The interior of Cafe Himalaya (78 E 1st Street; 212-358-0160) is as basic as it gets. Above the shoulder-height wood wainscoting on the walls, pictures of Tibet highlight institutional yellow paint. Toward the back of the dining room, a chalkboard menu hangs over a cash register. Behind, the kitchen is visible through a wide open doorway. A commercial drink fridge sits on the opposite side, and about a dozen tables line the left and right side of the restaurant. Fortunately, that bare-bones aesthetic extends to the prices, too. The majority of the menu rings in under $10.
The tiny neighborhood joint serves the kind of food that once proliferated in the East Village before the high-end restaurants, cocktail bars, and astronomical rents took over. A couple dozen vegetarian and “non-veg” specialties are featured on the menu. The food is not fancy, just hearty Nepali homestyle fare.
That includes increasingly popular momo, traditional dumplings that are either steamed or pan-fried. Here, there are several fillings to choose from: beef ($8.25), chicken ($8.25), seasonal veggies ($7.75), and potatoes ($7.75). Each order comes with eight dumplings and a side of cabbage salad. A spicy and herbal hot sauce with tomatoes, garlic, and cilantro comes on the side, if you ask. It’s cheap, flavorful, and filling.
Entrees include a range of noodles and curries; Gyathuk Ngopa ($8.75) combines sauteed noodles with fresh greens and choice of chicken, beef, or shrimp. The vegetarian version, Tsel Gyathuk Ngopa, features tofu for fifty cents less. Sha Thupka ($8.75) is a traditional noodle soup with green vegetables and the same protein options. Also on offer is chicken marinated in homemade yogurt and a proprietary curry spice blend for $9.75.
This place isn’t going to blow the budget any time of the day, but it’s even cheaper during weekday lunches. All of the aforementioned dishes (in one variation or another) are offered for $7.25 from noon to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. It’s kind of hard to beat it.