Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to the East Village to a longtime Queens favorite serving up momos and noodles.
The Lhasa legend began in Jackson Heights, in the mid-2010s, when Tibetan locals and New Yorkers from all over first discovered a tiny momo paradise hidden in the back of a 74th Street arcade, tucked away behind a jeweler, a tailor, and a cell-phone store.
The "secret" didn't last long, of course, especially not after Anthony Bourdain paid a visit in 2017 for his Queens episode of Parts Unknown, but even as the crowds started coming and Lhasa expanded with an additional, larger restaurant in Elmhurst, by all accounts the Himalayan food at both places has remained just as delicious as ever.
Now there's a third Lhasa location, and this time owner and chef Sang Jien Ben has set up shop in Manhattan, on the bustling East Village corner that used to be Little Tong's home. Per pandemic protocols all on-site eating is done outdoors, with room for about 12 well-distanced diners in a comfortable curbside enclosure festooned with Tibetan prayer flags. Takeout and delivery are also available of course, but then you'd miss the handy sectional plates and Lhasa's warm and friendly service.
The Lhasa menu is dominated by Momos, which are fat, round, Tibetan dumplings similar in structure to Chinese baos. They also serve up a variety of noodle dishes, with a few other starters and specials thrown in as well. There are eight varieties of the dumplings from which to choose but, handily enough, you get eight per order, so you can do what I did and eat them all at one go.
Every Momo on my "Lhasa Combo" plate was terrific — perfect texture, packed with flavor, juicy as hell (you will splatter your shirt when you bite into these beauties) — but I think my favorites were probably the Beef and Chive, the Mushroom, the Carrot, and the Chicken. Order with total confidence across the board here, both vegetarian and meat.
The noodle dishes are just as good. Lhasa's Thenthuk, the traditional wide, hand-torn noodle dish, can be prepared for you as a soup, which sounded too steamy to contemplate on a recent warm evening, or as a more weather appropriate stir-fry, a mound of which in my case was studded with tender bits of well-seasoned lamb. My tray of zippy Cold Noodles, ordered with ground beef, was also enormously satisfying.
Blood sausage fans will definitely want a platter of sliced-up Gyuma — it has that somewhat mealy texture and unmistakable mineral tang — and the Sushi Lhamo is just flat-out fun, the sauced-up noodle roll filled with chewy tofu. And while impressively cool and gelatinous, the lineup of jiggly mung bean starch in the Laphing tasted mostly of the raw garlic strewn on top. Just about everything is served with Lhasa's housemade chili sauce, which you should dip in or dab on with abandon for maximum pleasure.
What a win for the East Village, to get one of the city's great Tibetan restaurants. Lhasa is an easy place to love, and it will definitely satisfy your noodle and dumpling desires.
Lhasa is located at 177 First Avenue, at the corner of East 11th Street, and is currently open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and on Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., notably late for the pandemic era (917-388-2230)