Chef Kausik Roy didn't invent his signature dish after attending culinary school, nor did he do it while he was working at some of the best restaurants in India. In fact, he was only a 9-year-old boy in Mumbai when he took one look at a plate of slimy okra and told his family he refused to eat it until it was crunchy and spicy. Someone took pity on him, sprinkled the okra in green chili, and deep-fried it. To everyone's surprise, they all loved it, and this dish, karrarri bhindi, has been a mainstay of Roy's kitchens.
At his newest restaurant, Tawa Indian Cuisine, there are two distinct dining areas: the more laid-back downstairs, where guests dig into plates of finger food and can get away with wearing mismatched socks, and the fancier, intimate space upstairs, where guests enjoy Indian fusion favorites. These include shrimp, calamari, scallops, and basmati rice flecked with saffron—the Indian version of paella—and coconut-and-pepper shrimp served with a chutney mayo.
At Chili Chicken Indian Twist, palates on a mission to explore eastern cuisines can traverse the esculent gamut of both Indian and Chinese cuisine on the extensive menu. Warm body interiors with a bowl of sweet-corn soup ($3) or lightly breaded hot and crispy shrimp with a sweet chili sauce ($7), or sate subcontinent-shaped stomachs with Indian treats such as samosas ($5), lamb tikka masala ($13), or vegetable clay-pot curry for a traditional taste of vibrant, aromatic spices ($9). Alternatively, those with stomachs hankering to venture north of the Himalayas can try double-fried tofu in a mild chili-ginger sauce ($9) or bombay szechwan fried rice with shrimp ($10). Chili Chicken Indian Twist also offers a list of domestic and imported beer ($5–$8), as well as house wines by the glass ($6.50), ideal for swigging before partaking in blindfolded slam-dunk contests.
In Royal Palace's spacious banquet-hall-style dining room, diners pore over a lengthy menu of Punjabi cuisine that draws fragrant flavors from the tandoori oven and aromatic simmered sauces. Paneer tikka masala features cubes of cheese under spiced tomato cream sauce, and a similar tomato sauce, with butter instead of cream, flavors hunks of tandoori chicken in a chicken makhani dish. At tables draped in salmon-colored tablecloths, patrons tear into tender chunks of lamb vindaloo, accented with vinegar-based masala and red chilis, or seafood specialties including fish madras curry. Crimson valances frame the windows, balanced by elephant statues, which occasionally snag bites of paneer when diners aren't looking.
Inside Rani Mahal is something of a cultural adventure, with vivid Indian artwork lining watermelon-hued walls. The elegant, well-lit dining room sits visitors at white-clothed tables, where they dig into such traditional Indian dishes as lamb tikka: cubes of lamb marinated in yogurt, garlic, and spices, and roasted in a clay oven. Rani Mahal also curates a vast spread of vegetarian options, such as palak paneer, which pairs homemade cheese cubes with lightly spiced spinach gravy.
Upon stepping up to the counter at Masala Kraft Cafe—two-time winner of a Best of Westchester award, diners feast their eyes on a host of vegetarian options bathed in traditional Indian spices and herbs. Owner Bela Mehta strives to serve the kind of quick, healthy food that is found on every corner in Mumbai, the city from which she hails. The entirely vegetarian menu features the Masala Kraft sandwich, a homemade veggie cutlet and cilantro chutney on grilled focaccia, and palak with onion kulcha, an authentic Indian spinach curry served with stuffed bread. One of their most popular delicacies is the dosa—crispy rice crepes wrapped around fillings such as spiced mashed potatoes—a street-food staple whose folded shape allows diners to eat on the go or burst into an epic Bollywood dance routine without spilling.
Praised by the New York Times Thali's head chef and owner Prasad Chirnomuola quells cravings for elegant, unexpected flavors. The adventurous menu features a slew of imaginative dishes that twist traditional Indian fare and keep clingy eggplant from smothering the other ingredients with unwanted attention. Begin an edible journey by soaking baked naan ($2–$4), infused with onions, garlic, or chilies, in a bowl of mussels with Portuguese chorizo ($8–$10). Varieties of vindaloos come with a choice of fowl, fish, veggies, or lamb ($10–$24), matched by varieties of kebabs and spicy masalas. Specialty entrees show off the kitchen's creativity and ability to rip through refrigerators, with such artful delicacies as date and walnut grilled chicken breast, smothered with papaya, pineapple, and tomato salsa ($18–$22), and sea bass seared in hot tandoor spices and snuggled next to squash, lentil, and truffle basmati rice ($20–$24). Finally, cap sweet teeth with a bevy of desserts, including the shahi turkra, an Indian–style bread pudding or the prettily presented lemongrass key lime pie (house desserts are $7 each).