Editor’s note: The restaurant moved to 2910 East Lake Street, in the Longfellow neighborhood, in 2015.
Lunch buffets don’t get much love from discerning diners. And rightly so, since the food is generally heavy, oily, lukewarm, and bland. Somebody surely coined the term “food coma” after a buffet. How anyone can return to work after gorging on bins of bland lo mein, sticky spaghetti, or gloppy curry is beyond us. But there are exceptions that buck the tasteless trend, and Himalayan Restaurant’s lunch is one.
An unassuming Nepalese restaurant in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis, Himalayan has become a go-to lunch spot because of its excellent buffet ($8.75), which always includes a mix of meat, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. The food is comparatively light, healthy, and, with a few exceptions, very flavorful. Even the blander fare — such as chicken chili, eight bean soup, and stir-fried cabbage and potato — is tasty, and an impressive array of condiments (two chutneys, raita, hot sauce, tamarind sauce, and two types of pickled vegetables) lets diners spice things up.
Even better, though, a handful of truly delicious dishes distinguish Himalayan’s buffet. Pyaazi (above), a vegan and gluten-free fritter made with onions, jalapeños, and chickpea batter, are crispy on the outside, moist on the inside, and damn tasty. Unlike most deep-fried dishes you’ll find at other lunch buffets, Himalayan’s Pyaazi are relatively light and never greasy. The mango chutney and tamarind sauce are perfect complements to these addictive appetizers.
Similarly, the Saag — mustard greens stir-fried with dried chili, garlic, ginger, fennel seed, and fenugreek — is deliciously simple and beautiful. The greens are tender but not overcooked (impressive given that they’re cooked and then kept warm in a hotel pan). Although terrific on its own, Saag pairs wonderfully as a veggie side for the richer entrees.
Of the main courses, two — Palak Tofu (above) and Chicken Choyala — are exceptional. A combination of spinach, cream, and soy in place of the more common Paneer, the Palak Tofu is spot on: rich (but not heavy) with robust, clean flavors. It’s great over rice, and a dash of hot sauce gives both balance and heat to this naturally sweet dish.
The Choyala (above) features boneless chicken marinated overnight, cooked in a tandoori oven, and then stir-fried with tomatoes, red onions, and green bell peppers. The end result is delectable, moist chicken with a nice char. Lemon, chili, and ginger provide acid and spice, and a few spoonfuls of raita make this a dish to come back for.
In our two trips to this humble Nepalese spot, we were struck by the attention given to the lunch buffet. The staff continually replenished and cleaned the food line, eagerly answered questions about preparations, and sought diners’ feedback. At the end of our meal, the owner’s brother proudly invited us to dig into the buffet’s two desserts: a creamy rice pudding (kheer, above right) and a thinner, but much sweeter, mango pudding. This concern for customers and true care for what most restaurants treat like a food slum separates Himalayan from the all-you-can-eat crowd. By offering up tasty, satisfying food that doesn’t leave you calling for a wheelchair, Himalayan shows that not all lunch buffets deserve a bad rep.
(Himalayan Restaurant, 2910 E Lake St, Minneapolis; 612.332.0880)