After my recent trip to the beautiful land of India, I returned to the city with a hunger for more of the delicious food that is made with love all over the country. I learned quite a bit about what the city has to offer in terms of Indian fare in the process of seeking to relive the flavor palette of India.
Indian food first became popular among New Yorkers in the 1970s, when the flower children of St. Marks Place would flock to the inexpensive, immigrant-owned-and-operated restaurants that popped up along 6th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues. That stretch of 6th Street would later become known as “Curry Row,” but it all started with an enterprising Bengali man named Manir Ahmed, who opened the first few Curry Row restaurants starting in 1968. Today, Indian restaurants have opened all over NYC, and Curry Row has a Kips Bay counterpart called Curry Hill along Lexington Avenue between 25th and 30th streets. For those willing to venture outside of Manhattan, New York’s most prominent “Little India” is in Jackson Heights, Queens, where a large concentration of South Asian immigrants have opened a wide range of shops and restaurants.
Since India is a country of over 1 billion people with many cultures, religious groups, and regional traditions, “Indian food” is a somewhat imprecise term. Indian restaurants in NYC tend to draw inspiration from various regions of India, resulting in a wide palette of flavors. Thanks to the popularity of the inexpensive restaurants on Curry Hill, Indian food has made its way into New York’s fine dining scene over the past couple of decades. Here are some of the highest quality Indian restaurants you will find in our great city:
123 W 56th St (Midtown West)
For reservations: 212-842-8070 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Though Indian Accent’s midtown location just opened up last year, the original New Delhi location has been building quite a buzz over the past few years. After winning top awards from San Pellegrino, TripAdvisor, and more, chef Manish Mehrota is making his mark on Indian cuisine in New York. Indian Accent’s food is inspired by Mehrota’s time in London and several other Asian countries but firmly anchored in Indian tradition. The prix fixe dinner menu allows for a la carte additions, though a chef’s tasting menu is available for those who are curious about what Mehrota has to offer.
99 Hudson Street (TriBeCa)
For reservations: 212-775-9000
When Tamarind’s TriBeCa location first opened up, it was assumed to be a mere sequel to its predecessor in the Flatiron district. However, owner Avtar Walia has moved all operations to the TriBeCa location, which provides a unique dining experience full of food from all over India. The restaurant offers drastically different seating options depending on what kind of evening you’re looking to have: a booth tucked away behind a sheer curtain, a slightly less secluded table on the dining room floor, or a spot on the mezzanine, overlooking the sprawling dining room. Chefs trained in regional specialities bring cuisines from Punjab, Goa, Madras, Calcutta, Lucknow, and Hyderabad. Tamarind takes pride in its wide range of wine selections, and the wait staff will be more than happy to help you find the perfect pairing for your meal.
104 Lexington Ave (Curry Hill)
For reservations: 646-590-0994
Helmed by Michelin-starred chef Hemant Mathur of Chola and Dhaba, Sahib specializes in North Indian cuisine including Kashmir-style lamb, grilled pomfret fish, as well as goat and chicken dishes. The restaurant offers prix fixe options for lunch but the extensive dinner menu is also a good bet. Sahib is BYOB, so if you’d like a wine pairing bring a bottle along with you.
Benares – TriBeCa
45 Murray Street
For reservations: 212-766-4900 or benaresnyc.com
Named for a city in Northern India, Benares focuses on the cuisine of Uttar Pradesh, the Western state where its namesake is located. Benares the city is known for vegetarian dishes, so the restaurant serves up over 20 options, most notably the Achari Bindi, an okra dish cooked with pickled spices, onions, and tomato. The menu also includes some seafood and meat dishes, such as Tandoori Hen and a Seval Tomato Kurma. Benares has a carefully curated selection of wines, beers, and cocktails to accompany the menu.
232 E 58th Street (Midtown East)
For reservations: 212-688-4619 or OpenTable
Don’t let Chola’s uncharacteristically modest dining room fool you – the food here is somehow even more eye-catching and flavorful than one would expect Indian cuisine to be. Chola has been at the top of “Best Indian Restaurants in NYC” lists for nearly two decades – and with good reason. The entrees come from regions all over India, including favorites such as lamb madras and assorted vindaloo dishes.
318 E 6th Street (East Village / Curry Row)
For reservations: 212-777-7729 or OpenTable
Malai Marke is not like most of the other restaurants you’ll find on Curry Row – for starters, it opened just 5 years ago. This restaurant also focuses on kebabs, inspired by Goa, a region of India once occupied by the Portuguese. Malai Marke is Hindi slang for “extra zing,” and the name is appropriate considering the ginger, garlic, white pepper, and chili flavors featured on the menu. Though this spot is characteristically small (it wouldn’t be a Curry Row restaurant otherwise), what it lacks in elbow room it makes up for in flavor.
From long-standing favorites to up-and-coming innovative takes, NYC has an ever-growing – and ever-improving selection of Indian restaurants. Let me know what you think if you venture out to try one of these flavorful fine dining experiences that captures, as much as possible, the spirit of the Indian kitchen.