a short guide to dining in Kathmandu

This is a guide for an American tourist who is staying near the Narayanhiti Palace. The population of Kathmandu is 1.5 million, about the same number of people as the number of motorcycles. This area is home to Thamel, with many tourist-oriented hotels and restaurants, and Durbar Marg (the King’s Highway), essentially the high-end shopping district. Think Magnificent Mile in Chicago.

This guide assumes you are middle class, which makes you relatively rich by Nepali standards. If you were upper-middle class, you could probably eat in a different 5-star restaurant every day for several months. I’m assuming you are not, and that you want good, safe food for a reasonable price.

I mention safe because you want to eat in a place that washes their vegetables in purified water. A couple of days ago I made a poor choice and spent two days on the toilet. But I digress.

So first, some general principles. And then some recommendations.

rules to remember

  • You will be OK if you eat in a restaurant that caters to Westerners. They won’t risk their reputation by giving you food poisoning.
  • Always order bottled water. Really. Always.
  • The restaurant will likely have an ethnic focus—German, French, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian. A lot of Indian. But they still serve Nepali food. Because Nepalis eat there too. The national dish is dal bhat. Be sure to try it.
  • It won’t cost you that much money. Katie and I often split a meal in a nice place for 7 or 8 US dollars. We ate brunch in a five-star hotel for $14 each, as delightful as any $40 or more brunch in Chicago.
  • Restaurant don’t have addresses. Nothing here has addresses. Road names below are as close as you get. Google Maps works, if that helps.
  • Southeast Asians do vegetarian much better than we do in the Midwestern states, both in taste and presentation. Broaden your taste and try a few main dishes. Meat is on the menu, but it is not always the best choice.
  • In the area where we stay, near Durbar Marg, the staff are attentive and understand English. Menus are also in English.
  • A 10% service charge is added to the bill, but I usually leave the change as well.

places to eat

Here are some places we enjoy and recommend.

Tamarind, Somewhere in Kathmandu (seriously, that’s the name) is on Nagpokhari Marg. They have a great juice bar and a vintage vibe. (See photo). They opened since we were here last year, and we really like the feel of it.

Just a couple of doors down is Café Imago. We discovered this place last year; tucked in near the police headquarter, it was the only place open during the lockdown last year. The chef here does an impressive job with presentation. I like the eggs Benedict and my tea-loving wife likes the specialty coffees.

You can get Italian (Illy) coffee at Coffee Escape on Lazimpat Road, with a limited menu and some nice bakery items. They have a chef’s omelet that is one of my all-time favorites. This is near the northwest corner of the palace grounds. Not far away, across from the British embassy, you’ll find Curilo, another charming coffee café with an Italian twist.

Also, across from the entrance to the palace, on the fifth floor overlooking the palace grounds, there is a Himalayan Java, part of a Starbucks-like chain owned by someone who spent a lot of time in Seattle. It’s pleasant, clean, friendly. And you can get a designer coffee for about half US prices.

In Thamel itself, we really like the French Creperie, one of the few dependable gluten-free options we’ve discovered. It’s difficult to convey the idea of gluten-free here, but they get it and serve it up on buckwheat crêpes, topped with just about anything you might want. Sweet or savory, you choose. An outdoor café, it has a local feel with an international flair. Say hello to Alku, the owner, for us. She knows us by name. It’s on Narsingh Chowk, off Thamel Marg.

Finally, there is the Spice Room at the 5-star Yak and Yeti Hotel. The menu, including the $14 brunch, has an Indian flair. Katie really, really, really likes the sambar.

about the street food

Frankly, we don’t always eat out, even though the food is relatively cheap by US standards. And despite the reservations I’ve expressed here, you can find a stall or small restaurant where the place (and the kitchen) look clean, and the customers do too.

I’m not afraid to eat in such places: I found a little place with a very nice buffalo burger (beef is not an option) and Katie has made friends with a woman who runs an eatery in a tin building next door. The clientele includes staff from the major banks in our neighborhood. She and Katie are becoming friends, and Katie has watched her prepare her food.

Everything is a calculated risk, but for any cautions, there are endless rewards. Don’t worry. Eat happy.

And remember, two days is not really that long.

Do the math. I’ve linked to several menus, and you (or your kids) can estimate the price fairly easily. Just add two decimal points. Then, it’s less than that.

If the price is 400, that’s in Nepali rupees. Add two decimal points, and you have 4.00. But the exchange rate is currently 1.24, so you are gaining 20 odd cents on each dollar. You are paying about $3.20 USD. (Actually $3.22.)

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