Steamy, Wonton Romance
May Café serves a tantalizing Thai tea
Never judge a book by its cover, and never judge a restaurant by its exterior. To miss out on good food because of poor judgment is a sin, so when you see a massive armless lumberjack looming above the plain outer surface of May Café, don’t be alarmed. The Vietnamese restaurant might be located in the sketchy “war zone” of Albuquerque, but the delightful flavors and friendly service inside make up for any initial resistance to entering the establishment.
Inside appears to be surprisingly fancy, but at second glance you’ll realize that lots of plastic is used and the plants are fake. Tables are peppered throughout a large, dimly lit dining area with a series of paintings scattered along the walls. The windows are tinted a rosy color, creating a pinkish glow if you’re seated next to them.
When is Thai iced tea ever not too sweet or not too bland? In my experience, the beverage is always teetering over the very fine line one way or the other, leaving me to poke at my drink with a straw and wait for the ice to water it down. At May Café, this is not the case. The Thai iced tea ($3.75) is smooth, sweet and creamy. Swirling the orange upper layer into the milky base looks something like stirring cream into a strongly brewed dark roast, and the result is a delectable combination of rich velvety flavors. You’ll be slurping the remains of this drink before your food arrives, but then again maybe not ... The service is quick, attentive and polite, refilling water glasses in a timely fashion but also making sure not to hover uncomfortably.
Make sure to begin your meal with an appetizer of spring rolls ($3.95). They arrive on a small delicate platter paired with a tiny bowl of dipping sauce. A small amount of meat and plenty of fresh vegetables are encased in thin translucent rice paper, coupling well with the tasty sauce. My only complaint is that there are only two per order.
The lengthy menu is difficult to choose from, offering pho, rice and noodle dishes, all with various protein options. Herbivores are accounted for as well, with a whole section of vegetarian options like tofu and vegetables over vermicelli ($6.75), and spicy eggplant with rice ($6.75). However long the decision-making process might take, stir-fried egg noodles with shrimp ($8.50) is one entrée you will not regret. Snow peas, broccoli, onions and cabbage are heaped on top of a steaming pile of noodles. Take a stab with either a fork or chopsticks (both are provided) and you’ll find bright orange shrimp hiding beneath the top layer of hot, steamy goodness. The savory egg noodles are saturated in flavor, though the ratio of cabbage to noodles is a little overwhelming. Despite the excess cabbage, the surprisingly juicy and firm shrimp sprinkled throughout the dish are a delight.
A second visit to May Café calls for an appetizer of beef wrapped in grape leaves ($6.25). The dish is served in the same fashion as the spring rolls, and paired with the same dipping sauce that complements the rolls well. They are arranged beautifully on a large lettuce leaf and topped with crushed peanuts. I may have made the mistake of expecting nothing short of a 10 after being so impressed with the spring rolls, and was surprised by the chewy but dense texture of the meat that seemed to take hours to consume. This is an appetizer that can easily be split, coming with five small wraps per order.
Be sure to treat yourself to the wonton soup with rice noodles ($6.95). You’ll be given a heaping plate of fresh sprouts, basil, jalapeño pepper and lime wedges in advance to toss into the bowl as desired. Though the broth is slightly bland at first taste, the jalapeño peppers do a fine job of adding spice, and the fresh vegetables provide flavor and crunch as well. The wontons are a delight: Spoon-sized portions of beef wedged into soft, chewy dough are clearly the star of this dish.
The dinner portion sizes are uncomfortably large and can be split between two people or you can just request a lunch-size portion. The perk: You’ll probably have leftovers for lunch the next day. May Café’s quick and attentive service continues until the check arrives, and leaving the restaurant almost feels rushed. Be careful when you do waddle out the front door: Food babies and food comas are sure to kick in.
111 Louisiana SE
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10am-9pm
Vibe: Low-key and traditional
Alibi Recommends: Thai iced tea, spring rolls, egg noodles with shrimp