Duke City eatery successfully pairs popular dining style of Asia’s urban centers with pedestrian focus of Nob Hill
Photos by Wes Naman
By Mike English
The odds for startup restaurants are daunting. Within the first three
years of operation, 60 percent of fledgling eateries in the U.S. close
or change ownership, according to a variety of studies. But sometimes a
restaurant’s concept is so strong that it defies those odds. Streetfood Asia has seemed destined for success from the start.
Opened on a corner of Central and Amherst in Nob Hill in January 2011, Streetfood Asia is the creation of Tai Tok, owner and head chef. Tok, born and raised in Malaysia, traveled extensively in Asia while developing the restaurant plan and menu. He has said the concept for Streetfood Asia was inspired by the open-air street markets of large Asian cities like Saigon, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Beijing and Tokyo.
Pairing an informal street-food dining concept with the ever-expanding foot-traffic scene in Nob Hill was a stroke of genius, and from all appearances, Streetfood Asia hit the ground running and has never stopped. The success has been great enough that Tok is planning a second location for the restaurant, this one across from UNM at Central and Harvard.
As a resident of Nob Hill myself, a recent visit to the restaurant reminded me of the ingredients of Streetfood Asia’s success.
Let’s start with a simple dish, pho, a Vietnamese soup of vermicelli rice noodles, onions, basil, cilantro, lime, bean sprouts and jalapeno. At Streetfood Asia it’s called Saigon Street Pho
($11-$14, depending on the meat or seafood added). I’m currently addicted to chicken pho and have literally been making my way across Albuquerque, from downtown to the west side, eating the dish at any restaurant that serves it.
There are not many ways to distinguish pho — noodle freshness, broth tastiness and meat quality are about it — but Streetfood Asia’s version may well be the best in town. Fresh ingredients are part of it, but the use of ginger, anise seeds and cinnamon in the beef broth set this pho apart. The portions of meat and noodles in a serving are considerable, too, so while $11 is not cheap for chicken pho, you get your dollar’s worth.
Of course, that’s just one item on a vast menu that delves into virtually every corner of Asian cuisine. On several past visits to Streetfood Asia I’ve uncovered other gems:
• Bangkok Street Hot Spicy ($11-$14). This wok-cooked collection of fried rice, veggies, herbs, spicy shrimp paste, mango and roasted cashews is served with everything from tofu to Chinese sausage, at a spice level that any chili lover will find warm and familiar.
• Kuala Lampur Street Malay Rice Noodles ($11-$14). A stir-fried noodle dish of veggies, shitake mushrooms, eggs, curry spices, garlic, ginger and your choice of meat or seafood.
• Kuala Lampur Street Malay Curry Laksa ($11-$14). The spicy lemongrass Malay coconut curry chicken broth is the delicious foundation for this soup, which features Chinese vermicelli noodles and the tang of kaffir lime leaves.
• Tokyo Street Soft Shell Crab Tempura ($10). This offering from the sandwich menu features delectable crab with cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro, wasabi mayonnaise and carrot daikon relish on toasted French bread.
A word on atmosphere: Streetfood Asia gets it right. The combination of bar and table seating strikes a casual, comfortable tone aligned with the “street food” concept. Warm lighting and dark wood accents add to it. People-watching out of the restaurant’s large windows while grabbing a solo meal has become an enjoyable pastime for me.
While some diners might prefer modest Asian eateries that specialize in a single cuisine, here’s a salute to the success of Streetfood Asia’s eclectic and wide-ranging approach to Asian food.
3422 Central SE, 505.260.0088
Mon.-Thu., Sun., 11a-9p; Fri.-Sat., 11a-10p