As I said the other day, engaging with authentic, regional flavors is one of my favorite parts of traveling to new places. But sometimes, following locals to their favorite neighborhood spot is just as worthwhile.
Because I already love Thai food (remember Chili Duck?) it wasn’t hard to convince me that Thai Vegan would be a hit in my book. With a tagline like “Healthy First,” I had high expectations for this small, nondescript restaurant in a strip mall at 5505 Osuna Road NE, Albuquerque.
I was not disappointed. Every dish is vegan, and in one of those rare and golden culinary moments, I was able to select something from the menu because it appealed to me above all others – not because it was the only thing I could order.
Recommended Dishes: At first, I was tempted to try the Pad Woon “Zen,” because I was curious to compare Chef Pat Phomnoi’s version with my Chili Duck favorite. But there were a number of interesting, unconventional preparations that won me over. The PET, “Pumpkin, Eggplant, Tofu” was a fresh, satisfying dish that filled me up without weighing me down. The steamed curry dumpling dish is a perfect appetizer for a large group, and the enormous salads are, extraordinarily, large enough to serve as a main course.
The Not-So-Good Bite: I expected to see more variation in food preparation at Thai Vegan, because the restaurant’s claim to fame is providing healthy options. That vegan food is always healthy is an inaccurate assumption, because anything deep fried or stir fried or pan fried could be made healthier. That being said, a majority of the menu items were described as one of the above. If my experience with the PET is any indication, however, Thai Vegan is very accommodating, and can transform any of those dishes into a healthier version of itself.
The Good Bite: The bright side of the Not-So-Good Bite is as I said, the flexibility that Chef Phomnoi has with his menu. Typically, the PET is stir-fried, but my request to have the dish steamed was easily fulfilled. I was fortunate to snag this dish as a lunch special, which gave me a side of brown rice, a salad, and a spring roll. Here, I made my second “healthy first” request, substituting the spring roll for the freshy roll, which is made with rice paper and served raw.
The Best Bite: Just to reiterate, the best part about Thai Vegan is that everything is vegan. Want to try the Orange Chicken? This dish is prepared with soy chicken. Craving pork chop? Chef Phomnoi serves this up with a grilled soy bean chop topped with BBQ sauce and pineapple. Soy fish, soy shrimp, soy pepper steak or soy chicken nuggets can be added to any dish, and the patties are based on soy, legumes, wheat, or tofu, depending on the burger bite you crave. For those of you who prefer protein in the form of a tofu cube or peanut sauce, these veggie-staples are always an option.
As a vegetarian, the chance to choose is a scarce, fleeting occasion. Whenever this opportunity arrises, I raise my Iced Thai Tea in gratitude. Thank you, Thai Vegan. Now please, come home with me to Boston.
Off to find another New Mexican bite,