Momo Ghar


 1265 MORSE ROAD (inside Saraga Market)
43229 Columbus
(614) 749-2901

We covered Momo Ghar in Columbus Monthly well before we got the chance to do it here. For a primer on their delicious doings, check it out.

In recent conversations with the owners, they’ve mentioned that they’ve seen a significant uptick in business due to the (well deserved) glowing reviews on social media and elsewhere. Given the intimate lunch counter atmosphere, in which customers are literally facing the owner as they prepare food, they’ve received feedback that has served to refine the menu.


Thankfully, this hasn’t compromised the integrity of their offering, but rather inspired additional items that expand accessibility of it. The wicked spicy heat of the momo jhol broth has been tamed, though the original is still available (ask for it spicy), and vegetarian momos with the jhol broth are also now available. There’s also a new Eastern Tibetan version on offer.


About the lunch counter set up – it’s just about the best thing about them. Down side is limited seating, but the upside is a front row seat for the rarest of culinary performances – fresh, quality, made-from-scratch food crafted just for you, in front of you, amid lively banter with the kitchen and customers. If you haven’t checked out these guys, you should.


Tensuke Express


Cuisine: Japanese
1155 Old Henderson Rd.
(614) 451-4010

As a born-and-raised-in-the-midwest American who has designed restaurant interior spaces, I always find something vaguely disorienting about Japanese restaurant environments. Everything is extremely orderly and astonishingly similar to what you’d expect from a Western environment, except for when it isn’t, and those minute exceptions accumulate until the mind starts to melt from uncanny valley overload. The new Tensuke Express is like that, times 100, and I love it to the point that I’d go there just to sit in the space and puzzle over it even if the food was awful, which it isn’t.


Every second restaurant that opens in Columbus has this artful hodgepodge thing going on – mismatched chairs, scads of different light fixtures, fabric and material changes all over the place. Tensuke Express does too, but it doesn’t look like any of the rest of them. At all. While the norm is dark, brooding, reclaimed industrial, Tensuke Express is bright and shiny and new, with yellows and whites dominating. Sure, there are hanging window frames and rope decor elements, but also abaci, framed out room structures with names like ‘curry corner’, and dedicated bins for returning your chopsticks, soup spoons, and just about anything else you might accumulate during the course of your meal. It’s the rarest of things – a restaurant that doesn’t look, or even entirely function, like any other restaurant, but isn’t worse off for it.


We weren’t the first customer in the space, but we were close enough to it to witness the celebratory picture-taking of the actual first. Restaurants are usually freaking the f*ck out upon open, but there was none of that – everyone we came in contact with (and they were emphatically not understaffed) was absolutely beaming with pride. The Japanese are well known for their reserve, but not even the strictures of culture could contain their unalloyed joy. As such, it was unexpectedly affecting.

So, lets get around to talking about food. Tensuke Express seems set up to primarily be a quick service noodle bar – ramen, soba, or udon. Pick a noodle, pick a broth, pick toppings, pay, get a buzzer that tells you when to pick up your order at the counter. There are some rice bowl and curry options, as well as a few sides, but those are relegated to a paper menu. It’s about the noodle bowls, people!, or so you’d gather from their prominence on the oversized menu boards.


We got ramen – one tonkotsu with chashu, one miso with spicy pork kimchi. They were served hot, enough so that it actually made sense to slurp as the Japanese do, and to understand why they do it. The noodles were perfect, period. I’ll hazard to guess that they are actually making their own broths in-house, and the effort shows – they might not have been the best I’ve ever had, but they’re good, and better than you’d have any reason to expect on a restaurant’s first day open.

Which is a good enough reason not to delve any deeper into food at this point – they opened strong, but there’s plenty of reason to expect they’ll get even better. We’ve been semi-regulars of the old Tensuke Express, and the only thing that might compromise that is the new sushi bar Tensuke’s owners are putting into the old Tensuke Express space. It should be open in a few weeks, and we’re eager to see it and tell you about it. Stay tuned.



3108 Kingsdale Center
43221 Upper Arlington
(614) 456-7519


“There’s a lot to be said for experiencing crappy versions of food before you get to the good stuff. It makes the moment of realisation so very much better.”

So said Jay Rayner, perhaps one of the most outspoken and opinionated food writers around. I read his quote at a fortunate moment, shortly after having eaten at Tot and shortly before writing this review.

Point being, there have been enough new ‘bringing Vietnamese to the masses’ restaurant openings lately that it qualifies as a trend, and a trend that hasn’t produced much success. Having endured more than a few disappointing experiences in this vein, Tot surprised by how distinctly it delivered.

Generally speaking, we’ve found that there’s almost an inverse relationship between the amount of effort put into the image of restaurants serving immigrant cuisines and the quality of the food – basically, the better it looks, worse it tastes. Tot looks slick with professional logo and menu design, and an of-the-moment light & bright minimalist interior. Forgive us for thinking it felt like a familiar set up.


One that led to the need to quickly recalibrate: with the first taste, Tot’s banh mi easily became one of the top 3 in the city. The baguette was toasted, the fillings hit the sandwich’s signature ‘how does something so rich taste so fresh?’ notes, and as I was later told, the pate and the mayonnaise were both made in-house. They’re also getting a nice char on their grilled pork, and it pays off. Good start.


One that continues with the bun (cold rice noodle bowl).  The first thing you’ll notice is how beautifully it’s presented. Traditionally the elements of the dish are layered – vegetables at the bottom, covered with rice noodles, then meat on top – but Tot composes them so all elements are visible. Since the general idea is to mix them up anyway, there’s no discernible compromise to this approach. Clever, and tasty. We went with grilled pork option again, and not only did it satisfy, it evoked fading memories of the brazier grilled street side versions of this dish when I tried it in Hanoi.


But what about the pho? Truthfully, we weren’t big fans. The broth was on the thin side, and the flavor seemed to lean a bit too heavily towards the star anise. Everything else seemed right, but the broth is why we get it. Bearing in mind that the restaurant has been open for all of a week, it’s entirely possible that they haven’t worked the kinks out yet.


A point worth re-emphasizing, especially in light of how much they’ve done well. Even at this early stage, Tot is the first of its kind I’d happily return to, and, have.



Yemeni Restaurant


5426 Cleveland Avenue
Columbus, 43231
Hours: Monday-Sunday 11am-10pm

Yemeni Restaurant is just 3 months old, and they’re in the 161 & Cleveland avenue area, so the usual mixed bag of immigrant restaurant quirks is in full evidence – unavailable menu items, limited menus to look at, and perhaps understaffed on the service side (but very very kind). The space is spotlessly clean and a bit austere, all soothing greys and wood tones, and the dining room is divided into quadrants. The effect is curious, more that of a tech startup workspace than a place to eat.

Make no mistake, though, the eating is good, and in some respects unlike anything else you can find in the city.

“It’s hot”, the server said, as he rested the cast iron pot of bubbling stew on our table. it was held in a charred wooden box. “Even the box”, he elaborated, and he wasn’t being cautious. Two baskets mounded with flatbread followed, as did another stew and a lamb platter.


We tore bread and dipped pieces into the first pot, called fahsa, and ate. Within a bite, our understanding of the word ‘savory’ was redefined. A bit of googling explained that the dish is primarily meat – often lamb but in this case goat – cooked in its own broth. And, cooked to the point that it lies somewhere between a stew and a porridge.

It has to be said, that even with the wide variety of eating experiences we like to pride ourselves on, we found it strange. We also thought it unreservedly delicious. It’s the kind of fizzy moment worth seeking out – with a taste we’ve experienced something truly new to us, and our world is made ever-so-slightly larger and better off for it.

The other pot contained ‘foul’. Both the dish and the name are common throughout the Arab world, though most we’ve experienced amount to cooked fava beans with accompaniments, while the Yemeni version was closer to a thick chili. We’ll take the slightly spicy and more complex Yemeni style anytime, especially coupled with the flatbread.


The lamb dish, called ‘haneeth’, felt perhaps most familiar – bone-in lamb rested atop basmati rice and trimmed out with spaghetti and potatoes. This was very similar to any of a number of Somali-style platters, with small differences discernible in the flavor of the rice (I’d guess saffron), and the addition of sultanas. The lamb was flavorful, and perhaps just a bit overcooked and under seasoned for our tastes.


Add a clover-forward Adeni-style milk tea and a surprisingly satisfying frothy avocado juice, and that was our meal – which leaves over 80% of the menu unexplored, a percentage we intend to work down. Given our experience, we’d like to suggest that you should, too.

Raspados y Nieves La Laguna


Cuisine: Mexican Desserts and snacks
5455 Norton Center
Columbus, 43228

Long term readers of alt.eats.columbus know that we have a soft spot for eateries hidden in the back of ethnic markets. Recently we’ve found something even more curious – a Mexican dessert cafe that’s hidden behind a laundromat. There’s something a little surreal about walking through a laundromat, with the characteristic smell of detergent and dryers, and then suddenly finding yourself in a spacious restaurant offering milkshakes, smoothies, fruit cups and ice cream.


Raspados are the biggest seller at Laguna. For the uninitiated, these are shaved ice cups that are flavored with mostly homemade syrups, condensed milk and other toppings. At Laguna they are adorned by an umbrella. For their Mexican customers who love a combination of sweet, icy and spicy the most popular is the Diablito which is topped with homemade tamarind syrup, lime juice, chamoy sauce, spicy powder, hot tamarind candy and chopped mango. Chamoy is made from pickled fruit and is salty, sweet, spicy and sour. The ice is shaved to order and it’s fun to watch them assemble the raspados. We enjoyed the nuez (pecan).
Other novelties include lagunadas which are comprised of diced fruit, sorbet, chamoy sauce, spicy powder and hot tamarind candy. Esquimos or ‘skimos’ are a traditional type of Mexican milkshake that is made with milk, sweetened condensed milk and a flavor and are foamed in a special machine to make the drink light and airy. American style milkshakes are also available.
Laguna served over a dozen flavors of homemade ice cream with flavors ranging from dragon fruit to burnt milk. Mango is pictured below. The paletas (Mexican popsicles) aren’t made in house but they have plans to make their own as the business grows. Snacks, fruit juices and a wide variety of fruit cups are also available. There’s a lot of variety to explore.
Laguna is a great summer stop if you’re out on the west side looking for something sweet, cool and a little different. Spice is optional. We’d also recommend a stop at Playa Larga’s taco truck, a little further south on Norton Road for some shrimp empanadas and ceviche.

Dessert Bowl


2839 Olentangy River Rd
Columbus, OH 43202

My (admittedly somewhat jaded) feelings about dessert are that most sweets are not too terribly different from most others, and when they are you often wish they weren’t. Consequently, it’s unusual for us to get overly excited about a dessert place.

This makes Dessert Bowl very unusual.

Dessert Bowl’s sizable Asian-style dessert menu is a distinct departure from the Western same-same, and amounts to a lesson on turning ingredients you’d never imagine finding in a dessert into finished dishes that charm with their novelty as they seduce with intriguingly harmonious flavor and alluring presentation.

Our first taste of Dessert Bowl’s cleverness came from menu item D10 – ‘Mango sago cream with pomelo in Mango base’. To demystify a bit, sago is nothing more than tapioca, and pomelo is a mild Southeast Asian fruit that is often described as a less bitter cousin to grapefruit. Mango is pureed with milk and coconut cream to create the base, and the fruit and tapioca combine with it to create a rich and tangy blend of tropical flavors and wildly varying textures. Spoons collided above this bowl more than once.


Next we tried the ‘crispy glutinous rice balls’ (A4). It’s an inelegant name, in translation at least, that belies a spectacular experience. Filled with a sweet bean paste, chewy balls of glutinous rice dough are rolled in rice flour and fried. Then, six to an order, they’re placed atop a bed of crushed peanuts and drizzled with a syrup. If you’ve ever had Japanese mochi, you’ll immediately understand this dish and almost certainly prefer it. If you haven’t, skip the mochi and start right here – it’s that good.


Crepes feature prominently, both in Asian dessert in general and on this menu in particular, so we tried the mango & banana version (K3). Filled with fresh fruit aplenty and drizzled with chocolate and another unidentified but tasty syrup, the only sense in which it didn’t satisfy was in the novelty department.


For that, we turned to the ‘black glutinous rice congee with coconut’ (T9). Rice congees traditionally tend to be a savory breakfast porridge, so sweet piqued the curiosity. Our gamble netted us a warm bowl of nutty black rice combined with a sweet coconut base that featured a subtle salty counterpoint. Improbable though it may have sounded, it disappeared quickly.


As did everything else. Our trio of grazers ordered all of the above after having already eaten a full and substantial meal. Portions were larger than we might’ve expected, and we approached the place expecting to taste but not finish. And yet, quickly, everything was gone.

Credit is due to the chef, a pleasant and congenial Malaysian gentleman who worked a stint at an Asian restaurant in a Vegas casino. He pointed to this experience as formative, and we can only imagine that it must have been. We like where it’s taken him. Simply put, on any short list of local destination dessert stops that include Pistacia Vera and Jeni’s, we believe that Dessert Bowl should feature prominently.

Last thought – if you’re looking for Zimmern-level culinary adventurism, Dessert Bowl can provide. The potently aromatic durian fruit is available in several dishes, and the spendy delicacy known as birds nest soup is the base for several others.




5875 Sawmill Rd. Dublin, OH 43017

When I think of modern Japanese culture, I tend to think of all of the clever and considerate details that make so many mundane day-to-day experiences just a little bit more pleasant. The first time I encountered a toilet in Japan, I came away wondering why anyone should have to suffer an unheated seat, or how there could be any civilized way of manipulating the seat that doesn’t involve a button and a motor. Use your hands? C’mon!

And, where do you rest your used chopsticks? Usually, in Japan, on a beautiful little ceramic prop made just for that purpose. Opening product packaging isn’t an exercise in frustration in Japan, often it’s an aesthetically pleasing experience in it’s own right.

None of these things are particularly complicated or mind-blowing (OK, maybe the toilet…), but they’re all things that just didn’t seem self-evidently sensible until you had the chance to experience them.

Such are our feelings about Karen. There really aren’t many places that specialize solely in freshly cooked takeout-only meals (I refuse to include Little Ceaser’s…) but once you experience it… well, of course!


Karen’s menu is surprisingly broad and easily navigated, and includes Japanese curries, tempuras, stir fries, and rice bowls. Sushi is also available, both in traditional Japanese styles as well as some more unconventional options that show serious local boosterism – Sawmill roll, OSU roll, Dublin roll, Columbus roll, and of course, Ohio roll. If you’re in the midwest but not of it, you can go your own fancy way with a Boston roll or a Philadelphia roll. And, if you’re a uniter and not a divider, there’s always the American Dream roll. Clearly Karen is intended to cater to both Japanese and American palates, but it comes at it from a decidedly Japanese perspective.

On our visit, we tried the yaki udon, pork shougayaki, kampyi sushi roll, and some kombu onigiri (rice balls). While none of them would rank as the best example we’ve ever had, all were solidly good, especially since none were more than $9 and portions were generous.


Of all of the ways you could effortlessly put a good, hot, nutritious meal in front of friends, family, or the like, this has to be close to the top. Now to convince them to open one closer to us.