For a quick, cheap, delicious lunch, it's tough to beat a good old-fashioned Indian or Tibetan buffet. Simmering saags, curries, and masalas are all but made for the buffet table. At the best places, abundant all-you-can eat dishes are available by the dozen for little more than 10 bucks.
The Himalayan has long been one of those places. Now they've added a new way to lunch: the fast-casual way.
It's a familiar format for the Chipotle set: Approach the counter, point at the objects of your desire, and the nice people will load up your bowl or your "roll," as they call it here, with an array of toppings (pickles, tomatoes, cilantro, etc.) and sauces (tahini, tamarind, cilantro, chile).
From the standpoint of its location (on campus) and the feel of the interior (bright, airy, colorful), the new location could succeed in drawing in a new, younger customer base who might be unfamiliar with the likes of choyala, momo, and pyazzi.
Main courses include chicken tikka masala, chana masala, palak paneer, and choyala (a tandoor preparation with choice of tofu, chicken, or lamb with garlic and chile enlivened peppers and onions). Ours was delicious and the best dish of the lunch, with chicken tikka being a close second — rich, mild, and comforting.
More complicated dishes like momo and pyazzi (a deep-fried chickpea and onion dumpling) arrive from the kitchen, where a la minute scratch cooking takes place.
Everything we had was fresh and good. I don't know if falafel are really better in a wrap than in a more traditional pita, though you can also choose pita or naan if you wish. Naan is made from scratch and looked delectable.
Two appetizers and two entrees cost about as much as a trip through a buffet for two people would cost ($25), so the price differential is minimal, but of course there are no seconds or thirds, which is probably just as well.
While the cooking is not quite as masterful as it is at the original restaurant, where they claim to employ separate chefs who specialize individually in Nepalese, Tibetan, and Indian cuisine (and we believe them), it's a reasonably close approximation in exchange for the slicker format.
Even if we didn't know and love the original Himalayan, we would consider Himalayan Dinkytown to be superior fast food. We'd eat it over the likes of Chipotle or Noodles & Company all day, every day. But because we can't help but make the comparison, it's hard to decide: newfangled fast-casual or good old fashioned fast-casual?
Both offer lunch that's quick, laid-back, and delicious. Whether you want it on a buffet or in a grab-and-go container depends on how you like it.
And how you like it is your choice alone.
The Himalayan Dinkytown
1415 Fourth St. SE, Minneapolis
2910 E. Lake St., Minneapolis