On a sign in a leafy corner of a quiet Las Colinas strip mall, a grinning cartoon man casts his eyes down over the parking area. He’s wearing a stripe-patterned hat and, over his gleaming teeth and pointed double chin, a broad black mustache.
His arrival can only mean one thing: One of Nepal’s biggest restaurant chains has arrived in Texas.
Bajeko Sekuwa has more than a dozen locations in Nepal, most of them in the capital, Kathmandu, where the chain has become famous for its grilled meats, enormous momo dumplings and local comfort foods like chow mein. Irving’s location, which opened in October, is the second to debut outside Nepal; the other is in New York City.
What does the arrival of this chain, and its mustachioed mascot, portend for Irving? For one thing, it’s an anointment of this suburb’s Nepalese population, which is now one of the largest in our hemisphere. Irving has built a healthy ecosystem of homegrown restaurants serving momos and other Nepalese favorites, and now an international chain sees this as valuable territory.
As chains go, Bajeko Sekuwa is pretty darn good. Its dumplings are big but tender; its grilled meats are accompanied by sauces like none other in North Texas. There are appealing bar snacks to pair with a list of shots that fell out of a time warp from 1998. (If you’re wondering what bar in the Dallas area still serves melon balls and Purple Starfuckers, here it is.)
Like many of its local competitors, including Peak Restaurant, Cafemandu and MomoStop, Bajeko Sekuwa is supremely hospitable and welcoming to outsiders. Servers are eager to explain unfamiliar foods and help build a balanced meal.
They also sometimes show sincere concern if a non-Nepalese customer orders “wrong.” A waiter once told us very frankly that “white people” didn’t like the dish we’d requested, and that he was concerned we might send it back to the kitchen in disgust. At the end of another visit, a manager told my table there’d been a whole conversation in the kitchen about whether we were sure we wanted to order what we’d ordered.
On the second occasion, their skepticism was warranted: We’d ordered a Kathmandu khaja set, which sounded like a hearty sample platter of various meats and sides, but which in fact is a big collection of bar snacks meant to accompany tall glasses of beer — not our dainty cups of water.
But their skepticism was also off-base, because we loved the khaja set anyway.
For $15, this drinking platter comes with brilliant cumin-seed-coated roasted potatoes, 2-inch-long fish fried whole, chicken gizzards chopped and cooked in an appealing spice mix, fat fingers of radish pickled with cumin and other savory spices, two stewed meats served cold (we preferred the flavorfully marinated chicken to the rather tough goat) and a big pile of roasted soybeans mixed with chopped red onion and cilantro.
Yes, it does all call out for a beer, especially the soybeans, which are a quintessential bar snack. But drinks aren’t necessary for enjoyment, and there’s a vegetarian version available, too.
There’s also a bigger side bowl of the roasted and spice-covered potatoes available, and that’s an essential addition to many a meal here ($7). Pair it with some of the restaurant’s namesake specialties: sekuwa, a platter of marinated meat or vegetables grilled on skewers.
There are five kinds of sekuwa grilling available: chicken, goat, hyakula (mutton), bandel (wild boar belly) and mixed veggies. The grilled chicken skewer is — there’s no other word for it — spectacular ($10). Breast meat is marinated and grilled to an astonishing degree of tenderness. High-end chefs create this kind of soft, no-knife-needed chicken with sous vide bags. Bajeko Sekuwa achieves the same magic through pure traditionalism. The chicken is coated with a salty, complex spice rub and charred so hard that it’s a miracle the inside remains so tender.
The veggies ($9) are coated in even more seasoning, perhaps too much, although it suits the big cubes of fried paneer, which come alongside. Only the house specialty boar is likely to pose real challenges for American diners, thanks to Bajeko Sekuwa’s belief that rendering all the fat deprives diners of a chance to enjoy the belly’s chewy texture ($15).
Most of the sekuwa plates come with a simple, addicting side: scoopfuls of puffed rice tossed with chopped red onions and cilantro. It’s the kind of addicting snack that feels like it must be complex, must have lime juice or some other ingredient. But it’s that easy.
Only two more things about Bajeko Sekuwa must be mentioned: First, the restaurant’s momo dumplings, which are truly enormous, half-moon shaped and best when filled with goat meat and steamed ($12 for eight). The dipping sauces are a spicy chile sauce (spelled “chilly”) and a vivid yellow tomato-sesame sauce, which is like nothing in any other culture.
When we ordered goat jhol momo, or dumplings served in a fragrant broth, our server brought the broth on the side, concerned we wouldn’t like it ($13 for eight). This brings us to the second point: the restaurant’s service. The servers’ concern that non-Nepalese diners won’t like the food is predicated on real experiences with Americans who’ve come in and been startled by this culture’s unique spice blends and sensibilities.
But for adventurous Americans, that honesty is really an asset. Have an honest conversation with your server. Ask for fuller descriptions of each item. If you love spicy food, say so.
Take the dish that our waiter told us “white people” don’t like, the one he was afraid we would send back. It’s called haas ko choila, and it’s cubes of duck braised and coated with a sauce of chile peppers, ginger, garlic and tomatoes ($13). The meat and sauce are served chilled, along with a scoopful of flattened and toasted rice for extra crunch.
It’s cold and studded with whole black peppercorns and pieces of bone. Its flavors are face-punchingly bold. We loved it.
Bajeko Sekuwa, 5465 N. MacArthur Blvd., Irving. 972-600-9114, bajekosekuwa.com. Open 11:30 a.m. to 10:45 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Friday; noon to 11:45 p.m.Saturday; noon to 10:45 p.m. Sunday.