As a lover of Asian food living in NYC, I originally found it impossible to wade through all of the mediocre Thai, Chinese, and Indian places to find something fresh and unique. It seemed that everything was overpriced, over hyped, and just plain boring. All of this changed when I stumbled across Café Himalaya, a Tibetan restaurant nestled on 1st street just below 1st Ave. This place is definitely a hole in wall- seating is minimal (probably fits 20 people max), the decor is sparse, and the kitchen is open to the rest of the restaurant. But what it lacks in ambiance, it more than makes up for with the most amazing home style cooking I’ve had in New York yet. It's so good in fact, that I go about 30 minutes out of my way to go there at least every two weeks!
Before arriving at Café Himalaya, I recommend popping into a nearby Bodega to pick up some beer or wine, as the place is BYOB. There is no cork fee, which helps make an already cheap dining experience even cheaper. If you can, try to snag the table by the window-the couches are super comfortable and it’s a great area for people watching. If you’re looking for something cold to drink, I recommend any of the smoothies($4 my personal favorite is the mixed berry) or the mango lassi ($3.50). The fruit and juice used couldn’t be fresher, and these drinks make an excellent accompaniment to some of the menus the spicier dishes. However if you’re looking for something to warm you up, the Bocha ($1.50 Tibetan tea with salt, butter, and milk) and the fresh ginger tea ($1.75) are my favorites. The ginger tea is spicy and invigorating, while the Bocha is soothing and filling.
As for the soups, I recommend the Dal ($2.99 a lentil soup flavored with shallot and cilantro), and the Ashom Thang ($3.50 a corn soup served with lemon). The Dal has a creamy richness, while the Ashom Thang is lighter and tangy.
(Ashom Tang pictured)
The salads here are not your typical Caesar or garden; most of them incorporate tofu or potato. My favorite are the Shogok Khatsa ($4 spicy potato & peas cooked himalayan style in sesame dressing served on lettuce leaf) and the Himalayan Nezom ($4.50 a spicy medley of tofu, peas with seasoned potato & black-eyed peas served on lettuce leaf). Both salads are hearty and flavorful, but the portion size is just small enough to where it doesn’t take anything away from the entrée.
One of the best things about Café Himalaya is that they manage to pull off both fantastic vegetarian AND meat dishes. Out of the meat entrees, the Chasha Shamdey ($7.50 Himalayan style chicken curry marinated in homemade yogurt & spices with basmati rice) and the Shapta ($10.50 a traditional tibetan spicy beef dish sauteed with ginger, garlic & onion served with rice or paratha) are my favorites. The vegetables in the Shapta are always fresh and crispy, and the sauce has a lemony tang and is super light.
The Chasha Shamdey is spiced perfectly, and the curry is an amazing consistency, it doesn’t overpower the chicken or the potato, but rather enhances the flavor of both. As for the vegetarian entrees, I enjoy the Tsel Momo ($6.50 steamed or pan-fried dumplings stuffed w/ fresh seasonal veg. served w/ cabbage salad) or the Tsel Dofu($7.50 tofu sauteed with cabbage, carrots, spinach & ginger on a bed of basmati rice). The spicy sauce served on the side of these dishes really turns up the flavor!
(Tsel Momo pictured. Photo credit Plate of the Day)
If like me, you're tired of your typical Asian fare, I couldn't recommend trying a restaurant any more than Cafe Himalaya. They use the freshest ingredients and very unique spices, and manage to keep all of the food simple and delicious.
Address: 78 E. 1st St., New York, NY 10009
Average Price: Lunch $4.99, Soup or Salad $4, Entree $8