“Chaat” refers to a wide range of snacks or street foods you’ll find all over India and the rest of South Asia—but beyond that, it’s one of the hardest food genres to define. Despite the broad definition, chaat is also something very specific: It’s tangy, spicy, sweet, sour, wet, crunchy, and layered. Basically, it’s a music festival in your mouth, and once you get your first taste, you’ll know it when you see it thereafter. Chaat stalls and street vendors are rare in NYC (though we’ve included a couple great ones below), so you’ll have to do some research to find restaurants with separate chaat menus when you’re in the mood for aloo tikki chaat or a solid pani puri session. Use this guide to help you find the spots that could transform an old shoe into a good chaat with the right mix of sev, chutney, and chaat masala.
At the cramped, dimly-lit Raja Sweets and Fast Food, you’ll get to experience a real, no-frills chaat stall where almost everything on the extensive chaat menu is under $6. You can find bread pakota chaat and chana kulcha at other places, but rarely at the same spot—so go for one of these. Masala-heavy mashed potatoes are sandwiched between two slices of bread and deep fried in chickpea flour to create the bread pakota, which should come with a “do not operate heavy machinery after eating this” warning. Get one dry with a cup of chai, or have one chopped up and transformed into a chaat with dahi and Christmas-colored chutneys. The channa kulcha is a less-extreme sandwich made of a chickpea chaat scooped into a buttery, crusty kulcha toasted on the stove. We would (and could, without becoming “nap people”) easily make this sandwich a weekly habit.
Express Eatz has a small menu of take-out Nepali-influenced chaat, momos, and fried meat sticks that feel like the contraband your mom said you weren’t allowed to eat on the way home from school lest you ruin your dinner. Yeah, you can get the momos plain (steamed or fried), but why would you? Bo-ring. Instead, upgrade to the momo chaat with papdis, potatoes, and crispy-crunchy sev and vegetable confetti. This chaat comes coated in a tangy housemade tomato achar—which is the main reason why we won’t shut up about this place. Express Eatz sells containers of their achar, and you should buy some and add it to anything you’d put sriracha on. This is also the only place in the city where we’ve found one of our favorite Indian street foods, a chaat (sometimes called “Chinese bhel”) made with uncooked Wei Wei instant noodles. You’ll want to keep this spot a secret so you can get chaat masala into your mouth as quickly as possible, but Express Eatz deserves to be on everyone’s radar.
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If you can’t decide what to order off the Kailash Parbat chaat menu, go with the chaat platter. Samplings are seemingly chosen by texture–something soft, something crispy, something wet, something dry, etc. Sometimes they’ll switch things up, but you’ll generally get a freshly fried vada topped with dahi, bhel, and crispy corn baskets that are an adorably convenient way to get a spoonful of sweet corn and undiluted chaat masala into your mouth. Add an order of pani puri to cover all the essentials. Eat each puri in one bite for a burst of sour and minty pani that tastes like you swallowed ocean water that’s somehow umami.
This Bangladeshi food truck in Jackson Heights is always parked outside of the Duane Reade on 73rd Street, and it’s where you should be going to eat incredible fuchka. Each order is served with a wreath of puffed puri that’s been filled with boiled yellow peas and potatoes and topped with raw red onions and shaved egg yolks. There are two other fuchka carts on the street that are also very good, but we’re partial to Tong’s extra sour (that coveted khatai flavor) tamarind water. Don't skip the aam or pear vorta either—chaat masala has the kind of Midas touch that turns fruit into sour Warheads. In case you’re closer to Jamaica, Queens, Tong also has a truck there.
photo credit: David A. Lee
Thelewala is a fun kati roll and chaat counter open until 2am where you can grab a quick lunch or something portable to eat around MacDougal after a late night comedy show. Come here for the bhel puri and jaal muri. Both are made with potatoes, onions, and puffed rice that’ll snap, crackle, and pop in your mouth—but the bhel puri is tossed with chutneys and more namkeens, while the jaal muri is totally dry, much spicier, and tossed in mustard oil. We prefer the jaal muri with some lime squeezed on top, although both are perfect for sneaking into the IFC theater a couple blocks away when you want something more exciting than popcorn.
Masti has “Chatt Bar” in the name, but really it’s a semi-casual sit-down restaurant where you can share chaat as appetizers with a group (as opposed to devouring a styrofoam bowl of chole by yourself). There are a couple of sparkly chandeliers in the dining room, and the batata sev puri is plated like it’s at a wedding party, while the amchur-heavy bhel comes in a neat, layered tower like steak tartare. But our favorite street snack on the menu isn’t as glamorous. The pao bhaji requires you to spoon the pungent onion-masala vegetable gravy into a butter roll and eat it sloppy-joe style with your hands, throwing all formality out the window. This place is a solid choice if you want your chaat and curry in the same sitting or if you don’t want to leave Williamsburg when you have a craving.
Indika’s five chaat options include a rare find for Brooklyn: a good eggplant chaat. They keep it simple, with just a few strokes (i.e., just the right amount) of yogurt, tamarind chutney, and a generous pile of red onions on top of the fried eggplant fritters. You’ll get crispy bites of eggplant and a ton of sharp onion flavor, with yogurt and chutney to make the onions a little less intense. One thing to note is that the chaat prices here are double what you’d find at a couple other Indian restaurants in the area—but the quality is considerably higher. The chutneys taste fresh, nothing is stale, and your samosa won’t come drowned in dahi like a soggy, sunken ship. We also like that you can get a surprisingly big portion of the aloo papri chaat as an appetizer for their great combo deal.
Hopefully, we've gained enough of your trust for you to hear us out on this one. Gazab has a bok choy chaat, and it’s very good. “Fusion food” is often suspect in the first place, and Indian food has so much going on already that it doesn’t really need more in the mix. But this fried bok choy topped with yogurt, chutneys, and sev is something psychedelic—by which we mean, expand your mind, man. It turns out, the tender bok choy is just meaty enough to soak in the sauces and yogurt to create silky, sweet vegetable steaks that are really something special. A full plate is filling enough to be a good lunch on its own.
Usha Foods & Usha Sweets
Usha in Floral Park is a popular place for chaat where all of the namkeens, puris, and spiced nuts are housemade (and available for in-store purchase or shipping in the US). They have great samosa chaat and papri chaat, as well as chaat you won't find elsewhere on this guide like chana jor garam chaat and kachori chaat.