The cynosure of Tikka Hut, an Indian Fusion restaurant on First Street, is a colorful mural that pays tribute to the extraordinary and constantly evolving history of Mexican cuisine. The mural depicts the mesmerizing countenance of a beautiful indigenous maiden, maybe even the infamous Malinche herself. Immediately below the maiden is a Muslim Dhow sailing the azure waters of the ancient world. The mural was commissioned when the name on the restaurant’s marquee read “Urban Taqueria.” It’s an evocative spray-painted masterpiece that should inspire contemplation and discussion. It certainly will if you ask owner Hanif Mohamed about it.
Hanif is not only a restaurant impresario who’s owned an extraordinary portfolio of diverse restaurants, he’s quite a culinary historian. To him and other savvy cognoscenti of contemporary cuisine, the roots of Mexico’s food extend far beyond the influence of the Spanish conquistadores. Chat him up and he’ll explain how Spanish cuisine itself evolved significantly under the 800 years of Moorish rule of the Iberian Peninsula. He relishes discussing the trade routes that introduced exotic spices and seasonings which dramatically changed (and improved) the flavor profile of that region’s cuisine that (let’s face it) would otherwise be fairly bland.
Originally from Kenya, Hanif has made a study of the long history of conquest and occupation, especially along the east coast of Africa by the mighty seafaring nations of the time–the Portuguese, Arabs and British. He reflects on Arab and Indian immigrants who arrived later and the influence they had on the foods of Africa’s east coast. Those foods are celebrated in Tikka Hut, a revolutionary new concept from the brilliant braintrust which brought us Urban Taqueria, an urban oasis in a downtown expanse that may feel as if it’s miles from heavily trafficked Central Avenue though mere feet actually separate it from Route 66.
While menu items from Urban Taqueria are still available for take-out only, you owe it to yourself to try Indian fusion the way it’s interpreted by Hanif and Chef Dennis Apodaca. Yes, THAT Dennis Apodaca, the famous Chef whose restaurant Sophia’s Place Food Network glitterati Guy Fieri described as ” little place, huge flavors .” Like Hanif, Dennis is a stickler for using quality ingredients, preferably sourced locally. Each meal is prepared to order; you won’t find anything sitting under a heating lamp.
You’ll find Tikka Hut by turning north from Route 66 toward the convention center. To your immediate right you’ll espy the One Central ABQ building, a sprawling west-facing edifice with large glass windows that present some of the most enchanting views of Albuquerque’s downtown high-rises. A wrapped parking structure includes 423 covered, secure spaces. It’s a short walk to the restaurant. Urban Taqueria was One Central’s first tenant, opening its doors in July, 2019. In May, 2021, Hanif gave the restaurant a concept make-over. There are less expensive tacos in the area, but you won’t find anything like Indian fusion cuisine anywhere near Albuquerque Downtown.
The flavors of Tikka Hut are a celebration and fusion of those foods and of the Persian, Indian, and Swahili spices and cooking styles resultant from the melding of immigrant culinary cultures with those of native inhabitants. It’s a melding that has given rise to an extensive array of innovative and bold dishes. Though the cuisine should have broad appeal to diners of all stripes, it will probably resonate most strongly among devotees of Indian food. It should also be a huge hit among Gen Z diners who want—and expect—more mash-ups combining multiple ethnic influences, a blurring of lines between ethnic menus. Marinades make use of yogurt, ginger, garlic, black pepper, turmeric, and other blends of mixed spices with subtle hints of fresh chilies. Grilled, skewered meats and vegetables complement those sauces. What you won’t find at Tikka Hut are curries, the dish so many people wrongfully believe is what defines all Indian cuisine.
22 May 2021: During our inaugural visit we wanted to try everything on the menu but didn’t even come close. Thankfully my friend the walking Wikipedia and sultan of simile Tom Molitor was on hand to help us with the fabulous feast we enjoyed. Our culinary adventure began with a mango lassi, a fruity, creamy Indian drink Tikka Hut makes with ripe sweet mangoes, yogurt, cardamom, cumin and cloves. Though served at room temperature, the mango lassi is surprisingly refreshing and absolutely delicious. In keeping with the fusion concept, Tikka Hut also offers agua fresca de jamaica, a popular Mexican beverage made with hibiscus. Soft drinks and adult beverages are also available.
22 May 2021: Tikka Hut’s menu includes a section titled “Hummusaria,” a Spanish term describing restaurants showcasing fresh, vegetarian and healthy hummus, the Middle Eastern dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas blended with tahini, lemon juice, and garlic confit. There are a number of different ways you can enjoy the hummus, including an innovative fusion that involves tostadas smeared with a layer of hummus and topped with a number of surprising ingredients. Our hummus was served with wedges of freshly baked pita, falafel and pickled vegetables, a true soiree for the senses. The hummus is creamy and has a melt-in-your-mouth consistency that tastes rich and garlicky. The falafel, a deep-fried mixture of coarsely ground boiled chickpeas and a range of aromatics and spices, is among the best we’ve enjoyed in Albuquerque.
22 May 2021: Hanif and Dennis put together a pastiche of grilled meats and vegetables, a Middle Eastern mixed grill of sorts. Sumptuous skewers of chicken tikka, beef kabobs and chicken sheesh kabobs were served atop a flour tortilla in a platter that can only be described as a meatfest were punctuated with such palate pleasing sides as desi slaw, masala fries, and tomato and mushroom skewers. Several sauces accompanied the prodigious platter, including a raita, a palate-cooling yoghurt dip which comes in handy after you’ve sampled the incendiary chile de arbol tabasco. Invariably, our favorite sauce was probably the tamarind chutney with its telltale sweet and sour flavor. My Kim observed that we were just about a block away from a churrascaria, a Brazilian steakhouse featuring various grilled meats and that we were enjoying much better meats at an Indian fusion restaurant. The skewers of chicken, beef were magnificent, better than you’ll find in many Middle Eastern kebab restaurants.
22 May 2021: Tom proved himself a hearty trencherman by also ordering a beef tikka roll, what Hanif playfully described as a Persian burrito. Indeed it is that. A tikka roll is a thin tortilla filled with your choice of protein, seasoned fries, romaine, pico de gallo, tomato chutney, raita, tamarind, side of Arbol tabasco. It may not sound as if this melange would work, but it’s surprisingly delicious, an adventure in flavors and textures that really go well together. Yes, even the seasoned fries. Ever the New Mexicans, we both lamented the absence of green chile, but some of that is because neither of us could admit the chile de arbol tabasco was kicking our tails.
18 June 2021: In an article titled “How the Humble Chickpea Stormed Snack and Dessert Markets,” Entrepreneur.com explained that the global hummus market was estimated to be around $811.9 million as of 2020 and is expected to break $1 billion by 2026. Though this traditional Middle Eastern dish has been around since the 13th Century only recently has it commanded space in grocery store refrigerators and on restaurant menus. It’s also become commonplace for food bloggers to share recipes that impart unique and non-traditional flavor profiles.
The “Hummusaria” section of Tikka Hut’s menu also explores some of the infinite possibilities in which hummus (Middle Eastern dip, spread, or savory dish made from cooked, mashed chickpeas blended with tahini, lemon juice, and garlic confit) can be made. Hummus remains the focal point of the six item menu that includes sweet potato, mushrooms, beets, cauliflower, escabeche, carrots and dates. The carrots and dates are a wonderful counterbalance to the umami-rich hummus. Sweet, caramelized dates and honey-glazed carrots may be my new favorite flavor combination. Only in French restaurants have we enjoyed carrots as much as we did the honey carrots which perfectly balanced tenderness and crispness, sweetness and savoriness.
18 June 2021: As a proud loyalist to the Land of Enchantment’s sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger, I rarely deviate from ordering any other type of burger. I will, however, order any burger prepared by über chef Dennis Apodaca who reminded me that I’ve been eating his burgers for going on twenty years. We reminisced fondly of burgers he concocted at Jo’s Place and how not everyone was as crazy about burgers made with huitlacoche or mole as I was. Dennis is still creating outstanding burgers, this time with a Middle Eastern twist.
The tikka beef burger (grilled ground beef marinated in eastern spices and chilies, raita, sliced tomato, onion, romaine, tikka mayo and pico de gallo, served with masala fries is his latest burger masterpiece. (Poultry paramours might prefer the tikka chicken burger.) This is a burger that bites back with a piquancy even New Mexicans will respect. As it should be, the beef is the star with those seasonings providing a distinct Middle Eastern personality. It certainly won’t be threatening the green chile cheeseburger for burger supremacy in New Mexico, but it’s an alternative all burgerphiles should explore.
7 August 2021: The National Chicken Council reported that in 2018 the average American ate 93.5 pounds of chicken. Perhaps the primary catalyst for the popularity of chicken is the country’s burgeoning love affair with rotisserie chicken. In 2017, consumers across the fruited plain bought 625 million of the spit-roasted birds at supermarkets. During the height of the pandemic, Costco alone sold 101-million rotisserie chickens. These skewered birds roasted in rotating contraptions stay moist thanks what MSN describes as “something foul lurking in those tasty fowl: sodium — and lots of it.” Unfortunately, salt is the primary flavor component of most rotisserie chicken.
Having long ago become wary of these salt bombs, only an invitation from Hamid could have talked me into trying a rotisserie chicken at a restaurant. Hamid told me Tikka Hut offers two variations of the perpetually pirouetting poultry, one seasoned with the restaurant’s tikka spice blend and another “not for the faint of heart” he called ghost chicken. Ghost peppers, which top the Scoville scale at a rate 400 six times hotter than a habanero pepper, aren’t one of the ingredients which give the ghost chicken its incendiary properties, but it’s still got plenty of heat. Neither my Kim nor our friend Ryan “Break The Chain” Scott would even try the ghost chicken.
While heat is an essential component of the ghost chicken, exquisite, exotic, palate-pleasing flavor (and not salt) is what this potent poultry is all about. Every morsel of the half-chicken (wing, leg, thigh) is impregnated with garlic and provocative spices from the exotic subcontinent of India. It’s about as piquant as a good vindaloo (or Mary & Tito’s ethereal red chile) and better than any rotisserie chicken I’ve enjoyed in New Mexico. Both my Kim and Ryan raved about the tikka spiced chicken, also designated by my Kim as the best she’s ever had. Since diners cannot live on rotisserie chicken alone, the half-chicken plate also includes hummus, desi slaw, escabeche, pita and a garlic sauce, all of which complement the chicken very well. The ghost chicken is also accompanied by a pili pili sauce, a super spicy African sauce made with chile peppers, habanero peppers, garlic, and olive oil. Add the pili pili sauce to the hummus or dip the chicken into it if you’re feeling especially feisty.
7 August 2021: Ryan, who like me, has dined at all of Chef Apodaca’s phenomenal restaurants called Tikka Hut’s roasted potatoes the very best dish he’s ever had at any of those restaurants. Not only are these terrific tubers roasted and seasoned to absolute perfection, some of the drippings from the rotisserie chicken elevate the potatoes to near life-altering status. So do pieces of shredded chicken served with the potatoes. It’s a unique and uniquely wonderful way to serve roasted potatoes, a perfect side dish for the very best rotisserie chicken you’ll probably ever have. Alas, the roasted potatoes aren’t on Tikka Hut’s daily menu.
3 November 2021: You may think you know pakora, the small fritters made by dipping various ingredients (usually vegetables) in a spicy chickpea batter and deep frying them, but until you’ve had pakoras at the Tikka Hut, you haven’t had pakoras as delicious as they can be. Face it, pakoras you’ve had at Indian restaurants–particularly at buffets–seem to over-emphasize the batter which can be so thick you don’t much taste the vegetables sheathed under that batter.
Not so at the Tikka Hut where the chickpea batter is so light and crispy it allows the vegetables to shine. Chef Apodaca shared his secret to his golden-hued batter. In addition to using chickpea batter, he adds a little bit of jalapeno and fizzy water. A number of different vegetable–onion, eggplant, chile relleno, nopal, mushrooms, sweet potato, green chile and spinach and paneer)–options are available as well as a paneer (a fresh curd cheese) pakora. My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” and I split an order of green chile and nopal pakoras. It was his first time having nopal, but probably not the last. Though very good on their own, they were exceptionally good when dipped in the unique guacamole laced with a piquant pico de gallo and lime.
22 May 2021: Surprises aren’t limited to savory dishes. When Tikka Hut supplanted Urban Taqueria, ku-latos replaced the Mexican-style gelatos previously offered. Ku-latos are a unique take on kulfi, a frozen dairy dessert often described as “traditional Indian ice cream.” Because of its dense texture kulfi may well be my least favorite Indian dessert. Hanif assured me the ku-latos aren’t nearly as dense and have a texture similar to gelato. Featured flavors are dulce de leche, Mexican vanilla, guava, passion, mango and pineapple. My Kim’s two scoop soiree of dulce de leche and Mexican vanilla was quite simply the best ice cream we’ve had in years, sure to be an addiction.
Indian fusion is an idea whose time has come. Tikka Hut executes that concept to perfection with unique offerings that are bold, unique and absolutely delicious.
Tikka Hut Indian Fusion
1 Central Avenue,
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 3 November 2021
1st VISIT: 22 May 2021
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: Tikka Roll, Hummus, Pita, Pickled Vegetables, Chicken Tikka, Beef Kabobs, Chicken Sheesh Kabobs, Desi Slaw, Masala Fries, Tomato and Mushroom Skewers, Mango and Pineapple Kulato, Mexican Vanilla and Dulce De Leche Kulato, Mango Lassi, Tikka Burger, Carrots & Dates Hummus, Rotisserie Ghost Chicken, Rotisserie Tikka Chicken, Roasted Potatoes, Green Chile Pakora, Nopal Pakora