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It's worth a trip (or several) to Everest Ethnic Restaurant in Brentwood to support a growing immigrant community, to learn about Nepalese cuisine and to find satiating cheap eats.
Everest, which opened two months ago, is the second Nepali-owned restaurant in the region. The first, Himalayas Restaurant, opened on Route 19 in Cranberry last November.
Owners Rup Timsina and Pushpa Khatiwada said they opened the South Hills spot in response to demand from the Nepali community. Mr. Timsina is the manager and Mr. Khatiwada is the cook.
Pittsburgh is the second stop in the U.S. for both men who came to Pittsburgh two years ago to be closer to family members who resettled here. Mr. Khatiwada moved from California and Mr. Timsina from Arizona, where he had lived for three years.
They're among 3,000 Nepali who live in the Pittsburgh area, part of the resettlement effort that started in 2008 following the purge of ethnic Nepali in Bhutan in the late '80s through the '90s. The first immigrants came here with help from Catholic Charities, Jewish Family & Children's Services and the Northern Area Multiple Service Center. The second wave has arrived to join family and friends.
The opening of this restaurant shows economic progress within the community, which, until now, was most visible at Nepali markets such as the Bangey Bazar, also on Route 51 in Brentwood but closer to Pittsburgh, which is named after a camp marketplace that served Nepali refugees for 20 years. Another market, Nepali Bazaar, is next to Everest.
The markets offer spice blends, bitter melons, coconuts, squash and beans. Customers can pick up clothing and other essentials or pay bills.
Everest Ethnic Restaurant, which has become a gathering place for the Nepali community as well as for customers seeking authentic cuisine, is a former diner in a modest cinder-block building, painted red with a red carpet and a drop light over each booth.
Customers are greeted by a sign at the front counter: "Welcome to Everest Restaurant. You can sit at any table. Someone will assist you shortly. Your estimated wait time is five minutes. Thank you."
And you may wait, even if it's empty, aside from a group of Nepalis shooting pool in the community room next door.
Nepal is tucked between India and China and is framed by the Himalayas. The cuisine is influenced by India in particular, with a prevalence of dal, roti and Indian breads, chutney and pickles. Seafood and curried meat, particularly lamb, goat and chicken are staples, though cow is not, as many Nepalese people are Hindu. China's influence is also found in many dishes, from dumplings, noodles and mustard greens to Sichuan peppercorns and chili peppers.
The explanations on Everest's menu are lengthy yet helpful, especially if you don't know much about Nepalese food. It's an ambitious list for a modest place, with soup, salads, vegetarian dishes, meat, seafood, noodles and eggs.
Dumplings called momo are filled with minced chicken, lamb or vegetables that are steamed then fried. For more flavor, dip them in hot chili and tomato chutney or another dip with ground sesame and peanuts.
Vegetarian specialties hail from South Asia, with simple breads such as pan-fried parathas ($2.95), roti made from rice flour ($2.95) and naan.
Crispy samosas ($2.95 for two) won't disappoint, but chili pakora ($2.95), a spicy pepper battered in chickpea flour is a more lively choice. If that's too hot, try the vegetable pakora ($2.95) with spinach, cauliflower and onions or aloo pakora ($2.95), battered and fried potatoes.
Don't be afraid of mutton. It's just lamb, which can be delicious, especially in such a flavorful dish, though check for bones. Start with the mutton curry ($8.50), a rustic dish seasoned with ginger, chilis, tomatoes and garlic. Coriander, cumin and garam masala lend fragrance that wafts through the dining room before it reaches the table.
The mutton fried rice ($7.50) is the less spicy backup ($7.50). Both are garnished with raw vegetables and fresh herbs.
The menu detours to China with chow mein noodles. For a spicer noodle alternative try the Nepalese thukpa instead ($5.95 or $7.95 with meat), a feverishly hot noodle soup with garam masala and chilis, garnished with red onion and fresh herbs, served with a side of chutney. The chau-chau ($4.95, with meat $6.95) is fun to say and eat, these are pan-fried noodles finished with carrots and cilantro.
If you're hungry or cannot decide among dishes, try the chef's choice combination dinners ($13.95 with meat, $12.95 vegetarian), which are similar to an Indian Thali with an appetizer, rice, noodles and an entree. The selection changes occasionally.
The desserts do not. They include gulab jamun ($2.95), a cheese dumpling drizzled in honey or kheer ($2.95), rice in sweetened milk, grazed with nuts and cardamom. Mango lassi is a sweet finish for fans of Indian cuisine.
As they get their bearings, Mr. Timsina and Mr. Khatiwada will amend the menu to include pickled things, vegetables and spicy meats. But they're taking their time with changes as they build a clientele.
It's not just the hills of Pittsburgh that remind them of their country. Now the food at Everest provides a taste of home.