You could spend weeks exploring all the shops that hang a shingle on 74th Avenue. But that would be a mistake. You must look behind those shops, where many smaller shops, known by word of mouth only, lie in narrow corridors or down staircases. Lhasa Fast Food is one such shop. To find it, you walk through a doorway between a cell phone store and a hairstylist’s shop, around a stairwell that leads to an Indian clothing shop, and down a hall past an shop selling jewelry and bronze statues of gods. The hallway terminates in a small kitchen under a picture of the Dalai Lama and a red and gold lintel of the kind seen on Tibetan monasteries, with the words “Lhasa Fast Food” painted across the middle. A refrigerator for drinks and a counter-top with a tip jar and a picnic dispenser full of butter tea separates the kitchen from a small dining area.
There are only five tables at Lhasa Fast Food, and it seems as though there are always people standing in the hallway waiting to pick up an order or waiting for tables. A large television over the counter streams Tibetan folk music videos, with Tibetans in traditional chupas swinging the long sleeves around in dance. No one watches the television, though: people are here to enjoy a special treat, and they are absorbed in food or conversation.
Tibetan dancing of the sort you can see if you stay a while at Lhasa Fast Food.
In my view, Lhasa Fast Food is a misleading name. There is nothing very fast about Lhasa Fast Food: everything is made fresh, and when they are busy, and they are always busy, an order can take a while. The first time I went, I ordered beef momos and a tsingmo, and I had plenty of time to watch the cooks—a middle aged man and woman—working at the stove. This is actually worth seeing. Lhasa Fast Food has become famous for its momos—Anthony Bourdain recently visited and sampled them—and the cooks are always preparing orders for several parties, but all of the cooking is done with a small portable electric burner, an electric soup kettle, and a rice cooker. I believe the cooks could take their kitchen on a camping trip. I believe they could take the entire restaurant on a camping trip.
The momos came in a bamboo steamer. They were juicy and piping hot. The meat was chewy, with bits of gristle, and flavored with peppers, chives, and onion. The butter tea did not disappoint.
I went again a few days later, and ordered momo in soup. The soup was spicy and delicious, with cellophane noodles, a leafy green of some kind, and wood ear fungus. The momos were much the same, tasty as usual.
Update June 7, 2017: I made a third visit. This time I tried the thenthuk, a soup supposedly from Amdo but popular all over Tibet. It shared some elements in common with the momo soup I had a few days before. Spinach leaves, boiled beef, hand-pulled noodles, spring onions, and green peppers floated to the top of a mildly spicy broth. Below these were a bed of cellophane noodles.
Lhasa Fast Food
37-50 74th Street, Ste 3750
Jackson Heights, NY 11372