Home cooking can be hard to find when home is on an entirely different continent. But the owners of Himalayan Restaurant knew how to bring the flavors of their South Asian home to Chicago. They sought out Chef Bishnu Subedi, who relies on his 12 years of experience as well as his training in a Kathmandu culinary school. Befitting the subcontinent’s rich and diverse history, Chef Subedi designs expansive menus, which embrace the Northern Indian, Nepalese, and Asian subcultures that define the region’s cuisines.
This cultural fusion is readily apparent in dishes such as the momos: steamed Nepalese-style dumplings that are typically stuffed with minced chicken or vegetables and served by street-food vendors throughout Nepal. Northern Indian flavors completely shine through on certain dishes, including the tandoori chicken, which marinates overnight in spiced yogurt before the chefs quickly barbecue the meat inside a traditional clay tandoor oven. House-made paneer cheese and fluffy naan also evoke the flavors of South Asia; the restaurant further embraces its cultural roots by serving Indian beers and water from melted Nepalese glaciers.
Miki Trikha and his wife, Nidhi, hope to expose Americans to the popular street foods of Mumbai, where businesspeople on their lunch breaks crowd together, the scents of buttery naan billowing around them on the warm breath of ovens. The couple, who also operate an Indian grocery store, glide across a dining room that the Daily Herald calls “cute and contemporary.” Vibrant portraits span the length of the walls beside colorful, leaf-painted tables. Above a treat-filled glass case, a large menu board guides diners, explaining the flavors and lore behind Mumbai-style chaat. The popular street food combines a piece of fried bread with toppings including pomegranate, chickpeas, and tomato sauce alongside golden samosas and dumplings stuffed with zabiha halal meat or soaked in creamy yogurt.
The metallic symphony of a busy kitchen drifts into the room as chefs forge veggie crepes and crown tandoor chicken and lamb with fresh mint chutney. While downing imported Indian sodas, guests admire the eatery's high ceilings and exposed rafters, which shake with laughter and leave space for exaggerated gestures during fishing stories.
Inside a sizzling tandoor oven, 15 styles of naan, paratha, and roti soak in the heat until they start to take on a slight char. Peacock's chefs then pull them out of the oven, serving them hot as an accompaniment authentic tandoori meats and curries. Dining here is an experience for all the senses, from the soft cheese stuffed inside paneer naan to the spicy murg vindaloo. Almonds and pistachios inside the nuts naan give a tender crunch and make it easy to sop up sauces such as the creamy murg kurma or one of many shrimp or lamb dishes. Vegetarian options also abound for people eschewing meat or hoping a vegetable a day will keep a full range of medical professionals away.
Curry Hut's Indian and Nepalese cuisine provides an authentic, varied sampling of the region's flavorful cooking. High-minded diners happily remove their designer snorkels to taste the nepalese mo mo ($7.95), recommended by Chicago magazine, which neighbors its steamed and spiced chicken dumpling with a spicy mustard-like achar sauce. Meanwhile, spiced goat meat furnishes each plate of nepalese khasi ko masu ($11.95), and a traditional clay oven cooks the indian chicken tikka masala ($12.95).
At Swad Of India, cooks seek out halal meats for their entrees, roasting platefuls of marinated lamb and chicken inside a traditional clay tandoor oven. The vegetarian options use the same blends of potent herbs and spices, although the cooks replace the meats with housemade cheese or vegetables exclusively sourced from county-fair ribbon ceremonies.
The chefs at Lal Qila Restaurant, named for the ornate 17th-century Indian monument, serve up a lengthy menu of tandoori- and clay–oven-baked Indian and Pakistani cuisine. Doling out large portions, they sizzle up spice-driven dishes loaded with goat, lamb, seafood, or chicken. Vegetarian options include cheese- and lentil-based dishes that fill the restaurant with exotic scents more effectively than tossing around a boomerang slathered in curry.