Fork in the Road Guide to Dining in Himalayan Jackson Heights
Carved wooden doors at Himalayan Yak
Over the last 10 years, Central Jackson Heights (the blocks around the subway/bus station) has turned into a concentrated Himalayan business zone, as immigrants from Tibet and Nepal have moved into the neighborhood, turning the area into a Himalayan hub for the entire city. Here are thumbnail sketches of the restaurants found in this exciting new mountain neighborhood.
1. Himalayan Yak -- Founded in 2000 as Tibetan Yak, but changing its name to Himalayan Yak after the addition of Nepalese and Indian specialties to the menu in 2005, T.Y. is the culinary anchor of the neighborhood, and still the most upscale Himalayan restaurant, though that doesn't mean all that expensive, since entrées average $8. The depth of the menu is still thrilling, including appetizers like sadeko bandel (lemon-dressed wild boar) and cheley (sautéed beef tongue). 72-20 Roosevelt Avenue, 718-779-1119
2. Phayul -- The name of the restaurant means "fatherland" in Tibetan, and the menu at this newest and most interesting Himalayan restaurant showcases the Tibetan passion for Sichuan peppercorns and Sichuan recipes, while providing our most home-style versions of more traditional things like gyuma (blood sausage), potato-stuffed momo (big dumplings), and thenthuk (delightful ragged noodles served in a vegetable-driven soup). 37-65 74th Street, 718-424-1869
Enter on 37th Road and climb the stairs to Phayul's second-floor dining room.
3. Chautari -- This Nepalese restaurant tries to do it all -- Indian, Tibetan, Nepalese -- in a gigantic premises that has two storefronts: a formal dining room on Roosevelt Avenue and a run-in snack shop on 37th Road. 74-15 Roosevelt Avenue, 718-424-8900
4. Bhim's Café -- This charming little spot also has an upstairs dining room, and offers fundamental Nepalese fare (including excellent beef and chicken momos), often ganged up into combination platters that include toasted soybeans, beaten rice, and the pureed pickle called achar, in addition to main courses of goat, chicken, and mutton. As you can see in the window, Bhim's will gladly sell you a cappuccino or a Red Bull, too. 74-10 37th Road, 718-458-0917
Typical set meal at Bhim's Café
5. Merit Kabab & Dumpling Palace -- Not so long ago, this amazing eatery was one of those fried-food delis called Merit Farms, and it was the first thing you saw when you tumbled off the subway -- pale fries and thickly breaded shrimp occupying the window. Well, the shrimp are still there, in the front of the place, which is now an Indian fried-food stall featuring pakora and samosa. Next, moving inward, there's an excellent steam-table Pakistani, noted for its colorful boiled eggs decorating everything. Finally, there is Namaste ("Welcome"), a pan-Himalayan lunch counter specializing in dumplings. 37-67 74th Street, 718-396-5827
Welcome to the interior of Namaste
6. Zomsa -- This Tibetan restaurant was closed temporarily in observance of Kalachakra, a tantric initiation on behalf of world peace given by the Dalai Lama in Washington, D.C., lasting through July 16. 72-19 Roosevelt Avenue, 718-507-2452
7. Shangri-La Express -- This fast-food-style café offers an intriguing combination of Tibetan dumplings and noodles; Indo-Chinese dishes containing chicken, beef, and seafood; and some wild-card fast-food items, like Buffalo wings, mushroom soup, and chicken salad. 72-24 Roosevelt Avenue, 718-848-0349
8. Mustang Thakali Kitchen -- The mother of all Nepalese restaurants hails from the region of Mustard in north-central Nepal, and this is the only joint that can give the Himalayan Yak a run for its money in the area of elegance and excellence. In fact, I believe this remains the best Himalayan restaurant in town. 74-14 37th Avenue, 718-898-5088
9. Lali Guras -- Flying the flags of Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan on its awning, Lali Guras at least makes good on the first two. In a diner-style setting, L.G. deep-fries its momo (along with Southern-fried chicken wings), and offers many Nepalese and Tibetan set meals. The laphing here is spectacular, and don't miss the donuts made of rice called sel roti. 37-63 76th Street, 718-424-0017
The fried momo at Lali Guras are worth going off your diet for.
10. Himalayan Hut -- This Indian-style Chinese restaurant nonetheless sports a Himalayan theme and, in addition to the usual Cantonese and Indo-Chinese fare, serves momo and Himalayan fried rice -- such are the fast-food needs of the neighborhood. 75-18 37th Avenue, 718-426-6888
Thanks to Debbie Sprague, who has kept me apprised of these places as they've opened up.
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