ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There are two ways to define, well, nearly anything, from restaurants and businesses to musical preferences: by inclusion or exclusion.
Inclusion is when one says, “I listen to all jazz and do-wop.” On the other hand, “we serve things that do not come from animals” is an exclusionary definition, one that is particularly appealing to a lot of diners.
At Nu Asia Vegan, this exclusivity is riding the current wave of popular new vegan restaurants opening up and down the University of New Mexico corridor.
In the former Cosmo Tapas spot, the menu embraces the light cuisines of Asia — primarily Thailand, Japan, and India.
Nu Asia had me at Papaya Salad — my go-to dish when the taste buds are crying out for something both summery and fiery-hot.
Despite the omission of fish sauce, an ingredient normally thought of as mandatory for proper umami balance, the salad ($8.50) was still vibrant with more than enough heat to quench the thirst of a sweat-dabbing paper napkin.
Another menu favorite is the myriad Bento Box meals ($8.50-$12.99), assembling items like sushi, stir-fried curries, vegan bulgogi or chicken, salad, and rice in one tidy package. A side of cucumber kimchi is delicious with any meal for extra crunch and spice.
The rest of Nu Asia’s menu is loaded with curries and hot dishes, but one thing it offers with more variety than anywhere else in town is vegan sushi.
Now, I’ll admit to some skepticism when it comes to fake meat (which is no dig on veganism — all fake foods receive an eyebrow-rise, from gluten-free pizza to sugar-free confections), but Nu Asia forms the backbone of its menu with these items so they deserve a taste.
Sushi begins with rice and seaweed, of course, but is then accented with all manner of vegan seafood, from tempura shrimp in the Lucky Roll ($8.99) to spicy tuna in the Mango Roll ($8.99), almost dessertlike with golden mango slices on top.
If you’d rather avoid any vegan meat items, the States Roll ($9.50) features tofu, mushrooms, avocado and cucumber with a barbecue sauce — given the pileup of ingredients, it’s surprisingly tasty.
Albuquerque’s recent burst in vegan restaurants can only be explained by a surprisingly large contingent of vegans who love to eat out and nonvegan friends that will accompany them — but only if the food is tasty.