The Everest Momo started as a humble food truck in Sunnyvale. Now, three years, three more food trucks, and a brick-and-mortar later, Everest Momo's head chef Shiv Basnet, who is originally from Nepal, wants everyone to know what momos are — and he wants to make the best momos out there.
For the uninitiated, momos are dumplings popular in Nepal, Tibet, and India. They're stuffed with meat, cheese, or vegetables, then steamed or fried. Around the East Bay, you'll sometimes find momos on the menu alongside more well-known North Indian dishes like palak paneer and butter chicken. But at The Everest Momo — named after Nepal's most famous mountain, and the heights to which they believe their momos ascend — momos are the clear star of the streamlined menu.
Owner Sam Patel opened The Everest Momo's first brick-and-mortar location in Uptown Oakland a few months ago next to Ike's Sandwiches on Broadway, which he also owns. The momo shop's brick-and-mortar opened with the goal of further spreading the word about momos among office workers and the local community. It's a casual counter service spot that lends itself to the grab-and-go lunch crowd, though counters, high-top tables, and a shared outdoor patio are also available for dining in. Photos of the momos, along with the rest of the menu, are posted in the windows and on the walls for those unfamiliar with the dishes. When I visited, the staff was happy to answer questions about the menu and made sure to hook me up with the proper dipping sauces.
I started with the chicken momos. The finely ground chicken filling was fragrant with ginger and garlic, with a hint of sweetness from the onion. The steamed dumpling skins were delicate and tender, though they tended to fall apart when I picked them up.
The veggie momos came in a green wrapper, making it easy to tell the difference between the two varieties. I loved the filling, which consisted of paneer, cabbage, onion, and cilantro. The paneer lent the momos a creamy, savory taste, which helped tie together the flavors of the crunchy vegetables. A touch of ginger and garlic added comforting, warm notes. Though these momos, too, had a tendency to fall apart, I'd gladly get them again — and would choose them over their chicken counterparts.
Be sure to get plenty of dipping sauce for the momos — it's the light orange one in the squeeze bottle. It's a slightly sweet, slightly vinegary, slightly spicy sauce made with tomatoes, onion, ginger, garlic, and a few secret ingredients known only to chef Basnet, who insists on making all the momo sauce himself even as the Everest Momo empire continues to grow.
The rest of the menu leans Indo-Chinese. Fried rice and chow mein are available either as stand-alone dishes or as part of a combo that comes with four momos. The veggie fried rice was perfectly fried, with nubby, individual grains of rice that resisted clumping. A generous amount of thin ribbons of fried egg added richness, while carrots and peas added crunchy texture and green onions added subtle heat. The chicken chow mein was equally good, with pieces of tender chicken breast and al-dente thin, round noodles. Both the fried rice and chow mein were made to order and served hot. Portions were also generous; with the combo meals, I had enough rice and noodles left over for breakfast the next day.
I was excited to see chicken chili on the menu — an Indo-Chinese dish of fried chicken in a spicy sauce that few other East Bay restaurants offer. According to the shop, it's a Nepali-style preparation of the dish. The chicken was tender and juicy, and the flavors of the sauce were excellent, with the strong flavor of fresh ginger combined with the assertive heat of the peppers. Caramelized red onions added sweetness and balance to the dish. But the sauce seemed like it had been thickened with too much flour, which detracted from the dish.
One cold evening, I decided to warm up with the chicken soup, which was an underwhelming plastic container of oily broth with oddly textured, chewy chicken pieces. A much better option was the chai, which is made in house with Assam tea, milk, fresh ginger, and cardamom. It was fragrant, spicy, and comforting — the ideal accompaniment to momos.
These might not be the flashiest momos I've tried — they come served in foil-lined paper takeout containers regardless of whether you choose to dine in or take out. There also isn't much atmosphere at The Everest Momo — after all, it's primarily a takeout spot. In a way, though, that's part of the charm — momos are commonly eaten as a street food. Most importantly, the momos are solid, dependable, convenient, and come at a reasonable price, which is refreshing in an era of long lunch lines and inflated prices. That formula has worked for The Everest Momo at four food truck locations, and I bet that formula will resonate at Oakland's new brick-and-mortar, too.
And The Everest Momo empire isn't done growing. Plans are already in the works to open another brick-and-mortar in Sacramento. The chain hopes to expand even more in the East Bay, and maybe someday, the rest of California. Meanwhile, Basnet's also figuring out how to mass-produce momos to sell in mainstream grocery stores. With a vision like that, it's not hard to imagine that Everest Momo's goal of making sure everyone knows about momos might come true.