A small sushi counter, staffed by a chef carefully crafting roll after roll. A four-seat bar serving up flights of sake. Diners tucking into plates piled high with udon noodles. And... Tibetan prayer flags dangling from the ceiling?
Those are the first hint that Northeast’s new Momo Sushi isn’t the Japanese restaurant you might have been expecting.
“I’m originally from Tibet, but I’ve always worked in Japanese restaurants—that’s my skills,” explains chef and owner Sonam Nyorie. “This is the first Tibetan/Japanese restaurant in Minneapolis. Who knows, maybe the country!”
Nyorie, who immigrated from Tibet in 2010, spent several years working behind the sushi bars and in the kitchens of Japanese restaurants on the East Coast before making his way to the Twin Cities.
“[I realized] working in restaurants is fun,” says Nyorie. “Since my first job, I started thinking, ‘I can open a restaurant.’ I was always trying to work hard—if I work hard, I learn more things.”
Locally, his resume includes stints at Osaka in Coon Rapids and CoV, where he set up the sushi menu. In July 2017, Nyorie launched the Volcano Hibachi food truck—and although successful, he missed making sushi. He spotted the former Bonicelli Kitchen space on frequent drives through Northeast (he lives in nearby Columbia Heights) and he’s been delighted with the enthusiastic welcome Momo Sushi has received.
“I didn’t realize how many nice people there were in this neighborhood,” he says. “The diversity is fun. I’m so happy—I’m chasing my American dream.”
After a quiet opening in mid-December, Momo Sushi is gradually becoming a fixture in Central Avenue’s vibrant restaurant scene. The expansive menu includes an impressive selection of sushi, fried rice, noodles, hibachi dinners, and momo (Tibetan dumplings).
“The food isn’t exactly from other restaurants,” says Nyorie. “It’s just things I like.” For example, there’s a “Tibet Mountain Roll” with steak, avocado, and cheese. The multi-hued Lungta Roll is inspired by the colors of Tibetan prayer flags. Most sushi rolls come with a tangle of spiralized beets on the side, because Nyorie likes the pop of color (we also found them to be a useful palate cleanser, not unlike the usual pickled ginger).
Another thing that’s noteworthy about the menu is the reasonable prices, especially on the lunch menu. Midday diners will appreciate the long list of two-for-$8 or three-for-$11 rolls and hibachi lunches that ring up under $10. Green tea is always complimentary, as are the soups.
We tried the two rolls that Nyorie identified as his bestsellers: The Momo Roll, with salmon, tuna, yellowtail, and eel seaweed salad; and the Angry Dragon Roll, a dramatic presentation of shrimp tempura, tuna, and mango, heaped with crab. Minimalist sushi it is not. But what looks a bit overwhelming on paper works in practice, with a thoughtful balance of flavors and textures.
While the menu is sushi-centric, don’t overlook the hibachi dinners—Nyorie did devote a food truck to the preparation, after all. The steak and lobster dinner we sampled was generously portioned and well-executed, particularly the lobster, which had a tender smokiness that kept us going back for another bite.
For now, the only Tibetan items on the menu are the momo. Pick from beef with rice noodles and green onion or vegetable with potato and green onion. Both are served with a spicy chili sauce on the side—apply with a light touch for Minnesota-spicy or layer it on for bolder flavor. Of the two, we preferred the beef momo for their stick-to-your-ribs quality. While the veggie version was tasty, we didn’t find them to be all that filling.
If you happen to have room for dessert, try the fried banana roll, made with chunks of banana coated with a light tempura batter. Its gentle sweetness hit the spot, and the side of eel sauce made for a tasty salty/sweet contrast.
Although Momo Sushi has only been open a few months, Nyorie is already looking to the future. A menu redesign is coming soon, and he says it will more clearly denote vegetarian and vegan items—while there are plenty of plant-based options on the menu, they aren’t necessarily listed as such.
This summer, he's planning to open a dog-friendly patio in conjunction with the launch of a more developed happy hour menu. While the neighborhood is rich with restaurants, not many have patios. He hopes that Momo Sushi’s outdoor space will become a gathering place for locals.
“The community, the neighbors are just so appreciative,” says Nyorie. “This isn’t just about making money. It’s about building community.”
1839 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis