Pacific Paradise, ABQ: Real Deal Sichuan in a Tacky Tiki Room
Last year I had the good fortune of getting to visit Chengdu with a UNM professor who grew up there (the food was easily the best we had in China, and being from NM we got to impress everybody by being able to handle the heat). Inevitably, the discussion of Chinese restaurants in NM came up, and I mentioned how much I enjoy Budai, to which he dismissively said, "That place just serves Taiwanese food. For Sichuan food I go to Pacific Paradise."
So I finally got the chance to go to Pacific Paradise this week. And despite the fact that the slightly dilapidated Polynesian digs and menu make it look damn near impossible that anything good will come out of the kitchen, this place has the goods in the form of a semi-secret 23-item Sichaun menu available by request: http://www.pacific-paradise-restauran...
We tried the Dry and Sauteed Green Beans (very good, gingery and just a little sweet), Spicy and Aromatic Chicken (breading was a little heavy, otherwise excellent), and the Spicy Eggplant (serious heat, phenomenal flavor, couldn't ask for more), the latter two of which included a healthy dose of tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorns in addition to plenty of red chile. Excellent trio of dishes, I'll be excited to get back and try more of the menu. In fact the Sichuan food was made with enough care that I might even try some of the suspiciously Americanized-looking Pacific Rim and sushi dishes.
Our server embodied everything that's great about ABQ, she was sincere, friendly, and attentive. And for those who care, they have an unremarkable selection of beer, wine, and sake.
Pacific Paradise and Budai are very different, but they both have their place. Some of Budai's dishes have a delicate elegance to them (three cup chicken, lion's head beef, xao long bao) that appeal to me in ways that Pacific Paradise's more in-your-face dishes simply can't. But that's not a knock on Pacific Paradise, it's more a question of appreciating two different outstanding regional cuisines. As far as I'm concerned, New Mexico is lucky to have both.