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Bustle and flow
Thursday, 04 August 2011
Photos by Wes Naman
Downtown’s Asian Noodle Bar combines big city feel with wide range of carefully selected Asian favorites

By Logan Greely
I have always had an affinity for Asian Noodle Bar since its opening in 2007. Perhaps it’s because of the restaurant’s wide open kitchen, where diners can sit and stare at their food being made in giant woks that make that unmistakable giant wok sound. Add to that comforting kitchen clamor the bustling, busy sound of diners slurping away at deep noodle bowls — the place is usually packed during lunch and dinner service — and the fact that the restaurant is located in the cradle of Downtown, and it just seems like a big-city eatery. It feels like a restaurant should feel. It’s a vibrancy not found often in Albuquerque and it endeared me to Asian Noodle Bar immediately.

However, it wasn’t until I discovered a particular, unassuming appetizer menu item that this restaurant became one of my favorite places to eat in the Duke City. The spicy tuna and avocado salad ($7.95) is sort of a deconstructed maki roll that is as simple as it gets, but the flavor of spicy tuna (my favorite fish) and avocado (my favorite fruit) is downright grandiose, and ranks high among my favorite local dishes. It’s how I start every meal here and, if I had two stomachs, it would also serve as a pretty great dessert.

Like many Asian restaurants, Asian Noodle Bar features dishes that span the breadth of the Asian continent. From Vietnamese Pho to Japanese Miso to Pad Thai, Asian Noodle Bar touches on each culture without going too far overboard to where the menu reads like the short version of Siddhartha. Rather, the culinary minds at work here take a minimal approach and deliver it in a very straight-forward, down-to-earth and friendly manner.

After dozens of visits to this Downtown haven, which luckily stays open fairly late by Albuquerque standards, I have tried a number of menu items, some of which have come up short (Fried Oysters, $7.95) and others that have become mainstays (Tom Ka, $8.95, a delicious Vermicelli noodle bowl swimming in a coconut broth and enhanced with a combo of chili lemongrass, cilantro and lime).

On my most recent visit, I of course started off with the aforementioned spicy tuna and avocado salad, which is served with wasabi and sheets of dried seaweed — a sort of roll-your-own sushi format. My favorite seat in the subdued and elegantly designed restaurant is at the end of a the long noodle bar, which gives diners the best view of the chef. Off to the side is a separate sushi bar. Note: If you are looking to eat sushi, be sure to call ahead of time to make sure the sushi chef is on duty, since there is only one on staff. (To be fair, out of my many visits, there has only been a single instance when I couldn’t order sushi.)

That aside, the sushi menu is made up of the fairly standard maki rolls, nigiri, sashimi and hand and specialty rolls. All are prepared with care and a bit of finesse. Two specialty rolls that stand out for me are the Black & White Tuna ($10.95) and the Green Dragon ($9.95). The latter features a not-too-spicy topping of green chile, which I happen to think is a perfect sushi ingredient.

On this visit, I ordered the green dragon along with tuna and salmon nigiri, another standard for me and my faithful dining companion. This always makes for too much food, particularly this visit, since we also ordered the vermicelli bowl (her favorite when topped with tofu, $7.95), which is served with extremely fresh vegetables, cilantro and crushed peanuts in a sweet chili sauce.

I usually hit up the aforementioned Tom Ka, but occasionally stray to the Japanese Udon ($8.95), which, while not as rich in flavor as I had hoped, nonetheless featured fresh, crunchy vegetables. In retrospect, I think I unfairly compared this “clear broth” to a typical pho broth, which is far richer.

Whichever road you travel down at Asian Noodle Bar, it’s hard to make a bad choice. Those who love Thai probably have their favorite Thai place in town. The same can be said for Japanese, Vietnamese, et al. What’s great about the noodle bar concept is that it provides many varieties of Asian food for all tastes under one roof. Asian Noodle Bar pulls it off simply and gracefully.

Asian Noodle Bar
318 Central SW, 505.224.9119
11a-9:30p, Mon.-Thu.; 11a-11p, Fri.; Noon-11p, Sat.; Closed Sun.
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