Lime is a relatively recent addition to Albuquerque’s Vietnamese restaurant scene, having opened just over two years ago in a strip mall on the busy southeast corner of Montgomery and Eubank.
The thumping bass from the neighboring Dirty Bourbon Dance Hall and Saloon quickly recedes when you enter the restaurant’s stylish interior. Gone are the carpet, booths and hanging lights of the previous occupant, a Vietnamese restaurant called May Hong, in favor of a more open plan. The new design features wood laminate floors, wooden-slat wainscoting, a partition of latillas and a large piece of wood slice wall art. All this wood under the dark-brown exposed ceiling creates a feeling of seclusion, as if you were dining inside the base of a very large tree.
The menu showcases some of the elemental dishes of Vietnamese cuisine, such as pho, a beef noodle soup, and noodle bowls known as bun. Dishes come with a protein of your choice, along with fresh herbs, including cilantro, basil and lemon grass.
And of course, rice. Lots and lots of rice: rice paper, rice vermicelli, flat rice noodles, jasmine rice and sticky rice. Two spring rolls ($3.95), served with a peanut dipping sauce, reveal a row of shrimp and basil leaves through translucent rice paper. Lime’s version is a familiar combination of gummy skin, crunchy lettuce and slightly hot and sweet peanut sauce. It’s a well-executed dish, but had I stopped to think about all the rice that was headed my way, I would have ordered the papaya salad instead.
The food at Lime comes out at a breakneck pace. I barely had time to contemplate my first bite of the spring roll when the entrees arrived, including pho with meatballs ($8.95) in a bowl the size of a small sink. The broth’s watery appearance is deceiving, as it’s full of the kind of rich beef flavor you get from simmering soup bones and vegetables for hours on end. You can enliven it with tableside condiments such as hot sauce, soy sauce and hoisin sauce, along with the accompanying plate of jalapeños, bean sprouts and basil.
The broth is the real highlight here, as it should be with pho. The dense, rubbery wedges of meatball don’t add much to the dish, and the noodles overwhelm you quickly. If you’ve ever wondered how many rice noodles you can put away in one sitting, this is your chance to find out.
A more balanced dish is found in the stir-fried rice noodles with chicken ($8.50). Here, the rice vermicelli noodles play a backup role to the tender bits of white-meat chicken and cut-up vegetables. So often the veggies in stir fry end up sodden, so the light touch with the soy-based sauce here is welcome.
Three servers keep things moving briskly in the small space, about half-full on a Saturday night. They know the menu well and are happy to adapt dishes to customer needs, even offering to make a vegetable broth in the kitchen for a gluten-free diner.
You’d be remiss if you left Lime without sampling from its menu of fruit juices and shakes. The avocado shake ($4.25) is made from fresh avocado blended with ice and sweetened condensed milk, a staple the Vietnamese adopted during the French colonial era. Silky smooth, sweet but not cloying, the shake works both as an accompaniment to the spicy meals and as a dessert.
With its prices, service and quality, Lime is a worthy addition to the city’s roster of Vietnamese restaurants.