Riviera–El Paso, TX

Riviera Restaurant
5218 Doniphan Dr.
El Paso, TX
(915) 584-1542
Riviera

Riviera


Riviera has been in operation since 1948, and when I came to El Paso it was one of the several restaurants (mostly located in the Upper Valley) specializing in New Mexican style food. Even though I have a hard time defining the differences between the local style of food in El Paso and New Mexican cuisine, it is evident by eating in some of El Paso’s popular restaurants versus the ones in Las Cruces. In the case of Riviera it was mainly the red enchiladas that caused me to classify it as New Mexican.

Riviera had a change in ownership sometime around the beginning of the 2000’s, and after that I noticed a change in the food. My main benchmark was the red enchiladas, which I almost always ordered here. In addition to having one of the city’s spiciest red chiles, they were characterized by a deep red color and a very straightforward chile flavor. In some other respects the food was very close to the style of El Paso cuisine, but with the red enchiladas I thought it was straight up New Mexican style.

The Riviera web site says it is now 65 years and a few generations since the Riviera began, but “our reputation for serving the finest in authentic Mexican cuisine still exists.” In describing the enchiladas it states that you can choose the Original Red, New Green (creamy), or Old Green (rajas de chile verde sautéed with onions and tomatoes). I am not sure if they are saying that the red enchiladas served now follow the original recipe, but I definitely think some things about it are different. I am not sure Riviera was ever a full blown New Mexican style restaurant, but the food served now seems to be totally consistent with the El Paso style of Mexican cuisine (although probably using chiles from New Mexico in its red and old style green enchiladas).

Today I do not find either the red or green enchiladas to be among the best in the city, but there is still plenty of good reason to come to Riviera. Some of my favorite items have been the chile relleno and the tacos, but there are many items I have not tried that may be very good as well. Sometimes the sum of the whole is greater than its parts, such as on the combination plates number 2 and 3, where you get tacos and a chile relleno along with enchiladas (all three of these together make a very flavorful meal).

Riviera is one of the city’s better Mexican restaurants in terms of not being greasy, not using cheap cuts of meat, etc. Guacamole is also a dead giveaway to tell which are the better restaurants, and Riviera serves a very good version of it.

One thing that has brought me to Riviera is the fact that they have lunch specials while many other restaurants have quietly made this go away (or else they never had lunch specials to begin with). Another good feature is that on one of El Paso’s notorious oven-like summer days, Riviera offers a cool respite where you can enjoy a leisurely meal (they having continuing service throughout the day, but they change to the dinner menu at 3:00 p.m.). Sometimes shaded parking places are also available (at least the odds are better than at most other restaurants).

Riviera is open daily, is open late night, and serves food throughout the day. I believe it is open until 10 p.m., although at least on Sunday this apparently applies only to the cantina.

Riviera is open for breakfast every day and serves enchiladas montadas, chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, Mexican omelettes, etc. I have enjoyed the breakfasts, but I found many of the items to be expensive compared to other restaurants.

Dinner

Dinner combination plate

Dinner combination plate

The dinner menu offers a wide variety of items, including the Dinner Combination Plate shown in the photo. Several items on the plate are noteworthy, including the Chile Relleno which I think is one of the best in town. This one was in fact very spicy, but it varies because not all of the ones I have had were this way.

The Red Enchilada was also very spicy on this night but I find it less so at lunch (and I do not have other recent experiences at dinner to compare with this one). This one had a very red color with a good flavor, and it was reminiscent of the “old” Riviera (but so far it is the only one that has been this way). They do have green enchiladas that look good in photos I have seen, but I have not tried them recently.

This plate includes a Shredded Beef Taco, while with lunch specials you get either ground beef or chicken. The shredded beef was my favorite, and in addition to being available on the dinner combination plates, are available on a taco plate or a la carte.

The Rice and beans are also excellent here, a key factor that I think puts Riviera in the category of the city’s better Mexican restaurants.

An item not shown in the photo is the tamal, which is available on one of the combination plates.

The restaurant seems to have a firm policy of not allowing substitutions (except as I have noted, the lunch combinations can come with either ground beef or chicken tacos).

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa are served with all meals, although on the combination dinner you may not want to eat all of the chips in order to have enough appetite for dinner. The salsa, like many of the items here, is one of the better ones in the city.

Flauta

Flauta

The Chicken Flauta is an a la carte item from the dinner menu, and is a less expensive alternative that may still be very filling (by the time you eat the rice, beans, salad, guacamole, etc.). The dinner plate has three of them (which I think might be overkill when you consider their size). I have not ordered the chicken taco plate, but I have had chicken tacos on the combination plate and on the old Taco Tuesday night. To me these are more flavorful than the flauta, but you would miss out on the guacamole and sour cream (which may make the flauta a better choice for many people).

Lunch

Complimentary soup

Complimentary soup

Recently they have been serving a complimentary Caldo (soup) with lunch plates, but I do not know if they come with dinners. The soup is not very large but it is nice to have some vegetables with the meal (it also contains chunks of beef).

Lunch Combination B

Lunch Combination B

My go to choice at lunch is Combination B (if you see a letter instead of a number you know this is one of their lunch specials). These are mostly the same items served on the dinner Dinner Combination No. 2, except the taco has ground beef instead of shredded beef. To me this is a step down, but not a big concern because frankly the chile relleno is so good it really does not matter about anything else (although other items are very good as well).

Combination B with chicken taco

Lunch Combination B with chicken taco

This photo shows the same dinner with a chicken taco instead of the one with ground beef. For me this makes it a little better.

The problem I have had with lunch is that the red enchiladas have had a darker red color and a different flavor than I have experienced at dinner. I have been told that at 5 p.m. the dinner shift comes in with different cooks, and this may be the reason the food has been different (there are also other variables including time lapses between my visits to the restaurant). Normally I do not find the color difference to be significant except that at Riviera the bright red colored chile seems to be the best.

Enchilada plate

Enchilada plate

For those who want just the enchiladas, it is available as a plate on the lunch special menu. This is something I frequently ordered at the “old” restaurant but for the new one I only have a photo of it (this one has onions, while I usually prefer them without onions).

Overall Notes
The standout item here is the chile relleno, and there may be others but I have not tried everything on the menu.

My experience is that the enchiladas improve after 5:00 p.m. when the dinner shift comes in, but I have been unable to prove this over time due to having a limited number of visits to the restaurant.

The lunch specials have a good price compared to eating lunch at other restaurants, and my experience here is that if you get a combination plate with a chile relleno it is always a worthwhile experience.

The service has always been good, and I particularly like that they make suggestions that let me know about better items, substitutions I can make, etc.

The “support” items here have generally been very good (rice, beans, chips, salsa, etc.).

When I went for lunch on a Monday they also had taco specials, which I think have replaced what they used to have on Taco Tuesdays.


Riviera Web Site


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Mexican El Paso
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Full Bar

Most Recent Visit: Aug 26, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Chile Relleno, Shredded Beef Taco, Chicken Taco, Guacamole, Salsa

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: Vegetable

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchilada
star 5 Chile Relleno
star 5 Shredded Beef Taco
star 5 Chicken Taco
star 4 Ground Beef Taco
star 4 Chicken Flauta
star 4 Chicken Fajitas
star 4 Slaw
star 5 Beans
star 5 Rice
star 5 Salsa

Valley Super Market–El Paso, TX

Valley Super Market
850 Resler Dr.
El Paso, TX
(915) 585-1003
Valley Super Market

Valley Super Market on Resler


Valley Super Market is a local meat market and Mexican grocery store with several locations in El Paso. Not being familiar with many of the items normally sold in Mexican markets, it is hard for me to make a comparison with other stores. I would classify it as a small store, though, which mainly carries items not sold in the regular super markets (such as Wal-Mart, etc.) that you would want to use for Mexican style cooking.

The Resler location has a meat market, bakery, a section for other groceries, and a restaurant that is served deli style (you order at the counter and select the items you want from the display case). The restaurant closes an hour earlier than the store, though (the store closes at 8:00 p.m.–7:00 on Sunday).

I indicated below the number of times that I have eaten at the restaurant, but I am a somewhat regular customer for the baked goods and other items. Since I do not give ratings for grocery stores or bakeries, the one here only applies to the restaurant.

The Restaurant

Plato Mexicano

Plato Mexicano with enchilada, chile relleno, and taco

Most items are served individually or by the pound, but they do have some plates available with rice and beans such as the Plato Mexicano shown in the photo. Although this was not the absolute best Mexican plate I have had in El Paso, it is a good deal for the money, and is far above the Mexican food I can find in other areas such as Oklahoma City. The Red Enchilada was particularly noteworthy as being a good representative of El Paso style Mexican food. It was not too spicy but had a good flavor.

The Chile Relleno did not stand out much from others in the city except for the fact that the rajas con queso on top were so flavorful that they turned it into a somewhat exceptional relleno.

The Shredded Beef Taco was good but was a little lacking in flavor compared to some others in the city.

The Rice with lima beans was very good, especially compared to most other restaurants.

The Beans were not special for El Paso but were excellent compared to most other places.

You do not get chips with a dinner here, but they provide salsas to go with the food.

There is no tea but Mexican sodas are available.

Items served by the Pound

Chile colorado and chile verde

Chile colorado and chile verde

For any item that is not part of a plate, you will need to specify how much you want. This is also a way to get a meal if you go after the restaurant closes at 7:00 but the store is still open (until 8:00 pm). Tables are available any time during store hours.

Shown in the photo are a half pound each of chile colorado and chile verde, along with some beans (which you can also order by the pound or portion thereof). The Chile Verde was so spicy that I thought this detracted from its flavor (I admit that I am not a diehard chilehead). I found the Chile Colorado to be very flavorful, though, and is one of the best in El Paso for sure. Both had a large potato content which I think enhanced the flavor of each one.

Grocery Items

Tamales

Tamales

One notable grocery item is the Tamales, which come in three flavors–red, green, and queso con rajas. In order to try them I had to buy three packages with six tamales in each, and some ended up in the freezer (I don’t think they are as good after this). Even when fresh, though, I did not think they were as good as some in Canutillo (either at Lupita’s or the Little Diner).

The Pan Dulce from Valley Super Market’s bakery is good, although I agree with some comments I have seen that it is probably better at Los Jarrones at Redd Road and Doniphan. I think Valley has a better selection of items than Los Jarrones, though. Valley Supermarket also has good quality control for the items they sell (I have heard that Los Jarrones falls short in this regard but I have not experienced any problems with them firsthand).

I also like the regular bread sold here such as the Bolillos, although these are certainly not my favorites that I have ever experienced.

Other Notes
In addition to the food being inexpensive, it is also self serve so you do not necessarily need to leave a tip (although you can). The food is actually very good, but the main thing I do not like is that they do not have iced tea.

The food seems to be Chihuahua style, although I think the enchiladas are typical of El Paso (they have more chile sauce than the typical Ciudad Juarez enchiladas). I was pleasantly surprised by the chile con rajas served on top of the chile relleno, and I think this is probably a Mexican tradition rather than one normally found north of the border.

Although I like the Mexican plate and it is a good way to get a sample of the food, many of my favorite items are ones I have ordered a la carte (the chile colorado is the best item I have found so far).

For the pan dulce I think the Empanadas are some of the best in the city, but for everything else I generally prefer other bakeries.

My cost category of $ applies if you order items a la carte and make a meal out of it, but it is $$ if you get the Mexican plate.


RATING: 22

Cuisine: Mexican Chihuahua
Cost: $
Hours: Open Daily (closes early on Sunday)
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: No

Most Recent Visit: Aug 18, 2019
Number of Visits: 4
Best Items: Red Enchilada, Chile Relleno con Rajas, Chile Colorado

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: N/A

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchilada
star 5 Chile Colorado
star 5 Chile Relleno con Rajas
star 4 Tamales
star 4 Shredded Beef Taco
star 4 Chile Verde
star 5 Beans
star 5 Rice
star 5 Empanadas
star 4 Banana Bread

El Rincon de Cortez (Viscount)–El Paso, TX

El Rincon de Cortez
8900 Viscount Blvd.
El Paso, TX
(915) 592-9511
El Rincon de Cortez

El Rincon de Cortez on Viscount


For years I have been going to El Rincon de Cortez on Sun Bowl Drive, but I finally made it to the smaller restaurant in east El Paso on Viscount Boulevard (located near Cielo Vista Mall and behind The Fountains at Farah). As far as I can tell they have the same owner and the same menu, and as far as I know the food is very much the same at both restaurants.

I believe you can look at my review of the Sun Bowl restaurant and assume that the food will be largely the same at the Viscount location as well. I have only tried one dish at the Viscount restaurant and it is somewhat of a benchmark dish for El Rincon de Cortez–the huevos rancheros. I believe breakfast is the restaurant’s most popular meal, and this is the most popular dish, but in any case it is one with which I am familiar.

While I have a small sample size of dishes I have tried here, I do have a friend who eats here regularly and echos my opinion that the huevos rancheros were better in 2018 than in 2019, while the quality of the food remains very constant at the Sun Bowl location (although this is not something I have been able to confirm personally within the last year).

I was initially excited about the possibility of this location having better food than on Sun Bowl, but in the years I have been going to the Sun Bowl restaurant I know that it is at least consistent, and at the moment I think it is better than the Viscount restaurant.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

The chips and salsa were both excellent, although the heat level of the salsa was so high that I might say many would like the salsa at the Sun Bowl location better (and I think I prefer the other one as well).

The chips here were quite good (not unusual for El Paso but at the same time many places do not have chips as good as these).

Breakfast

Huevos rancheros

Huevos rancheros

The Huevos Rancheros are the only thing I have tried, and the only thing I can compare to the other restaurant. These are rather unique because they are topped with chile con queso (H&H Car Wash also has this type of sauce but I do not think this is the normal style for huevos rancheros). On my latest visit, though, the queso tasted flat and the green chile was barely noticeable, so I would recommend other restaurants over this one. The good thing about the Viscount Rincon de Cortez, though, was the way the egg was cooked, and if anyone is a stickler for the egg being prepared just right this restaurant is a good choice.

The Hash Browns were excellent (as they have been at the Sun Bowl restaurant). I thought the beans were noticeably better here than on Sun Bowl, but it is possible that my memory is not correct and they may be just as good at the other restaurant.

Additional Comments
At the Sun Bowl location I thought the steaks and meat items were good for lunch or dinner, and probably the same is true here. The Sun Bowl restaurant is larger, seems to be busier, and I would say is their flagship restaurant.

At first I thought the food was better here and that I had found a relatively undiscovered gem, but it has now proven to be inconsistent (probably with a change of cooks). On the other hand, I have found the Sun Bowl location to be very consistent.

For huevos rancheros, though, I would also say to try the H&H Car Wash.


RATING: 22

Cuisine: Mexican Chihuahua
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily except Sun. Evening
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: No
Special Features: Serves Breakfast

Most Recent Visit: Aug. 12, 2019
Number of Visits: 2
Best Item: Huevos Rancheros

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: N/A

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Huevos Rancheros
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa
star 5 Beans

Carlos & Mickey’s (Montwood)–El Paso, TX

Carlos & Mickey’s
12111 Montwood Dr.
El Paso, TX
(915) 307-6886
Carlos & Mickey's on Montwood

Carlos & Mickey’s on Montwood just w. of Loop 375


Carlos & Mickey’s is one of the city’s old-time “classic” restaurants serving El Paso style Mexican food (that combines Chihuahua style cooking with local chiles and other border style twists). There are now two Carlos & Mickey’s in El Paso plus one at the airport (usually I discount the airport locations as being an “express” version of the airport that is not as good as the original with the exception of one experience I had at LAX, so this means that you never really know until you try it).

I have eaten at the “other” Carlos & Mickey’s on Magruder for a number of years, and have largely dismissed it as a tourist trap, but my last visit was over ten years ago. Even as touristy as I thought it to be, it still had good food (I think much better than the ultimate tourist attraction of La Posta in Mesilla, New Mexico). I thought, though, that people went to Carlos & Mickey’s more for the drinks and the mariachis than the food.

The actual name of the Magruder restaurant is Los Bandidos de Carlos & Mickey’s (perhaps the “bandidos” part was a reference to the prices they charged?). In any case, for whatever reason the Montwood location is strictly “Carlos & Mickey’s.” I think this is a good thing because this is what everyone calls both restaurants, and the fact that it is listed on indexes under the “L’s” meant that some people may not have found information about it.

The Montwood restaurant is relatively new and smaller than the original restaurant (so the Magruder restaurant is probably still better for the ambiance because of the hacienda style building and the outdoor patios, etc.). There is a question in my mind about which one has better food, and I have not been to the original restaurant recently to make a comparison.

A second trip to the Montwood location was a little worrisome because the food was not quite up to par compared to the first visit, and they were hosting a large party as is common at the Magruder restaurant but I think this one did not have to staff to really handle it (at least this seemed to be the reason that our service was suffering). At this point I cannot really get excited about the food here although I did have very good food on my first visit.

Chips and Salsa

Chipa and salsa

Chips and salsa

There are a couple of things I like about the Salsa here: it is spicy (not gringo style) and it does not contain cilantro.

The Chips looked like round tortillas that had been toasted, but otherwise seemed traditional and good.

I liked the fact that they paid a lot of attention to some small things that many restaurants do not, such as as the chips and salsa.

Mexican Plate

Chihuahua plate

Chihuahua plate with beans, red enchilada, chile relleno, taco, rice, and guacamole served on the side

Many restaurants offer a “Mexican Plate” with a combination of items so you can try different things. At Carlos & Mickey’s they have several choices, such as the Chihuahua Plate that I have now ordered twice.

The Red Enchilada on this plate had a very good flavored red chile, and was spicy to about the “4 chile” level without being too spicy. The flavor was a little bit different than most, with a somewhat vinegary taste (I don’t know what that is about, but it was good).

The Chile Relleno surprised me by not having sauce on top. although you have a spillover effect of the red sauce from the enchilada. The Mexican cheese inside was very good, as were the green chile inside and the batter around the outside.

I the Taco comes with shredded beef, and I thought it was very good. I really thought the main factor in this being an excellent taco was the Mexican cheese.

Out of the rice and beans, I thought the beans are better (but both were good).

I noticed that there were no green enchiladas on the menu, and I asked the waiter about it. I had remembered that at the Magruder restaurant the green enchiladas were Tex-Mex style and not typical of El Paso food, but I wondered why they were not listed on the menu here. The waiter said they were called chile con queso, and that you could order an enchilada with this as a topping (this would be what I called the “green enchilada” at the other restaurant). This cleared up the mystery, although it is probably not something I will order at either restaurant.

I need to note that almost everything was as good on my second visit as the first, but the red enchiladas were the item that really seemed to suffer when the restaurant was hit by more customers that they seemed to be used to handling.

Other Items
There were not any other favorite items from the other restaurant that I did not try here except the tamales, so I would say this would be something worth trying at some point.

Drinks
When I used to go to the Magruder location they did not serve horchata, and I do not know if they have have now added this to the menu. The iced tea here is good, though, and of course they have alcoholic beverages.

Other Locations
The original and largest restaurant is at 1310 Magruder St. near the airport, and there is one in the terminal of El Paso International Airport.

Closing Comments
The “El Paso” style designation of this and other restaurants means that the chile on top of the enchiladas is spicy but not as much so as most New Mexico restaurants. I think this is a good place to try the local cuisine, particularly because they combine it with very good Mexican cheese, and the chile relleno is not smothered with the spicy chile as many restaurants do.

There is no green chile here, but instead it is called chile con queso. My recommendation would be to get this as an appetizer or side dish rather than on an enchilada, because the red enchilada is the one you would really want if you would like to try El Paso style cuisine. The Chihuahua plate I tried (with enchilada, taco, and relleno) had a very good selection of items, and was also about the right amount of food for me.

Update Nov. 2019: I was able to visit Carlos & Mickey’s in the El Paso International Airport this month, and the red enchiladas were so much better than on my last visit to the Montwood location that I thought I should add some comments about the variability of this restaurant’s food as well as change the rating. The airport restaurant has an abbreviated menu and does not have some of the choices found at the other restaurants (and of course parking can be a killer on your pocketbook if you are going there strictly to eat the food). What it did show me, though, is that the Montwood location seems to be the least consistent of Carlos & Mickey’s three restaurants when it comes to the flavor of the red enchiladas (and I thought everything else was good at the airport location as well–chips, salsa, rice, beans, etc., so this was also a very good sign). I still need to make the comment that I have not been to the Magruder location in a number of years, but I do remember it as being more consistent than what I have found at Montwood.


RATING: 22

Cuisine: Mexican El Paso
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Full bar

Most Recent Visit: Aug. 11, 2019
Number of Visits: 2
Best Items: Red Enchiladas, Chile Relleno, Shredded Beef Taco

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: N/A

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchilada
star 5 Chile Relleno
star 5 Shredded Beef Taco
star 5 Beans
star 5 Rice
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa

Katsura (Zaragoza Rd.)–El Paso, TX

Katsura Sushi Bar
1920 N. Zaragoza Rd.
El Paso, TX
(915) 857-2222
Katsura

Katsura


I have never been a big fan of the El Paso sushi restaurants, and spending time in Seattle convinced me that most of it is not really sushi at all (there are some exceptions, though, at a limited number or restaurants). For the most part the “California roll” type of sushi served here, as well as at most other sushi restaurants in the city, simply does not interest me. I do not order it, I do not review it, and I may be missing out on something great (but I really do not think so).

Instead, most of these restaurants have other things on the menu that I think is closer to “real” Japanese food. I give this disclaimer to readers that my rating, at least for this restaurant, is based on this part of the menu. Katsura has a large number of choices by El Paso standards, and it has more breadth to the menu than merely cooking the food on the grill in front of customers (another plus for this restaurant).

Although Katsura is not quite to the level of what I would call authentic Japanese food, it can satisfy my craving for Asian food better than many of the city’s other sushi restaurants.

The Restaurant
Katsura has three locations in El Paso, and one in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. It is one of several local sushi restaurants that appear to have originated in Mexico and then opened locations in El Paso. I know that the major part of their business is the sushi, but all of them offer at least a few of what I would call “standard” Japanese items (Katsura offers more than most of the other restaurants).

I have not had a problem with MSG in any of the restaurants of this genre. This seems to be another plus for the Ciudad Juarez style sushi restaurants.

Unlike many of the Seattle restaurants, the hot tea here (and at most other El Paso restaurants) is not brewed and is not complimentary, but comes from bags and is a significant reason as to why I consider many meals here to be overpriced. I do like the fact, though, that Katsura (and other restaurants) offer jasmine tea in addition to the traditional green tea.

Chicken Yakisoba

Chicken yakisoba

Chicken yakisoba

On my initial visit I ordered the Chicken Yakisoba, a noodle dish with chicken and vegetables that was filling and had a good flavor. In my opinion it was better than similar dishes served at some of the competitors, but its main pitfall was the sweetness of the sauce. The flavor had many Asian components (I cannot name them but they probably included soy, ginger, garlic, etc.). Everything was fine except it was too sweet.

Chicken Yakiniku

Chicken yakiniku

Chicken yakiniku

The Chicken Yakiniku seems to be an item they have added to the menu recently, and it shows that the non-sushi part of the menu may be popular enough that they are expanding it. Not being a noodle dish, this one comes with rice (so it is equally as fillling as the yakisoba). It also had more chicken than the yakisoba as well as more vegetables, so in the amount of food you get I think it is comparable.

In the all important flavor component it was good. Probably the sauce was not as good as the yakisoba (it was described on the menu as sweet soy sauce), but it had a large amount of sesame seeds and it was not as sweet as the yakisoba. Probably the deciding factor for me was that I preferred the noodles and vegetables of the yakisoba to the large amount of broccoli and chicken in this dish.

Miso

Miso

This dish came with a complimentary Miso which I also liked. For any order that includes miso, I think this is a plus.

Other Observations
In El Paso the restaurants calling themselves “Sushi” seem to be less authentic than those calling themselves “Japanese.” This is a wildly generalized statement, but seems to be pretty reliable in my experience.

One disadvantage of the “sushi” restaurants is what they generally do not include on the menu, which is some of more traditional Japanese food. One example is tempura udon which Katsura does not serve, but which is one of my favorites at Riyoma.

Again speaking in generalities, the sauce at Katsura is too sweet (something it shares with most of the “sushi” restaurants). Other aspects of the food are good, though (and I think are better than at some of the other “sushi” restaurants).

Overall I do like the food here, but for the same money I think there are better choices at the city’s Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese restaurants.

If I ever get California rolls on my diet I might have a whole other reason to come here, but for now I think the non-sushi menu is not too bad.


RATING: 19

Cuisine: Japanese
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking

Most Recent Visit: Aug. 11, 2019
Number of Visits: 2
Best Items: Chicken Yakiniku, Chicken Yakisoba

 

Asian Food Details

Tea: Jasmine (bags)
MSG: No
Buffet: No

 

Special Ratings
star 4 Chicken Yakiniku
star 4 Chicken Yakisoba

Thai House–Albuquerque, NM

Thai House
2000 Carlisle Blvd. N.E.
Albuquerque, NM
(505) 247-9205
Thai House

Thai House


Thai House is a restaurant that has been around for a while, but it recently moved to a new location on Carlisle Blvd. just south of Interstate 40. Specifically, the strip shopping center in which it is located is at the southeast corner of Carlisle and Indian School, and a very visible neighbor is the I Scream Ice Cream Store.

Thai House's sign is in the window

Thai House sign in the window

At the moment there is no outside sign, and you pretty much have to know the restaurant is here in order to see it. There is a hand made sign in the window shown in this photo, but even with this you almost have to be looking for it in order to notice it. I would say go to the I Scream place and then go one or two spaces to the north for Thai House.

Dining room

Dining room

The interior is very comfortable and “homey.” You almost feel as if you are in a Thai home because it has an open kitchen where you can watch your food being cooked as you sit at the table. The owner makes you feel very comfortable here and takes care of your needs, but she also is busy cooking and performing all restaurant duties in a one-woman operation. She did have some help when I went on a Saturday evening, but the actual cooking is a one person operation.

I have looked at the Yelp reviews and I think they do a good job of describing the restaurant, providing photos, and making recommendations. I can only add my two cents and say that the food tastes exactly as it looks–like it comes from a home kitchen in Thailand.

It was not actually the Yelp review that guided me here, but an invitation by my friend and Albuquerque restaurant expert Gil Garduño who himself had just tried the new location for the first time and was anxious to make another visit (and also included a review on his web site). I had the same desire to make a return visit, and did so on my way back from Colorado to El Paso. One tip I will give travelers is that this restaurant is very convenient from both Interstate 25 and Interstate 40 (but for now just do not expect to see a sign in front of the restaurant).

Pad Khing

Pad khing

Pad khing

When I was in Seattle and went to Thai restaurants frequently, ginger tofu was usually my first choice from the menu. I soon learned that the Thai name was Pad Khing, which was also frequently listed on the menu as ginger stir fry. The flavors of this dish are such that I do not think ordering it with meat causes noticeable enhancement, but the somewhat neutral nature of tofu allows me to enjoy the other flavors even more. I also did not worry about being full after eating a meatless meal because the amount of tofu and vegetables is usually substantial (as it is at Thai House).

Chinese medicine stipulates that ginger should be eaten early in the day when you need the energy it provides. I was never really aware of the principles of Chinese medicine when I was getting into the habit of ordering ginger tofu, but somehow I knew instinctively that it was a very good dish to order at lunch. This carried over to my instinct to order it for my first visit to Thai House at lunch time, although I think the flavor of this dish is good any time you order it. I would say the ginger flavor is somewhat subtle and is blended with the other ingredients in the dish as it should be. The tofu is just my preference and others will want to have meat, but I think it will be good either way.

Pad khing is not a spicy dish because the ginger itself has a very strong taste. The menu states that you can order your own spice level with any dish, but with restaurants like this one where they prepare the food in a home cooking style I usually figure that the chef knows how to add the appropriate spice level for the best flavor. I think I would have liked a higher spice level on this dish, but regardless of this the ginger flavor was very good and I was able to enjoy one of my favorite Thai dishes.

Curry

Massamun curry

Massamun curry

When I sampled my friend Steve’s dish I initially thought it was red curry but I later found out it was Massamun Curry (which I think is derived from Indian style curry combined with Thai flavors). Wikipedia states that Massaman curry typically contains cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, cumin, bay leaves, nutmeg, and mace (spices that are not typically used in Thai curries) combined with more local flavors such as chili peppers, cilantro seeds, lemongrass, galangal, white pepper, shrimp paste, etc. I do not know if this is Thai House’s recipe, and I am not sure why their name for the dish is a little different, but nevertheless the dish was very good. Wikipedia also points out that this is a mild curry, so perhaps this is why I did not think it had any lack of flavor even though it had a low spice level.

This dish also had a good amount of potatoes, another feature that I think separates it from the typical Thai dishes that are found in most restaurants.

Soup

Thom khar gai

Thom khar gai

The menu had a couple of soups listed under the “Chef’s Specials” on the menu, one of which was the Thom Khar Gai. This was my favorite dish that I have tried at Thai House so far, and it made me think that the chef’s specials designation has some real substance behind it and is not one made just for marketing purposes. This is a coconut soup flavored with galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, and lime juice (several decidedly Thai flavors). It was specifically the lime leaves that enticed me to order the soup, based on dishes I have had in other restaurants with the same ingredient. The others add an important flavor component as well. I think several dishes at Thai House have some combination of these ingredients, but they are more pronounced in ones where the ingredients are part of the name (the khar in this dish means galangal).

For substance in this dish was mainly provided by chicken (gai) and mushrooms. In terms of flavor I would not try to substitute anything in this dish, including the spice level (it was not spicy but I do not think it is supposed to be a spicy dish).

After having eaten coconut flavored rice in Colorado Springs, I thought this was a fitting finale to this trip where I could indulge to an even greater extent with the coconut theme that seemed to be developing. This was a delicious soup, and one of the best I have had anywhere. It is not something that I normally order, because I usually prefer the curries or the stir fried dishes (such as pad khing). At Thai House, though, I think this is definitely a “must try” (even if others are like me and do not normally order this dish).

Other Observations
The Thai tea and the hot jasmine tea were both especially good.

It takes some time for the food to be served because each order is individually prepared. This is pretty standard for Thai restaurants, though, and it was nothing out of the ordinary.

The default for all the dishes I tried seemed to be at a low spice level, but the menu states that you can order the spice level you want for any dish. If I am able to return I think I would try a higher spice level on the ginger dish, but the others were ones I would not change from the default.

Prices are very reasonable, especially for this type of quality. The menu is posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page. I thought the selection of items was very good, and one of the good things here is that you can talk directly with the chef if you have any questions.


RATING: 24

Cuisine: Thai
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Sun.
Accessible: Yes
Alcohol: No
Smoking: No smoking

Most Recent Visit: Aug. 10, 2019
Number of Visits: 2
Best Item: Thom Khar Gai

 

Asian Food Details

Tea: Jasmine (bags), Thai Tea
MSG: No
Buffet: No

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Thom Khar Gai
star 5 Massamun Curry
star 5 Pad Khing