Everything about Café Tibet feels just right. There's its location, a long, narrow restaurant nestled right between the Q train tracks and a bodega where you can pick up beers to accompany your meal; there are the few tables right in front, which overlook an old, long-abandoned storefront whose faded letters just barely read "Luncheonette"; there are the battered metal tumblers that bear the tap water; there are the two homemade hot sauces, one mild and one spicy, brought to the table in squeezy plastic mustard and ketchup bottles, respectively; there's the friendly but unobtrusive service, and the low, low prices.
And then there's the food, which in addition to being incredibly fairly priced, is delicious and a veritable delight for vegetarians, who have a wide choice of diverse menu options, and no shortage of real spice. Tibetan food is heavy on starch—calories are key at high altitudes—and some of Café Tibet's greatest pleasures come in the form of humble, energy-rich ingredients such as potatoes, glass noodles, and legumes.
Strongly representing the latter was an appetizer of chana katsa ($3.99, pictured at top), or tender simmered chickpeas drained and tossed in a garlic- and ginger-charged spice mixture that almost shellacs itself to the garbanzos. The fragrant, well-seasoned chickpeas were a perfect starter, and quickly achieved their task of inspiring hunger for the dishes to come.
Logo-patsel ($8.50) was a mild, buttery stir-fry of cabbage, carrot and tofu that, while light on heat, still packed a punch of garlic and ginger. The vegetables were neither too soft nor too crunchy.
A double-carb punch of glass noodles and potatoes, phing-sha ($8.25) was a definite highlight of the meal. Each starchy chunk of potato was well seasoned, nestled into a mess of green peas and a tangle of slippery glass noodles coated in a cilantro-heavy tomato broth that's best sopped up with the restaurant's puffy, spongy Tibetan bread.
No visit to a Tibetan restaurant is complete without an order of momo, or doughy Himalayan wheat dumplings traditionally stuffed with lamb or yak. Café Tibet's vegetarian version ($6.50 for 8 large dumplings) was solid, incorporating a filling of potato, cabbage and carrot that was a touch underseasoned but nevertheless tasty, especially after a dunk in the restaurant's wonderful homemade hot sauce.
It's hard not to feel excited about Café Tibet. It's one of those restaurants that seems all to rare in New York these days: comfy, homey, and serving delicious food that won't take much of a toll on your wallet. A meal at Café Tibet is a compelling reason to get on the Q train right now.