On Top of the World at Phayul

The gradual Himalayazation of Jackson Heights, best known for years as an Indian enclave, has produced a Tibetan destination in three-month-old Phayul. What sets this place apart, Polecat reports in a thorough, atmospheric dispatch, is "a complexity of earthy, savory, fragrant and spicy flavors, utilizing ingredients that all taste fresh. This is the kind of food that comes from people who really care about what they're doing."

A marvelous example is the hearty soup called tsak sha la kor. "There's a lot happening in this bowl," he notes—chunks of chewy beef on the bone in a deeply satisfying broth seasoned with red chiles, mountain herbs, and Sichuan peppers, all the flavors beautifully absorbed by slices of daikon radish. It's customarily eaten in winter, but "the heat and herbs have a residual effect that blows a cool breeze through you as well." Phayul's Sichuan connection, most likely explained by Tibet's proximity to the Chinese province, is also evident in phaksha siphen ngoenma, which Polecat describes as a close cousin to Sichuan-style double-cooked pork with one intriguing difference: marinated, spiced black beans that "really make this dish explode." Dofu khatsengoen ma (bean curd with garlic, ginger, and peppers), "so simple yet so beautifully executed," also delivers Sichuan-pepper numbness along with chile heat. Among the more familiar Tibetan specialties, try steamed chicken momos, with fillings that "burst with fragrant, salty and savory flavor"; tingmo, the dense steamed breads perfect for sopping up oils and sauces; and thick, sweet milk tea, the best Polecat's had in the neighborhood.

The owner and staff are gracious and laid-back, he adds, "and you get the feeling immediately that they're in it for the love." Something else lifts Phayul above the competition—literally. Its second-floor location affords a commanding view of the Desi downtown known as 74th Street, Polecat observes, with its "constant crisscross and bustle, the green and rickety elevated on Roosevelt, Delhi Heights, throngs of people, honking horns—a whole world is going on down there."

Phayul [Jackson Heights]
37-65 74th Street (entrance on 37th Road), Jackson Heights, Queens
718-424-1869

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