ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — While Texas reminds us to not “mess with” them, they often mess with the foods of cuisines that happen to be cooked within state lines. Tex-Mex, for example, is a logical amalgamation of chiles and corn with cheese and cattle, yielding such dishes as chile con carne or fajitas. A more curious thing is “Texas Thai,” where proud cooks who happen to have family history in Southeast Asia are whipping up their own favorites with touches that are right out of the Southwest. Downtown Albuquerque is now home to one of these spots, Thai Saweiy, right near the movie theater.
Previously, it was a pretty good Thai restaurant; now, it is a better Thai restaurant with a few interesting twists. Manager Jai Chanthavong’s family is from Laos; he learned the trade at his folks’ Amarillo restaurant and as manager of a sushi spot here in Albuquerque. Chanthavong is quick to admit that he’ll allow “inauthentic” dishes on the menu as long as they are crowd-pleasers. For this reason you should order the Thai Curry Puffs ($4.95), wontons stuffed with a chicken and potato curry mixture that might inspire some Indian samosa déjà vu. Personally, my taste buds pine for their phenomenal Tom Kha soup ($5.25 small, $10.95 large). At the medium spice level it is still quite fiery and surprisingly light on the tongue.
Fried rice is fried rice, right? You take precooked rice and sauté it with diced veggies and a scrambled egg — that’s the standard formula, anyway. At Thai Saweiy, you’re in for a treat with an entree-oriented Jalapeño Fried Rice ($9.95) that contains bell peppers, jalapeños, your choice of meat and strips of avocado on top. Other diners, even other reviewers, have found this dish strange but ultimately comforting; I loved it from bite numero uno. Order it “Thai hot” and feel the warmth blooming from tongue to toes.
Deviations into Texasville like the fried rice are few and far between; Thai standards like noodle stir-fries and curry dishes dominate the menu. For a refreshing entree as delicious in winter as in summer, try Thai Saweiy’s version of one of the best dishes to ever come out of Thailand: Papaya Salad ($9.95). The mound of shredded green papaya is cranked up to your heat specification and studded with peanuts and cooked shrimp in addition to the obligatory tomatoes and raw green beans. I like this version a lot.
It’s not that Thai Saweiy’s curries and saucy dishes are mediocre — far from it — but the items that seem to embody the best attributes of the warm climate and fiery flavors are the dishes traditionally served at room temperature. One of these is called Laab Salad ($9.95), your choice of chicken, beef or pork ground with toasted rice powder, galangal, lime juice and chiles.