Ah, the majestic Himalayas: home to Mt. Everest, the Dalai Lama and Brad Pitt's terrible accent. As it turns out, it's also home to delicious food, some with the more-familiar flavors of India and the-less-well-known contributions of Tibet and Nepal. Fortunately, there's a little pocket of exotic tucked inside a forgettable strip mall in La Mesa (often referred to as “The Himalayas of San Diego County”). Between a 99 Cent Store and a bursting pot of bougainvillea sits the generically named Himalayan Cuisine.
Upon entering the modest dining room, you'll be greeted with a friendly “Namaste” by the brightly attired staff, complete with traditional Nepalese hat, or dhaka topi. Dimly lit with paper lanterns and adorned with glittering images from a far-off land, the interior feels like a world away from the Discount Dance Supply and El Torito just outside.
The menu is ample and well-rounded, with plenty for adventurous eaters, as well as recognizable flavors like Chicken Tikka or Lamb Vindaloo for those who feel more comfortable with a dining sherpa guiding their choices.
I have a weakness for dumplings; it tickles me to no end that every culture has them in some form. It seems like the key to world peace should lie somewhere within a dumpling. Let's work on that. Anyhow, Nepal and Tibet are no exception, bringing to the table their fantastically named version, called momo.
The momo are steamed, not fried, so the dumpling skin has a translucent, stretchy quality that's so satisfying to the tooth. Your choice of filling—ground lamb, chicken or vegetables—is boldly spiced and blended with finely minced onion and cilantro. The fabulous filling is then twisted into a golf-ball-size pouch of yum. Douse those bad boys in the “special Himalayan sauce,” a creamy, ochre-colored concoction delicately flavored with curry and all sorts of other spices that give it a depth and tanginess that will have you pouring it all over your rice.
Another menu standout is the biryani dishes that come in heaping servings. I tried the chicken biryani, delivered as an enormous pile of confetti-colored rice with healthy chunks of tender and steaming thigh meat tucked among the grains. Cilantro and shredded carrots brighten the dish, and tiny tendrils of caramelized onion offer unexpected moments of sweetness.
As with most Indian (or Indian-adjacent) restaurants, there are plenty of options for the vegetarians. Mr. City Eat is unabashedly carnivorous, to the point that he insists it's a job requirement, so I don't get to cook many veggie-friendly meals at home. Himalayan Cuisine might make a believer out of even the staunchest meat eater, particularly if you're cheese-obsessed like our household. Don't miss the Paneer Tikka Masala: spongy chunks of salty, homemade cheese drenched in a warm and bright sauce, spooned over rice.
Though the location is easy to miss, the secret of this little treasure has happily reached enough people that Himalayan Cuisine is expanding into the space next door. The larger dining room will have dozens more seats and, according to signage, will even include a Himalayan Bazaar.
Put down your copy of Into Thin Air and head over to La Mesa for an authentic taste of a mysterious corner of our world. No hypothermia required.