A first impression of Makalu begins with the emanation of aromas extending to the opposite side of Mass. Ave. a block away. The Nepali and Indian food restaurant opened about four months ago during a challenging year that’s seen the comings and goings of a number of dining spots. If the experience of a recent visit is a fair indication of quality, I hope to see this one live long and prosper.

EATinton logo: Fred Kalil
Frederick Kalil reviews

Arriving hungry and with our olfactory senses aswim must account for our unbridled order of starters from the two-sided menu. Potatoes are a feature of Nepali cuisine, and the deftly fried round cakes of aloo chap make a strong proponent for the case. A nicely varied internal texture revealed a filling flecked with green herbs and the occasional morsel of tender garlic. Flavorful on their own, they were accompanied by mint-cilantro chutney. Appearing separately on the table was a spicy red dipping sauce. Said to be tomato-based, describing it as such renders a disservice to its tantalizing mélange of tastes. 

Menu descriptions take you only so far, after which a leap of faith is indicated. Chaat is a good example, as no verbal rendering of its ingredients could be adequate preparation for what landed in front of us. Nevertheless, I’ll try: imagine an imposing plateful of sweet and salty layers composed of potato and pea samosas pooled in green and brown sauces with rivulets of yogurt, layered with chickpeas, topped with juicy chopped red onion, finished with sliced scallion and festooned overall with crispy chickpea-flour tendrils. But reducing it into components diminishes the impression that drew responses of childlike delight on its appearance. (“This is totally dessert.”)

Toothsome pastry

Every cuisine has its take on the dumpling, and momos are the Nepali version. They’ve been showing up at a number of places, including another in Arlington. Here we encountered a toothsome pastry, which wasn’t too thick, loosely filled with chicken, cilantro, garlic and scallions with a saucer of golden sauce on the side (tomato, cumin, sesame, ginger, chili). Ours were the steamed version and perhaps the best I’ve had.

Choyla was explained to be a typical Nepalese dish traditionally made with chicken, but we were motivated to select a tempting menu variant. What emerged was a smoky, dense salad of marinated chargrilled mushrooms with greens and scallions. Ginger and tomato make an appearance along with Sichuan peppercorn, evidence of Nepal’s border with Tibet. Taste buds reported a pleasingly bitter accent note less encountered in Indian food. Served with a separate topping of beaten and fried rice bits: Think Rice Krispies in their raiment of origin.

The signature flavors of this cuisine are primarily delivered in the simmering of sauces upon which much time is expended. Rather than using cream to impart thickness and silkiness, Mughal cuisine relies on other local ingredients: coconut, nuts and seeds. The Goan fish curry offered an exemplary demonstration: curry leaves, slivered ginger and earthy black mustard seed in a smooth suspension that conjured a quality of fluffiness. The tilapia was fresh-tasting and flaky. This earned favored status from my palate, and I couldn’t stop from returning to it again and again.

Another standard was exceeded with the saag, a preparation I always try to sample at South Asian restaurants. Ours was luxuriously creamy, richly flavored spinach that evidenced a seasoned hand in the balancing of spices. (We were told Makalu’s chef came from Nepal a year ago.) I’ve had spicier versions and heat-level choice wasn’t offered, yet no one at the table felt a need to make special requests. Mention must be made that the lamb pieces in our saag were a bit tough and gamy, so the saag paneer alternative may be preferred.

Garlic naan was perfectly chewy-crispy and caused one of our party to assert it was so good it was bringing them to tears. It’s reassuring when obligatory items are expertly executed, and excellent naan, always hoped for, can’t always be taken for granted. 

As with an increasing number of restaurants nowadays, no separate lunch menu is offered. Makalu is closed Tuesdays. 

Makalu Nepali and Indian cuisine352 Mass. Ave., East Arlington 


11 a.m. To 9:30 p.m. 

Website >>

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This restaurant review by YourArlington freelancer Frederick Kalil was published Monday, Jan. 9, 2023.

A resident of Arlington, Kalil has been eating food since birth. Starting from a home where family cuisine ranged from kibbeh to cretons, he has sought high standards and a world of flavor at his own table and when dining out. After years of writing about dining options for the neighboring Tufts community, Fred now explores local kitchens for his fellow Arlingtonians.