Rockridge’s Namastey Patio offers Nepalese fare with a side of compassion
The Nepalese owners of Namastey Patio announced their 2021 arrival in Rockridge with a thick coat of spinach-green paint. They replaced La Boulangerie’s neutral gray wall color, along with all the French pastries and baguettes. The patio, as the name suggests, is still intact. When I went to pick up my to-go order, several outdoor tables were occupied. The atmosphere there verged on the pre-pandemic edge of a bustle.
Kailash Thapa, one of three co-owners, says having the patio open is a definite plus, depending on the weather. He adds, “People are nice around here and they are helping us to promote the restaurant.” Thapa describes the menu as a melange of Nepalese, Himalayan and Northern Indian cuisines. “Culture-wise and food-wise, the ingredients are similar,” he says. Diners familiar with Indian dishes will recognize items such as palak paneer, kebabs and biryanis. But a momo might be unfamiliar. Thapa explains that they’re similar to Chinese dumplings. “But our dumplings are different, in terms of spices,” he says. And they taste different, too. “Everybody in Nepal knows the dish; it’s as popular there as chicken masala is in India.”
Thapa and his business partners, Smriti Poudyal and Ghalhang Rai, have years of combined experience working in Indian restaurants. Some of Thapa’s family members also have history in the Bay Area restaurant business. But outside of the food industry, the three owners have worked together at a nonprofit organization that helps the Nepalese community. “We know each other very well and have a solid team,” he says.
One indication of that team’s good intentions included two follow-up calls and a voice message about my recent order. They’d forgotten to include a side of raita. Both Poudyal and Rai conscientiously reassured me I’d be reimbursed for the missing container of yogurt. The term “namaste” has been co-opted and frequently ill-used by well-intentioned Americans. I feel that when Thapa and his team deploy the word—they aren’t just paying lip service to the concept. “In our culture, when we say ‘Hi,’ we welcome everyone with respect,” he says.
I brought home my favorites—bhindi bhaji (okra) seared with onion, tomato and garlic; dahi puri chaat, the tangiest and creamiest appetizer ever to hit my palate; garlic naan; and a chicken kebab that called to mind an Anita Baker song, “I Love You Just Because.” An additional item, the shrimp coconut basil, never made it to my plate. My husband devoured the marigold-colored, coconut-milk dish before I had a chance to dig in. When I opened the refrigerator the following day at noon, something uncanny had taken place. The only leftover on the shelf was a lonely container of rice.
Thapa says that because Northern Indian food is similar to Nepalese food, coming up with a menu that combined the two cuisines was easy. Distinguishing the ingredients in the North from those used in the South, Thapa says that Northern Indians cook with more meat and rice. The Namastey Patio menu, though, is varied enough to include plenty of vegan and vegetarian dishes too, along with breads and curries. So, it’s not perfectly strict about favoring one region over another.
Thapa noticed that, at a recent table of four diners, two people ordered Indian curries, while the other half tried Nepalese dishes, like the momos, or the choila appetizers made with broiled chicken or pork. Because the owners feel that more people are familiar with Indian food—whether from the North or the South—Nepalese food isn’t the sole focus at Namastey Patio North or South.
“We use many of the same ingredients in Nepal—chicken, goat, lamb,” he says. But they’re still in the initial phase of establishing the business; the owners’ long-term plan is to slowly introduce more Nepalese items onto the menu. They’re hoping that, one day soon, momos and choila will become as well known as chicken tikka and samosas.
Namastey Patio, open Tuesday–Saturday 11:30am to 3pm and 4:30–9pm, Sunday noon to 8pm. 5500 College Ave., Oakland. 510.922.9014. yelp.com/menu/namastey-patio-oakland.