I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that most people in the Triangle have never tasted momo. How could they, you might reasonably argue, unless they’ve traveled to the Himalayas, where the savory filled dumplings are a native specialty? Or maybe New York, where you can find a restaurant serving just about any cuisine you can name?
Well, if you haven’t, and you call yourself a foodie, it’s about time to fix that. Believe it or not, we’ve been able to score momo locally since 2014, when the Nepalese restaurant trend began to take off in the Triangle.
OK, “take off” may be overstating the case a bit. The number of Nepalese restaurants in the area has grown from zero to five in the past five years but, admittedly, that number pales in comparison to red hot trends like poke bars and ramen noodle shops. But Nepalese cuisine is worth taking notice of in its own right.
The newest entry on the scene is Kathmandu Kitchen, which opened last summer in Cary (where, not surprisingly, four of the five Nepalese restaurants are located). And it’s a prime destination for anyone wanting to explore the cuisine.
Whether you’re a novice or a native of Nepal (like the restaurant’s owners and chef), you’ll want to begin your expedition with momo. Kathmandu Kitchen offers three made-to-order versions: classic steamed, served with two dipping sauces (one spicy, one mild); johl momo, which serves up the dumplings in a fragrant, turmeric-and-tomato tinged broth; and C-Momo, which is chili-covered momo. The C-Momo was introduced recently, so I haven’t sampled it yet. But you won’t go wrong with the two I have tasted.
Nor will either filling option let you down: gently seasoned chicken, or a flavorful hash of cabbage, spring onion and cilantro. If you’re torn, rest assured you won’t be the first to order more than one variation on the momo theme in the same meal.
Good as they are, momo are by no means the only reason to make the journey to Kathmandu. You’ll surely want to include thukpa, Nepal’s answer to ramen noodle soup, on your itinerary. And as long as you’re in noodle territory, you might take a little side excursion to Himalayan chow mein, whose subtle flavor notes (gentle spicing is characteristic of Nepalese cuisine) reflect a blend of Chinese and northern Indian influences.
Given the cultural overlap with Nepal’s neighbor to the south, it will come as no surprise that the names of most dishes on the menu at Kathmandu Kitchen will be familiar territory to any fan of Indian cuisine. Exemplary samosas — flaky-blistery pyramids of pastry filled with a cumin-scented melange of potatoes and peas — are a standout on an appetizer list that also includes perennial favorites such as mixed vegetable pakoras, chili chicken, and samosa chaat. Amritsari fish, lightly battered nuggets of fried tilapia served with mint-cilantro chutney, are not as commonly seen, but well worth a detour.
The tandoor oven turns out a temptingly varied selection of proteins, including a couple of surprises (among them Achari chicken tikka, featuring pickled boneless chicken cubes) in addition to the usual suspects. Tandoori duck breast, dusted with aromatic spices (including red chilis and black pepper), offers a welcome detour off the mildly seasoned main road of Nepalese cuisine.
Curries are also well-represented, by and large, though a recent order of Malabar shrimp curry netted a meager haul of its namesake shellfish. Himalayan chicken curry delivers generously on its promise, on the other hand, as does a seasonal vegetable medley in a tomato-brightened curry.
The veggie curry is just one savory bit of evidence that vegetarian fare is a strong suit here. The spicing in Himalayan bhindi masala is more nuanced than in most Indian renditions of this medley of okra, tomatoes and onions, but the dish is every bit as satisfying. Chana masala (chickpeas in a tomato-and-onion sauce), dal makhani (black lentils and kidney beans) and aloo gobi (cauliflower and potatoes) are all winning options.
And if you don’t object to a little meat in the mix, the house paneer offers your choice of chicken or goat (watch for bones) in a dish that is 90 percent addictively creamy spinach.
Kathmandu Kitchen is a modestly furnished but cheerily welcoming place, with colorful Himalayan landscapes on turmeric-yellow walls. Like many local eateries specializing in traditional Asian cuisines, it’s located in a Cary strip mall — a location that no doubt is a factor in their under-the-radar status. Location notwithstanding, Kathmandu Kitchen deserves a blip on the local radar screen.
Nepalese/Himalayan Restaurant Timeline
March 2007 — Durbar 84, Durham (now closed)
January 2014 — Kabab and Curry, Raleigh
April 2014 — Himalayan Nepali Cuisine, Cary
April 2016 — Himalayan Range, Cary
April 2018 — Everest Nepali Kitchen, Cary
August 2018 — Kathmandu Kitchen, Cary
1275 NW Maynard Road, Cary
Rating: 3 stars
Atmosphere: casual, cheery
Noise level: low
Service: slow but eager to please
Recommended: momo (all variations), samosas, Amritsara fish, tandoori duck breast, house palak
Open: Lunch and dinner Wednesday-Monday.
Other: full bar; accommodates children; excellent vegetarian selection; parking in lot.
The N&O’s critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories: 5 stars: Extraordinary. 4 stars: Excellent. 3 stars: Above average. 2 stars: Average. 1 star: Fair.
The dollar signs defined: $ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $20. $$$ Entrees $21 to $30. $$$$ Entrees more than $30.