When Indian Oven closed its doors for good in July 2014 after 30 years in business, fans of the establishment needed to venture outside the Old Market to get their hands on authentic naan, tandoori, or curry.
Ngawang Rinchen to the rescue. The owner of two wildly successful Indian restaurants in Lincoln had his eyes on Omaha for some time and was waiting for the right opportunity to make his move and open a restaurant in the Old Market.
“Indian Oven closed down and I wanted to get into the Old Market,” says Rinchen. “I have no clue why they closed, but I had always been interested in coming to Omaha and establishing a place, so this was my opportunity.”
Rinchen says there were around seven or eight months in between Indian Oven closing and Himalayas opening their doors. It’s all a bit of a blur for Rinchen, who oversaw the multiple renovations needed to open for business while managing his restaurants in Lincoln. He’s not even entirely sure when Himalayas started serving customers. “Well, let’s see…April?” Rinchen guessed. “We opened at the end of April, I think.” (He is correct.)
He explained that the gap between Indian Oven closing and Himalayas opening was largely due to some surprise repairs and upgrades. “We had to do a lot of work,” he says. “I was expecting to open right up, but it wasn’t the case.”
Rinchen says the authentic cuisine offered by Himalayas will please fans of Indian Oven. He also says they will notice some positive changes. “We have a full menu; Indian Oven had downsized their menu.” He added that the wine cellar he’s building in the lower level is a great addition to the restaurant. “I know a little bit about wine,” he says modestly. “I do love wine. Cabernet, pinot, burgundy—I like all kinds of wine and drink all kinds of wine. Just name it, I love it.”
Indeed, Rinchen is well-known in Lincoln as a connoisseur. He receives multiple awards and accolades for his Haymarket bar The Cellar, so it is no surprise that he brings his love of fermented grape beverages to Himalayas. The wine cellar will replace the popular I.O. Speak space that Indian Oven offered downstairs.
Can wine pair with the food at Himalayas? Rinchen says yes, it compliments the food decidedly well. “Myself, I like any kind of wine, but as long as you like wine, it goes well with our food.”
Himalayas caters to fans of Indian cuisine as well as to folks who haven’t really delved into this type of food before. “We try to teach people how to eat Indian food,” says Rinchen. “There are some dishes that people should not try in the beginning.” He advised Indian food newcomers to start with dishes that aren’t too spicy, such as the chicken tikka madras or lamb madras (lamb or chicken cooked in coconut-milk sauce with spices) or the lamb bhuna (shredded lamb sautéed with garlic, jalapeños, and cream sauce). Those looking to try a signature dish should try the chicken tikka madras or Bhutanese specialty. Rinchen is originally from Bhutan, and he says that finding authentic Bhutanese dishes in the Omaha area outside of Himalayas is not easy.
Rinchen states that diners appreciate their menu’s versatility. “A lot of vegetarian people are surprised because we have lots of options for them.” A glance at the menu reveals a dizzying array of appetizers, breads, and entrees with varying flavor profiles.
Business is steadily but surely growing for Himalayas. “So far, so good!” says Rinchen. “It’s started slow here in the Old Market. Right now a lot of people don’t know we’re here, but word is getting out.”
It is not a fancy restaurant, but elegant in its simplicity of décor. Indian music plays as the attentive staff goes from table to table, ensuring customers enjoy their meals.
Rinchen knows how to run restaurants, starting as a chef years ago before opening his first place. He hopes to duplicate his success with his Lincoln restaurants here, and he is willing to make the drive from Lincoln to Omaha as much as needed to in order to see Himalayas succeed. “I work here for a couple nights and then I’m in Lincoln. For over six months, it’s been back and forth.”
He doesn’t mind the hectic pace because he’s doing what he loves. When asked what he wants people to know about Himalayas, he states, “I want people to know that we’re here.” He’s hoping his customer base will continue to grow and thrive. “There’s nothing in the Old Market like this. We’d like to keep it up.”