Visiting Cafe Tibet is a bit like stepping into a secret world. From the outside, it looks like just another hole-in-the-wall restaurant. If you didn’t know it was there, you might not even notice it. A small restaurant squished between the Cortel Road train station in Brooklyn on one side and an Asian bodega on the other, Cafe Tibet is a hidden gem. Although it’s a little off the beaten path, their great prices and authentic Tibetan dishes with tantalizingly flavored food make it well worth the travel.
Once you’re inside, the busy Brooklyn street seems to melt away. An intimate spot with great acoustics, the restaurant is a great place to bring friends or a date for a leisurely meal filled with conversation and good food. Although the restaurant sits atop a train station, calming music drowns out any noise from outside. When you sink your teeth into thick, savory soups like tsam-thuk and phing-sha, you can forget about the world outside and imagine that you’re alone with the other diners.
Tibetan cuisine is great comfort food, rich in noodles, soup, and meat. The menu at Cafe Tibet is small, but there’s a wide range of food, including plenty of vegetarian dishes.
Fans of spicy food will love the chili chicken. The chicken is crispy, sautéed in onion, ginger and garlic. The dish is seriously spicy, not for the faint of heart, but regular customers swear by it.
Another gem from the menu is the beef momo. This is a Tibetan-style dumpling, traditionally served at holiday meals. The dough is thick and chewy, heavier than Chinese dumplings. A ball of exquisitely flavored beef sits inside the crescent-shaped dough. In Tibet, this dish is a special treat because meat is scarce in the mountainous region. Luckily, at Cafe Tibet, you can enjoy it year-round.
Vegetarians and vegetable-lovers should try the vegetable thali, a curry plate with interesting sides including crispy bread, cumin-dusted beets, and sautéed greens. Vegetarian then-thuk is another great choice. The broth is uniquely Tibetan, brewed from barley grain and cottage cheese. The homemade noodles that fill the soup are pillow-soft, with a mouthwatering chewy texture.
Whatever you order, ting mo is a must have. This delicious spongy bread is a steamed roll unlike any other bread you’ve had before. It’s great to soak up the sauce of any dish you ordered, or even just with the Tibetan hot sauce that’s served at every table. The Tibetan tea (hot or iced) is also delicious. Its flavoring is similar to a Chai tea, served with sweet milk. It works well as a palate cleanser for the spicy food. Adventurous diners can try some of the more unusual drinks, such as butter tea (let’s just say that one is an acquired taste).
The prices are great, too. Most entrees are about $10, and a meal for two people with drinks and a shared appetizer should come to about $20 each. Cafe Tibet is cash-only, but the bodega next door has an ATM.
One downside to Cafe Tibet is the long wait times. With only six tables, Cafe Tibet seats 12 people at most inside, with room for another ten or so on their patio. All food is prepared fresh, which means that even after you’re seated you might be waiting up to thirty minutes for your meal. However, the food is worth the wait, and you can fill the wait time drinking. Cafe Tibet is BYOB, and the bodega located next door has a surprisingly wide beer selection.
Though the space isn’t large, the restaurant itself is charming and appealingly decorated. Pictures of Buddhist iconography line the walls, and paper lanterns hang from the ceiling. When the weather is nice, their outdoor patio is the perfect place to sit with a steaming hot plate of ting mo, and a refreshing Tibetan iced tea. The patio overlooks the Cortelyou Road subway station. Dine under a canopy of colorful Tibetan prayer flags while you watch the trains go by. From the patio, you can also admire the surrounding 100-year-old buildings in historic Ditmas Park. Cafe Tibet is located in one of the most diverse zip codes in the country, and you can’t get much more of a quintessential Brooklyn experience than eating here. One of Brooklyn’s best-kept secrets, once you know about Cafe Tibet, you won’t soon forget it.
After dinner, you can explore Ditmas Park. Walk in any direction to view the beautiful Victorian houses that give the neighborhood its landmark status. Cortelyou Road also has a string of boutique bars that you can visit. The most well-known of these is Sycamore, which houses a flower shop during the day and offers a special deal on a beer and a bouquet of roses.
Cafe Tibet is open every day from 12 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., and is located at 1510 Cortelyou Rd, Brooklyn, NY 11226.