Where To Find The Best Himalayan Food In LA
THIS STORY IS PART OF HOW TO L.A., OUR ONGOING SERIES OF PRACTICAL GUIDES FOR DAY-TO-DAY LIVING IN LOS ANGELES.
The cuisine of the Himalayas sits at the midpoint between Chinese and Indian food, adding cardamom, jimbu, ajwain and ginger to dishes like dal and chow mein. Fans of Himalayan fare claim the soups are healthier, the curries are tamer and the dumplings are less greasy than those of their South Asian neighbors. While the reality is scientifically debatable, traditional meals from the region tend to rely on leaner meats, fermented vegetables and unleavened breads.
As with many cuisines, opportunities to try Himalayan food in Los Angeles are the result of migration and forced displacement. To dine at a restaurant specializing in dishes from this expansive, complicated region is to engage, bite by bite, with the contested, overlapping histories -- and recipes -- of Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, China and India. Many establishments offer meals drawn from the diverse traditions of the Himalayas while teaching diners why we're consuming them so far from their places of origin.
Tibet Nepal House
A Pasadena grill with ambiance to spare, Tibet Nepal House aims to edify its customers as they eat. While blowing steam off a plate of ground yak momo, pyramid-shaped dumplings rich with chopped onion and black pepper, you can read the many anecdotes on the menu or learn historical lessons about the Indian subcontinent from the decorative feet dangling from the ceiling. Their traditional Nepali thali plate comes loaded with a lamb masala, a chanaa masala garnished with parsley, a gritty green lentil soup and chyamtange dhopzi, a flatbread that's similar to naan but made with stone-ground whole wheat. It's a lot to take in and only a fool, or an optimist, would also get an order of veggie pokuadas, broccoli and cauliflower florets deep-fried in savory chickpea flour.
36 E. Holly St., Pasadena. 626-585-0955.
Shalimar Cuisine of India
Fortune favors the bold, and Shalimar, which promises a "big list of Temptation beyond your imagination," is ready to shake your imagination. After a much needed revamp in 2015, executive chef and owner Durga Khattri cast a massive net in designing his new menu, which features dishes from across the Himalayas. Tibetan-style sweet corn soup may seem like a messy lead-in to Nepalese spiced, charcoal-marinated mutton sekuwa (think lamb satay), but in Khattri's hands, the juxtaposition of heat with sweet is exquisite. He also offers Indo-Gangetic catering platters heaped with saffron fried rice, bengan bharta (mashed eggplant stewed with tomatoes), piles of naan and gulab jamun (balls of dough soaked in honey). The result is an ambitious and delicious menu.
10708 Jefferson Blvd, Culver City. 310-839-2841.
Tara's Himalayan Cuisine
Perhaps the best known name in Angeleno-Himalayan dining, Tara's boasts locations in Palms,Newbury Park and University Park (in what used to be Himalayan House). Our personal favorite is the Newbury Park shop, which is the most intimate and quiet of these. The brainchild of Nepali owner Tara Gurung Black, the chain caters to in-the-know locals as well as curious visitors. With spices and herbs imported directly from Nepal, meat from a yak farmer in Colorado and a portion of profits going to Black's former village school in Pokhara, Tara's success is proof of the value of consumption that's both socially and health-conscious .
171 N. Reino Rd., Newbury Park. 805-498-2166.
10855 Venice Blvd., Palms. 310-836-9696.
1277 W. Jefferson Blvd., Exposition Park. 323-766-9775.
House of Curry
As cheap eats go, House of Curry is one of the most satisfying and accessible purveyors in all of central L.A., and not just of Tibetan food. Few flavor combos are as satisfying as one of their momos stuffed with minced chicken and served with its traditional accompaniment, chili chicken stir fry. (Ask for it spicy. Himalayan dishes are notoriously mild.) Even sides like the housemade raita, a savory yogurt dip, and the achhar, an insanely sour pickled veggie condiment that's also eaten on its own, are a cut above the standard meals at most grab-and-go stops. If you're starved for cash, $5.75 gets you a pile of onion-and-cilantro-stuffed kulcha baked in a clay oven along with a generous bowl of Punjabi tomato soup.
1888 S. Western Ave., Arlington Heights. 323-731-6505.
"We are pleased to introduce you to a new taste from [the] Himalayas," begins the menu at Himalaya, and it's no bluff. The concoctions at this restaurant and market are so experimental that they'd be heretical if they weren't so excellent. They're also a great deal. The dishes are large, closer to family style than individual portions. The veggie "pizza" ($14) is a thin, whole wheat chapati crust crust topped with tangy, housemade tomato sauce and yogurt-marinated cauliflower, broccoli and peppers. The hefty Silver Burrito ($12) bulges with chicken tikka, tamarind and fresh mint. The traditional fare here is also good. A bowl of aloo tama bodi (Nepalese pea soup with bamboo and potato) pairs wonderfully with their gurung bread, the best in the city, and a cup of sweet Himalayan coffee. Sometimes, simple is better.
720 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. 805-409-1041.
35 W. Main St., Ventura. 805-643-0795.
Sitar Indian Kitchen
Don't let the term "Indian" confuse you. This first-generation, Nepali-owned hole-in-the-wall from a family of former Artesia restaurateurs is among the best of a crop of new businesses that opened last spring in the Santa Clarita Valley. Previously the home of (the also very good) Himalayan Kitchen, Sitar Indian Kitchen is hard to find, plunked beneath a dentist's office and pushed to the back corner of a strip mall that also houses popular local Mexican restaurant La Cocina. Its treasures -- golden cauliflower aloo seasoned with ginger, coriander and onion; garlic naan so buttery the cilantro garnish slides off -- are worth hunting down.
28112 Bouquet Canyon Rd., Santa Clarita. 661-263-2300.
Cheers to the exciting expansion of Himalayan Café into its recent San Dimas and Baldwin Park locations. After the original opened in 2011 in Old Town Pasadena, critics praised its attentive and impressive menu. Its Himalayan platter, a medley of sweet and spicy chutneys, vegetarian salads and samosas filled with green peas and potatoes, is a favorite for large parties. (Get two if you're feeding more than four people.) If you're under the weather, the chicken thupka special, advertised as a medicinal winter soup, is filled with long, delicate rice noodles in a hearty, soothing stock. Given Himalayan Café's excellence, its growth into a microchain is no surprise, but it is a pleasure.
36 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena. 626-564-1560.
4291 Maine Ave., Baldwin Park. 626-856-5110.
133 E. Bonita Ave., San Dimas. 909-599-5355.