Tucked away in a creative hub alongside a yoga studio, jazz conservatory and actor's studio is a light-filled café that's no stranger to the Third Wave coffee movement. Here, the AeroPress and siphon coffee makers are put to good use as Nepali coffee beans — roasted in-house, of course — fly the flag high for the crop-to-cup cycle. Beyond serving up a proudly Nepali brew, Birgit Lienhart-Gyawali, founder of Karma Coffee, champions other small local producers and uses the café as a platform to showcase everything from coffee honey to cushion covers upcycled from coffee bags. Grab a cup of their daily roast and enjoy it with butter-rich viennoiserie, cookies, or a morsel of good old chocolate.
Level 2 Gyan Mandala, Jhamsikhel Moksh Complex, Patan (Lalitpur)
You're not likely to find any locals at this popular pit stop for Kathmandu-based expats (NGO types aplenty) hankering for a hearty English breakfast trimmed with all the bells and whistles. This relaxed dining spot flanked with bookshelves (though we saw more open laptops than cracked book spines) takes a crowd-pleasing blanket approach to café grub, serving everything from salads to burgers and brunch favourites. Call for the Full Monty Breakfast (perfect hangover grub) or the rustic-style French toast sided with a virtuous balance of fresh fruit. The classic eggs Benedict slathered in Hollandaise sauce isn't too shabby either.
Ghamsikhel Marg, Patan (Lalitpur)
CÁLM Restaurant & Bar
With its warm, eclectic woodwork spliced with industrial-chic touches, CÁLM Restaurant & Bar calls to mind the swank joints lining Bali's Seminyak district. Overlooking a serene courtyard in the Tangalwood complex (home to a night club, art gallery, and boutique apartments), the restaurant lives up to its name as a welcome refuge from the dust-choked arteries of Kathmandu. The classic BLT sandwich or beer-battered fish and chips will do well to line your stomach, but if you're leaning towards Nepali or Indian flavours, you'll also find momos sitting alongside aloo jeera (potatoes seasoned with cumin and Indian spices) on the menu.
Tangalwood, Gahana Pokhari Marg, Naxal
The Village Café
The Village Café isn't so much a café as it is a casual restaurant where honest, Newari fare takes centre stage. Started by Sabah Nepal (SAARC Business Association of Home-Based Workers), the restaurant is staffed by women who would otherwise be dependent on their husbands or brothers. Order up the Samaya Baji set for an introduction to traditional Newari cuisine, where beaten rice flakes are accompanied by gundruk (fermented spinach), shredded meat cooked in spices, and aaloo tama (Nepali potato soup with bamboo shoots and black-eyed peas). Jhol momos, steamed momos sitting in a spicy tomato-based soup can also be had, too. The best seats in the house are to be found on the terrace, shaded by large umbrellas channeling a bucolic vibe.
Eateries bordering a major tourist site are best avoided — unless we're talking about Honacha, a 50-year-old Newari snack joint sited near Patan Durbar Square. The dimly-lit space with low-slung ceilings doesn't care about flooring you with the ambience. Here, it lets the food do all the talking. An open kitchen anchors the space, with ladies in kurtis hunching over flat-stoves sizzling with baras (savoury lentil patties topped with egg or meat) made to order. There's deeply satisfying pan-fried intestines too, and perfectly seasoned potato curry dished out of metal vats. This is exactly the kind of food made divine with a cold glass of chang, fermented rice beer that tastes curiously similar to Korean makgeolli. (Editor's note: Those with weak constitutions might want to skip a meal here. We had one casualty who paid dearly for what was otherwise a very delicious bara.)
Behind Krishna Mandir at Patan Darbar Square, Patan
Hillary Clinton, the queen of Bhutan, Prince Charles, and former US President Jimmy Carter have all dined barefoot at this restaurant housed in Dwarika's Hotel, one of few luxury digs in Kathmandu for the Globe-Trotter toting traveller. It's all pomp and circumstance here: Shoes are left by the door, water's poured over your hands as part of a cleansing ritual, and the menus come printed with your name on it. The extravagance continues with a menu that runs from six to 22 courses — a lesson in culinary geography, where each dish reflects a different region or community in Nepal. You might find puri, fried unleavened Nepali bread, or chara ko masu, chicken curry cooked in Nepali spices, and plenty of vegetables and grains harvested from their own organic farms. Don't expect any dainty tasting portions here. The chef's generous sleight of hand saw us struggling to polish off our six-course affair.
Dwarika's Hotel. P.O.Box 459, Battisputali.
Special thanks to Kate Saunders, co-editor of The Record, and Yelamber Singh Adhikari, founder of Himalayan Hammock, for showing us around Kathmandu.
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