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Jul 10, 2011 07:04 PM

Phayul - The new Jackson Heights Tibetan with a view

Prior to visiting Phayul, I hadn't imagined there could be a better view than that afforded by Deccan Kebab (which is just next door). Those who have been lucky enough to lasso a window seat at that Hyperabadi joint have been able to peer straight up 37th Avenue upon the Eagle Theatre's rapidly decaying awning. Phayul, though, affords a second floor view of 74th Street's constant criss cross and bustle, the green and rickety elevated on Roosevelt, Delhi Heights, throngs of people, honking horns - a whole world is going on down there.

Inside, though, Phayul has a quiet, relaxed, spacious, clean and quiet feng shui, with an open- aired kitchen, a beatific photo of the Dalai Lama on the high wall behind the cash register and beautiful old black and white photos of Tibet on the opposite wall. Although not a big or fancy place - it shares a second floor landing backed by a beauty salon - Phayul is like entering another world, a place where you can sit, chill out, have some elbow room and, most importantly, eat some seriously good food.

The menu is divided between Chinese-leaning dishes with a twist and more nuts-and-bolts Tibetan offerings; what the best dishes have in common 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.

In three visits, here's what I've had so far:

Phaksha Siphen Ngoenma (sliced pork with leeks and green peppers) - This was recommended by the waitress on my first visit when I asked about the more spicy offerings. This dish is a close cousin to the Sichuan dish, Double Cooked pork. It's almost identical except for one main difference: these guys use a marinated and spiced black bean - they sort of look like little flies - that really make this dish explode. It's got more pure flavor, and perhaps less spice, than its' Sichuan inspiration. Highly recommended.

Tsak Sha La Kor Hot - Though not described as such on the menu, this is a soup. The main ingredient is bone-on chunks of beef, supported by huge radish slices, chopped scallions and long, deep-red peppers. The broth is fantastic - it's flavors a combination of spice and mountain herbs. It is also lent an everslight sweetness. I'm usually not the biggest fan of radishes, but these muthers both lend and absorb flavor beautifully. The beef is chewy and lends its' fat and juices. There's a lot happening in this bowl, but perhaps the best part is what lays waiting at the bottom of the bowl - Sichuan peppercorns. The lead chef/proprietor explained that this is one of the more traditional Tibetan menu offerings, and that it's generally eaten in winter. That said, this is less heavy than, say, Thenthuk, and the heat and herbs have a residual effect that blows a cool breeze through you as well. This is probably my favorite dish here thus far.

Chicken Momos (Tibetan-style steamed dumplings) - These round, dense little orbs have thick, firm skins, with fillings that burst with fragrant, salty and savory flavor. I look forward to trying the beef version, and would gladly get these again. There's 8 to an order.

Lhasa Fried Noodle - These were spied, during my first two visits, on every other table. The wife and I are noodle fanatics, so ordering this dish was inevitable. It's lo mein with beef, scallions, green and red peppers. Nice spicy kick. The problem I've had with most Lo Mein dishes is that they tend to be overly greasy; not the case here. This was solidly good all around - another dish I'd be happy to get again.

Dofu Khatse Ngoen Ma (Tofu with garlic, ginger, spring onions, long red peppers) - The "Ma", I'm guessing, alludes to the Sichuan nature of this dish. This had a lot of similarities to the sliced pork and leek dish mentioned above, which I got on a previous visit. Although one doesn't exactly cancel out the other - there are some differences - I wouldn't order them both in the same meal. If I had to choose, I'd go with this one. The garlic chunks make the difference, and the tofu has the perfect level of firmness. This is another deeply flavored dish that is so simple yet so beautifully executed.

Tingmo (steamed Tibetan bread) - I love this stuff. I could eat it all day. It's a dense, steamed bread about the size of a Nerf football. In all its' wonderful twists and turns, it looks like something out of a surrealist painting - think Magritte or a cheesy UFO from a 50's B-movie. It's perfect for this food as you can tear off pieces and sop up various oils or sauces with it. Think of it as the Tibetan bagel. These guys do a good job with it, but I'm not sure they make them fresh all day. The earlier you get there, the better a chance there is that they'll steam one to order for you.

Sweet milk tea - The best I've had in the neighborhood. Although I can't see for sure behind the counter, I think they make this to order, as opposed to everywhere else, where it's pre-made and in a big dispenser together with the milk. It has a great thickness, to the point where you can skim off the top of the milk, and the tea leaf grounds lay in wait at the bottom of the cup.

The waitstaff and owner here are laid back, friendly, gracious and hardworking. It's pretty much a brand new joint, and you get the feeling immediately that they're in it for the love.

I had originally read about this place on Yelp - as of last week, there was one review - but, following my first visit, I discovered that Joe DiStefano of World's Fare had been here, perhaps before any of us. Here is a link to his wonderful review, which also includes some info about the owner:

I will do my best now to link some I-Phone photos. All food pix are as listed according to the order above, except for the last, which is a shot of a vagrant who just walked off the street and started eating our momos. We were so happy here, that we didn't even care.


Phayul Restaurant
37-65 74th Street (entrance actually on 37th Road), 2nd Fl,
Jackson Heights, NY 11372
Hrs: 10-10, 7 days per
Ph: 718-424-1869

Delhi Heights
37-66 74th St, Queens, NY 11372

37-65 74th St, Queens, NY 11372

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  1. Thanks for the detailed report and photos, Polecat. it sounds great.
    But this may be a first -- Sietsema actually scooped the Chowhounds on something. He wrote up Phayul two weeks ago. Unless, of course, you're actually him.

    6 Replies
    1. re: el jefe

      Now that we're handing out credit... I think it was either Joe DiStefano or Jeff Orlick who mentioned Phayul to me more than a month ago. (I would not have brought it up if you hadn't given credit to Sietsema.)

      Anyway, great post. I've been wanting to try this place and this is good motivation.

      37-65 74th St, Queens, NY 11372

      1. re: ChiefHDB

        yeah it's legit. Isn't it petty to get into who went first? I'm just glad dawa is here with her family doing what she does. This really defined to me the differences to me between tibetan and nepalese.

        BTW, Woodside Cafe is new. Used to be spicy mina. It's half nepalese, half italian. (father was an italian chef, family is nepalese). They have the nepalese in steamtables, along with pizza .. ugh. The Nepalese stuff looked dark and wayyy good. I hope they survive, but it's such an out of the way location, and the pizza takes away from their legitimacy I think.

        Woodside Cafe
        64-23 Broadway, Queens, NY 11377

        1. re: Jeffsayyes

          Wait, there's now a second Woodside Cafe after the one on Woodside Avenue (the old Rainbow's)? So much thought went into naming the first...

          Speaking of Woodside Avenue, the people behind that branch of Ottomanelli's seem to be readying a burger place next to the Cuckoo's Nest.

          The Cuckoo's Nest
          61-04 Woodside Ave, Queens, NY 11377

          1. re: cnut

            yeah that burger place seems really promising. belgian fries, and an ottomanelli's blend burger. you'll hear a lot about it in a month. they are in limbo with permits and crap like that.

            This new woodside cafe may be called something else, don't quote me on that. but it's something generic like that. some short word. i do think it's cafe though. NOT affiliated, I promise you. That first one, I gave it a few chances, but it can't beat cuckoo's nest. no way.

            now we're getting off topic...

      2. re: el jefe

        Thanks. Didn't catch the Sietsema review, but just skimmed it and I think he captures the place nicely. Here's the link:
        By the way, these guys do curries, but, for some reason, they're not on the menu.

        1. re: Polecat

          Just went last week. the Tsak Sha La Kor Hot was great: the broth was intriguing, and *light*. Almost like a mutant version of thelemongrassy/coconut -thai soups. Herbs and a dash of milk (!) are responsible according to the chef.

          37-65 74th St, Queens, NY 11372

      3. Since this thread was just revived, NOW is the time to go. I was there just once over the summer but managed to sample about 6 or 7 dishes. All of them were very good to excellent. The problem is that they have no a/c and I didn't have a chance to go once the weather cooled off and now I'm out of the country. I'll definitely e back on a cool day when I return.

        1. Thanks for the write-up. I go by that place about once a month and it's perpetually on my to-try list.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Peter Cuce

            Right on, El Jefe. The food here is perfect for the colder weather; I was thinking the same thing when I returned here on Sunday, even if they didn't have the heat on. Peter, I think you'll love this place.

            Here's the Thenthuk, which I tried for the first time here on Sunday. It's yet another great dish at a place that consistently hits the mark. The broth is deep-flavored and has a comforting, warming, home-style taste, weighty but not too heavy. Everything is fresh here and made from scratch - I literally ran into the head guy picking out ingredients at Patel within a half-hour of my meal when the place opened - so the thick, sliced noodles, which are house-made, had good flavor and a pleasantly chewy texture, the carrots and daikon as good as you're going to get.

            The place also filled up - with locals - within a half-hour, first time I've ever seen that in four visits.
            One thing about Phayul - this is not the place to go if you're in a hurry. That's fine with me, because the guy is making everything to order, and he's only got one other cook helping out. The more crowded the joint gets, the longer you might be waiting for your food. I like the open-aired, simple vibe of the place, though. If you get the far window seat, you can pass the time by watching the 74th Street bustle, one flight down.


            37-65 74th St, Queens, NY 11372

            1. re: Polecat

              I take my tour here quite a bit. It's great to see the kitchen working, and the owners are really nice, and the food very good.

              Some of my favorite things to get here are the Dofu (tofu). it has szechuan peppercorns and a nice mix of spices. I always get a tingmo here too, just b/c that's how they do it. lots of stuff with the fresh vegetables are not that exciting to order but are really nice to eat.

              Also, check out Zomsa - where Rice Ave used to be. They are very legit. At Zomsa, the gyuma (blood sausage) tastes more like heart than any other place in the neighborhood. Also, the thenthuk is great. These are the former owners of that place on 37th rd which goes across to the other side.

              you guys still going to himalayan yak?? Unless it's for the music, I'd get to these places.... Not sure if there are any new ones popping up right now, for a while last year there was a new one every month or so.

              Himalayan Yak
              72-20 Roosevelt Ave, Queens, NY 11372

              72-19 Roosevelt Ave, Queens, NY 11372

              37-65 74th St, Queens, NY 11372

              1. re: Jeffsayyes

                Jeff, anything else you'd suggest at Zomsa? That blood sausage sounds pretty legit.

                1. re: NewYorkNewHaven

                  So I finally made it to Phayul 2 Fridays ago and, after scribbling down my notes, was too spent to remember to post. I spent the better part of 5 freezing hours walking around Manhattan (mostly Chinatown) and Queens (Coronoa over to J. Heights). When I finally made it over to Phayul, my legs were starting to give in. Their butter tea was a real God send -- but too rich for me to take on aggressively. As it was just me and I had already chowed down on soup dumplings and tacos I kept my order short: Tsak Sha La Kor Hot with one Ting Mo. Again, exactly what the doctor ordered. This soup is the truth: the thin broth and crunchy radish, excellent. The beef was a bit chewy, probably my least favorite component. (Flavoring was fine, but just not to my taste.) I dipped the ting mo in the soup (I'm assuming it serves a similar function to man tou and is eaten this way?). Does anyone else think that bread smells faintly of pizza dough?

                  The space itself is really nice. Stark but elegant. Definitely a date spot, if that's what you're looking for. (But it's small.)

                  I ordered the

                  37-65 74th St, Queens, NY 11372

          2. went to Phayul 2 Saturdays ago and i liked it. Went with a few folks and we got the blood sausages, the chili chicken, momos, the Tsak Sha La Kor Hot and the fried noodles and a Ting mo. The Ting mo was good and reminds me of a Chinese Mantou and butter tea is quite addicting to drink. The blood sausage was my favorite i got to say.

            Note to self, due to the open kitchen and lack of a closed door to the street, it can get cold in there, however not a deterent to go and eat there though and most likely a need to order the the hot noodle soup.

            37-65 74th St, Queens, NY 11372