Goodbye to Lhasa New York’s Perfectly Hidden Fast Food Restaurant

The building housing Lhasa Fast Food burned down in March.
Photo: An Rong Xu / An Rong Xu

I remember all the times that I have been Fast Food Restaurants in Lhasa, and all the reactions of friends that I took there and ran a… cell phone repair shop (?) in the little restaurant tucked away in the back. Jackson Heights restaurant was the kind of place that is catnip for a certain type of New Yorker – mainly because the momos were so juicy.

Yesterday I was saddened to read that Lhasa was “completely destroyed” in a four-alarm fire that ravaged its building in early March. On a GoFundMe page, owner Sang Jien Ben writes that he needs help because “the prospects for insurance reimbursement and / or upcoming reconstruction in Jackson Heights are not looking good.” Eater reports that it is “unlikely” to reopen at Lhasa Fast Food at this current location, as the building needs to be rebuilt. That the fire occurred after an incredibly long year for so many working in the restaurant industry and in the epicenter of the Jackson Heights pandemic, only hurts more. It also happened as the city emerged from a winter in which more businesses closed and the restaurant industry unemployment rate rebounded.

Lhasa did not stand out correct because of how you got there, but still – the appeal of the location was that it was, yes, unexpected, and also proof that someone was creating their own space, literally, to do room for his life and his ambitions. On the GoFundMe page, Ben writes that “my success there has secured the life of my family.”

Places like Lhasa are intrinsic to their communities. Being less known to the outside world – or even the neighborhood more broadly – only strengthens the bond. Lhasa, of course, became better known (especially after being featured in an episode of The Queens of Anthony Bourdain’s film Unknown parts), and since the original opened in 2012, Ben has grown with real storefronts in Elmhurst and the East Village, but I can’t say if I’ve been there either. I always went back to the original.

Being a secret isn’t a good deal unless you have some cash to spend and people are looking for you. But in an endlessly scavenged city and a world where so much can be found just by typing a few words into your phone, a little secrecy is tantalizing, even for a semi-adventurous customer. Another of my favorites is a pool hall called Café Nano Billiard, ALSO, located right next to the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, where you can taste wonderful Dominican dishes locrio de pollo and bacalao in red sauce if you know how to ask for them. Even after being a few times, I remember going by and missing it – maybe because some scaffolding went up, or maybe just because I was in my own world. But I would stop whenever I could, when I got on Arthur Avenue or discovered new restaurants, when I got off the subway a few stops early.

For the past year or so, even as I have crisscrossed the city jumping on my bike to buy Thai food in Elmhurst or heading to Lechonera La Piraña, I almost tripped over these places. Unless you’re part of the community, you are, of course, an intruder, as I was at Nano Billiards.

Most of the time, it’s the stumbling block that I miss, just being in the world. The places we tend to call hidden gems can feel like stepping into a part of the city that exists below the surface, end points you will only find if you are willing to look around. , to find people who fit in wherever they can. .

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