A Himalayan dumpling shop, in Meridian, in a business complex on Eagle Road?
I had no preconceptions, no idea what to expect, on my first visit to MoMo Food of the Himalayas.
The restaurant will not pull you in from the main thoroughfare you have to look for it, tucked into the elbow of the same strip as Buffalo Wild Wings and Smashburger. Even then, the glass storefront and high-ceilinged, airy space do not suggest anything exotic. The room is physically and spatially clean, white and stainless steel and lime, the kind of place where youd expect wheatgrass growing behind the counter. There is no TV, which seems like something I would never have to mention in a review. But as my wife and I watched dozens of people walk right past MoMo to Wild Wings, making quizzical glances our way, we realized how spiritually different this restaurant is than anything else around it.
That spirit comes in the form of the owners, two Nepalese cousins and their wives whose friendliness and zeal immediately reassure you that you have found something special. This is counter service, which gives you the chance to see everything including the open kitchen, where everything is made from scratch and for the staff to talk you through the ordering process.
A momo itself is a dumpling ($6.99 for a full order of 10, $3.99 for half), wrapped in a wonton skin twisted at the top, and steamed similar to Chinese shu mai, if a little less springy. These are filled with shredded cabbage, onions, and your choice of ground turkey, pork, or vegetables (though in Nepal, yak meat is also traditional, we were told). Here, though, they are topped with a smooth, savory, roasted tomato-ginger sauce, served mild or spicy, closer to Indian curry than anything else, but unweighted by butter, bright and alive. The three variations of fillings dont taste especially dissimilar, which is fine. They are all delicious.
On both occasions, my wife and I ordered momos as part of a Combo Confession, with a rice bowl. The Makhani Meatballs version ($6.99 on its own; same price for a combo with momos) has a creamier tomato sauce and turkey meatballs, served on your choice of perfectly cooked brown or saffron basmati rice, with uncommonly good turmeric-tinged black-eyed peas, and garnished with a chopped baby carrot, celery, corn, and bell-pepper salad. The Everest rice bowl (also $6.99) is seasoned ground turkey with the same accoutrements. We also liked the chicken salad ($5.99), with shredded chicken curry on lettuce with apple, and unexpectedly welcome dried cranberries. Save room for a samosa a fried pastry of potatoes and cabbage, served with a tangy sauce of soy, orange, honey and brown sugar with chili flakes.
The team at MoMo has already won a loyal following at festivals and the Capital City Market, and it is easy to root for them. On our first visit, no less than five people came out from behind the counter to ask us how we liked our food and answer questions. From people less genuine, this could grate. Here, right away, we appreciated where it came from; they care what you think.
They are remarkably transparent the website has pictures and lots of details, including a Feelings Board. Often chefs (and always corporate restaurateurs) are cagey about what they serve, but when I asked Raj, one of the owners, about how he made a particular sauce, at first his face grew grim. This is a highly guarded secret, he said seriously, and I nodded along, and then he instantly broke into a laugh before telling me every ingredient and every step of his recipe. When was the last time you ate out and the owners of the restaurant seemed like they were having fun, much less with you?
All of the charm would be for nothing if the food didnt come through. It does, certainly in novelty, but also in value entrees are all less than $7. Most unusually, MoMo is health-conscious, which thrums below the surface of everything here. Youd like to imagine what this would be like in Nepal, with ingredients unique to their region. But I am deeply appreciative of what it is. You will see me walking past the corporate chains to get more momos.
Alex Kiesig: firstname.lastname@example.org