Like many others I’ve got so many good tips from Chowhound in the past that I’m finally getting round to giving something back
I was working in and around Kathmandu for a couple of months recently (autumn 2010) and found, to my horror, that there was no Chowhound guidance out there, or at least v little. Luckily the agents that I was working with were dedicated foodies themselves and gave me loads of good recommendations, so to help anyone who is heading that way, here’s a list of places I ate at and enjoyed during my time in Kathmandu. You’ll see there was hardly anything that I didn't enjoy, so either I was lucky thanks to the guidance of my friends and colleagues there, or perhaps I just like food to much to be critical. The list is by no means exhaustive, especially since there are enough restaurants in Thamel alone to eat in a new place virtually every night for a good few weeks, if not months. Thamel is the tourist center of Kathmandu and has restaurants featuring just about every cuisine you could possibly want and standards generally seem to be v good so you shouldn’t feel the pressure to ‘eat local’ there, if you want to do that it’s probably best to look outside Thamel and ask around.
When in Kathmandu I was staying in Lazimpat, just north of Thamel, and there are a few of good choices in that neck of the woods:
For Nepalese food – Bhumi is a restaurant and bar up beyond the Canadian Embassy in Lazimpat on the right hand side as you head north. It was here that I had the best momo of my time in Nepal – chicken momo, delicious filling and rich juices trapped inside the parcel (reminds me of Din Tai Fung in Sydney – ah, so delicious), unfortunately this was all I got to try as it was closed for a festival next time I returned but their menu was v Nepalese and if the momo were anything to go by the rest should be good. Nice low key environment, some tables, some comfortable chairs, some outside seating. Off the tourist trail.
Also up this way was Tushita which had a mix of continental and local dishes, incl decent momo (my benchmark) though I did have a v strange ‘pasta with mushroom, bacon and cream sauce’ there. The cream sauce transpired to be 1/2 inch or so of oil at the bottom of the bowl, so the waiter explained when I enquired. But otherwise it was tasty, and you must always be prepared for ‘surprises’ when ordering non-local food. Also a nice environment, intimate feel, lots of big glass windows yet low lighting keeps it cosy even on dark cold evenings.
Bawarchi, the Indian restaurant at the entrance of the driveway to the Shanker Hotel in Lazimpat has a giant menu and v tasty food in big portions. Coffee express on the nearby corner does decent continental food, sandwiches, pastas etc as well as good coffee.
On Durbar Marg I went to Nanglo’s which advertises itself as a pub, and has the look of it from the street, but upstairs has a very good (so I’m told) and busy restaurant specialising in grilled meats. I sampled the momo which were good (though not as good a Bhumi) and unfortunately couldn’t manage anything else since I was eating alone. A pity as it looked great.
Koto is a Japanese restaurant also on Durbar Marg which has apparently been there for a v long time. It serves all the usual suspects, all very well prepared. I went there twice and nothing was less than good. Tempura batter was very good. I had a don buri katsu which used good quality pork, which is not always a given (I learned in Kru thai).
I was taken to the Chinese restaurant at the top of the Royal Singi hotel just off Durbar Marg and thought the food was excellent – especially the dry chilli chicken. I went there twice, 2nd time specifically to have some more dry chilli chicken.
I wish I’d had the time coinciding with the hunger to indulge in the buffet (lunch or dinner) in the Yak and Yeti Hotel – the one time I looked in the spread looked fantastic (perfect beef wellington so it appeared, wonderful cheeses, desserts, the lot). Costs 1050rps + 23% taxes (only 50rps cheaper at lunch I think), so you need to be hungry to make the most of it. I also checked out the buffet in the Radisson in Lazimpat which costs the same but looked very mediocre in comparison.
In Thamel itself I didn’t eat as often as I thought I would so I can’t give so many pointers. The Northfields café was good on the couple of occasions I ate there. Momo pretty good. I ate a spag bol in La Dolce Vita cos I was in the mood and that was surprisingly good, but as I say, I was in the mood (and they left the parmesan cheese under my control, always a bonus). Kru Thai was just ok, but my foodie friends later told me that YingYang is much better for thai food. Everyone raves about the pizzas at Fire and Ice, but I was underwhelmed. Perhaps I chose wrong – a pizza with aubergine as that’s my favourite vegetable, but I found both the sauce and the grilled aubergine to be underseasoned and hence a bit on the tasteless side. It couldn’t even be saved by their chilli oil which had no hit to it. A hot and busy restaurant. I would liked to have tried the pizzas at the Roadhouse as they looked good but I never had the chance. I did have a good salad there though.
Kilroys in Thamel is a favourite for groups and has had the same menu for a long time (don’t think it had changed since I was there in 2005) but they still crank out good food, whether you get continental or Indian/local style. I am addicted to the tomato mozzarella with coriander pesto tart tatin there. The risotto is tasty if you you like your risottos very soupy. Butter chicken excellent. The desserts are divine. Try the cappuccino crème brulee – not like the usual creme brulee with the crispy top, but don’t be disappointed as it’s delicious. The other nice thing about Kilroys is that they have good wine, by the glass and bottle – hard to find generally.
Café Mitra a bit down the road from Kilroys (or the street parallel, I forget, it’s marked on most maps) is seriously pricey but seriously good – at least the panko-encrusted goats cheese on salad I had was, perfectly cooked, decent size and rich but not too sharp goats cheese (got to laugh as to why I am eating things encrusted with panko in Nepal of all places, but like I say, you can get everything in Kathmandu!). The menu was full of interesting dishes.
The Bakery Café underneath Himalayan Java is a winner for cheap meals – the masala dosa for about 150rps ($2) is delicious, with a fabulously tasty dryish potato curry inside with lots of mustard seeds (I think they were) and the usual spicy veg curry and coconut condiment on the side. Freshly prepared dosa, perfectly crisp at the edges. It was so good I had this just about every time I went there and wish I’d gone more. However, unfortunately their veg momo were nothing to write home about and look a little bedraggled. Good lassis. Nice staff.
I didn’t eat in the restaurant or café inside the Garden of Dreams (on the Royal Palace side of Thamel) but the garden itself is a lovely location and I’ve heard that the food is good.
For a more touristic experience with ‘Nepali’ cuisine I’d recommend Thamel House for the food. I’m not into the dance shows personally, but if you sit upstairs on the balcony or even inside then it’s not too distracting, or out in the garden if you want to witness it close up. I don’t know whether the ‘wild boar’ they serve is the real thing or not, but nevertheless I liked it a lot. Also the roasted soy beans with ginger, coriander and some spices that they serve as a starter in the set menu are lovely. Their roast potatoes may not be typically nepali but are also v v tasty. Wunjala Moskva also has v good food and a touristic dance show. I never ate at Nepali Chulo in Lazimpat because I looked in and thought it looked too contrived, and indeed, some friends that went there did not enjoy the food or the ambience.
Further afield -
I went to Mike’s Breakfast in Naxal which is a Kathmandu institution apparently – a bit difficult to find on foot the first time, but it’s actually only a few mins walk from the back of the Royal Palace once you know where you’re going (on the far side of the palace from Thamel, take the v narrow passageway next to a building under construction - late 2010 - just close to the ‘UK visa processing center’, turn right at the end, and then 1st left onto a road with no pavement with cars coming one way towards you, this road curves up and around to the R and it’s just up there on the RHS – hope this helps! Or get a taxi). I am an eggs Benedict fan so wanted to treat myself early one morning. They came looking frightening and my heart sank – hard looking eggs, luminously yellow, perhaps even with a touch of green, dull hollandaise with a hint of a skin on and no shine to it, speckled like it had vanilla seeds in, but at least it was served if I remember correctly (it was some weeks ago now) on a muffin of sorts (the way it should be in my books). Actually, the taste was much better than the looks and the yolks did run, and the hollandaise did not taste of vanilla although I’m not sure what it did taste of to be honest. I didn’t make a point of going back there, but it would do the job if you were in the mood. Lots of other choices on their menu. Nice walled garden to sit in and it would be peaceful if they weren’t building a new block of offices close by, but still worth the effort I’d say.
Chez Caroline in the strangely titled ‘Baba Mahal Revisited’ (a low rise whitewashed boutique shopping ‘center’) was an absolute winner, when you’re momo-ed out. Undeniably expensive by local standards but with fantastic food. It seems to be frequented by expat wives, NGO workers as well as local businessmen. Surprisingly large French menu. Wonderful salads (apple, walnut and goats cheese was excellent) and I also ate a superb onion tart which was served with 3 small unusual salads on the side as well as a bowl of green leaves. You also get a basket of varied breads and decent olive oil and balsamic vinegar when you order so in spite of the steep prices (for those like me on a budget), you come away feeling satisfied. Great lemon tart too – lots of desserts to choose from.
For coffee –
In Lazimpat, Coffee Express on the corner of the road that heads north into Lazimpat just opposite the royal palace does good coffee (Illy), further up the road into Lazimpat the blue note café on the corner by the turn to the Radisson hotel also does good coffee (Lavazza). Both have free wifi. In Thamel Himalayan Java also does good coffee (but charges for its wifi).
I hope this helps anyone who’s heading that way and that Kathmandu will get the CH recognition it deserves!