Longtime New Paltz residents who associate the cavernous space inside 58 Main St. with the college student hangout “Cafeteria” located there for so many years will find quite the transformation in what is now home to Pho Tibet, a serene and relaxed atmosphere in which to enjoy authentic Vietnamese and Himalayan cuisine. Owners Phurbu Tsering and Phurbu Cheosang acquired the property back in August, but spent six months renovating the place, resulting in a comfortable environment that reflects Asian sensibilities blended with contemporary American decor.
Beautiful new flooring has been installed and the kitchen-side wall painted a vivid teal blue that plays nicely with the aged brick wall opposite. A colorful banner has been strung around the top of those wonderfully high ceilings that give the place its spaciousness. Artfully arranged bamboo is installed in a nook high up on the wall, while colorful decorations and a painted fireplace screen add visual interest down at table level.
On the day that New Paltz Times paid a visit, it just happened to be the first day of the Tibetan New Year, a 15-day celebration that begins on the first day of the lunisolar Tibetan calendar. “Losar” predates the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet and has its roots in a winter incense-burning custom of the Bon religion. In celebration of the event, Pho Tibet had an altar set up in the dining room with representative offerings, including a traditional fried dough made only for the New Year, and many of the owners’ friends were present wearing colorful traditional costumes, dining and celebrating in large family groups of all ages.
Open for just a few weeks now, the restaurant has been very busy from day one, according to manager Tashi Tsakorbaro, who says they have purposely not done a big advertising push in order to open the new place slowly, relying on word-of-mouth and “friend to friend” recommendations from those who have come in. “We would like people to just experience it,” he says, “and we want to get feedback from customers.”
A longtime friend of the owners – and as it happens, a former Tibetan monk – Tashi is charming and welcoming as the face of the restaurant welcoming diners. And while all involved in the venture have more than 20 years in the restaurant business, this is the first time for them as restaurateurs. Tashi has been a food and beverage manager for a golf club on Nantucket Island for two decades, a seasonal position he’ll return to this summer before coming back to New Paltz in the fall, and chef/owner Phurbu Tsering first acquired his culinary skills in Delhi, India. Later this year Pho Tibet will acquire additional owners in Bemigmau Tsering and Jampa Lakshey.
New Paltz was chosen as the location to open Pho Tibet after the owners did research on university towns, Tashi says, in the belief that a college town would have the right demographics for the business. They hire college students as servers, and attracting the students as customers is one of the reasons they’ve kept prices low, he says, adding that, as it turns out, there have been just as many adults in town turning into regular customers. “And we really love it here,” he says. “New Paltz is very special. It’s a beautiful neighborhood.”
Pho Tibet is open every day from noon to 10 p.m. Chef Phurbu Tsering says he is very particular about the food that leaves his kitchen and his recipe for pho is a family secret. A vegetarian option is available in each category on the menu and gluten-free items are offered.
Pho noodle soup is made in five varieties, including a grilled lemongrass chicken option and another with thinly sliced raw beef and brisket, priced from $10-$10.99. The Pho Tibet Special pho — spicy braised short rib topped with onion, scallion and cilantro — is $12.
Traditional Tibetan momo, a type of steamed dumpling with a filling, costs $8.99 for the vegetarian version and $9.99 for beef or chicken, with eight pieces per order.
A Pho Tibet specialty is Beef Shabtak, a beef brisket sautéed with red peppers, red onion and tomatoes, served with duck sauce ($10.99). Steamed buns are $2 each.
Banh mi sandwiches range from $9-$12, with the Classic made with Vietnamese ham, smoked ham, ground pork and marrow mayo pâté. The braised short rib banh mi has beansprouts and basil, with additional sandwiches featuring grilled lemongrass chicken, grilled pork chop, fried beer-battered catfish, double-fried chicken breast or veggies.
Beverages include Vietnamese coffee, served hot or cold, and jasmine or green tea along with lemonade and soda.
Rice vermicelli entrée-size salads run $11 to $15, the latter for one with smoked duck breast. Other salad options are grilled shrimp served with fried spring rolls ($10.99), short ribs and lemongrass chicken. Vegetarian spring rolls with a veggie sauce cost $6 for five, as do seafood spring rolls with a fish sauce. Summer rolls are two for $6, served with peanut sauce.
Pho Tibet also serves Mexican-inspired and Vietnamese-style tacos made with coconut flavor rice flour tortillas, two to an order for $8 with the short rib taco priced at $10. The Vietnamese taco includes ground pork and shrimp, with other options made with fried catfish, fried pork belly, lemongrass chicken or grilled shrimp, the latter sampled by this reporter. The shrimp were fresh and grilled perfectly, with a healthy and quite flavorful topping of bean sprouts, cilantro, and pickled carrots and daikon. A bit of pico de gallo-type salsa is served on the side along with a tangy chili oil marinated in lime to drizzle over the tacos.
Pho Tibet is located at 58 Main Street. For reservations or to order take-out, call (845) 633-6442.