“The true gourmet, like the true artist, is one of the unhappiest creatures existent.
His trouble comes from so seldom finding what he constantly seeks: perfection.”
By definition, gourmets are connoisseurs, taking food more seriously than most and embodying the axiom “live to eat rather than eat to live.” True gourmets, as Ludwig Bemelmans would define them, appreciate food of the highest quality, exalting only in the rarefied experiences–those which require the most discerning palates and noses to cognize subtle nuances in complex and sophisticated flavors and aromas. Bemelmans, himself an internationally known gourmet, posited that the true gourmet will find joy only in tasting, smelling and appreciating perfection, not in its pursuit.
I’ve known several true gourmets fitting Bemelmans definition. Most of them are insufferable and condescending. Though endowed with refined palates cultivated by years of indulgence in the finest foods and blessed with olfactory senses which would put a German shepherd to shame, they derive no sensuous enjoyment from most culinary experiences. Nothing is quite good enough. Nothing meets their demanding and exacting standards. Dining (they don’t eat) with them is a test in patience as they deride and diminish everything put before them.
Perhaps the best example of a Bemelmans’ style gourmet is Anton Ego, the notoriously harsh food critic from the wonderful animated movie Ratatouille. Ego earned the nickname “the grim eater” for his impossibly difficult to please, pedantic palate. His ironic proclamation, “I don’t like food; I love food.” belied his joyless, funerary approach to dining.
In 1984, British authors Ann Barr and Paul Levy, coined the term “foodie” to describe passionate food-lovers who have enraptured conversations about their food discoveries. As with gourmets, foodies have a passion for high-quality food and they pursue it with zeal. Unlike gourmets, however, foodies are interested in all kinds of foods–up to and including pedestrian, everyday foods such as donuts and potato chips, as long as they are of the highest quality. Foodies find joy in the pursuit and are generally a lot of fun to break bread with.
For years, one of my faithful readers provided more solid tips on where to go to find great food than Barbara Trembath who has shared her finds with me not only for Albuquerque, but for Boston, Sacramento, Phoenix and other locations to which I’ve traveled. A seasoned traveler with a sophisticated palate, Barbara exemplifies the term “foodie” in the best sense of the term. She revels in the sensuous enjoyment of a great meal and like me, is hardly monogamous when it comes to eating out. She is constantly on the look-out for the next great dining experience and is finding a lot more of them recently because she moved to Boston in 2012.
A great dining experience. That’s one of several things that distinguish a foodie from a Bemelmans style gourmet. Foodies like Barbara relish the holistic experience of dining. They initiate and enjoy the interaction with chefs and wait staff alike, gleaning as much information as possible about their meals. They savor the experience of trying new and different entrees. They engage in the discernment of ingredients, even to the point of trying to figure out how to recreate recipes for those they enjoy most. They talk during their meals…mostly about their meals. Sharing a meal with them–and they do share–is akin to sharing a meal with me.
After far too many weeks of failed attempts to break bread together, we finally met at Budai Gourmet Chinese in the Far North Shopping Center. For adventurous foodies, there are few restaurants in New Mexico as accommodating–and as much fun. Barbara had been to Budai several times, predating reviews by both the Albuquerque Journal and the Alibi. I was pleasantly surprised to see she was on a first-name basis with Chef Hsia Fang and his effervescent better half, the pulchritudinous pint-sized hostess Elsa.
More impressively, Elsa didn’t try to dissuade them against trying something from the “non-secret” menu (thank you Ari Leveau) as she might people she pegs as “sweet and sour” loving Americans. That’s a sign of respect. That’s a sign she’s earned her stripes by having proven themselves as atypical diners. Being presented with the “other” menu places her in an exclusive class usually reserved for Asian diners who were raised on foods many Americans might consider weird, strange, different…or worse.
Budai Gourmet Chinese opened its doors shortly before the dawning of the year 2010. It didn’t take long for savvy Duke City diners to realize Budai was a special restaurant, one for which the appellation “Gourmet Chinese” is appropriate. Budai is named for a small fishing village in Taiwan, the “beautiful island” about 75 miles from mainland China. Neither Hsai nor Elsa are from Budai, but both are inspired by the little village for which they named their restaurant. Hanging on a wall is an intriguing poem from Budai written in sinography, the unique Chinese character writing style. Elsa says the poem loses a lot in translation.
On another wall are several photographs taken during a “wrap” party when the filming of a Jackie Chan movie in Albuquerque was completed in 2008. The Fangs got to know Jackie fairly well and broke bread with the acrobatic actor several times during his stay in the Duke City. Chan, as it turns out, is quite a cook himself. It’s doubtful he’s of the caliber of Budai chef Hsai Fang. It’s possible no one in Albuquerque is. The day after my inaugural visit, I craved its incomparable flavors so much I had to visit Budai again. Barbara told me that would happen, that I wouldn’t rest until I’ve tried everything. I’m off to a good start.
Perhaps because of the many and varied economic, geographic, ethnic and cultural influences, Budai’s menu is inspired–and not just the not-secret one. The regular menu showcases a variety of dishes and cooking styles from several provinces in China as well as several dishes native to Taiwan and even some influenced by the Japanese who occupied Taiwan for many years. Dishes are categorized into chicken, beef, pork, duck and lamb, shrimp, fish, squid, scallop, mussel, tofu and vegetable entrees.
UPDATE: Budai no longer has a separate “non-secret” menu. Instead the more popular items with which Chef Fang has delighted diners have been incorporated into the abbreviated main menu in a section titled “Chef Specialties.” Sadly such favorites as the incomparable “lion’s head” entree didn’t make it onto the Chef’s Specialties, however, Elsa assured us it will occasionally grace the specials menu. That’s the very first place we’ll look when we visit Budai. Please note that some of the items described below may no longer be on the menu, however, they may just make an appearance as a special someday.
23 November 2013: One of the telltale signs of a great dim sum house is high quality dumplings. Formerly resident on the “no longer secret” menu and hopefully someday to be a featured special, the boiled chive pork dumplings are absolutely not to be missed. Fifteen juicy and meaty (porky?) dumplings with a perfect consistency between thin translucent wrapper and fillings have that familiar, comfortable flavor that will remind you of why you fell in love with dumplings in the first place. Immerse them in a light sauce of ginger, garlic, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce and chili and that comfortable flavor becomes intimate with your taste buds.
31 August 2010: One entry a Bemalmans style gourmet would probably not appreciate in the least is Budai’s Dong Bo pork, a fatty pork stewed for eight hours. This half-lean meat and half-fat pork belly dish has a very interesting texture. The fatty portion is almost gelatinous to the point many would find it off-putting. In concert with the lean meat portion, however, the fatty flavors sing. Though very fatty, the dong po pork isn’t discernibly greasy. It’s very tender, so much so that if you wish to forgo the sensation of fattiness, all you need to extricate succulent meat from fat is a fork. To fully enjoy this dish, have it as the chef intended–and centuries of tradition dictate–intact with glorious fat and meat.
31 August 2010: Budai’s sugar vinegar short ribs belie the named ingredients, being neither overly sweet nor vinegary. Both flavors are present, but not in the proportions the name sugar vinegar might hint at. In fact, these ribs are wholly unlike Chinese barbecued ribs which tend to be lacquered with sauce. Instead the sauce is light and delicate, a flavorful sheathing to complement the meaty short ribs which you’ll gnaw with delight.
23 November 2013: When ordering something as large, filling and rich as the lamb stew, Elsa will recommend a “smaller” appetizer such as the five spice and honey lacquered ribs. Smaller in this case means four large meaty, fall-off-the-bone tender ribs instead of say fifteen boiled chive pork dumplings. Lacquered in a rich sauce of five spice powder and honey, the ribs give the appearance of being very sweet, but they’re not anywhere close to the “meat candy” some Chinese restaurants serve. Nor is the meat “disguised” in the sauce. These are so good and so tender you don’t even need teeth to enjoy them.
9 June 2012: Diners who might find the texture of the fatty portion of Dong Bo Pork a big off-putting will delight in the Shanghai Ribs with Chinese Vegetables entree. The Shanghai ribs are essentially the lean portion of the Dong Bo Pork in the form of the most delicious, most tender and glorious short ribs you’ll ever have. As with most items on the menu, Chef Hsai Fang takes no shortcuts in preparing this entree, a painstaking process that involves several cooking techniques including flash-frying, baking and grilling. The result is fall-off-the-bone tender short ribs that melt in your mouth. The sauce is complex and delicious with such components as hoisin and light soy, but in such light proportions as to be a challenge to discern, thereby not being dominated by any flavor profile.
The Chinese vegetables bed on which the Shanghai ribs lie will vary depending on what’s in season. One popular choice in Taiwanese cooking is Taiwanese Napa cabbage. Napa cabbage is so important to Taiwan that a sculpture of the vegetable is on display at the National Palace Museum. The name Napa has nothing to do with California’s famous viticulture epicenter, but translates from the Japanese term referring to the leaves of any vegetable. Taiwanese Napa cabbage is crisper than other varieties of Chinese Napa cabbage. It does not wilt under the sauce used on Shanghai Ribs.
9 June 2012: There is never a shortage of adventurous surprises on the Budai menu and if you’re an adventurous diner who likes to try new things, you’re bound to find a new favorite every visit. Pity the monogamous diners who eat the very same thing every visit because they’re missing out on the joy of new discoveries. On the other hand, those of us who try new items every visit won’t partake of the type of wondrous deliciousness you can eat every meal.
One item I’ll surely miss until it comes back up on my rotation are the Five Flavor Mussels (alternatively you can order Five Flavor Cuttle Fish), New Zealand green-lip mussels in a multi-ingredient, multi-flavored sauce. The base for the sauce is a sweet tomato sauce (you’d be surprised at just how much tomatoes and even ketchup are used in Chinese cuisine) to which is added garlic, ginger, scallions and chili. It hits every note on the flavor scale.
7 May 2011: If you make it a practice to ask Elsa to select your meal, you’ll always be pleasantly surprised. When my friend Ryan Scott, the dynamic host of Break the Chain, the very best radio show no longer gracing Albuquerque’s airwaves walks into Budai, he’ll tell Elsa “I’ve got $25 to spend for lunch” and places himself entirely in her hands. He’s never had the same thing twice and has nothing but praise for everything he’s had.
One new favorite he and I shared is an appetizer of lightly marinated and seasoned thinly-sliced beef served on a bed of lettuce. Not quite as thinly sliced as carpaccio and far more generously plated than carpaccio tends to be, this cold-served beef may remind you of high-quality roast beef, but with subtle seasoning that brings out even more of the beef’s natural flavors. Surprisingly the flavor of thinly-sliced beef seems more “beefy” being served cold than it might otherwise taste.
7 August 2016: Haley Hamilton whose photos grace this review spent a summer studying in Taiwan where she developed a fondness for scallion pancakes. Budai’s version is reminiscent of those she enjoyed so much at the island nation formerly known as Formosa. At Budai, a scallion pancake is roughly the diameter of a personal-pizza.
Scallion Pancakes are formed from hard dough rolled out in such a manner that it creates a series of layers similar to Greek phyllo without the flakiness and delicateness. In between those layers, a sheen of oil (or perhaps clarified butter) is applied and scallions are spread in between. After the scallion pancake is rolled into a flat disc, it is fried in butter or oil until completely cooked and crisp on the outside. These golden orbs are superb!
7 August 2016: An episode of Friends in which Joey Tribbiani urinated on Monica’s jellyfish sting (and later repeated by actor Zac Efron in the movie The Paperboy) contributed to an inaccurate myth about jellyfish, the sting of which should be treated only with vinegar. Another unfounded myth is that jellyfish aren’t edible. Don’t ever tell Chef Hsia or anyone at our table that jellyfish aren’t edible.
Not only that, they’re delicious…or at least the way they’re prepared at Budai whose Jellyfish Salad is magnificent. You’ll never give it a second thought that you’re eating jellyfish whose texture and flavor are palate pleasing as are the melange of ingredients (well-cooked jellyfish with celery, cilantro, rice cooking wine, white pepper powder and scallions) with which the jellyfish is prepared and served. Few dishes have surprised me as much as this one did.
22 October 2021: Bon Appetit describes soup dumplings as falling “in the category of “delicious things we love to order when we’re out, but would never even dream of making at home.” A mainstay of dim sum menus, these steamed buns are an intricate dish whose Houdini-like preparation baffles non-chefs. Within each plump dumpling is nestled a little pork meatball surrounded by a delightful meaty broth. How the broth gets in there is a mystery, the answer to which you can find online, but one foodies prefer not to contemplate as we’d rather be enjoying these tender pouches of porcine perfection with the liquid surprise.
You might think soup dumplings alone would be “leaving well enough alone,” but that’s not the way Chef Fong thinks. Accompanying the soup dumplings is a small ramekin of shaved ginger in a vinegar sauce. Elsa taught us precisely how to maximize our enjoyment of the soup dumplings which are perfectly wonderful on their own. No, you don’t dip an entire dumpling into the ginger-vinegar sauce. You spoon just a little of the mix then you place the dumpling into the spoon and devour it in one bite. It’s a delicious adventure–huge flavors you wouldn’t expect.
30 August 2010: During our third visit, Elsa came to our table and excitedly told us Budai had a unique vegetable the Chinese call “hollow heart” because its stems are characteristically hollow. Sometimes called water spinach, Chinese watercress and a host of other names, it’s got nutritional benefits comparable to spinach. Budai’s rendition is prepared the Cantonese way, with fermented tofu which imparts a very nice flavor. The hollow heart is fun to eat though it can be messy because you either cut it or you wrap your fork around it like spaghetti.
Soups & Stews
23 November 2013: As with many great restaurants, Budai offers seasonal specials that take advantage of ingredients which are at their freshest during each of the four seasons. Though winter is not often thought of as a growing season, it’s the time of year in which Chef Hsai prepares soul-warming specialties not available any other time of year. Among the very best of these is a luscious lamb stew wholly unlike the mutton stews so prevalent in New Mexico’s Navajo country. It’s a stew so rich that Hsai dares not serve it any other time of year, so rich that Elsa contends it can give diners a bloody nose if eaten in summer. That sounds like the perfect wintery elixir and it is. The lamb, as tender as can be at under one year of age, is selected personally by Elsa and Hsai from a local rancher.
One-inch lamb cubes (bone included) are marinated-brined-stewed for hours in a sauce that includes rehydrated figs, scallions, chilies, star anise, garlic skins, fresh ginger and other seasonings then is served with mung bean noodles, shiitake mushrooms and cubes of tofu. The tofu is “honey-combed” thanks to first being frozen then thawed. The tiny holes allow the cubes to absorb the unctuous broth very well. The stew is served in a clay pot nearly the size of a swimming pool. It’s one of the most delicious dishes I’ve had at any Chinese restaurant anywhere, but then I say that about almost everything at Budai.
31 August 2010: The Taiwanese beef noodle soup is an elixir for whatever ails you–a warm, nourishing, soul-warming broth flavored sublimely with star anise, Chinese five star powder and other, more subtle seasonings. Luxuriating in a bowl the size of a small swimming pool are yellow and green onions, thick wheat noodles, shards of Napa cabbage (a very flavorful but drastically underutilized cabbage) and stewed beef. Budai will prepare it to your preferred spice level, taking care to ensure it’s neither too incendiary nor too weak. The only beef noodle soup in Albuquerque that’s comparable is the spicy beef stew at Cafe Dalat and May Hong. That places it in rarefied company.
1 September 2010: The beef stew in clay pot is equally enrapturing. Served in a clay tureen is a bounteous stew that will make you long for the cold snap of winter when the stew’s enveloping warmth can mollify any of old man winter’s misery. Basking in a beguiling broth are cellophane noodles fashioned from mung beans, chewy beef tendon the consistency of gummy bears, succulent stewed beef, yellow and green onions, earthy shitake mushroom buttons and a variety of spices which impregnate the stew with flavor. If possible, this stew is even better the second day when those flavors have penetrated even more deeply.
15 January 2011: In January, 2011, my friend Alfredo Guzman regaled me with tales of his recent visit to California and the terrific Chinese food he ate during his stay all the while lamenting the absence of great Chinese food in Albuquerque. That was akin to throwing down the gauntlet in my direction so I invited my friend to Budai. A whiff of the magical aromas emanating from the kitchen followed by a couple of bites of the chive pork dumplings and the California Chinese restaurants suddenly didn’t measure up any more. The smiles of sheer joy on his face were a testament to yet another convert won over by the greatness that is Budai.
15 January 2011: In between utterances of pure joy, my friend, a native of the Philippines, exclaimed (several times) how our shared entrees elicited flashbacks to the style of food on which he grew up. The flavors triggered happy memories of great meals he hadn’t experienced in years. Fred couldn’t believe a Chinese restaurant in New Mexico would serve pig’s feet with mung bean noodle soup. He couldn’t believe just how good this dish is. The pig’s feet are meaty and delicious with a surprising tenderness. The mung bean noodles, some at least a foot long, are perfectly prepared. The broth, an amazing elixir in a swimming pool sized bowl more than big enough for two, includes bak choy and scallions.
15 May 2011: Another greatly underutilized ingredient which in the hands of a master can be quite good is taro, a tuberous root vegetable which, much like a sponge, can absorb the flavor of almost anything with which it’s cooked. Taro is sweet, but not cloying. It’s starchy–much like a parsnip or turnip–and retains its form when cooked. Budai serves a taro and chicken stew that is simply redolent with flavor. The savory qualities of the chicken and the sweetness of the taro coalesce in a thick broth that impregnates the dish with deliciousness. The chicken is not de-boned, a minor inconvenience considering how taste each morsel is.
Taro root is perhaps not so much an acquired taste as it is an ingredient you either like immediately or you’ll never like it. On its own, it’ll probably never win any favorite flavor contests, but as a complementary ingredient it melds well, like a good supporting actor. The not-so-secret menu has offered, on occasion, a crispy fried duck layered with taro root paste. Perhaps only vegetarians would find fault with the crispy duck which is succulent and tender, a paragon of poultry perfection. The taro root paste, on the other hand, is starchy and semi-sweet. To me, it’s a nice complement; to my Kim, it’s a nuisance to be scraped off.
1 September 2010: Elsa delights in offering suggestions, describing each dish’s provenance and composition at great length if you ask–and she does so with a rare alacrity that bespeaks of her love for the cuisine masterfully prepared by her chef husband. Her knowledge of the menu will ensure complementary dishes are served. When my Kim ordered the tea leaves-smoked duck, Elsa diverted me from ordering a beef tongue entree, indicating the beef stew in clay pot would provide a better, more complementary alternative. She was right!
The tea leaves-smoked duck is magnificent, each meaty morsel of a half duck imbued with a bacon-like smokiness that complements the essential duck flavor. It’s a juicy duck with a perfectly crisp skin and just enough glistening, glorious fat to lend to the textural experience. Thankfully Budai doesn’t serve the duck with a Hoison sauce or with incendiary chili as some Chinese restaurants do. Instead, a very light and subtle rice wine sauce lends just a hint of savory sweetness. Tea leaves-smoked duck is a quintessential Szechuan entree and is generally served in festive and celebratory events–like enjoying a great meal with friends.
15 January 2011: When we inquired about the three cup chicken dish on the menu, Elsa explained that when she grew up in Taiwan, chicken was a rare delicacy so the family cook found ways to stretch it as far as it would go. One way was by creating a broth made with one cup rice wine, one cup sesame oil and one cup soy sauce along with ginger and basil. The broth was simmered for a long time in an earthenware pot along with chicken. The slow simmering ensures the sauces are absorbed by the chicken. This dish is served in the earthenware pot on which it is prepared.
Elsa also shared that, courtesy of the three sauces, the dish was extremely salty so it was served with rice to absorb the saltiness and in the process, stretch the dish. Conscious of today’s low sodium lifestyles, Chef Hsia’s version of three cup chicken is far less salty. Elsa informed us that several Filipino customers asked that instead of chicken, catfish be used on the three cup dish. That’s the way we requested it. The three cup catfish was absolutely amazing with the prominent flavors of ginger and basil enveloping us in warmth and deliciousness. It’s one of my new favorite dishes at Budai…along with the pig’s feet and mung bean noodle soup, Dong Bo pork, etc., etc….
15 December 2010: For sheer fragrance, perhaps the most olfactory-arousing, palate-pleasing dish at Budai is the curry shrimp, equaled only by the rendition proffered at Ming Dynasty. The curry is gravy thick and brackish in color–not quite green and not quite brown, but a combination of both. It has equal pronouncements of savory and sweet though not nearly as sweet as a coconut enriched Thai curry. The vegetables in this curry dish–potatoes, carrots, zucchini, mushrooms are perfectly cooked with the potatoes reminiscent of those you might find in massuman curry. The shrimp are large and absolutely magnificent, a sweet and briny foil to the pungency of the curry.
1 May 2014: Jeff Smith (The Frugal Gourmet) posited that “Scallops are expensive, so they should be treated with some class. But then, I suppose that every creature that gives his life for our table should be treated with class.” Imbued with a mildly sweet and delicate flavor and a tender, but not mushy texture, scallops are often maltreated at restaurants which deploy sauces which obfuscate their natural flavor. That has long been my opinion of restaurants which cover scallops in marmalade-like orange sauce so cloying there is little natural citrus influence discernible.
My friend and fellow gastronome Hannah Walraven raves so effusively about the crispy orange peel scallops at Budai that trying them was inevitable. If anything, Hannah sold this entree short. It is simply fabulous! Served in a ceramic seashell, the scallops are lightly battered and covered in a reduced orange sauce with ginger, Szechuan chiles and plenty of crisp yet chewy orange peel with a candied texture and flavor. The sauce doesn’t detract from the flavor of the large scallops and is wholly unlike the syrupy sauce so many other restaurants serve.
31 October 2015: For years, American restaurants seemed to shun the long, narrow razor clam, an aversion likely triggered by the worm-like creature in the shell. Asian restaurants, meanwhile, showcased them in diverse and delicious ways. Resembling an old-fashioned straight razor, these mollusks may not be the most appealing in appearance, but their deliciousness outweighs any ill-founded prejudice. When Elsa is effusive about any menu item (as well she should be when her genius chef husband prepares it), you’ve got to try it. She raves about the stir-fried razor clams. So will you! A generous bowl of razor clams are served in a brown “gravy” with basil leaves, minced garlic, green onions and sheer magic. These magnificent mollusks are absolutely addictive, so good you’ll be tempted to order a second portion.
7 August 2016: Regular readers have been subjected to my incessant whining about Americanized Chinese food and especially anything sweet and sour (typically described as “candied”). When Elsa recommended sweet and sour flounder we momentarily wondered if she had forgotten who we are. She then explained that Shanghai style sweet and sour is very different and far superior. True enough. Instead of the cloying reddish sauce served at just about every other Chinese restaurant in town, Budai’s Shanghai style sweet and sour sauce is far more balanced with no one flavor component (sweet, savory, tangy, piquant) overwhelming the other. The flounder is delicate, flaky and absolutely delicious.
29 October 2021: During my first foray into Boston’s Chinatown, one of the most intriguing sights to hold me spellbound were the glazed, denuded ducks hanging by the window with a large fan blowing on them. I learned that after the ducks are dipped in a maltose mixture, they are immediately hanged to dry so they can dry quickly without too much of the glaze dripping off. Despite public health concerns in California, this practice is considered so important to the tradition and culture of Chinese immigrants that those ducks have been allowed to be kept at room temperature before being roasted.
In Chinese culture, duck symbolizes freedom as well as fidelity and bliss. Chinese believe duck meat has the power to relieve colds, phlegm, and even kidney disorders. From a culinary perspective, duck is not only absolutely delicious, it’s a staple of great Chinese restaurants throughout the world. Perhaps the most ubiquitous way of preparing duck is by roasting it so that the fat is rendered out leaving only tasteful meat and crispy skin, a preparation known as Peking duck.
While Budai doesn’t currently offer Peking duck, the menu lists three other delicious preparations: Kung Lao duck, Mongolian duck and the aforementioned tea leaves smoked duck. Mongolian duck was the only one we hadn’t experienced until our visit in October, 2021. We should have tried it much earlier (a sentiment common for so many dishes on Budai’s menu). Chef Fang serves this boneless duck creation by filleting it into thin slices and serving it with white and green onions as well as incendiary Thai peppers over fried rice noodles that reconstitute magnificently in a light broth. The broth has notes of soy, ginger and garlic, a trio which tempers the Thai peppers. It’s a superb dish!
30 August 2010: The most passionate foodies don’t think twice about trying something that might inspire fear and loathing in less adventurous diners. During my third visit to Budai, I ordered beef tongue only to find out my friend Barbara had ordered and enjoyed it thoroughly the night before (a little cliche about great minds might be appropriate here). Having had lengua (Spanish for tongue) in various ways and on many occasions, the notion of trying tongue was a no-brainer. Contrary to what one might think, the texture of tongue is not akin to shoe leather nor is it comparable to menudo.
The tongue is thinly sliced and on the plate resembles several little, oval tongues, none pink. Texture-wise, it might remind you of the sliced sausage adorning some pizzas. It’s not tough, sinewy or chewy in the least. Budai’s tongue recipe calls for grilled jalapenos, green onions, white onions and a soy sauce based sweet sauce invigorated by the jalapeno. This is excellent tongue, so good you might just tell your friends you got some “tongue action” last night.
30 August 2010: Taiwanese pork chops are another Budai specialty prepared in ways you might not see at any other Chinese restaurant in Albuquerque. The pork chop is breaded almost Milanesa style, but it’s just an exterior covering for a very tender and juicy pork chop flavored with soy sauce and five spice powder among other seasonings. What makes this pork chop special are its accompaniment–mustard greens and fried rice. The mustard greens have a tangy, almost vinegary flavor with a crunchy texture. The fried rice isn’t made with soy sauce, but is light, fluffy and delicious.
15 December 2010: From Shanghai comes a playfully artistic and playfully named casserole dish called Lion’s Head. Budai’s rendition is somewhat different from the rare (at least in New Mexico) Chinese restaurants which offer this entree. Instead of one gigantic meatball configured by ingredient placement to resemble the head of the king of the beasts complete with a shaggy mane, Chef Hsai serves up several large (by American standards) meatballs.
The meatballs are constructed from pork he grinds himself then tops with shredded greens (Chinese cabbage black mushrooms, bamboo shoots) meant to represent the mane. This flavorful melange, redolent with garlic and star anise in a fragrant brown sauce, is prepared and served in a clay vessel as big around as a wading pool. It’s a fabulous entree!
15 May 2011: In recent years, foodies have embraced the holistic potential of every part of an animal, many discovering that offal isn’t awful. Offal, a culinary term referring to the entrails and internal organs of a butchered animal is often considered a delicacy. Budai subscribes to the use of all animal parts, unleashing deliciousness in every part. Take for example beef tendon, which some might dismiss as elastic, sinewy and tough. In the hands of Hsia, tendon is prepared with incendiary chilis, whole peanuts, green onions and lively seasonings that will awaken your taste buds. Thankfully Tsai doesn’t boil the tendon to the point that it’s soft and flavorless. Its texture is honest and its flavor is fulfilling.
2 May 2014: With almost every Chinese entree you can name, there’s a version other restaurants serve then there’s Budai’s version. Invariably Budai’s version is the very best. That goes for Budai’s Singapore Rice Noodles, which rank with those at May Cafe as the very best in the city. Singapore noodles are a tangle of thin rice vermicelli noodles stir-fried with pork, shrimp and vegetables (green and white onions, julienne carrots, cabbage, bean sprouts) in a light curry. The curry is terrific with more than a hint of piquancy coupling with a pungent quality while the clear vermicelli noodles are delightful, requiring no cutting or twirling around your fork. Both the pork (which is plentiful) and the shrimp are perfectly prepared.
31 October 2015: If ever a dish earned its name, it’s Chow Fun, a stir-fried dish made with a broad rice noodle. For my Kim, few things are as much fun as showing me her adroitness with noodles, knowing anything longer than a rigatoni noodle confounds and endangers me (as in accidentally stabbing myself while trying to wrap the noodles around a fork). Chow Fun noodles can be longer than six-inches. In the hands of a stir-fried master, they can be quite wonderful. Budai prepares a version that includes chicken, onions, cabbage and chili. Though this dish has an oleaginous texture, Budai’s version is the antithesis of greasy and oily. That, too, evinces the chef’s deft touch and experience. This is the best chow fun dish in Albuquerque.
31 October 2015: What’s the best way to respond to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) denouncement of bacon as a cancer-causing scourge? If you’re tired of alarmist bureaucrats telling you what to do, you’ll thumb your nose and fry a rasher or two of bacon for your next breakfast. My way of showing rebellion was by ordering the pork belly bacon with spicy onion dish at Budai. Not even the hypocrites at the WHO would be able to resist this bounteous bowl of sheer deliciousness. The pork belly bacon combines the richness of pork belly with the smokiness of bacon, the best of two qualities. The onions inherit their spiciness from chili and jalapeños, stir-fried to a delightful consistency. Elsa suggested coupling this dish with rice, a good idea if you want the dish to go just a little further…or if you can’t handle the intense piquancy.
7 August 2016: In 2008, restaurateur extraordinaire Tom Hamilton invited us to dine at his fabulous restaurant, the Hamilton Chophouse then a tenant of the Glacier Club at Tamarron Resort’s Sundowner Lodge about twenty miles north of Durango. By the terminus of an exceptional meal, our high regard for the Chophouse was surpassed only by our esteem for its affable owner with whom we’ve remained friends. Tom Hamilton is an exemplar of class and integrity, one of the most devoted family men I’ve ever met. Though we’d seen him beam with pride when waxing poetic about Ellyn, the lovely love of his life and their delightful daughter Haley, we met them for the first time at Budai, one of Tom’s favorite restaurants in Albuquerque. Fortunately Elsa sat us at Budai’s most capacious table because the table’s Lazy Susan, roughly the size of a hot air balloon, was nearly overflowing with all the appetizers and entrees we shared and beautifully photographed by the talented Haley.
7 August 2016: As is often the case when ordering a number of dishes at Budai, you probably won’t achieve consensus in deciding which is the best or favorite. One dish came close. That would be the pork belly with bamboo. In this novel-length review you’ve already read about the Dong Bo Pork, the half-lean meat and half-fat pork belly dish with which I fell in love during my first visit to Budai. Picture smaller pieces of unctuous pork belly served in a rich, luxurious sauce with shredded bamboo (similar to the bamboo served with green curry at Thai restaurants). I was the sole hold-out who preferred the Dong Bo Pork whose combination of gelatinous fat and crispy bacon appeals to some primitive manly instinct.
7 August 2016: Though we rarely order from the regular menu, we’ll forever make an exception for the Black Pepper Lamb, a wok-fried dish with a piquant bite (courtesy of incendiary Thai bird peppers) served over crispy cellophane noodles. If you’ve ever lamented the gaminess of lamb, this is the lamb dish for diners who don’t like (or think they don’t like) lamb. The lamb is moist and glistening from the fiery influence of chili oils. Despite the heat, this is a very balanced dish with several tastes. Had it not been for the Shanghai-style sweet and sour flounder, this would have been my favorite dish.
22 October 2021: Throughout Asia, one of the most ubiquitous staples is steamed rice-white, fluffy, plain, pure and unadulterated (often even without salt). In China where it was invented–sometime during the Sui dynasty (A.D. 589–618)–fried rice is surprisingly not a common way of preparing it. In fact, it’s seen as somewhat of an oddity. That’s certainly not the case in other countries where fried rice is the preferred way of enjoying rice. Before we even had a chance to peruse the menu, Elsa explained there were two new items on the menu.
One was Taiwan sausage fried rice, a pork-based street food favorite made by mixing pork, liquor, and various spices. Unlike the fabulous Chinese sausage fried rice served at Ming Dynasty, the Taiwan sausage isn’t ground. It’s sliced thinly like the sausage you’d find on a pizza. It’s fantastic with its slightly sweet taste and beautiful crisped skin that bursts when you bite into it, filling your mouth with juicy deliciousness. The Taiwan sausage fried rice is simplicity in itself–bean sprouts, scallions and Taiwan sausage. It doesn’t need anything else.
22 October 2021: The other new item Elsa raved about is Taiwan fried chicken. Frankly, because of the sheer popularity of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) in Taiwan, I had my doubts (Elsa should never be doubted. Never!). Along with McDonald’s, KFC is the largest fast food restaurant chain in Taiwan with more than 500 restaurants. What makes KFC palatable, it’s been “localized.” It’s not the same KFC to which Americans are subjected. It’s crispier, juicier and as we were quick to discover for ourselves, far more delicious.
As for Taiwanese chicken itself, Elsa explained that it is first marinated overnight before being coated in a secret “crispy coating.” It’s deep fried to give it both a crunchy and flaky exterior (similar to tempura,) while retaining a juicy interior. The chicken is then covered with herbs and spices (though certainly not “the Colonel’s” eleven herbs and spices) and served with crispy basil leaves. Served boneless like chicken nuggets (but much more tasty), Taiwan fried chicken could rule the world!
31 August 2010: Budai’s orange peel beef is also subtle, a subdued version of a dish Americanized Chinese restaurants tend to overdo with sauces that are usually cloying and redolent with an excess of tangy orange peel. Americanized Chinese restaurants also tend to over-caramelize the beef, leaving it an overly chewy, sweet and sticky mess that tastes very much like candied beef. At Budai the orange peel beef is lightly seasoned with flavors that tease, not overwhelm. The beef is breaded to a whisper-thin consistency then fried along with slices of orange peel and dried chilis. It’s a very nice version of a very popular dish.
11 November 2012: Ask many people about Chinese desserts and the answers you’re likely to hear–almond cookies, fortune cookies, etc.–might induce laughter. In truth, many Chinese prefer fruits instead of the cloying, tooth-decaying sweets Americans crave. Leave it to Tsia to introduce us to something decadent, delicious and different–a lovely plating that resembles an orange noodle nest surrounding a patty of some sort. The “patty” is a roundish quarter-inch thick, maybe seven-inch around mound of sweet, sticky rice and raw peanuts caramelized to form a sort of pie. In fact, Elsa sliced it for us in the way we might slice pizza. This is an outstanding dessert which should be on the daily menu. That, too, is something which could be said about so many items at Budai, but then if you continuously repeat your favorites, you won’t experience the soon to be new favorites.
22 October 2021: One of the most popular items you’ll find in a Chinese dim sum restaurant are deep-fried sesame balls. They’re made with a sticky rice flour dough filled with a red bean paste, rolled in sesame seeds, and fried until crispy on the outside, but still soft and chewy on the inside. Red bean paste is sweeter than the ubiquitous mung bean, but not as sweet as some American dessert fillings. Served eight to an order, these sesame balls are a nice way to end another great meal at Budai.
Thematically this review been a reflection on the pleasures of dining with friends peppered with my feeble attempts at describing dishes so good mere words don’t do them justice. Dining with Tom Hamilton and his wonderful family ranks up there with Friends of Gil outings for the sheer delectation of dining with great people who share a passion for wonderful food.In all likelihood, a Bemalmans style gourmet might not enjoy much about a meal at Budai, but most true foodies will. Budai is a very special restaurant, one which should be shared with open-minded friends who love food as much as you do.
BUDAI GOURMET CHINESE
6300 San Mateo, N.E., Suite H-1
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site | Facebook Page
1st VISIT: 31 August 2010
LATEST VISIT: 29 October 2021
# OF VISITS: 13
BEST BET: Dong Bo Pork, Sugar Vinegar Short Ribs, Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup, Orange Peel Beef, Hollow Heart, Taiwanese Pork Chops, Beef Tongue, Curry Shrimp, Lion’s Head, Three Cup Catfish, Pig’s Feet with Mung Bean Noodle Soup, Spicy Tendon, Taro Root and Chicken Stew, Crispy Duck with Taro Paste, Lamb Stew, Honey and Five Spice Lacquered Ribs, Five Flavors Mussels, Shanghai Ribs, Crispy Orange Peel Scallops, Singapore Rice Noodles, Razor Clams with Basil, Chow Fun with Chicken, Pork Belly Bacon with Spicy Onions, Jellyfish Salad, Shanghai-Style Sweet and Sour Flounder, Pepper Lamb, Pork Belly with Bamboo, Scallion Pancake, Taiwan Style Fried Chicken, Taiwan Sausage Fried Rice, Sesame Balls, Soup Dumplings, Mongolian Duck
73 thoughts on “BUDAI GOURMET CHINESE – Albuquerque, New Mexico”
Had dinner at Budai last evening and started with our favorite steamed pork buns and cold noodles with sesame.
Elsa recommended something new to the menu, Shanghai Ribs.
They were spectacular, cooked like Dong Bo pork but on the bone like ribs with less succulent fat but all the great taste. try it for a real treat.
I then sheepishly asked Elsa if they make one of my traditional favorites, Egg Foo Young and she said of course.
Well, in a word, GREAT!
As good as I’ve had.
Budai always satisfies my need for great Chinese (Taiwanese) food and the chef is always coming up with great new dishes.
they do now! http://www.budaigourmet.com/
I just realized – no website for these guys??? Weird.
The ABQ Journal just wrote another rave review for Budai: http://www.abqjournal.com/main/2012/02/10/entertainment/dump-the-moo-goo-gai-pan-and-embrace-something-different.html
Yet another remarkable meal at Budai. Chef Tsia runs the kitchen like an orchestra leader…… and the Delightful Elsa is warm& generous. When a neighbor was ill and her husband and a pal went to Budai for lunch, the charming Elsa sent some soup home to please the lady when she was under the weather. That kind of care and concern from the front of the house as well as the back elevate Budai beyond almost any restaurant I have frequented in many years> In addition to extraordinary food the very kind and considerate management brings us back& back again to the wonderful Budai Gourmet..I think I shall have to brave up ( With some careful consideration ) and invite Elsa& Tsia to Placibo for dinner on one of their VERY RARE evenings off. It is obviously a brassy choice to invite such remarkably gifted folks to dinner…… I think I will have to plan Very Seriously to keep even close to such brilliant company
I consider myself to be a fine hand in the kitchen, and if I were bold enough I’d love to have Elsa& Chef Tsia to dinner at my house…..but I’m not at all sure I could hold a candle to the incomparable
I can’t explain enough how much I love this place!! The mini pork buns is delicious because it has soup inside! Beef noodle soup is awesome so is there beef claypot!! High 5 to epic food!
They have the “crunch” down. Wow! The fried chicken wings with garlic are absolutely my dream of what fried chicken should be. The crunch and the garlic flavor drive me wild. That’s pork chop crunch is great too. I never would have thought the “crunch” to be something that might be perfected from the Chinese, but Elsa and company have done it. I could bathe in the Kung Pao sauce. I always repeatedly get their squid dishes, but the duck, chicken, and shrimp versions of the Kung Pao are wonderful. For a nice evening, garlic chicken wings and anything Kung Pao would put me from a sour mood to a “wow” or at least a “nice…” mood… any day. I hope Budia is there at least until the year 3045.
This place is simply fantastic, whether it be the normal menu or the Chinese menu. I especially love whatever dishes they have on special, because it just highlights the chef’s creativity and love for the craft.
The Dong Bo Pork and Five Spice Ribs are on my to-eat list for my annual holiday visit home.
My family and I had dinner at Budai this past Saturday and it was wonderful. I am Chinese so I guess I have a little bit more experience than most of the Americans at ABQ when talking about Chinese food:).
I came across a short article about Budai’s dongpo pork and suggested having my birthday dinner there. Elsa was so sweet and showed us the secret menu. We ordered corn chicken soup (yumm), hot and sour (as good as any Chinese restaurant in the US), green onion pan cake (yumm), pot stickers (good, though Elsa suggested the steamed buns), three-cup cat fish (so delicious, hope the size could be a little bit bigger), buk choy (just like home-made), and taro root crispy duck (boneless, so creative and yummy, a little on the expensive side), and a pot of fruit tea. Everyone enjoyed the meal. I was so happy to find such a good Chinese place at ABQ. I have had some authentic Chinese foods in LA, SF, Chicago, Seattle, Phoenix, Ann Arbor and East Lansing, where tens of thousands of Chinese reside and study, and several Chinese restaurants similar to Budai compete for business. I would say Budai is quite comparable to some of my favorite restaurants in terms of dish quality and service. I will definitely go back next time I am in town. I hope they could stay in business too. After all, it is not easy to run an authentic Chinese restaurant in ABQ.
I can’t believe I could ever say any restaurant “is not bad” and then go on to say I felt they were a rip off and served “canned crap and bad meat”, and claim they pulled “menu B.S.”.
All your words, and frankly the don’t jive with any restaurant being “not bad”
My first thought is there seems to be a tremendous disconnect and there is something more than meets the eye than just your words and their food.
And as far as your problem with regular v. special menu I assume you’re not happy with any form of special menu, say like a written board or even a waitperson reading it.
Or is that offensive just when Budai does it?
I do understand why you’re you willing to roll over for some great don bo pork though.
It is extremely common for Chinese restaurants in the United States to have two menus, one that appeals to the unadventurous American palate that believes sweet and sour anything, Chop Suey and the PuPu Platter is representative of Chinese cuisine, and the menu ( usually handwritten ONLY in Chinese characters ) that appeals to the clientele who is looking for the traditional dishes that usually do not appeal to the wider audience.
Budai is the third or fourth ABQ dining establishment run by Hsia and Elsa and the first in which they decided to offer some more traditional dishes, originally only handing the handwritten, single single-sheet menu to Asian diners who asked for it. There is the tongue, the beef tendon, the fermented tofu, etc. that they were not used to offering to non-Asian diners. Much of what is on the so-called “secret menu” is seasonal, so it’s often changing.
Their other menu is large and contains things that DON’T appear on many Chinese menus in the US. Goji berry soup, Taiwanese Beef Soup, Spinach Beef, Pekinese Pork ( which shows off Hsia’s amazing knife skills ), rice cake dishes, etc. are unique to their restaurant.
We were among the first gringoes to ask for the menu, and Elsa hesitated because she hated to think of the waste of a good dish being brought to the table, and it took a little convincing to get her to share the menu with us ( which is now printed in Chinese and English and automatically placed at our table and given to many regulars, Asian and non, when seated )
Many Chinese restaurants will prepare traditional dishes if asked. We’ve experienced this in Phoenix, in Southern California, in Boston…they may not have more than one menu, but if the cooks are trained in China or Taiwan they KNOW how to make authentic regional dishes, and will do so on request.
You’ll find more than one menu at East Ocean and ABC Chinese and the “secret” menu at Chopstix is made up of hand printed sheets of paper taped to the wall.
Well here’s my review – Budai is not bad … for Albuquerque. And yes, I have ordered off the Chinese menu, and it was pretty good for Burque… Lowest common denominator is our gauge here for Chinese though. BTW If a place is so proud of the food why have a special menu – Can’t miss a chance to serve unassuming people that walk in and order from regular menu canned crap and bad meat! If all the food was fresh and they got rid of the “regular” menu (chance to rip people off) I would feel better about eating here. The “regular” stuff made my friends sick and I am not sure I can support a restaurant that serves bad food regardless of the “special” menu. The last time I was in Vegas – I ate TONS of Chinese food, and none of those places pulled the “regular/special” menu B.S. – there was one menu only. so don’t tell me this procedure is common elsewhere. Its just a way to pawn off old and canned food for the owners – it is NOT ethical and makes feel so-so about going here again although Budai is the only place to satiate my pork belly cravings =(
Visited Budai a couple of days ago and it was good. Went with my parents so we got the standard Chinese fare. Chicken chow mein was good and the ginger beef and broccoli was excellent. Very gingery. Also had the lemon chicken which I liked a lot.
It was a couple of flat fried breasts with a light coating and a saucer of lemon sauce.
it wasn’t small pieces of deep fried chicken like you usually get.
Next time will try not so standard dishes.
After wandering around China for three weeks I have to say that I was truly stunned at the quality of the food. We only had one Chinese meal that I would classify at so-so (the most expensive of the trip, Jumbo Kingdom in Hong Kong. We cheated a little as an old friend of the Child Bride living near Guangzhou took us many places she knew to be great, including one Italian restaurant- most other self selected non Chinese food bordered on terrible). Budai would have been competitive with the best of these places, not tops but close. I have to admit though that we had better dumplings in Vancouver than China but probably because we went to so few such places in China and seek them out in Vancouver. Eat at Budai, Be happy.
Was in training near the area so finally got to eat in at lunch. Had a great lunch consisting of pepper steak, small salad, vegetable egg roll and fried rice. It was excellent. Almost got the garlic chicken wings and will get that next time. It was crowded and I was made to feel very comfortable because its not always easy to easy by one self. One of these days, I will have to try one of the specialties of the house though I like the norm.
I finally made it to Budai. Heard some much Sensei and friends that I had to go. But this required I get take out and and guess what, the food even at home was terrific. I am just your old fashion L.A. guy so I didn’t trying the unknown and the different but kept to a usual but something different for me was the Spinach Beef. They give you a tremendous portion even in take out and I was thoroughly impressed. Also, because 1/2 Sephardic, I asked to not have the oyster sauce and they put garlic sauce instead and yes I wanted one more change which was to have it crispy which they did. I am impressed they went with my particular wishes and was well pleased. I had a 1/2 order of lemon chicken which was very good, a bit sweet and would have liked some tartness with it. They also served me 1/2 order of Fried Rice so I can try it, it was moist and not dried out. I would say this is one of the best Chinese restaurants in New Mexico and next time, I will eat in and enjoy the benefits of being served hot food. Thank you Sensei for saying this is a key place to eat in Albuquerque because I give it 5 Stars…
I had lunch at Budai yesterday and decided to try a childhood favorite done Budai style.
As a kid in NY I remember my father coming home from a Kosher deli with Corned Beef, Roast Turkey leg, potato salad, cole slaw, sour and half sour pickles and some sliced beef tongue.
I liked tongue on good crusty rye with mustard.
Both tongue and liver are favorites of mine and neither evokes the proper respect they deserve.
Perhaps we need a green chile liver platter trail or a green chile tongue sandwich competition……. I’m just saying……
Yesterday I decided to try Budai’s thin sliced beef tongue with veggies and it brought back all those memories and in a word it was delicious.
Now there are several items on the not-so-secret menu that have whet my appetite.
I also had the cold noodle in sesame sauce as an appetizer and it was truly the best I’ve had anywhere.
Don’t know why it took so long to discover your site, but I wanted you to know you do a great job! And that’s from someone who also reviews restaurants–no blog, just a regular AAA New Mexico Journey feature called “Hot Plates.”
For our friend George’s birthday, we ate at Budai. The squid dishes are wonderful, so I opted for the Kung Pao squid, and George had the Kung Pao shrimp. I never remembered that dish tasting so good. I could have licked the plate. The Kung Pao sauce was so good that I was overwhelmed. If you were to ask me what my favorite Chinese food dish is now, I would have to say Kung Pao squid. I don’t ever remember having better Chinese food, and this dish ranks up among the best things I can ever remember eating. George agreed. On the flip side, I was hungry for crunchy food on a previous visit and ordered the Sweet and Sour shrimp. What I should have done was gone for a double order of the garlic chicken, which I literally dream about – or that fantastically crunchy, flavorful pork chop. The Sweet and Sour shrimp was drenched in sweet and sour sauce (completely covered in fluorescent pink), but it’s definitely not an authentic Chinese dish and was prepared to what I think Elsa and Co. thought Americans might like. It’s not crunchy, but if you want something that sticky, sweet and fried, then its the dish for you. We plan to go back soon, and I look forward to the Kung Pao squid again.
I have eaten at Budai many times and the food is consistently top quality and flavor.
Have been many times and haven’t been disappointed. We love all things duck. Had a side by side tasting between the Tea Leaf Smoked and the Mongolian. Both are very tasty but the Mongolian won out. The gorgeous ginger saturated broth in the 3 Cup Chicken makes you want to pick up the pot and slurp it clean. The ribs of varying cuts and flavor combos will have you knawing them white than returning to the bones later to make sure you got all of it. The sausage balls in the Lion’s Head have a great texture, the meat isn’t overly ground.
When I go to San Fran I stay in a small boutique hotel where North Beach and Chinatown merge. It’s not so much the red-light district of 20 years ago. Great food in any direction though. Budai offers many dishes that you would find in any Chinatown.
Yet another astonishingly fine meal at Boudai Gourmet. The Lion’s Head was finely and delicatly
crafted& the Tiwanese porkchop was cooked to perfection. The service was ( As usual ) flawless.
Our charming waitress suggest that we both not order the Lion’s head…..and she was quite right
…. there’s a real chance I could’ve eaten the styrofoam container that was kindly provided.
Every new dish we try is a revelation…and we always send thanks to the chef for working his
We go there Soon Again
For the person who mentioned Joe’s Shanghai in NYC, taste buds are surely in question. They are nothing but an overrated mediocre restaurant waiting to hustle you out like the next Pho restaurant. As a New Yorker I just laughed because, obviously your pallet is only 1 dimensioned. Any food taste good when cooked in pork lard. Any Shanghainese restaurant in NYC can make pork dumpling better if not the same as Joe’s with a quarter of the wait time and better service. The majority of the people who wait on the mile long lines there are NOT asians. What does that tell you?
It’s very rare these days to find a chinese restaurant that doesn’t cook with heavy/gelatin sauces and heavy spices. Those are the places who cater to the “american taste buds”(PF Changs) so you expect that in this restaurant. If that is what you like, eat out of a can or at a buffet. Exactly what someone said, you want better food, fly over to LA,SF,NYC or even asia. Kudos to those who eat the pig feet/fatty pork/jellyfish and chicken feet, I hope they will consider bringing tripe.
Trying 3 of a number of dishes on the menu brought back memories of the taste that I have been missing for a long….. long…. time. What a flashback! I’m talking about dishes that you don’t commonly find on the menu of many Chinese restaurants in ABQ. In my opinion, of all the Chinese restaurant in ABQ that I’ve been to… Budai is definitely the best! It is the place to go if you want to taste authentic Chinese cuisine!
Another remarkably fine meal at Budai Gourmet. Like so many of the finest restaurants in this country and in
Europe that I have been fortunate enough to visit ( We were educated from childhood to appreciate great
food ) BG never disappoints. From the first taste to the last…. the parade of flavors in every taste
of every dish is a subtle journey through the pleasures of gastronomy. The restaurant was jammed for lunch
but the service was attentive& smooth…Elsa was wonderful as always and remembered us as did the rest of
the very fine ( And very busy ) servers. We all love to be remembered….an immense plus in any venue.
There’s a theory that people are born with three levels of taste buds. Most of us have a normal number
( Within certain parameters )…..and that a small number of humans are born with far too many ( Making
anything at all taste fine ) …and that there are some ( Un-lucky individuals ) who are born with too few.
I have a sneaking suspicion that the Nay-sayers about the brilliant food at BG have (perhaps ) been short
changed in the bud department. Poor souls. Looking foreward to the Lion’s Mane.
Yet another brilliant meal at Budai Gourmet…..with excellent subtle service. The vinegar sugar short
ribs were surprising and delightfully elegant..entraining a series of flavors that built from the first taste
and continued to delight till the last bite which lingered on the palate. The squid in garlic was perfectly
cooked and maintained the correct balance..being cooked with a deft hand the squid was beautifully
tender and the garlic was superbly engineered to accentuate but not overpower the seafood.
I agree with Nate D& Bruce as well as Brian Scott….The food is superb and Elsa is a real treasure..
she gives explanations& recommendations and makes very sure to sense the diner’s tastes & wishes
….which she does with the best interests of a great host. I recommended Budai Gourmet to my neighbors across the arroyo. When I asked them if they had gone…they said they had 4 times in 2 weeks& that Budai Gourmet…their favorite restaurant in NM & were going again this week with
guests from France and Russia.
I look foreward to going through the entire menue… my friends ( Serious eaters ) look foreward
to many more lovely experiences at Budai Gourmet. Having dined through many of the best
restaurants in America and quite a few in Europe…..I am quite foursquare with Gil’s wise head’s
My wife, son, his girl friend, our daughter and I had dinner at Budai last evening.
Wife and I have just returned from three weeks in Asia including Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong Nagasaki, Shanghai and Beijing.
With the exception of Beijing (Peking) Duck which Budai doesn’t have on its menu the food at Budai is every bit as good as what we had on our trip to Asia and we made sure to hit restaurants off the tourist path.
Most of the time we ordered by pointing because communicating either in English or native tongue was impossible.
One thing I must say is that during two meals, one in Thailand and one in Nha Trang Vietnam I had the two hottest peppers I’ve even tasted.
The first as part of the condiments served in Bangkok with Pho, a small slice red of pepper that literally took my breath away.
The second, a mint green dipping sauce served at a sea side restaurant that accompanied a whole sea breem cooked with local veggies in an aluminum foil pouch.
Went from comfortable to flop sweat with the first taste.
My husband and I would probably be up for it, with some notice as to guarantee child care for the evening…there’s a particular Taiwanese fish soup Elsa says Hsia can make..and it’s much better ( as are most Chinese dishes ) when shared.
You never lead me astray, Gil. Had dinner here near closing time on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. Elsa was a wonderful hostess, and didn’t look at the menu. I simply ate the appetizer (dumplings) and entree (tea leaves smoked duck) she suggested.
I will become a regular at this place as well. 5 stars.
Maybe we should organize a meal here sometime for some of your frequent commentors. I’d love to be able to put faces to names. Anybody up for it at some point in the future?
I hate doing cut and paste but here it is from Wkipedia:
Chinese curries (咖哩, gā lǐ) typically consist of chicken, beef, fish, lamb, or other meats, green peppers, onions, large chunks of potatoes, and a variety of other ingredients and spices in a mildly spicy yellow curry sauce, and topped over steamed rice. White pepper, soy sauce, hot sauce, and/or hot chili oil may be applied to the sauce to enhance the flavor of the curry.
The most common Chinese variety of curry sauce is usually sold in powder form. It seems to have descended from a Singaporean and Malaysian variety, countries which also introduced the Satay sauce to the Chinese. The ethnic Cantonese (dominant in Kuala Lumpur), this yellow, Chinese-Malaysian variety was naturally introduced to China by the Cantonese, and features typically in Hong Kong cuisine. (Interestingly, the Malay Satay seems to have been introduced to China with wider success by the ethnic Teochew, who make up the second largest group of Chinese of Singapore and are the dominant group in Thailand.)
There are many different varieties of Chinese curry, depending on each restaurant. Unlike other Asian curries, which usually have a thicker consistency, Chinese curry is often watery. “Galimian,” (from Malaysian “curry mee” or “curry noodles,”) is also a popular Chinese curry dish.
As a former waitress, I can tell you that most restaurants serve genuinely brewed iced tea at large quantities at a time. Using instant iced tea for each customer would actually take up even more time for us. So I highly doubt they’re using instant iced tea.
Secondly, with regards to the curry, how do you know it wasn’t Chinese? You know China has many many different types of cooking, right? Depending on what style of cooking it is, the curry could have been influenced/ or also influenced Indian and Mongolian cooking.
Thirdly, with regards to the duck, Chinese people are known for eating meat on the bone, it can be chicken to fish. Maybe you could request the bones to be taken off?
I’m pretty sure Best Lee’s caters to Americanized palettes and not adventurous or Chinese ones. Every time I’ve gone there, the sauces have been too sweet or goopy, something not found in China.
Hope this helps, Ken!
My fresh fruit slush tonight was made with avocado. This was so good and refreshing. It might have looked like a shamrock shake, but it was incredible — creamy, sweet with a subtle avocado flavor. Yum-yum!
With all the special dishes from which to chose from you selected three rather unadventurous ones.
Yeah, I know the tired old line, “well if they can’t make basic Chinese dishes………”.
I think ordering the same dishes you can get at chain and mall eateries is disappointing to them, the same thinking that keeps them from putting duck sauce and noodles for you to munch on but they dispense it on request.
I’m guessing you were denied access to the now not-so-secret secret menu.
Steamed or fried dumplings rather than the steamed mini buns with Rice Wine vinegar and slivered ginger dipping sauce???
And what in the world is “GOURMET” Iced Tea?
And where can I get it?
I”m not 100% positive but I think that it’s an old Chinese custom to serve certain diners broken fortune cookies to show displeasure with them.
I’m just saying……….
Finally tried Budai and must say, sadly, we were underwhelmed. That’s probably being nice. When a restaurant touts itself as “gourmet” you expect things to be a little special. Not the case here. It all started when we sat down to INSTANT ice tea. As a GOURMET offering. Our steamed dumplings were fried. The curry dish we had has terrific but not really a Chinese offering. The tea smoked duck was overcooked and hacked into pieces with a meat clever, leaving every bite with a mouthful of bone shards. Again, not my idea of “gourmet”. Finally, as a final insult, we were given a smashed fortune cookie served in a plastic wrapper. Thanks for dropping by.
My take is this place is okay for run of the mill, get it anywhere Asian food. Gourmet its not.
If you want gourmet Chinese food in ABQ, head over to Best Lee’s and see how it should be done.
Nate and Bruce,
Thank you for responding to Paco about his diatribe. I was trying to control my impulse to be as rude and insulting as he was and you have enabled me to restrain myself.
I too have eaten at Chinese restaurants in San Francisco and New York and find Budai better than those I experienced but, since my selection of establishments was fairly small, I am certain that at least several I missed are as good. I even find that it is about as good as the best in Vancouver-though a completely different style.
Paco does seem to have a personal vendetta but, assuming that he just doesn’t like the style of cooking he should just say so. There are many very good or excellent restaurants cooking in styles I don’t care for either. That is no reason to be personally insulting.
Paco is the “Lone de-Ranger” on this one.
Seems to have a personal agenda against Budai and one of the nicest families around..
Perhaps he’s upset that they are doing so well.
Paco, if you want great duck forget about the wonderful Tea leaf smoked duck at Budai you have to go to the Beijing Dadong Roast Duck Restaurant which is just a short jet hop away.
Oh oh, I’m starting to sound like a Paco wannabe foodie.
Perhaps Paco woke up on the wrong side of his Dong Bo pork that day.
Stay away Paco, they don’t need your vindictive karma.
Go to NY for your pork buns.
That was the most moronic “review” I’ve ever read. It wasn’t a legitimate discussion of Budai’s food. It was an unintelligent rant of a child with an ax to grind. Actual food experts don’t describe food as “crap.” Speaking of that, why would anyone trust the opihion of someone who willingly and repeatedly, by his own words, kept eating food he thought was “crap.” I know I like to go to restaurants I think are awful all of the time. I think McDonald’s is horrible. Therefore, I don’t eat there repeatedly no matter how cheap it is. I, for one, have eaten Chinese food in LA and in New York, and to compare Budai’s food to food there as crap is myopic and ignorant. Oh wait, I am an American, so I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. I suppose I should say Asian people have no idea what a good hamburger is, you have to talk to an American about that. I’d be labeled a racist if I said that, but you have no problem saying someone like me is easily “tricked” into thinking Budai’s food is good. Your view point is so simple-minded and, frankly, anti-American, it’s not even worth the time I spent reading it. It is so transparent that you’re trying to harm a business because you thought they owed it to you to charge a lower price. Once again, if this place is so “crappy”, why did you even consider Budai for your student event? You make no sense Paco. And by the way, I wouldn’t email you for the 411 on how to take out my trash,much less on what good food is.
Let me tell you something about Budai. The owner/chef was from a buffet restaurant from Central that went out of business. I believe the restaurant was called something like Chinatown Express or something. It was housed in a temple looking structure. Most of the food you taste, taste like it is from the buffet. I have to give them props for testing the waters by offering stuff that you cant get anywhere else. However, the food they put out is by no means good. Traditional taiwanese food does not taste like this, not by a long shot. It is easy for Elsa and her husband chef to trick Americans into what is good. Trust me, a place like this wont last a month in LA or any big city. I have tried multiple dishes here was really disappointed. However Americans will swear to you it is the best chinese food they have had. I guess if you are comparing this to Panda Express and your typical Americanized chinese food, then yes, it is pretty damn good. If you are chinese or taiwanese in this case and you have had good food, the food at Budai is a joke. One of the dishes I had was the oyster omlette, a very traditional taiwanese dish. First of all, the ingredients that went into this dish, chinese broccoli is not suppose to be in there. The clear gelantenous goo that holds the omlette together is so little and the sauce doesnt even taste right. Obviously the owners have not been to Taiwan or havent been back. I would recommend them to go to Shilin night market to figure out how this is really made. The beef noodle soup broth sucks. They need to cook it longer to get the broth flavorful. The only dish I found was acceptable was the stir fried rice noodle, but at that price, I would rather go to Chopstix to get something comparable at a cheaper price. I used to go to Budai because they had a 20% off since they opened. After that expired, I stop going. Prices are way too much for the crap they are serving. One reason I am really disappointed at this place and this is twice I have delt with the owner is they are very business savy. We had a local organization of students wanting to have a chinese new year event at their restaurant. They wanted to serve us some ordinary food at 35 dollars a person. We ended up not having the event there. Not only trying to rip off people but trying to rip off their own people. The menu they proposed was mediocre, and they wanted to charge that much to students. Just obsurd. I saw earlier Larry mentioned about pork buns. Larry, next time you go to New York, try a place called Joes Shanghai and try their crab pork buns. When you come back tell me how if the stuff they serve at Budai is acceptable. If you want real chinese food, try LA. Go to Rowland Heights. You can email me at email@example.com if you want to 411 on good “authentic” chinese food. Once you have had the real thing, tell me what the heck Budai is serving.
Sorry about being pessimistic about Budai, I just need to set the facts straight so people dont waste money like I have in trying places like this.
Last night I returned to Budai with Jane and Barbara, David, and the kids for my third visit. As I walked in the door, Elsa greeted me with “You’re Larry, right?” She remembered me from my second visit where we discussed my Urbanspoon review in which I wrote of the history of Su Shi’s DongBo Pork, which I had on my first visit.
The occasion for this visit was the arrival of blue crabs (I’m an ex-pat Marylander and probably share a gene or two with these critters), and Elsa let Barbara know that they were available right now. Hsia fixed the crabs in a delicate black bean sauce with ginger and scallions. Messy eating, but a superb dish.
Elsa suggested the accompanying dishes: cold duck wings, steamed pork buns (amazing!), and Ants in Trees (sometimes called Ants Climbing Trees). The latter is pork bits in a spicy, rich brown sauce ladled atop a large platter on crispy rice sticks (rice vermicelli) that sizzled as the pork was ladled on. This is a Shanghai dish that is not on the menu. The presentation and taste were phenomenal. Hsia outdid himself.
I have placed photos of these dishes on the Urbanspoon Budai page at http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/60/1501499/restaurant/Northeast-Heights/Budai-Albuquerque — that’s Elsa ladling the pork on the noodles.
I’m looking forward to my fourth visit. And fifth…. Wanna join me?
A remarkably fine dining experience. Happily Alb now has 3 fine Chinese restaurants…Ming Dynasty, Budai Gourmet& Best Lee’s in the Heights. Quite impossible not to go back. The food at BG was absolutely sophisticated, subtle and entirely elegant….the interplay of flavors in every dish was
handled with a sure touch and a brilliant surprise in every bite. The Great Elsa was completely inform-ative and very charming…the Lady knows her stuff. A very far cry from the ghastly cheap-o run
of the mill Chinese generally sold in the USA which is not at all subtle. When I was a kid ( 50 yrs ago )
we ate at Ruby Foo in New York…..it was great Chinese food back then, but it doesn’t hold a candle
to Budai Chinese Gourmet today.
Having eaten my way through most of the great restaurants over America, and many of the greats
in France, Italy, Germany & Spain…I think Budai GC is Very Much worth your consideration. Looking
foreward to my next meal there.
Dave and I were there today. This was fantastic. I had the oyster string noodle soup, and Dave had the tea smoked duck. Both items were wonderful. The soup was so exotic and flavorful; it felt like experiencing a piece of Taiwanese life in a dish. It was great and too much food for 2 people (maybe even 3). It’s such a blessing to experience Eastern cuisine with such friendly authenticity and authority from the staff. The atmosphere was warm and inviting. The booths were comfortable and quality driven. (That’s a poor description. The booth seats were generous and comfortable. The tables were clean, smooth, laminated wood. There was no noise. Lighting was appropriate.) I’m not a big fan of the open culture for sharing entrees, but the soup was so large, I am glad that I was obliged to share. I can see communal entrée sharing as important when each dish is artisanally prepared with so many different, sophisticated, and exotic flavors. If you are unfortunate enough to only eat there once, then you should be able to experience all of the flavors possible in that seating. They got busy, so the service was a little (only a little) slower than what I’ve come to expect. It is minor. However, the sophisticatedly delicious genuine Chinese food and warm hospitality ensures we will go back soon. I’m sold.
Back to Budai last night with a friend who is a Chef and his wife who runs the front of their restaurant.
Spectacular food AGAIN.
From the Wor Won Ton soup to the tea leaf smoked duck to Dong Bo pork, to the great mini pork buns to the crispy ribs.
2 thumbs up from the Chef and his wife.
Still dozens of dishes on our culinary bucket list.
Delicious! The sugar-vinegar ribs are to die for, and the steamed pork buns are well-seasoned and tender. I will go again!
Su (Su Dongbo) Shi’s Dong Bo Pork is spectacular.
Thanks for the heads-up, Gil (and you, too, Barbara).
Budai us now on this foodie’s rotation.
I completely agree with everything Gil said, and am so glad that Albuquerque finally has a great Chinese place, not to mention a Taiwanese one as well! Elsa has obviously thought out the menu to be able to accommodate everyone from the seasoned Szechuan lover, adventurous foodie or the Asian cuisine novice. She guides patrons by listening to what they like and don’t like. The tea leaves smoked duck was a personal favorite (apparently both the Alibi and Journal also agree with me). I could not finish the dish so I took some for leftovers and ended making a sandwich wrap for lunch the next day, a concept I highly recommend!!
I also recommend the crispy fish, especially when dining among other guests because the portion is quite big. Eating the tilapia not only fills my taste buds with joy but also fulfills my social conscience because tilapia is much sustainable than eating overfished salmon or tuna!!
Kudos to Elsa and all the staff of Budai for their great enthusiasm and dedication
Based upon your glowing review the Child Bride and I had lunch at Budai today. I ordered the crispy flounder with black vinegar sauce (wonderful). The ever unadventurous Child Bride ordered some standard American Restaurant Chinese thing, maybe General Tsao Chicken. Better than most such things. Then, in the middle of the rapture caused by my fish, I recognized Elsa and we had a long conversation and were given a copy of the ever changing not so secret menu.
This is probably one of the nicest families on planet earth. They owned the Imperial Lion on Juan Tabo which was wonderful but which you didn’t care for. It ceased to be so wonderful when the awful China Star opened across the street and decimated the Chinese restaurants on Juan Tabo. The Imperial Lion was the only place to actually try to go toe to toe with them and switch primarily to a buffet at $1 less than China Star. They lost the battle and closed. Quality suffered as you can’t serve decent food at that price.
A few years later Elsa talked the family into trying again when she saw the old New Chinatown was available and they opened Mr K’s, which attempted to compete with the $4.99 “all you can eat” Chinese restaurants in the area. I thought this was a bad idea (they didn’t ask me) but she is forever a cheerful optimist. This price is pretty much incompatible with the quality food that they love though they were successful for a couple of years then closed.
After about 3-years they opened Budai. Elsa absolutely loves the restaurant business because she loves people and in a smaller up-market location they can run the type of restaurant they want to.
I am so glad that they are back and doing well.
Fav stop for lunch.
At least once a week.
The pork belly was divine, and I think if you can get over the amount of fat you are eating proportionate to the meat, and split the dish between 3-4 people, it’s enough to get the idea of how special the dish is, without feeling like you’ve just eaten 2 or 3 ounces of lard. Cooking something like that for 8 hours ( and I’ve no doubt that dish was stewed all day ) really elevates it to a gourmet level. I’m so glad Elsa recommended it to us.
Enough non-Asians now request the special menu that Elsa has printed an English language translation but only has 4 copies, and she closely guards them!
One thing not on the menu, but usually available, is Pickled Mustard Greens with Beef or Pork. I prefer the Beef, and it’s a simple yet well seasoned dish.
This is a place that any foodie worth their salt pig should put on their rotation.
My wife and I have visited Budai 3 times including last evening. Our first visit was prompted by a couple from NY who have moved to New Mexico and share the same love for Chinese food as we do.
Budai has become our favorite.
We can’t agree more with your assessment.
Elsa is something special.
She devotes all the time you need to guide you on this eating voyage.
We absolutely love the steamed bums and were intrigued by the lesson in the proper way of eating them, “one bite so you get the full effect of the little packet of flavors”.
The crispy fish was superb and enough for a tableful of diners.
In three visits we’ve enjoyed every dish.
Can’t wait to go back and let Elsa guide us again.