Fan Tang among the upper echelon of ABQ's Chinese restaurants - Albuquerque Journal

Fan Tang among the upper echelon of ABQ’s Chinese restaurants

Mapo Tofu, one of Fan Tang’s signature dishes. (Richard S. Dargan/Journal)

Ask a dozen locals to name their favorite Chinese restaurant, you might get a dozen different answers. Ask a hundred, then you’ll probably hear Fan Tang in Nob Hill mentioned a few times.

Since opening in 2011, Jason Zeng’s restaurant has become one of the more popular places in town to get orange peel chicken, lo mein noodles and other American Chinese favorites.

Zeng comes from a family of restaurateurs. His grandfather had a restaurant in China and his parents are the founders of Chow’s Bistro in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. While attending UNM, Zeng noticed the relative lack of Asian dining options in the Nob Hill area and saw an opportunity when an historic building on the northwest corner of Central Avenue and Carlisle Boulevard became vacant.

That building is a former gas station built in the 1940s in the streamline moderne style, with rounded corners and a stepped tower rising from the roof.

There’s a small parking lot on the west side of the restaurant, accessed from Central. The entrance, set back from the street, opens on a curving bar with a large menu stretched across three walls behind it. Booths along the windows offer sweeping views of one of Central’s more picturesque intersections.

Like most Chinese places in town, Fan Tang is something of a fusion operation. Dishes like pho and Pad Thai are offered alongside all the American Chinese standards.

Coffee Chicken is made with chicken breast rubbed in ground coffee and stir-fried. (Richard S. Dargan/Journal)

The menu stands out for its numerous vegan and gluten-free offerings. Gluten-free Singapore Noodles ($9.99 plus $1 for shrimp or beef), are served for takeout as a thick slab of rice noodles in savory lobster sauce with onions and baby bok choy. As most Chinese food lovers know, lobster sauce doesn’t contain lobster. It gets its name because Cantonese restaurants in North America would use it to cook the pricey shellfish. Fan Tang’s presentation is redolent of garlic and ginger and an infused chili oil that sneaks up and stings you long after the bite. Hidden inside the chewy noodles were a half-dozen sprightly shrimp. I appreciated the addition of an egg cooked over easy, the yolk still runny enough to make a sauce.

Among the signature dishes on the menu, Mapo Tofu ($10.95) is the one most associated China’s Sichuan province, a landlocked region in the southwestern part of the country known for its spicy food. Fan Tang’s version certainly lives up to that reputation. It activates the mucus membranes so decisively, it should come with a small box of tissues. The tofu presents as cubes that yield to a fluffy center that sponges up the molten broth. Served with tendrils of pork, it offers a wealth of heat and umami – all that’s missing is a little crunch. The side of white rice helped subdue the intense flavor and heat. The portion was easily enough for two people.

Coffee Chicken ($11.95), another Fan Tang signature dish, was my go-to at Chow’s Northeast Heights location before it closed back in 1999, so I was eager to revisit it. The bits of stir-fried chicken breast come out the dark brown color of the French roast coffee rub. The sweet sauce balances the coffee’s bitterness in the same way that sugar takes the edge off a shot of espresso. It was missing the promised heat, but the green beans served with it were nicely al dente.

The Chinese have been smoking ducks and eggs and other foodstuffs for centuries as a way to preserve them while adding flavor and fragrance. Fan Tang honors that tradition with its Tea-smoked Beef ($12.95) served with rice and chopped green bell peppers. The meat, smoked with applewood and tea leaves, had an appetizing char and the compelling aroma of backyard barbecues and Chinese spices. The broad, flat strips of meat, however, were mostly tough.

I ordered by phone and the food was ready when I got there 15 minutes later. Servers were friendly and efficient. There was a 3% charge on the bill for using a credit card; I would have preferred a few fortune cookies instead.

Fan Tang serves up big portions with lots of flavor and heat. Its unique menu items and vegan and gluten-free options place it in the upper echelon of Albuquerque’s Chinese restaurants.

Home » Entertainment » Fan Tang among the upper echelon of ABQ’s Chinese restaurants


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

1
Zu Hot Pot brings the interactive dining experience back ...
Dining Reviews
Hot pot cooking traces its roots ... Hot pot cooking traces its roots back a thousand years to Mongolia, where horseman reputedly used their helmets as pots for cooking meat in ...
2
Opuntia Cafe a haven filled with tea, plants and ...
Dining Reviews
A minimally decorated lobby offers a ... A minimally decorated lobby offers a display of curated teas and coffees for purchase along with plants which set the tone for your dining ...
3
Kulantro brings Vietnamese street food to the Sawmill Market
Dining Reviews
Kulantro has a small menu, with ... Kulantro has a small menu, with only six regular items and a few seasonal specials.
4
Zacatlán delivers a new taste of Mexico
Dining Reviews
Zacatlán delivers an exceptional dinner experience Zacatlán delivers an exceptional dinner experience
5
Restaurant delivers reasonably-priced fare with high standards
Dining Reviews
Besides burgers, the menu at Upscale ... Besides burgers, the menu at Upscale Burgers and Shakes includes sandwiches, salads and a few entrees.
6
Need a cup of locally roasted coffee or a ...
Dining Reviews
Iconik is, well, an iconic coffee ... Iconik is, well, an iconic coffee shop with two convenient locations, both with full kitchens and different menus.
7
Tikka Hut’s mix of cuisines is unlike any other ...
Dining Reviews
There are no curries on the ... There are no curries on the menu, but the addictive spicy tomato sauce that underpins many of the dishes starts out that way before ...
8
Southern Indian food shines at Santa Fe's Paper Dosa
Dining Reviews
Paper Dosa is where vegetarians and ... Paper Dosa is where vegetarians and gluten-free eaters are in heaven.
9
La Reforma offers up Mexican street food classics like ...
Dining Reviews
La Reforma offers a slate of ... La Reforma offers a slate of brews with Mexican inflections and sells its own rum, vodka and agave spirits.