Umami, Ooh Daddy
Umami Moto finds new home in New Mexico
We preach local pretty hard here at Weekly Alibi. One of the things that our owner, Christopher Johnson, has always talked to me about is standing in the little guys’ corner. At the end of the day, the industry giants will always have an edge on the market because of what feels like a limitless resource pool to make magic happen. But for those just getting their start, the ones who plant their feet firmly in Albuquerque and decide to make a difference, the ones who make a dramatic change in their neighborhood, those are the ones we aim to boost up and support. What happens when the little guy is a newcomer to the local scene but is also someone who’s been on the grind for a while now? For answers, I looked to Umami Moto.
See, Umami Moto recently popped up here in Albuquerque, but they’ve actually been in the game for a while. Launching in 2010, they were based out of Cleveland and even won Best Food Truck in the city during 2012 (new Best of Burque category, I say). Last year, they relocated here and hit the ground running in a city fierce with competition for a spot at one of our many breweries. Their goal was simple: to provide amazing street eats with Asian flair. So how do the out-of-towners compare to our current wave of homegrown food trucks?
I caught up with them outside Tractor Brewing in Nob Hill and was impressed by their menu’s variety. You’ve got a burrito, you’ve got curry. There are sandwiches and stir fry, pot stickers and tots. The idea is to have a little bit of something for everyone. The twist is that all these things have an Asian street food angle to them.
For example, the Korean Burrito ($9). With bulgogi beef and a house-made kimchi fried rice making up the heft of the burrito, you also have Napa cabbage, carrots and pickled Daikon. To finish it all off, there’s a Korean queso inside. First off, this burrito is big, even by New Mexico standards. It was large enough to make me curse when I first saw it, knowing the state that my appetite was currently in. The rich flavor of the bulgogi beef is the first thing you notice, with the taste of that long marinated beef blossoming on the tongue. That’s closely followed by the sourness of the daikon that turns back to sweetness as your taste buds adjust to the profile, with the final kick of cheesy heat coming from the Korean queso. There’s so much to process and every bite is an exciting trip through these segments of taste, meshed together to create something deeply lovable and excessively filling.
When it comes to more traditional dishes, the Potstickers ($7) did the job fantastically. They’re packed to bursting with pork and arrive steaming fresh. You can either take the safe route with small bites or go the full-on big route and do them in one go. Most everyone can guess which route I took. They’re huge but still technically bite-sized and are decadently savory. You get six per order, obviously meant to share, but that’s not going to happen because your first bite is enough to convince you these are only for yourself and no one else.
Then there is the Yellow Curry ($8). It’s a vegan curry that comes with mushrooms and bok choy on a bed of rice, though you can add meat for $2 if you feel so inclined. I personally was not and so I took it as is. I feel the best way to describe it is “robust.” There’s so much flavor packed into that bright sauce, which is decorated with these massive mushrooms that are tender and earthy. The bok choy is steamed to perfection, though if I had one complaint, it would be that some pieces of bok choy were too big to eat in a single bite, and separating them with chopsticks wasn’t ideal. Otherwise this dish is an absolute knockout. As I’ve slowly began to accept that vegan food can be incredibly good, I’ve started venturing into trying more of it, and the trend of high-quality, guilt-free food is carried strongly by this dish.
The staff are incredibly friendly, finding new footing in a city far away from home. The truck was shiny and clean, the interior looked nearly spotless and they’ve already put the New Mexico state flag on the side of the truck, their ninja cat mascot waving it proudly over the Sandias. The commitment to local is here, even if they’re just getting warmed up.
It’s hard to step into a food scene as varied and wild as ours, especially when coming from the Midwest, but it’s clear that Umami Moto has what it takes to become one of us, so to speak. They’ve taken a chance on New Mexico, and in doing so, have found their Burqueno hearts. They’re a part of the 505 clan in my eyes, though I’m rather hesitant to call them an underdog. Not that they have a big corporate backing or some massive advertising budget to storm the scene with, but to me, the underdog is someone who’s fighting to get your attention, to prove they earned their spot. Umami Moto is confident in their food, for good reason, and in their identity in their new home here. They’re fighting for nothing because they’ve got nothing to prove. When you do food this well, you’ve got all the backing you need to succeed.
Vibe: Modern food truck with Asian street food flair
Alibi Recommends: The yellow curry.