Choosing an Indian restaurant can be a daunting task, even for someone well versed in the cuisine. That’s why we brought in an expert to give you The First Timer’s Guide To Indian Restaurants, and it’s also why we’re presenting you with this list today. The thing is, if you ask people who really know what’s up, most will tell you that this town isn’t particularly known for having great Indian restaurants.
We’re certainly not here to argue for or against the Indian food that NYC has to offer, at least as it relates to the stuff that you can find in India or an Indian household, or even London for that matter. But we do love to eat it, and we understand that sorting through all of the options can be intimidating if you don’t know what’s what.
To that end, here is our list of the 16 best and most essential list Indian restaurants in New York City. Consult it before any curry seeking endeavor.
Part cultural center, part “super hippie yoga spot,” and part restaurant, The Bhakti Center serves up a menu that rotates through an assortment of vegan foods from various cuisines. Everything is good, but the staples are dal, rice, and sabzi.
A cafeteria below the Ganesh Temple in Flushing, Temple Canteen is well known among the Indian community and the most serious of Indian food enthusiasts. You won’t find better dosas in town.
Dawat is a classic, being one of the first Indian fine dining establishments in New York, and featuring a chef who not only won James Beard Awards for her cookbooks, but was also a famous Bollywood actress. The restaurant has slipped a bit since the late eighties (who hasn’t), but it’s still worth a visit for lunch, when prices are more reasonable.
Another high-end Indian experience, but one that’s worth trying, at least once. The food here is not a huge departure from what you might find in cheaper Indian restaurants around town, other than that it feels a bit more refined and you’ll have a white napkin in your lap. Again, lunch is the smart move here, when the 3 course prix fixe is only $25.
We’ll just come right out and say it: Vatan is pretty fcking weird. It basically looks like some sort of Epcot Center interpretation of a Indian restaurant, in that the interior could also pass for one of those rides where you get in a boat and float along some indoor river that’s surrounded with dry ice and bad actors. So yeah, it’s also pretty fcking awesome. Especially when you consider that the food is excellent – a $32 all you can eat menu of vegetarian Gujarati cuisine.
Shiva Natarajan, the owner of Chote Nawab up until this past February, also had about a dozen other restaurants around the New York area that he recently divested from, including the next two you’ll see on this list. Not much has changed since the ownership transfer – this restaurant focuses on, and is best at meat dishes from around India, including a spiced lamb delicacy called Tunde ke Kabab, and dum briyani, a rice dish served with pastry around the rim of the pot that it arrives in.
Right down the street from Chote Nawab, Dhaba is a different restaurant in that it serves Punjabi cuisine and is also generally much more crowded than Chote Nawab. If you’re familiar with London’s Indian scene, know that Dhdaba is no Tayyabs, but the things that come out of the tandoor are pretty damn good.
This South Indian restaurant is far and away the best thing currently on 6th Street, or what was once known as “Curry Row.” We like the vegetarian dishes the most at Malai Marke, but anything lamb-related is also a sure bet.
You’ll know you’re standing in front of Haandi if you are also standing next to about 35 off duty taxi cabs. This small restaurant just above the street on Lexington serves Pakistani and Indian food, cafeteria style. It’s open until 4am, and you will find mostly Pakistani drivers on shift change occupying the restaurant, especially in the later hours. The food is good, the prices are reasonable, and the experience is definitely unique. This is no an all you can eat Midtown buffet.
Babu Ji is a brand new, stylish East Village restaurant that’s an exact replica of its original outpost in Melbourne, Australia. The menu is modern Indian street food, and they have a self-serve beer refrigerator that’s stocked with excellent craft brews.
Om is an Upper East Side staple and Infatuation favorite, featuring some of the best curry and biryani we’ve had in this town. The food is flavorful without being too heavy, and it even delivers well.
Our New York Moti Mahal Delux is one of over 100 locations across South Asia. Known for its incredibly good tandoori chicken and a dish known best as “butter chicken,” a meal here is going to put a hurting on you – in a good way. Let’s just say you probably shouldn’t plan anything for the rest of the evening that doesn’t involve laying down and being very still.
Having recently moved from its 6th Street location to a brighter, cleaner location on 2nd Avenue, Brick Lane has lost a bit of its charm and increased its lunch buffet prices. That said, it’s still a good deal for a decent curry if that’s what you’re after. It’s also famous for some stupid spicy curry challenge that the Man Vs. Food guy got lured into before he quit TV and swore off eating. Don’t make the same mistake.
Another massive chain restaurant with locations from Germany to Kenya to Hong Kong, Saravanaa Bhavan is an insanely popular vegetarian Indian restaurant with good prices and excellent food, including dosa and poori (pictured).
Likely the most well known Indian restaurant amongst those who know little about the cuisine but like to eat in restaurants, Tamarind is a New York City classic. Yes, it’s a bit fancy, but it’s also incredibly good. Just know that things are going to get spendy.
Another Indian newcomer, Awadh is an Upper West Side restaurant from the owner of the New York Moti Mahal Deluxe. The menu is mostly focused on the region of Northeastern Indian by the same name, and features lots of low and slow cooked meats in interesting spices. This is an upscale endeavor across the board, even featuring a “wine program.” The food is good enough to make the trip worthwhile, if even just for the Galouti Kebab (minced lamb patties).