It’s been too long since I’d eaten at Himalayan Kitchen. It’s a restaurant I’d very much enjoyed in the past, but one of the hazards a Salt Lake City restaurant critic faces is too few opportunities to dine in a favorite eatery.
It’s unfortunate that, because we’re usually focused on the new and noteworthy, we tend to bypass the tried and true. However, a Himalayan relocation—just around the corner from the old 400 South address—provided me with an excuse to get reacquainted with this trusty old fave.
Ambiance was never the original Himalayan Kitchen’s strong suit. The new Himalayan, by contrast, has great eye appeal: It’s spacious without being sprawling, with a main dining room plus a second that doubles as a space for private parties and other functions. Carefully selected art and photos from Nepal and India adorn the walls, and the entire restaurant gives off a soothing, mellow vibe. Himalayan Kitchen 2.0 is a vast improvement over the original model.
A good way to sink your teeth into the range of Nepali and Indian cuisine featured at Himalayan Kitchen is to drop in for the $9.95 lunch buffet, offered Monday through Saturday. Himalayan Kitchen elevates the oft-mundane buffet dining experience with startlingly fresh food—one reason the restaurant is frequently packed at lunchtime.
And the buffet options are plentiful, too. Dishes vary from day to day, but you’ll typically find a curry or two, such as chicken vindaloo or butter chicken, along with veggie specialties like aloo tamabodi, saag paneer or malai daal maharani. There are tandoor-cooked foods to choose from such as chicken tandoori, along with basmati rice, stir-fried noodles called chow chow and, of course, tandoor-charred naan, plus much more. Pacing is critical, though; more often than not, I wind up regretting that third return to the buffet.
Table service at Himalayan Kitchen is super-friendly, even protective. When I ordered my lamb vindaloo dish “hot” (versus mild or medium), my Nepali server counseled against it. “The ‘hot’ is really hot,” she said. “Maybe medium-hot?” she suggested. Recalling incendiary affairs when I’d eschewed the heat advice at other restaurants, I ordered my vindaloo medium-hot.
Unfortunately, it arrived not even tasting mildly spicy, much to the surprise of our server. Still, the lamb vindaloo ($13.95) was quite tasty: tender morsels of lamb and potatoes in a well-balanced, neon orange-colored onion, tomato, garlic, vinegar and curry spice sauce. It just wasn’t hot. The heat issue was remedied, however, when our server brought out a small bowl of fiery red chili paste.
One of the best dishes is butter chicken ($11.95). Tender pieces of boneless tandoori chicken are bathed in a salmon-colored sauce made with butter, tomatoes, onions, cream, nuts and subtle spices. It’s heavenly; you’ll want to use plenty of naan to sop up every last drop. If you prefer your tandoori chicken straight, you can order four pieces for $8.95 or eight pieces for $11.95, which includes basmati rice and naan. The tandoor-cooked chicken I’ve sampled at Himalayan Kitchen has been remarkably juicy and tender, not dried out and stringy like so much tandoori.
Wine service is not Himalayan Kitchen’s forté. While the small wine list is adequate, there’s considerable confusion about it among the wait staff. During one visit, our server was visibly perplexed by our wine order. And sure enough, it took two tries, a long delay and input from the owner to finally get our wine order right. Thankfully, we’d selected a twist-top wine.
Happy (finally) with a bottle of Pine Ridge Napa Valley Chenin Blanc-Viognier ($26), we dove into a big plate of 10 momos, those Nepalese-style dumplings ($10.95) stuffed with ground turkey, onions, ginger and cilantro that are so wildly popular at the Himalayan. They come with a delectable nutty dipping sauce and paired beautifully with the Pine Ridge wine. Two vegetable dishes at Himalayan Kitchen are especially commendable: Aloo tamabodi is a Nepali-style curry dish made with black-eyed peas, potato, onions ginger, garlic, tomatoes and bamboo shoots ($9.95). And daal maharani ($9.95) is a thick mélange of lentils, onions, tomatoes and Indian spices.
The only subpar dish I tasted was vegetable chow chow ($8.95, chicken or lamb also available), Nepali stir-fried noodles and vegetables reminiscent of Chinese lo mein. The noodles were perfectly cooked al dente, but sat in a pool of oil. A delicious plate of prawn saag ($15.95), however, made up for the greasy chow chow. Tender shelled shrimp are served in a mild but flavorful spinach, onion, ginger, garlic and cream sauce—a very delicate and delightful dish.
Attention to detail at the new Himalayan Kitchen seems to have paid off. Basmati rice, for example, is exquisite, with every kernel tasting like it was individually cooked. Tandoor-baked breads like naan and paratha are incredibly fresh and wholesome tasting. Even the silverware at this new restaurant is eye-catching. The Himalayas of Nepal is known for its many towering peaks, and Himalayan Kitchen—the new version—hits many high peaks of its own. It’s rare to discover a “new” restaurant that fits like well-worn jeans. New isn’t always better, but in the case of Himalayan Kitchen, new is much better.
360 S. State