Jackson Heights Gives You a Taste of the Himalayas in Queens

By Paul DeBenedetto on March 29, 2013 11:40am 

JACKSON HEIGHTS — For a taste of the Himalayas, you don't have to venture thousands of miles — look no further than Jackson Heights.

Nepali and Tibetan cuisine has become increasingly popular in New York, owing in large part to an influx of immigrants from the Himalayan region in the last decade. The population of Nepali and Tibetan immigrants began to increase in the 2000s, spurred partly by a civil war in Nepal that began in the late '90s and lasted to 2006. 

The number of people of Nepali ancestry in Queens is now close to 5,000, according to census data. And at least 3,000 Tibetan immigrants live in New York City, according to estimates.

Because of this, Queens — and specifically Jackson Heights — has become the go-to place for Himalayan food. More and more Nepali and Tibetan restaurants have opened in the area over the last decade, pleasing the taste buds of both immigrants from the region and foodies from across the city.

Though similar to other Asian cuisines, like Indian, Thai and Chinese, most Himalayan food tends to be less spicy, and uses traditional Tibetan and Nepalese ingredients like yak butter and Himalayan black salt.

For access to great food from the Himalayas, just take the 7 train to the Roosevelt Avenue/74th Street station, and check out some of these spots.

Himalayan Yak, 72-20 Roosevelt Ave.

Serving both Nepali and Tibetan food, Himalayan Yak bills itself as the first Himalayan restaurant in Jackson Heights. The restaurant opened in 2000 in response to the growing Nepali and Tibetan population, said co-owner Dorjee Tsepak, 39. 

"It's very authentic, very traditional," Tsepak said. "The reason we opened in this neighborhood is to serve the locals."

Popular dishes include thali, a collection of Nepali plates made up of a choice of curry, rice, lentils, vegetables and pickles, and a spicy, stir-fried yak tongue called cheley, which you can enjoy while watching the restaurant's in-house cover band play American and Nepalese songs nightly from 9 p.m.

Mustang Thakali Kitchen, 74-14 37th Ave.

This small, quiet restaurant near Jackson Heights' "Little India" has been family-owned since opening in 2008.

Narbin Sherchan, 47, opened Mustang Thakali Kitchen after working in a Subway franchise for 9 years. His aim was to create a family-style restaurant based on the Nepali and Tibetan food he grew up with in Nepal.

"There's real Nepali flavor," Sherchan said. "The way Nepali make [it] in the home."

Sherchan's niece and nephew work as the wait staff and his wife, Sharmila Sherchan, 43, is the head chef, serving up popular dishes like yhosi, a mashed buckwheat dish served with chicken, vegetables and chutney, as well as knepse, a fried dough appetizer served with chicken, vegetables and pickles, and ghoken, a buckwheat roti served with chicken curry, vegetables and chutney.

Phayul, 37-65 74th St.

Although the address is listed on 74th Street, all you'll find there is a sign telling you to walk around the block, down a small side street to a blink-and-you'll-miss-it doorway. 

Inside, follow the stairs and walk through the curtain to find this quaint Tibetan-only restaurant on the second floor, overlooking 74th Street and the pedestrian plaza on 37th Road.

The most popular dishes at Phayul include the tsak sha la kor, a spicy, creamy broth with beef, radish and Tibetan herbs, and the gyuma ngoe ma, a fried blood sausage appetizer with onions and green chili.

Phayul also has seven thukpa — Tibetan noodle dishes — including beef thenthuk, a traditional Tibetan hand-drawn noodle dish with vegetables, beef and broth.

Lali Guras, 37-63 76th St.

If you're in a rush for a quality Himalayan meal, look no further than Lali Guras.

This small take-out restaurant on the corner of 76th Street and 37th Road doesn't seat more than a dozen patrons, and uses paper plates and plastic forks.

But what it lacks in style it makes up for in taste, said Prabhat Sapkota, 32, who travels from Sunnyside once a week to grab a bite at Lali Guras.

"It's flavorful," said Sapkota, who is getting his masters degree in urban planning at Queens College. "[But] the spice level is mild."

Sapkota, who was born in Nepal, enjoys the thali, the chicken-chili shapta — a spicy, stir-fried dish — and an appetizer platter called samay bhaji, which includes a goat curry alongside helpings of rice, pickles, lentils and tomato sauce.

Potala Fresh Food Cart, Broadway and 37th Road

No food tour of Himalayan cuisine would be complete without a helping of momo.

The momo is a Himalayan spin on the dumpling: a thick, doughy bun covering juicy beef, often seasoned with Himalayan black pepper and covered in broth.

Potala, named after the Tibetan palace and former home of the Dalai Lama, offers some of the best momo in the neighborhood. Be warned: the momos at Potala come served alongside a surprisingly spicy chili sauce.

But a serving of eight momo for $5 makes this dish a great bargain.

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