Believe it or not, one of the best introductions to an unfamiliar cuisine is a buffet. The lunch buffet at Tibet Nepal House in Old Town Pasadena offers the chance to explore Himalayan food — and ranks as one of the most interesting lunch buffet options in Greater L.A..

When Tibet Nepal House opened in 2001, it was the first and only Himalayan restaurant around. It's no longer the only one in Pasadena — or even the only one in Pasadena with a lunch buffet. But it still features the widest range of Himalayan dishes.

What exactly is Himalayan cuisine? It’s kind of a catch-all term that encompasses the food from the countries of Nepal, Tibet and northern portions of India. Indeed, if you’re familiar with Northern Indian cuisine, you will recognize some of what's on the buffet here. But more often than not, what looks or sounds familiar winds up tasting different due to the variety of spices used. Himalayan cuisine features a wide array of vegetable dishes, and the most common proteins are chicken, goat, lamb and yak. Yes, yak.

While not part of the lunch buffet, yak is available à la carte at dinner in momos, the Nepali name for dumplings; as yak chili, a spicy stir-fry seasoned with red bell peppers, tomatoes and onions; or served in a stew. Tibet Nepal House is one of only three restaurants around L.A. that serve yak (the two locations of Tara’s Himalayan Cuisine are the others).

There’s still plenty to try if you're not down with yak.

At any given lunch, the meat options usually include a version of tandoori chicken (known here as Himalayan chicken). The large number of veg options might include saag (spinach with tofu), daal (yellow lentils), baingan aloo (eggplant and potatoes), okra or taarkari, a spicy vegetable curry billed simply as “mixed vegetables.” Even the vegetable chow mein takes a different twist here, with spices and seasoning that place it somewhere between Chinese lo mein and Malaysian or Indonesian noodle dishes.

Basmati rice, chutneys (mango, mint and tamarind) and a soup, often lentil, round out the buffet selections, and there is kheer, a rice pudding, for dessert. At $8.99, it's a bargain as well.

Tibet Nepal House: 36 E. Holly St., Pasadena; (626) 585-0955,

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