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.
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.
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.
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.
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