’s just waiting for you to make your own return visit.
Those of you who actually visit Thai House with more regularity than your craven blogger will probably find the menu as familiar as your favorite slippers with all the soups, noodle dishes, stir-fry dishes, curries, appetizers and desserts you loved at the original location. Not not even the “cheap eats” level prices appear altered by time and location. Most items on the menu are still under ten dollars. Somehow it seems deliciously ironic that during my inaugural visit at Albuquerque’s most venerable Thai restaurant, I would have a dish entirely new to me. Fittingly, the dish was invented by Chef Jewsawusde and it’s named for her restaurant.
2 August 2019: That would be the Goong Thai House (battered pan-fried shrimp sauteed in sweet Thai House sauce with onions, bell peppers, snowpeas, mushrooms and cashew nuts). This dish is a delightful confluence of ingredients, textures and flavors: crispy al-dente vegetables, pan-fried shrimp with a snap of freshness, ever whimsical cashews, earthy mushrooms and a sweet sauce with savory and smoky notes. The sauce wasn’t sweet in the way Thai dishes ameliorated with coconut milk are sweet. Instead, there was just a hint of sweet in the way that complements savory flavors well. The Goong Thai House is served with a side of rice.
5 May 2019: The tagline on Steve’s Food Blog reads “Exploring the Culinary Landscape of the American Southwest and Beyond.” It’s more than just a clever slogan. Steve Coleman gets around and he really knows his stuff. During my second visit to the Thai House, I had the privilege and pleasure joining Steve and his friend Steve Jones. As he enjoyed his Pad Khing, Steve (Coleman) astutely observed, “this is Thai home cooking.” That distinction is very important and it comes across very well with the green curry (choice of chicken, beef or tofu in sweet and spicy coconut milk with bamboo shoots, bell peppers, zucchini and basil leaves.” Unlike at so many Thai restaurants, the dish wasn’t as cloying as children’s breakfast cereal. Instead, it exemplified the balance of flavors Thai chefs strive for.
2 August 2019: Chef Jewsawusde has the distinction of having introduced Thai desserts to the Duke City Thai dining scene. Today, many of us find it inconceivable not to enjoy a Thai dessert with our meal. We have Chef Jewsawusde to thank for Thai desserts we now take for granted–desserts such as mangoes and sticky rice with sweet coconut milk. Sadly, this is still a seasonal dish, but when mangoes are in season, it’s a dessert all Thai cuisine aficionados enjoy. The juicy sweetness of mangoes perfumed with their distinct aroma seems tailor-made for sweet sticky rice.
The Thai House has been serving Albuquerque for more than three decades. If you’ve ever enjoyed a meal there, maybe it’s time to make a return trip. You’ll certainly enjoy its new home even as your meal gives you the sense of returning home.
2000 Carlisle, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 5 August 2019
1st VISIT: 2 August 2019
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Goong Thai House, Mangoes with Sticky Rice, Green Curry