Prize-Winning Vietnamese Food
Latest visit: October 12, 2012
First visit: January 20, 2012
Our Friday night restaurant crawl took us somewhat farther than our usual haunts because we needed to stock the larder for a dinner party at Talin Market at Central and Louisiana. As we neared Talin, Jane saw the sign for May Cafe across the street from the market and reminded me that we watched May Cafe win a 2011 Albuquerque The Magazine Hot Plate Award for a pork chop dish at ATM’s annual food and wine issue party. We speed-shopped Talin (what restraint!) and expectantly raced across the street for what we hoped would be yet another fantastic Vietnamese meal.
Start your meal by ordering Vietnamese Iced Coffee. Vietnamese iced coffee, also known as Ca phe da or cafe da (Vietnamese: cà phê đá, literally “ice coffee”) is a traditional Vietnamese coffee recipe.
“Vietnamese iced coffee with milk”, also known as ca phe sua da or cà phê sữa đá It is also called ca phe nau da (Vietnamese: cà phê nâu đá, “iced brown coffee”) in northern Vietnam.
At its simplest, Ca phe da is made with finely ground Vietnamese-grown dark roast coffee individually brewed with a small metal French drip filter (cà phê phin) into a cup containing about a quarter to a half as much sweetened condensed milk, stirred and poured over ice.
The version served here is excellent, and is presented in the cà phê phin for finishing at your table. . Most other places simply serve up a glass of the stuff. I prefer the cà phê phin, and make it myself at home this way.
Beautifully decorated, the May Cafe restaurant offers some of the very best Vietnamese cuisine available in Albuquerque, serving well-prepared and reasonably-priced Vietnamese food.
Authentic Vietnamese food, friendly service and prices that are rub-your-eyes low.The emphasis here is on authentic Vietnamese dishes brimming with fresh ingredients and an abundance of vegetables. All dishes are elegantly presented
No one can deny the success of the charming owners, Kim and Liem Nguyen. From Vietnamese refugees to successful entrepreneurs, they worked hard to make the American dream come true — and in the process introduced Vietnamese food to Albuquerque.
Bánh bao. A steamed bun dumpling that can be stuffed with onion, mushrooms, or vegetables. Bánh bao is an adaptation from the Chinese baozi to fit Vietnamese taste. Vegetarian banh bao are also available. Vegetarian bánh bao are popular food in Buddhist temples. Typical stuffings for bánh bao include slices of marinated xá xíu (BBQ pork from Chinese cooking) meat, tiny boiled quail eggs, and pork.
The version served here is stuffed with delicious pork, and de=rew immediate raves from Jane. Me, too. Fabulous.
Gỏi cuốn are called by several different English names, including “salad roll,” “fresh roll,” “fresh spring roll,” and “summer roll.” Sometimes the word “Vietnamese” is added at the beginning of these words, for example, in Hong Kong they are called “Vietnamese roll,” or “Vietnamese spring rolls” in Australia and the United States. Some Asian restaurants in the United States also refer to them as “crystal roll” “soft roll” or “salad roll”.
Fresh rolls are easily distinguished from similar rolls by the fact that they are not fried and that the ingredients used are different from (deep-fried) Vietnamese egg rolls. Fresh rolls have gradually become more popular in Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos as well as in Canada and the US or wherever there are a significant number of Vietnamese people. Its popularity is also partly due to several websites promoting Vietnamese food by Western travelers/South East Asia food experts and by word of mouth.
The version served here is stuffed with fresh veggies and herbs and beef strips, nor the usual pork or shrimp. They, too, drew raves from Jane, who usually thinks that they are a yawn. Not here, she allows. Me, too.
Phở tái nam. Phở is one of my bench-marking dishes in Vietnamese restaurants. If it is inferior, I usually find everything else subpar. The phở tái nam at May Cafe is easily among the very best That I have ever had. Beautifully spiced and herbed and with a tantalizing aroma, it is nearly perfect. I asked our server for the tái to be put on a separate plate so it would not overcook, and she winked at me and said, “I knew you were going to ask for it that way. That’s how we do it for ourselves.” She probably knew that because I had earlier asked for salty lemonade to drink (they were out of it—drat). She guessed correctly that I knew my way around Vietnamese food.
Com Sườn: Pork chop and rice with Fried Egg. This is The dish that Albuquerque The Magazine awarded one of fifteen Hot Plate Awards for 2011. And rightfully so. It is the dish that lured Jane through the door. It can be ordered with shrimp additional. Forget the shrimp, but don’t be tempted to omit the fried egg. You will be making a big mistake, for we think that the egg ties the whole dish together. Lemongrass, sugar, and garlic are the topnotes here. This is an amazing dish. Jane pronounced it the very best Vietnamese dish she has yet had.
Tiramisu in a Vietnamese restaurant? Yeah, tiramisu, and it’s homemade. I rarely eat desserts in Vietnamese restaurants because I think that they are boring, and an anticlimax to the delicious food that preceeds them. Lucky for us, this version is among the best tiramisu I have ever had. Light and silky smooth, the flavors are intense. This is a tiramisu that should not be missed.
But wait. There’s more…
Seems like whenever we shop at Talin (across the street), we wind up at May Cafe. Good choice.
I am a Singapore Noodle freak. I ate them several times each month when I lived back in Maryland at the Noodle King in Colesville. When I came to New Mexico, it took me several years to find them here. So far, I have found really good versions at Double Dragon in Rio Rancho, China Best on the west side, and Budai Gourmet Chinese i on San Mateo.
Add May Cafe to this short list. The version here is perhaps the best I have ever had. Beautifully spiced, piquant, and perfectly done. Make sure to add shrimp when you order this stunning dish. It is one of the ten best dishes I have had during 2012.
One of Jane’s favorite dishes back East is a fried baby eggplant that we got (often) at Hunan Manor Restaurant in Burtonsville MD, where we lived for 28 years. The Spicy Eggplant on the menu at May Cafe caught her eye, and the rest is history. This is a superb dish, better than the one on Burtonsville. It places easily among her favorites in the Duke City. This is tender and tasty eggplant with absolutely no hint of bitterness served with some other veggies in a delicious brown sauce that was “just right spicy.”
It is remarkable that two of our favorite dishes from our old home town have been replaced by superior versions right here in our new home town. Everything tastes better here.
There are 34 Albuquerque restaurants listed in Urbanspoon that serve Vietnamese food. This is rapidly becoming one of the Burque’s most popular cuisines. Most of the places are good to very good, and there are three that I think are excellent: May Cafe, Kim Long, and Saigon (1 & 2). May Cafe is farthest from my Corrales house, and I will return there often, It has become my newest favorite. It is the only Vietnamese restaurant that Jane could not find a single thing, no matter how small, to quibble about. Neither could I.
As we were driving home, Jane said, “Found you another great one, didn’t I.”
To which I replied, ” Yup. Your food radar is uncanny.”
What others are saying
Charlotte Balcomb Lane wrote in the Albuquerque Journal (December 15)
“The May Cafe is the genuine American article, it serves Authethic Vietnamese food. It offers everything a respectable family restaurant in the United States should: reasonable prices, generous portions, good flavors, a pleasant atmosphere and prompt, amiable service.
“Never mind that instead of burgers and fries, it serves phở, bun and spring rolls.
“At May Cafe, customers can be confident they will be served a tasty meal, even if they’re not quite sure how to pronounce the dish they ordered. Perhaps that’s why this Vietnamese restaurant attracts such a cross-section of Albuquerqueans — from automobile magnates, bicycle-riding university students and retired military personnel to white-haired ladies.”