The Roxborough Tibetan Restaurant to Visit Again and Again
White Yak's Treley and Tsering Parshingtsang have brought excellent momos and shoko khatsa to Ridge Avenue. The only question is whether you can get a seat.
On a Friday night at White Yak, diners line up for tables. They wait on the street because it’s spring. Warm. Still daylight, even at 7 p.m. But I know they did this in winter, too. In the cold and the dark — neighbors and friends and fans of Tibetan momos and tsamthuk bundled up in heavy coats, crowding the narrow dining room on Ridge Avenue in Roxborough, hoping for a seat.
I know, because I was with them. I was there, sitting inside a tidy room of glowing false windows and polished hardwood. And waiting for a seat was so, so worth it.
It can be hard for a person craving momos and shoko khatsa to scratch that particular itch in Philly. The intersecting point of Chinese and Indian cooking traditions that describes Tibetan cuisine — the spareness, heat and stripped-down focus that define it — is rare in these zip codes. So when Treley and Tsering Parshingtsang opened White Yak in July of 2019 (softly, quietly, with no advertising and no fanfare), I was thrilled. Crushed when the pandemic closed it. Then overjoyed when it reopened and found its crowds again.
Treley runs the kitchen and the floor. On a busy night, she can seem like she’s in three places at once, bringing out plates of stir-fried potato sprinkled with chili powder and perfect green shards of scallion, soft ting mo steamed buns (hidden in the “side dishes” section of the menu, but worth discovering), and sha palay beef patties with skins bubbled crisp as glass from the fryer. The phaktsee — stir-fried thick-cut bacon with green garlic and white ribs of bok choy — comes in a sauce that tastes like eating a smoldering fire. It’s gentled by mixing it with rice, but not so much that it loses its bite. The mo thuk beef momos swim in a salty beef broth threaded with whatever greens the kitchen has on hand. Some nights, they’re my favorite thing in the world.
Visit White Yak enough and you learn tricks. Ways to navigate the menu that aren’t there on paper. Like how the rich beef curry is better without rice, and how you can pull apart a side of steamed buns and use them to pinch bites of beef and mop up the smoky sauce. Or how the oily chili sauce that’s meant for the sliced gyuma sausage tastes excellent with fried potato momo.
But those tricks come with practice and waiting in line. If you haven’t been to White Yak yet, go tonight. Order simple: momos, and banana tempura for dessert. Then go back again tomorrow. Because as wonderful as White Yak is at first blush, there are a hundred ways to fall in love with it.
All it takes is time.
3 Stars — Come from anywhere in the region
0 stars: stay away
★: come if you have no other options
★★: come if you’re in the neighborhood
★★★: come from anywhere in the region
★★★★: come from anywhere in the country
Published as “A Hundred Ways to Fall in Love” in the June 2022 issue of Philadelphia magazine.