Leave the Pizza, Take the Nepali

At Woodside Cafe in Queens, you might spot a pizza languishing in the window. Ignore it. This mom-and-pop eatery, whose chef reportedly cooked for years in an Italian restaurant, is all about Nepali cooking, CitySpoonful says—specifically Kathmandu-style Newari dishes, spicier than those from other parts of Nepal like the Chowhound discoveries from the Mustang region. She says the kitchen cranks up the chile fire in specialties like haku choila, a cold appetizer of spicy, flavorful grilled beef. But it'll bring on the heat across the board when asked to, even by the only party of non-Nepalis in the house.

Overall, the flavors are broadly reminiscent of north India with some surprises—for example, a free hand with mustard oil. This ingredient, usually associated with Bengali cooking, asserts itself in musya palu, an addictively delicious starter of soybeans with fragrant raw ginger. There's an irresistible play of flavors and textures in some of the best dishes, like samay baji. This is a platter of roasted, flattened rice grains with a half-dozen savory accompaniments that are by turns mild (lightly seasoned sautéed greens), soft (curried potato), salty (those stellar soybeans with ginger), firm and meaty (black chickpeas and black-eyed peas), and crunchy (a terrific radish pickle flavored with sesame oil and Indian spices). The sum of all these parts is "a completely satisfying food-sensory experience." Perched atop the plate is "a palm-size disc of fried-lentil awesomeness" called woh, which is perfectly crisp outside and soft and flavorful inside. Another winning order is steamed or pan-fried momos, filled with vegetables or meat and served with fiery red chile sauce and a tangy, tomatoey yellow chutney. The pan-fried veg dumplings are "juicy and soft, with a mega-flavorful filling," CitySpoonful says.

For a sampler of Newari bites, try one of the thalis—combo meals of mostly vegetarian dishes plus rice, available with or without meat. The runaway hit of CitySpoonful's vegetable thali was the split urad dal that came on the side. It was everything a dal should be but never is in New York restaurants: subtly flavored with onion, tomato, ginger, garlic, cumin, and other spices, with "no heavy cream or other rich flavor shortcuts!" The rest of the thali—a cauliflower curry, kidney beans in spicy tomato sauce, more of the sautéed greens and radish pickle—was all light, simple, and homey, if not revelatory. But the meal as a whole was smartly balanced, she adds, and "when I abandoned my inhibitions and used my hands to mix a bit of rice with the dal or yogurt and then mashed in a bit of one or another vegetable, I got something really satisfying. In this case, the sum was greater than its parts."

Woodside Cafe [Woodside]
64-23 Broadway (at 65th Street), Woodside, Queens
347-642-3445

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