This isn’t going to be a standard review. Last week, the city of Phoenix ordered all restaurants and bars closed but for takeaway, delivery, and drive-thru. Since, Arizona has shut down restaurants but for the listed services statewide. Our food and beverage scene is being devastated as a result of this necessary move, a response to the spread of COVID-19. Restaurants are struggling. But by buying food to eat at home, you can still support our local eateries. Especially great new ones that haven’t yet built a following.
And that’s why we need to tell you right now about Sherpa Kitchen in Gilbert — handily one of our favorite Asian restaurants in Arizona (and not just south Asian).
Subash Yadav and his wife, Chandra, opened Sherpa Kitchen in January and had only just started to cultivate a following before in-restaurant dining closed. The cooking here is vital. The intention, the colors Subash uses, the Nepalese heart and foundation of local ingredients from small farms — it’s all a breath of fresh air, a stairway to something greater.
Subash grew up in Kathmandu, Nepal. His father came from India, his mother from Nepal, and the cuisines of both countries inform his cooking, mostly the latter. When he moved to the U.S. (at first to Minnesota), Subash thought he would be a doctor. But he studied culinology instead, a mixture of food science and cooking, and then worked as a line cook before opening his beloved food truck, Everest Momo, in early 2019. The brick-and-mortar restaurant in the east Valley followed.
To understand the thoughtfulness and intensity of Subash’s cooking, consider his gundruk — fermented green vegetable leaves. Gundruk, Subash says, “is as Nepali as something can be.” He says it’s eaten mostly in northern Nepal, where winters are harsh. Knowing this, people of northern Nepal pick greens in the summer, then dehydrate and store them for winter, when they reconstitute these life-giving greens using broth.
Subash re-creates this process in the Sonoran Desert. Using greens from Rhiba Farms (at first mustard greens, now cauliflower greens), he pounds leaves with a mortar and pestle and then ferments them in jars for five days. He then dehydrates them for a day or two. Finally, he simmers a soup fragrant with ginger, turmeric, king oyster, shiitake mushrooms, tomatoes, and — of course — those reconstituted greens.
That’s a 10-day process for a $6 soup. At Sherpa Kitchen, this is just one appetizer.
The soup’s greens have real heart to them — so leafy, so foresty, so alive. Along with the vivacity of the greens, the rest of the soup is nuanced and warming, the kind of soup that puts something crucial back into your soul. On the edges, ginger and warming chile heat softly sizzle.
But this soup is just the beginning of what Subash can cook. The momos — Nepali dumplings — of his former food truck now fill a whole menu section; they’re the restaurant’s doughy pulse. Steamed momos allow you to appreciate the thick, chewy dough and the spicing of the ground chicken (should you go chicken rather than veg) at the center. Subash enlivens the interior chicken with some 16 ingredients, including cabbage, chives, and, as ever, ginger and turmeric.
I recommend exploring the momo roster. Among the half-dozen or so Subash prepares, try the chili momos and the momos in creamy curry. Given a light fry for crispness on the skins, dumplings swim in a thick chile sauce that, rich with tomato and some sweetness, creeps into the folds where the dough coin purses have been twisted. The creamy curry? About as big of a bear hug as you could ever want. Rich with coconut cream and garam masala, the sauce will find its way into your mouth even when the dumplings are gone.
The Yadavs have skills beyond the dumpling, too. Chai, a simple order of tea, comes on a slate adorned with brown sugar cubes and sel roti, a sweet chewy fritter of rice dough fried in ghee. (It won’t look the same ordered for takeaway —but try to picture it.) Taruwa, a starter of simply fried vegetables like okra and red pepper, are arrayed on a circular vessel with three chutneys (mint, tamarind, and roasted tomato). Lalmohan, a Nepali relative of the Indian syrup-soaked doughnut gulab jamun, has a delicate perfume of rosewater and whipped cream hypnotic with cardamom. All are stellar.
Subash presents his food like an artist, but with no pretension. He incorporates slates, negative space, patterns, and colors in arresting ways. His noodles have more color, I think, than just about any other noodle dishes I’ve eaten.
Wok-fried chow mein brings a heap of udon noodles shot through with vegetables of rare vibrancy, like purple cabbage, strips of red pepper, and different-colored carrots. They’re all cooked so they retain some bite. The chile sauce slicking these noodles has a fruity heat, anchored by a touch of sweetness. Though Nepalese food is some of the spiciest in the world, this dish is agile, balanced, one of the most pleasant noodle dishes I’ve had in a long time.
The only thing I tasted at Sherpa Kitchen that left me unsatisfied was an order of pickles. They had a tang that veered into the domain of a strong marker. But Sherpa Kitchen just opened and there are still kinks to iron, and, anyway, this small one is next to nothing.
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Sherpa Kitchen is a great restaurant, yes. It is also a great vegan restaurant, as Yadav takes care to make many preparations vegan friendly, like his tikka masala. It is, finally, a very important restaurant, just like many others in town that need your help right now. Sherpa Kitchen has surprisingly reasonable prices. The Yadavs are an essential add to metro Phoenix not just because they’ve opened the first Nepali restaurant, but because of their style, thoughtfulness, locality, and flavors.
So dine in at Sherpa Kitchen once we’re out of our current mess. And grab some noodles, soup, and momos to-go now. It’s what we all need.
1533 West Elliot Road, Gilbert
Gundruk ko jhol $6
Spicy chili momo $14
Creamy curry momo $14
Wok-fried chow mein $12