The streets of old Patan, the area around the Durbar Square, are the best places to head for tasty, authentic Newari food (Newars are the ‘original’ inhabitants of the Kathmandu area, and have a distinct culture and cuisine). Many eateries are holes-in-walls or tucked away between buildings; don’t be afraid to dive in. If a place is busy with locals and turning out a lot of food, it’s likely to be safe to eat. A popular Newari specialty for a quick snack is bara, a type of thick pancake topped with minced buffalo meat or a fried egg. Another is highly spiced potato salad, aloo sadheko, served cold. Menus are rare in such eateries, and if they exist they are usually written on a board in Nepali, so just point at whatever is being made and hope for the best—it’ll be cheap!
A great budget restaurant in the tourist hub of Thamel serving tasty dal bhat (lentil curry and rice with other meat and/or vegetable curries) is Himali Kitchen. For less than the price of a coffee in some places you will be served with refillable helpings of rice, soup, curry, pickle and salad, all on an attractive traditional brass thali. Other Nepali and Western dishes are also available, but the dal bhat is the best value. This place is popular with Nepalis, so guaranteed to be authentic. It’s tucked down a narrow alley off one of the main streets of Thamel, almost opposite Purple Haze music club, and there is a sign to look out for.
For a quick drink at Indra Chowk, south of Thamel and around the Kathmandu Durbar Square, seek out a Kathmandu institution—the Lassi Shop. The small place just does one thing, and it does it well—lassis, yoghurt-based drinks loaded with cashews, pistachios, and dried fruit. It’s an incredibly popular place with locals, so if you can’t find it, ask around.
The Village Café on Pulchowk Road in Patan is worth a detour for its excellent Newari cuisine made by local women (downstairs there is also a handicraft shop). The service is consistently slow so don’t come for a quick lunch, but the spacious terrace and excellent food make a visit to The Village Café a memorable experience. It’s said to be the only place in Kathmandu where you can buy yomari—sweet fish-shaped dumplings—outside of the annual Yomari Punhi festival in December. Another highlight is the Newari Thali, a platter then comes with dry beaten rice, several curries, a bara and pickle. Sensitive eaters be warned: Newari food is very spicy, and even many non-Newari Nepalis find it a challenge!
Thamel House Restaurant is distinct from most other restaurants in Thamel in that it’s situated in a traditional old Newari red-brick building. There are lots of interesting corners and alcoves to sit in and enjoy the ambiance. The food leans towards Newari, but there are plenty of more ‘standard’ Nepali dishes too. Thamel House Restaurant is a good place to go for a quiet and well-presented meal when you’re tired of the tourist clamor of Thamel.
If you are up for a high-end culinary experience, head to Krishnarpan for dinner. Located in the luxury Dwarika’s Hotel near Pashupatinath Temple, Krishnarpan is possibly the finest all-round dining experience in Kathmandu. The staff dress in traditional clothing from Nepal’s various ethnic groups, the food is equally diverse, and don’t forget to notice the traditional bowls and implements on which your food is served. You will be given a personalized menu for the multi-course meal at the beginning. Eating at Krishnarpan is a full cultural experience.
A small chain of restaurants throughout Kathmandu serve excellent, fresh Vietnamese food, which can be a perfect antidote to heavy South Asian fare. The branches in Jhamsikhel and Boudhanath are named Pho 99, and the original branch in Lazimpat is Viet Ngon Saigon Pho. Favorites are the fresh summer rolls, without which a Vietnamese meal is definitely incomplete.
Fire & Ice Pizzeria not only serves the best pizza in Kathmandu, but possibly in the whole of South Asia (a branch has recently opened in Kolkata, India!) The list of pizzas is large, and they’re served quickly even when the restaurant is busy (which is most of the time). Fire & Ice is a popular tourist hangout as it’s conveniently located on Narayanhiti Path, the road leading into Thamel, but it’s also a favorite spot for Nepalis.
A good alternative pizzeria is Roadhouse Cafe, with branches in Thamel, Jhamsikhel, Boudha, Bhatbhateni, and the Labim Mall in Patan.
For delicious Israeli-style all-day breakfasts, platters of baba ganoush and bread, hummus and labne, juices, and fresh breads, OR2K is a favorite among travelers and Kathmandu expats. The two-floor restaurant is located at the entrance of Mandala Street, Thamel’s small pedestrian-only shopping street. OR2K is an especially good place to hang out after a late night, as you can lounge on the cushions on the floor and the lights are low!
On the other side of town, Taza is a smaller Middle Eastern restaurant on Pulchowk Road in Patan, run by a Syrian-Nepali couple. The falafel wraps are perfect for a lunch to-go.
You know a French restaurant must be good when French expatriates flock there. Chez Caroline, in the Baber Mahal Revisited complex, is one of the priciest restaurants in Kathmandu, but it’s also one of the best. The Nepali servers speak fluent French, the extensive menu (in French and English) is full of French specialties that you can’t find anywhere else in Nepal (Assiette de saucisson sec; Tartiflette; Lapin a la moutarde). Plus, there’s no danger that you’ll forget that you’re really in Nepal—the restaurant is situated in a renovated Rana era mansion, with red brick work and bronze Nepali lions and griffins sitting around. The multi-course weekend brunch is especially good value.