Phayul does not try to impress with Tibet-themed décor. There is no décor—save for the plants in the windowsills. Phayul seems to celebrate the precious little space it has by keeping it clear and uncluttered. And indeed, despite the fact that the tiny kitchen shares the room with the five or six dining tables (being separated only by a counter), Phayul feels open and airy, with evening light streaming through the windows. It is on the second floor, and the windows overlook the busy pedestrian mall beneath (yes, you must find the doorway tucked away between storefronts and climb a flight of stairs to find the restaurant).
The menu here is more tightly focused than the menu at Himalayan Yak a few blocks away. This is Tibetan food. I had read that some of the dishes are from Kham and some from Amdo and other regions of Tibet; the menu does not identify dishes by region, but I ordered a soup (tsak sha la kor) that I had read is from Kham. (I asked the owner of the shop if this was true. “The herbs are from the mountains in Tibet, yes. Mountain herbs. The daikon also is from Tibet.” The answer, if not what I was looking for, was interesting.) I also, of course, ordered momos (but this time fried).
The soup came first. It tasted much as it looked, creamy with an herbal flavor; but it had a wonderfully warming spicy kick. Under the mountain of daikons at the top, hunks of bone and rough-cut meat steeped in the broth.
The momos, when they came, were a surprise to me: they had been deep fried, and their shells crumbled as I bit into them. The meat within was richly flavored with onion and peppers. The owner encouraged me to dip them in a mixture of hot sauces and soysauce. “But only a little!” she added gravely. “Be careful” Indeed, I was soon weeping over my meal.
Where Himalayan Yak had served several large parties and many couples out for a date, Phayul seemed to attract more casual diners, almost all of them Tibetan. A couple of young Tibetan men followed me into the restaurant, chatted with the cooks briefly (three women and one man, all middle aged Tibetans), then ate quickly and left. There were several more groups of young Tibetans, as well as a couple of small families. The restaurant does not seem to need patronage from outsiders like me. Through the window, I could see a Tibetan food truck named Amdo Food Kitchen—clearly aiming for someone who could readily distinguish Amdo cuisine from Kham cuisine. Evidently, there are enough prosperous Tibetans in this area to support a lively culinary scene.
The Tibetan Butter Tea, like everything else at Phayul, favored substance over appearances. It was handed to me in a paper cup.
Update: second visit on 29 May 2017
Tonight I returned and tried the chele katsa—apparently one of Phayul’s most popular dishes. Chele katsa is sliced beef tongue fried in green and red peppers, spring onions, garlic, and chilies. The meat is flavorful, and combines perfectly with the peppers.
I also tried the thenthuk. This is a soup with pulled noodles (flat and wide), boiled beef, and spinach. It is surprisingly mild, but the waitress hesitatingly suggested adding chili sauce (“it is very hot,” she said, with knitted brows). The soup came to life.
Phayul was busy tonight, and there were people waiting by the door for a table nearly the whole time I was there. The food is good at any hour, but I recommend going early when you can enjoy the space to yourself and when the sunlight fills the windows.
37-65 74th St, 2nd Floor
Jackson Heights, NY 11372
10:30am-10:30pm every day