A friend and I went to check the situation over at the new Tibetan shop on 37th Road this afternoon and everybody’s eating soup! My associate ordered the beef noodles, then I saw the man pushing pieces of dough into a boiling broth-filled wok. And even though I just ate lunch, I had to have a course or two. So we sat down.
And it’s such an improvement from the run-of-the-mill steam tables of the former restaurant. These woks the new tenants brought in assert their right to be here. The fire, the smoke and steam tearing off the layer of blah from what was once just the rear end take-out joint of Shangri-La.
It’s a small kitchen beside you as you walk in with some prep also taking place in the basement. The man behind the counter has a cool, and possibly edgy, command over the wok, while one of the ladies helps with the steamers and boiling pots further inside the galley, and also handles the orders and phones. It’s a short menu of 19 items, with the steam table currently only about half-filled with 3 or 4 trays at a time. And looking at the steam tables is sad, yes, those 3 trays, but they seem like they could hold their own. I didn’t hear any apologizing. It remains to be tasted…
Opposite the kitchen, the dining room is only 4 or 5 tables. Like Merit Farms, it’s getting popular in here. Demand for Himalayan food is clearly growing fast, so we ended up sharing a table with an enthusiastic young man of Tibetan descent. I asked him if this is the best place for soup, and he laughed and nodded like I would probably do if he asked me a question in Tibetan. I believed him nonetheless. All this under one of the coolest pictures of the Dalai Lama in existence. I’m still not sure if it’s there tongue-in-cheek, or if they just are comfortable that he is a really cool guy.
The momos, which are probably the most accessible Tibetan food to the American palate because of their familiar shape (a dumpling), tasted like meatballs inside a thick, doughy shell. Not dissimilar to any other dumpling of another country; slight tweaks could make this Polish or Italian or German. The sauce on the table was chilis in oil, the same as you’d find in Lao Beng Fang, but brighter red. In other momos, I’ve seen them accompanied with a thick, hot sauce that left a tingling, even numbing feeling to my mouth. These seemed more comfortable and even familar on my tongue. I have no evidence and I didn’t ask questions this far, but I would be very surprised if these were frozen and not made by a delightful, older lady in the basement.
But the thentuk is what really took me. It was what I saw the cook making as we came in. The little pitches of dough, thick and slightly chewy, tucked inside an opaque broth. Thentuk translates to Pull Noodles and is justifiably the winter meal of choice in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet. Here, it shows fresh, bright colors with it’s bok choy and heavy darks on the pieces of beef, along with hints of other vegetables and even an as-of-yet unidentified fruit. Dig deep into the utensil jar for the big spoon unique to the Eastern world, which lassos the ingredients here dutifully.
Now there’s no need to go to Elmhurst for that fresh noodle craving. This is nearly on par with Lao Bei Fang, and because this restaurant is new, the grease isn’t caked on the chili bowls. No longer do we have to put up with the waste bucket of remains. No more punk kids disrupting our chow. It’s now Tibet. And LBF, a little vinegar will help clean those bowls, by the way.
I keep hearing people downing Tibetan food, saying they aren’t known for their cuisine for a reason. I’ve disagreed before, but only recently am I gaining backup. And it’s not coming anymore, it’s here. 37th Road has 4 Tibetan restaurants and the surrounding 2-block radius has at least 5 others. It’s here and it’s becoming legit. I think the only question that remains is: What are we going to call it?
Lhasa Fast Food
74-14 37th Rd
Jackson Heights, NY