There are nearly as many regions in India as there are billboards in Times Square, and the phrase “Indian food” can hardly describe all of their distinctive cuisines. Those two words call to mind a handful of ubiquitous dishes but don’t touch upon the fact that Arab-influenced Northern Indian food favors peanut oil, whereas sesame oil is far more common in the south. Thankfully, America’s most populous city has plenty of room to showcase the culinary diversity of the world’s second-most populous country.
Flatiron District: Spices Ground and Roasted Daily
The real treasure of Junoon isn’t the 50-foot sculpture that towers over its entryway, nor is it the lavish Patiala Cocktail lounge, which could stand in for a sultan’s chambers. It resides below deck in the aptly named Spice Room, where chefs ground, roast, and blend their signature spices daily.
Midtown East: Southern Indian Fusion
This new addition to Midtown seems to have taken notes from local fusion restaurant Tamarind, which happens to be the head chef’s former home. Stuffed with pilaf and picked eggplant, the tandoori chicken legs are just hot enough to counterbalance a refreshing draft of rosewater lassi.
Upper West Side: Six Signature Chutneys
The dosas and uttapams at Hampton Chutney Co. are great on their own, but they should ideally serve as vessels for the restaurant’s curries and chutneys. The inventive menu encourages creativity—diners can often be spotted spreading chutney on sandwiches such as the smoked turkey, brie, and cucumber.
East Village: Candlelit Date Spot
Though part of the East Village’s holiday light-saturated Indian Row, Banjara opts for a more understated approach with its confident mix of soft candlelight, white linens, and tandoori entrees. Start with an order of coconut samosas and then move on to the murg tandoori, a half chicken marinated in piquant spices.
Jackson Heights: Indian-Chinese Fusion
This northwest Queens kitchen heats up its tandoori oven to grill meats that strike a balance between Indian and Chinese traditions. The lollipop chicken is also known as the “drums of heaven,” and there is indeed something divine about its pairing of tender wings with fresh herbs, chilies, and bell peppers.
Astoria: Favorite of Local Chefs
When looking for a new Indian restaurant to try, there are worse strategies than simply following the chefs. Their trail often leads to this Queens institution, where they gain inspiration and sweaty brows from the spicy green chili chicken and apricot lamb curry.
Greenwich Village: Lights, Camera, Tikka Masala
Food and film converge at this Bollywood-inspired restaurant, where spicy entrees bear cinematic titles such as the Bollywood Remix—a dish of scrambled eggs sautéed with onions and peppers. When in doubt, go with the restaurant’s namesake chicken tikka masala.
Upper West Side: Daily Lunch Specials
Rather than bore diners with another nondescript buffet, Indus Valley keeps things interesting with daily lunch specials that constantly rotate. The ingredients stay as fresh as the menu and include seasonal fish fillets, Kashmiri chilis, and palak paneer crafted every day.
Upper West Side: Prix Fixe Vegetarian Menu
Ayurveda Cafe’s prix fixe meals consist of 10 rotating vegetarian menu items that span the six Sattvic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent, and pungent. Drinks such as the mango banana lassi are less concerned with balance, favoring sweetness above all else.
Washington Square Park: Vegan Food Cart
Dosas are similar to crepes, save for the fact that they forego Nutella and bananas in favor of roasted veggies and hot sauce. Nobody does these street-cart treats quite like Thiru Kumar, the mustachioed owner of N.Y. Dosas. Thiru can be found manning his food cart outside of Washington Square Park during lunch and suppertime hours.
East Village: Handmade Samosas
Among the more upscale of Curry Row’s Indian restaurants, Haveli decorates its two stories of dining space with wooden gallery windows and authentic South Asian screens. The menu leaves no region of India unaccounted for, with handmade samosas and balti piled high in a decorative basket.