Located in the Olympic Center shopping strip directly off of Hillcroft and Southwest Freeway, right at the Mahatma Gandhi District, Himalaya Restaurant & Catering is perched atop a mountain of its own sage prestige. Open since 2004, the restaurant remains unassuming, even with its walls decked in great professional reviews.
“We believe in cooking fresh food, good food, from the heart, no shortcuts, no buffets, no prepackaged spices, just good quality food,” said Himalaya Restaurant & Catering owner and chef Kaiser Lashkari. “Um… what else would you like to know?”
One big accolade comes from Anthony Bourdain having enjoyingly eaten at Himalaya in his most recent TV show filming in the Greater Houston area. Though, Bourdain didn’t speak to Lashkari on film, so, here we are giving him the press and gravy that his delicious fusion Pakistani cuisine deserves.
“It is a labor of love, and cooking involves hard work and a lot of discipline, and the minute you start taking shortcuts, the quality of food goes down,” said Lashkari. “We do things the right way, the way that they’re supposed to be done… If something is not worth selling, I’ll never sell it.”
Lashkari is always excited to discuss his work and creations with anyone who is interested in his food. I was interested. Hey, I was at the restaurant with a riesling. The restaurant is BYOB.
Upon my arrival, savory-sweet vegetable samosas, fragrant naan bread, and the tremendously fragrant lunch special foods were quickly served. Himalaya’s lunch special comes in a classic cafeteria lunch tray. The lunch special changes daily.
The lunch special I encountered consisted of a wonderful variety of spicy, earthy, tangy, and melt-in-your-mouth buttery-smooth tastes. The lightly seasoned rice fit perfectly as a base, or on its own. Layered were also flavors of Mexican cuisine with use of cilantro, cumin, and tamarind. Lashkari explains that there are similarities between the cuisines.
The naan was perfect for eating with the entirety of the lunch special, really. I could of gladly had the lunch special all dumped onto the naan, and then mixed together and fashioned into gloriously stuffed burrito/wrap, and then shoved into my mouth as quickly as possible. The food was very, very good.
Himalaya’s decor is both humble and colorful. I noticed a painting hung in the back of the room that seemed maybe out of place. The painting depicts what seems to be an open air market somewhere in Latin America. Next to the painting hangs Islamic script. I asked about this decor.
“This here used to be a Mexican restaurant, then a Colombian restaurant, and when it was Colombian, we took over, and this picture was there, so. It has a picture of the cross in it, and in our culture, it’s considered disrespectful to remove a picture which has a cross in it because Christianity is considered to be one of the biggest religions of the world by Islam, so that’s why we never removed the cross. It’s very colorful, and the picture is very colorful,” said Lashkari.
So there I was, in a Pakistani-Indian restaurant that is wearing Houston’s best face. The food is all-deserving of success throughout the Mahatma Gandhi District, and Greater Houston. Better yet, Lashkari is a University of Houston graduate with a major in Hotel and Restaurant Management.
“My professor at the Hilton College, Dr. Waskey… He got a medal from the queen of England for his cooking. He was very, very gifted. He passed away. But, anyway, one of the biggest, greatest influences on my cooking life is Dr. Waskey,” said Lashkari.
We talked about the fairness of online reviews. Lashkari told me, “Myself and Anthony Bourdain are on the same page about Yelp… We don’t much care about Yelp. I don’t give a damn about, about, you know, if some disgruntled person threatens they’re going to put a bad review on the Yelp for you. I say to go do it.”
Lashkari’s own “Mango Tres Leaches” was served for dessert. This fusion creation uses coconut and mango puree. It wasn’t drowning in milk, nor was it at all dry. It was just right.
After eating my exquisite lunch, I took two nervously excited sips of riesling wine, I put my damned glass down, and I asked Lashkari about drink pairings.
“After a meal, lassi will cool you down because it is made from nothing but yogurt and milk. Lassi settles your system from all the spices, all the heat that’s generated in your system by the spices. Plus, the yogurt has the best probiotics,” he said.
Lashkari added, “Oh! And for especially my chicken tandoori chowder, beer would go very well with it. Any, any beer except light beer would do well… wines are also very good, with anything. Wines are very good… Hey, bottoms up! You brought this and you barely took two sips.”
At Himalaya, there is no steam table or buffet. Of course different requests may be made for catering but at the restaurant itself there is just fresh food made and plated in their kitchen only. The place is BYOB because they want to focus on the food.
“My favorite part about working in a restaurant, the most joy, is to put a smile on the customer’s’ face when they eat a good meal,” said Lashkari.
On my way out, I was handed a container of gulab jamun, a sweet, sweet dessert made of dry milk balls and rose syrup. Lashkari recommended I pair this dessert with black coffee, and it was amazing. I had some for breakfast the next morning, too.