Over a decade ago, India was the unlikely destination of a girls’ trip. My best friend from high school, Betsy, was studying abroad in Hyderabad the summer following her sophomore year in college and I wanted to go visit her. One (now shockingly cheap) $800 plane ticket later, I landed at Rajiv Gandhi airport in the middle of sweltering July and proceeded to accompany my friend on a multi-city tour of the middle and southern half of the subcontinent. We traveled for just under two weeks, but it only took about two hours for me to become completely intoxicated by the smells and flavors of Indian cuisine. Since that first trip, I’ve been fortunate to return to India, the second time not as a tourist but as a medical volunteer living in Himachal Pradesh. During my one-month residence, I toured the northern half of the country and sampled its distinct lines of fare. I can’t play regional favorites with Indian food (it’s all just too good), but I will say that the excellent lentil dishes, mutton masalas, and bihari snacks of the mountain region make me rather sentimental for those terrific five weeks I spent living in the Himalayan city of Rajgarh.
All of this is to say at least that I had high expectations when I visited Himalaya, Houston’s much renowned Indian-Pakistani restaurant situated in an unassuming strip mall just off of Hillcroft and operated by the affable Chef Kaiser Lashkari. Many have sung the praises of Lashkari’s food, but I wouldn’t be so quick to join in the chorus, I thought to myself, if Lashkari did not deliver the fragrant dishes I had come to love from first-hand experience.
Not that tamer, more familiar Americanized Indian staples such as chicken tikki masala and saag paneer aren’t fine and good at Himalaya, but where Lashkari really shines is with the more specific regional concoctions, such as mirchon ka salan, a south Indian delicacy of cream and peppers, whose lengthy required preparation involves juggling more than 50 ingredients. (Talk about a dinner which makes more sense not to make at home.)
Having never previously tried Himalaya’s house specialty, Hanifia-style beef or “Indian Pastrami,” I can’t speak to its “authenticity,” but I will say I liked a lot, a whole lot (to put in highly sophisticated terms); the thin slices of lean meat were buttery and tender, with an occasional pop of spice from a zesty mustard sauce. Perhaps it’s a good thing I’ve missed that dish entirely during my travels in Asia; I might have never returned to Houston.
Other dishes I’ve sampled from Himalaya have met or exceeded my expectations. The goat qeema boasted a robust dark curry with strong notes of chili and garlic; similarly, the fish curry elevated otherwise unremarkable protein (in this case, tilapia) with a sweet tomato-onion sauce that begged to be sopped with triangular cuts of paratha.
While it’s safe to say you’ll probably be satisfied with most anything your order at Himalaya, pickier consumers of Indian food and more adventurous are more likely to be happy if they order outside the box and take advantage of Lashkari’s ambitious cookery. For me, it has inspired a third trip to India.
6652 Southwest Fwy
Houston, TX 77074