As restaurateurs go, Michelle Waterson and Joshua Gomez have unorthodox backgrounds.
They drew experience not from fast-food franchises or fine-dining operations but in boxing rings and mixed martial arts octagons. Gomez was a U.S. Armed Forces championship boxer, and Waterson is a longtime star in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC.
A couple years ago, the married couple ventured into the restaurant business with the launch of Tako Ten, the brick-and-mortar incarnation of Dominic Valenzuela’s food truck, Dia de los Takos.
Despite opening just before the pandemic hit, the restaurant has flourished in its location at Bridges on Tramway, a mixed-use development in the Sandia foothills.
The success of Tako Ten inspired Waterson and Gomez to recently pull the curtain back on a couple new establishments at Bridges: Refresh, a healthy-eating, build-your-own-bowl place, and Thai Street, a fast-casual temple to Thailand’s street food scene.
I visited Thai Street twice recently: the first time for takeout; the second for a sitdown lunch.
The restaurant is sandwiched between Tako Ten and the Paletta Bar on the east side of Bridges on Tramway. There’s plenty of parking in front, but the spaces on the south and west side of the building are a far less stressful proposition, especially during peak hours.
Inside, a mural of a Thai street scene fills one wall. The counter is cleverly designed to look like a street stand, with a corrugated metal awning.
The menu, inspired by Waterson’s Thai heritage, offers several iconic street food dishes from the Southeast Asian nation. There are more than a dozen appetizers, mostly around $5, eight entrees in the $11-$14 range and a few desserts and drinks.
The dishes I tried largely met or exceeded expectations. Among the more successful was a bowl of Tom Yum Soup ($12.99), priced like a meal and certainly carrying the heft of one. The fiery red broth, redolent of lime, chile and lemon grass, arrived crowded with broccoli, diced tomatoes and big blocks of tofu. A small bowl of rice was served on the side. The broth delivered a compelling balance of sourness and heat that the tofu avidly sponged up.
Thai Street Noodles. ($12.99) were terrific. I ordered these for takeout and received a cardboard box filled with thin round rice noodles supplemented with red and green bell peppers, onions, lemon grass and pieces of scrambled eggs. The toothsome noodles carried a savory sauce with a touch of heat and sweetness. A half-dozen shrimp, added on for a $2 surcharge, were plump and juicy.
Despite the name, there is no alcohol in the traditional Thai dish called Drunken Noodles ($12.99). One theory pins the name’s origins on diners who overindulged on beer to tamp down the heat of the chiles. Thai Street’s version lived up to that promise. The takeout version I got looked innocent enough, the broad, flat noodles chopped into smaller pieces, but it was blazing hot. Accompanying the noodles were white chicken meat pieces, hammered thin, vegetables and sweet basil. The dish offers a good excuse to try Thai Street’s fine version of rusty red, creamy Thai Iced Tea ($3.95), which has a strong black tea flavor.
Thai Street’s Pineapple Yellow Curry ($13.99) is very much a dish of the tropics, fragrant with coconut milk and sweet basil and freighted with bamboo and fruit. It was served to go in a plastic container with a side of rice. As with most Thai restaurants in the city, Thai Street allows you to indicate your preferred spice level, choosing from mild, medium, hot and Thai hot. I found the medium level to be reasonable.
Two ubiquitous Thai dishes, an appetizer of chicken satay ($5.95) and an entree of pad Thai ($12.99), were fairly pedestrian. The satay, consisting of four skewers of white chicken meat served with a spicy-sweet peanut sauce, was fine if unremarkable. The pad Thai was missing the characteristic sour notes, and the crushed peanut topping didn’t make it into the takeout bag.
Among the four desserts is Thai Roti ($6.95), a familiar street vendor offering in Thailand. In Thai Street’s version, the warm flatbread, buttery and flaky, is cut into triangles and drizzled with a mix of condensed milk and sugar. It’s heavy and starchy, so even those with a raging sweet tooth will be inclined to share.
Almost everything on the menu is gluten-free or can be made that way.
Service was excellent when I dined in. The two servers belied the notion that you can’t get good help these days.
Thai Street has carved out a space in Albuquerque’s crowded Thai restaurant scene with a pared-down menu, friendly service and an ideal location for people on the far east side of town. Based on the track record of its owners, it has a fighting chance to thrive.