You've just walked into Tasty Mo:Mo:, a small Nepalese restaurant, with a focus on momos (dumplings), which opened last month in Somerville's Magoun Square.
There are no seats, so use the anticipation-filled moments before receiving a steaming tray of dumplings to come up with a plan. Is it balmy enough to eat them outside, leaning against the building? Should you retreat to the privacy of your car? Or will you inhale them right there, standing at a counter where stools should be, though the city of Somerville hasn't sanctioned it?
Owner Sophiya Thakali, 29, seems very concerned about you finding a place to eat them. Due to a licensing snafu, Tasty Mo:Mo: is takeout only — for now. Thakali expects to have seating cleared by the city in July. But we will take the flavorful, and often fiery, food any way we can get it.
Thakali tells us that all her dumplings are snack food in Nepal, meant to be eaten whenever a craving strikes. Begin with the momo of your choice ($6.50), a flavorful, juicy filling of beef, pork, chicken, or a vegetable blend (vegan). One of the quick-moving Nepali women behind the counter skillfully wraps your choice in springy dough, while you watch her. The dumplings disappear into a steamer, and you wait. A paper sign tells you it will take 12 minutes, but on a busy night, it might be much longer. Happily, Olde Magoun's Saloon and Daddy Jones Bar are friendly neighbors, willing to pour you a pint or a craft cocktail. (Thakali needs to start posting her ever-changing menu online so it's easier to call ahead and order.)
You could make a meal of just momos ($6.50 for 8), dipped in the two accompanying sauces, billed as "hot sauce" and "sweet sauce." A truer description might be, "Throat shockingly-take-your-breath-away-spicy (in a wonderful way) sauce," and "Nutty-slightly-sweet-but-still-pretty-darn-spicy sauce." If you are committed to the burn, go ahead and order the chile momo ($7.99), in which dumplings are bathed in a sweet-hot tomato-based sauce.
But don't stop with momos. Thakali has an evolving menu of other Nepali treats. Chow mein ($6.50 for chicken or beef, $6 for vegetarian) bears no resemblance to the Chinese-American iteration you've eaten. Here, springy noodles are tossed with strips of bell pepper and onion in a garlicky sauce that we just can't stop eating. Veggie fried rice ($6) is a fine, flavorful blend of rice, peas, and carrots, but not worth precious stomach-space, considering what else is here.
Aloo dum ($5.50) is a soul-soothing stew of fried potatoes cooked in herb-spiked tomato and onion gravy. Chicken chili ($7.50) employs the same sweet-hot sauce for the momos, used here to coat crispy-fried strips of chicken and stir-fried green bell peppers and onions.
The clientele skews young and Tufts-affiliated, which is no surprise. This flavorful carb-heavy food is pitch-perfect fuel for a long night of partying, and a fitting remedy the next day. But it's not all students. Thakali says a quarter of her customers are natives of Nepal. We meet a Nepali woman who is visiting from California.
Thakali came to the States alone when she was 20, with plans to be become an accountant. As it turns out, that wasn't a good fit, so she decided to pursue her lifelong dream of opening a restaurant.
Like any new owner, Thakali is stressed and exhilarated at the same time, but the past weeks have been especially hard, with all her family and friends back home recovering from the earthquake. "I wish I was there. If I didn't have a restaurant I'd be there to help right now. I'd take a flight right away," says Thakali, who donated 500 frozen momos to friends, who sold the dumplings to raise money for earthquake victims.
The restaurateur's family and friends are OK. Her childhood home in Kathmandu is damaged, but still standing. Despite the distraction of heartache, she is at the restaurant every day, making dumplings, filing paperwork, and chatting with customers. She arrives around 7 a.m., and often works past midnight.
The line snaking out the door for her dumplings keeps her motivated, and reminds her why she embarked on this endeavor. "I thought, you know what? I'm just going to do it. It's one life, if I don't do it now, it will never be."
403b Medford St.,
Prices Dumplings $6.50-$7.99 Entrees $5.50-$7.50
Hours Sun-Thu noon-
10 p.m., Fri-Sat noon-
10:30 p.m. (Hours change;
What to order Pork momo, chile momo, beef chow mein
Catherine Smart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.