The fact that I don't love the specialty is not a negative reflection on the restaurant—quite the contrary, it shows how daring the kitchen is, a quality that results in unexpected new dishes. When you take chances with bold flavors, you aren’t going to please everyone all the time. And surely there’s a contingent among Thai Cuisine’s loyal clientele who keep coming back for this sweet, weird-tasting soup.
All of the rice-accompanied dishes at Thai Cuisine allow you to upgrade from jasmine to brown. You may think this is a nod to health-food junkies, but in Thailand it’s possible to get rice in many colors.
I prefer the restaurant’s lineup of simpler Thai noodle soups, despite the fact that they don't contain my beloved wide noodles. I like these noodles so much that my first time at Thai Cuisine, before I even looked at the menu, I asked, “You have wide noodles?”
“Yes. What you want them with?”
“Hot, but not Thai-hot,” I said, giving my default answer reserved for the first time I try a place. If “hot” isn’t hot enough, then next time I’ll go Thai-hot. On the rare occasion that hot is too hot, I’ll downgrade to medium next time.
Fat chance. But the flavor was such that it was hard to stop eating. The wide noodles were joined by mussels, squid, shrimp, tomatoes, lemongrass, scrambled egg and some spices I couldn’t place.
Spices-you-can’t-place are par for the course at Thai Cuisine, which isn’t to be confused with its younger sister, Thai Cuisine II, on Central. Though some of the menu items are similar, the execution and presentations are different.
The kitchen door is always open at Thai Cuisine, allowing your eyes and ears full access to the restaurant’s inner workings. The interior is a good example of the art—well honed in Albuquerque—of turning strip mall spaces into restaurant sanctuaries. A pagoda roof is framed into the ceiling. Tea comes in mismatched ceramic cups, all of which are cute. The walls are decorated with Asian knickknacks, as well as photos of dishes—a move that may at first seem cheap, but since you probably haven’t heard of most of them, it’s useful.
Another unusual spice in use at Thai Cuisine is krachai rhizome, a relative of galangal root. Krachai has a very strong, earthy and aromatic taste that’s used in pad cha, a brothy dish wherein veggies and your choice of proteins are stir-fried.
The curries I sampled were tasty enough and generous with veggies. But they didn’t have the aromatic complexity of others that can be found around town. Another dish that scored a “meh” was the papaya salad. Usually a favorite, this one had a distracting level of peanut flavor—as if it was tossed in peanut butter. A better bet was the chicken salad, a mountain of tomatoes, cabbage, cucumber, carrots, red bell peppers and boiled chicken. Even more interesting was the seafood salad. Tastefully presented alongside a pile of plain shredded cabbage, a trio of shrimp, squid and mussels were tossed with onions, scallions and tomato in a strong lime dressing. Though cooked, it was as refreshing as ceviche.
Perhaps my favorite thing on the menu was a mango salad special. Our waitress described it as “the bomb,” and I had to agree. A piece of crispy-fried salmon was topped with a small salad of shredded mango, carrot and citrus-chile sauce. While the specialty of the house may not be my favorite, this special was indeed special. It demonstrated the creativity that both this restaurant and its chosen cuisine are capable of.