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Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Review: Rara: Restaurant offers Palo Alto’s only Nepali Cuisine

Kensie Pao
AT THE REGISTER — Rara’s Head Chef Binod Poudel (left) and manager Ishav Dawadi (right) pose for a photo. “In my village, whenever someone got married, I would help in the kitchen,” Head Chef Binod Poudel said. “I remember my mother said I should cook or become a chef. Before school, I would cook in the morning, and for dinner in my home. Even when I was small, I was cooking.”

Upon entering Rara, warm lighting, traditional decor and the aroma of delicious spices immediately transports customers to Nepal.

From the painting of the lake in Nepal from which the restaurant derives its name to the soothing instrumental music, the ambiance is a perfect blend of authenticity and contemporary charm. As the sun begins to set, sounds of chattering diners fill the restaurant.

Rara, which opened in November, stands out among Palo Alto’s diverse dining options as the only Nepali restaurant. Situated at the end of California Avenue, the restaurant offers authentic Nepali cuisine with a personal touch.

Head Chef Binod Poudel and manager Ishav Dawadi are brothers-in-law.

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“He [Poudel] is the head chef, and we are family,” Dawadi said. “We always wanted to open a Nepali restaurant.”

After high school in Nepal, Poudel got his diploma in culinary arts and started working in a restaurant as a sous chef in his early 30s. He has worked in five-star restaurants in Nepal, India, Europe and the U.S.

Dawadi started his career with a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management, and together, the pair wanted to combine their passions in a restaurant.

We wanted to say ‘Hey, we are from Nepal, this is our food, this is our culture,’ and we wanted to bring that environment here

— Ishav Dawadi

With a clear mission to showcase their Nepali roots, they also wanted to expand the locals’ palate.

“We wanted to see how we would do here in Palo Alto, because in Nepali [populated] areas, it would be too easy,” Dawadi said. “We want to introduce everyone to our food. Palo Alto is a very nice area because everyone here is respectful and open to trying new food.”

Rara doesn’t have dishes commonly found in an Indian restaurant on the menu, which may confuse customers who see similarities between the two types of food. Nepal, while close in location to India, has its own distinctive cuisine.

“So many of our customers when they came in they were saying ‘Do you have butter chicken, do you have naan?’ and we had to explain to them that we don’t have it.”

— Ishav Dawadi

“We explained to them alternatives like momos, sizzlers, 8848, chicken cauli, and they slowly tried it.”

For those who are unfamiliar with what to order, Poudel and Dawadi offer their recommendations. The most tried menu items are thenduk ($14.99-$16.88), momos ($14.99-$22.99), 8848 [a housemade sauce] and Akbare [a spice grown in the Himalayas] chicken wings ($17.99).

Momos are steamed dumplings made fresh daily. They are usually filled with minced meat and served as appetizers, in soup or pan-fried.

“We make everything here,” Dawadi said. “We make the dough and wrap them, and the spices are organic from Nepal. The achar [sauce] is very unique because it comes with two kinds, one is a mint base and one is tomato base.”

Thenduk is wheat flour dough cooked into a soup along with meat and vegetables. Other traditional Nepali dishes at Rara include kwati soup ($9.99), and choila ($16.99).

Starting a restaurant is never an easy process, however the pair said they are pleased with the results.

“We didn’t know how popular we would be in such a short amount of time,” Dawadi said. “We were thinking it was going to be a slow process. But word of mouth and everyone bringing their families and friends and leaving good reviews is really helpful.”

Dawadi and Poudel’s commitment to enhancing customer experience stands out through their warm hospitality.

“We don’t want the customer to just dine and leave. We want to have them experience our culture, and make them feel like they’re at home.”

— Ishav Dawadi

“Everyone is so busy nowadays, they don’t have time to sit and eat,” Dawadi said. “We want to make people feel like they are cared for. We might be from different places, but we want to make you feel comfortable and give our best.”

Additional reporting by Stefan Eriksson.