December 1, 2018

Himalaya Indo-Pak Restaurant

Kaiser Lashkari, his wife Azra and I have been friends for upwards of 20 years, I think (above is a photo from the early days of the restaurant with Kaiser wearing his favorite green color, for his favorite cricket team). 

Azra is usually back in the kitchen maintaining quality control. She and I share a love of cats and good tea. She always makes sure that I have a little food something to take home to my wife, Irene, to enjoy. And I honored her in naming one of ours Laila Azra Princess (L.A.P.). This is Laila Azra...

For me, with my love of food and food science, it is always a treat to come hang out with him for several hours in the quieter parts of the business day. We will chat about food, recipes, politics, whatever. Every so often, he will need to jump up and attend to something in preparation for the evening crowd. I get to be his guinea pig when he is testing out new recipes.

While many India restaurants have gone the route of the buffet steam table, he prefers to do a daily "blue plate special" for lunch, to assure that the food is fresh and hot. Also, this gives him an opportunity to try out new recipes, because, like all talented chefs, making the same dishes every day gets a little boring. One wants to keep one's creative juices flowing.

Recently, I sampled his latest invention...a macadamia nut chocolate flan dessert. It was insane.

His experiments with desi spiced chicken fried steak and fried chicken have been huge successes.

Katherine Shilcutt wrote in 2013 in the Houston Press: 

"The front door of Himalaya Restaurant is decorated with signs of Lashkari's success.
Those people I know who are nuts about South Asian cuisine fall into two camps when it comes to Himalaya Restaurant. Half call it the best Pakistani restaurant in the city. The other half say that even if it's not the absolute, platonic "best," it's always worth a visit for a chat with owner and chef Kaiser Lashkari to see what new dishes he's created since their last visit.
Lashkari is a highly educated, intensely interesting, always garrulous man who attended medical school in his native Pakistan before realizing a love of cooking that would ultimately lead him in a different direction. Lashkari moved here in 1980 and obtained his bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Houston's Conrad Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management.
In 1992, he opened his first restaurant in far west Houston at Beechnut and Kirkwood. It was called, simply, Kaiser Restaurant, and served only take-out meals. Lashkari's business quickly boomed and he found himself catering weddings and other affairs with increasing regularity. After a decade, customer demand for a full-service restaurant led him to open Himalaya in 2004.
Today, Lashkari is always eager to steer his guests into directions he thinks they'll appreciate and enjoy. Lashkari will even alter the spice or oil levels to suit his customers' needs, although part of the fun of eating at Himalaya is the heat coming off his goat and beef dishes. Pakistani cuisine is made approachable by simply asking the amiable chef for his suggestions, then sitting back and letting a feast fall before you.
Lashkari at his famous desk, which is situated right in the middle of the dining room.
What he does:
"Besides managing the restaurant on a daily basis," says Lashkari, "I create new dishes, new flavors, some original some fusion, but most important of all I look for sources that will provide the freshest spices and the highest quality of meats."
Lashkari is proud of the fact that absolutely everything in Himalaya is made from scratch, including his curry blends. "In Indo-Pakistani cuisine," he says, "the freshness of spices plays a pivotal role in creating a high quality product."
Why he loves it:
"Since I have a little more time on hand during week days, I prepare new dishes and invite close friends, family members and a few guests who've over a period of time become close friends," says Lashkari. "When they sincerely give their approval to my dishes and smile...that's my moment of joy. That's what I enjoy most. I know it sounds cliche but its true."
Because he works 16-hour days, six days a week, Lashkari rarely has time to have guests over to his home. "So once a week or sometimes even twice a week," he says, "I invite guests [to the restaurant] and enjoy a private moment in a public place."
"I absolutely loathe getting stuck in traffic," he continues, "but driving to and from work I get open freeways. I do enjoy this aspect of my job while listening to the sitar in my car -- driving like a nut, according to my late mom."
Why he loves Houston:
Believe it or not, the humidity.
"First and foremost," Lashkari says, "the weather in Houston is exactly what I experienced in the first 20 years of my life. Good or bad I enjoy this."
"I have lived in this city for 32 years and it's now home to me," he continues. "I love the antique shops of Houston. I love the day trips to quaint little towns in and around Houston. I enjoy these trips on Mondays with my wife. Austin, Dallas, San Antonio are all a stone's throw away. I met my lovely wife in Houston, so how can I not love Houston?"
Lashkari was also conscious of his decision to move into Little India specifically for its rich diversity of offerings -- something he loves about Houston as a whole, too. "Again it sounds cliche but is true," he says. "The diversity in food and culture this city has to offer is unparalleled. Little India with multiple Indian restaurants on this side of Hillcroft and several Mexican, Honduran, Salvadoran and even Jamaican restaurants on that side of Hillcroft close to Bellaire."
"Next light up," Lashkari continues, "you will find several Oriental restaurants...isn't that amazing?"
He also credits his alma mater for inspiring his love of Houston, calling it "the place that shaped me into what I am today. [The University of Houston] is close to my heart and close enough to visit frequently."

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