It's all here
By Scott Sharot
We are fortunate to have a very nice selection of good quality Thai restaurants to choose from in Albuquerque. For several months, I kept hearing about this new one, so when a friend who lived in Thailand for several years said that Krung Thai was his favorite, I went there. I'm happy to report that now I also have a new favorite Thai restaurant.
Owners Golgol and O Prasomphom opened 16 months ago, and express gratitude for their loyal staff, as well as a customer base that keeps growing by the week. O's lovely fiancée Ian works the front of the house as a hostess and server. She has a casual, friendly demeanor and is very helpful when it comes to describing dishes on the menu.
From the outside, the place looks like any number of small restaurants in the repetition of mini strip malls that creep up the hills of the Northeast Heights toward oblivion. Don't let the facade fool you. Inside is one of the best Thai restaurants in town. The décor isn't fancy, but there is a lot of it. The walls are adorned with pictures of the King and Queen of Thailand, a small offering-filled Buddhist shrine, oversized versions of Thai currency, photographs, macramé wall hangings, carved wooden objects that include a giant fork and spoon, and assorted framed prints, even a still life with fruit. A small shopping area at the cash register has a rack of lightweight cotton clothes and a glass display case with colorful Siamese souvenirs and costume jewelry. There's also a very cool mini-library of oversized coffee table books you can peruse while waiting for your order to come up. I went right for the two biggest books—Monster Trucks and Heavy Equipment. Next time I'll peruse The Guinness Book of World Records and Dog Breeds of the World.
When it comes to Thai cuisine, I always crave Tom Yum Goong, the ubiquitous Thai hot-and-sour soup with shrimp. If the meal starts with a delicious soup, I figure I'm in for a good meal. And so our group of four feasted on a gigantic bowl of this national treasure, which included just the right balance of salty, sour and spicy flavors. There were lots of “yums” from our hungry hoard between slurps, and even some leftovers. Now that everyone's interest was stoked, we were ready for more. The next course was the appetizer (out of sequence, since I always like to start with the Yum)—six nicely browned chicken dumplings ($3.50), which were tasty, and aided immensely by the dipping sauce that accompanied them. Before we could finish the dumplings, our next course came. So I asked our server to slow down on the food delivery.
Our next course was a Massaman beef curry ($7.25). Thai curries are spectacular and generally I prefer Thai-style curries to the East Indian versions. The two most popular choices are red and green, and like our own chile, the green is often hotter than the red. The spicing of the curries here is mild to medium, so order it hotter if you prefer it that way. The yellow curry is quite a bit milder and the Mussaman, which has its roots in Islamic/Indian culture, is complex, with sweet and spicy flavors that are reminiscent of its Indian heritage. The number of ingredients in this dish can be daunting. Several ingredients, including dried chile, spices and pods, must be browned to release flavor, and then pounded into a paste to get the deep, rich flavor required for this dish. I was grateful someone else was doing all the work this time, since I had just demonstrated it in a cooking class a few nights earlier. It's usually served at special occasions. This version was tasty but slightly thinner than I'm used to.
Lots of other authentic Thai specialties have found their way onto this menu, like papaya salad ($3.95). The Thai version is composed of a tangle of pale green, unripe papaya which is julienned into thin strips; long beans; and tomatoes that are beaten to a pulp in a mortar and then tortured with the addition of salt, chile and lime juice. The tasteless papaya gets an incendiary infusion of salty, sour and hot, the signature flavors of Thailand.
We all loved the requisite pad thai with chicken ($6.50) and laad na, a wider flat rice noodle with shrimp ($8.95). We especially liked the sticky rice with mango ($5.25) for dessert. It's not offered on many menus because the rice needs to be soaked for hours, and ripe mangoes are often hard to come by. This version was outstanding—a real comfort food featuring perfectly ripe mango (albeit a small portion) and creamy coconut-flavored sticky rice garnished with tiny, nutty tua thong (crunchy gold beans). You can also get sticky rice with coconut or taro ice cream.
It's always more fun to go out to eat with a group and share dishes because it allows you to pass on things you didn't know you liked until you tried them. So bring your friends to Krung Thai and try lots of dishes. With any luck, there probably won't be many dishes on this menu you'll pass up, and many more you'll try a second time. This just might turn into your favorite Thai restaurant, too.
Krung Thai Thai Cusine; 7923 Menaul Boulevard NE; 292-9319; Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Daily; Price Range: Inexpensive; Major credit cards accepted.
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