Where To Go When You Can't Get Into Masalawala & Sons
photo credit: Kate Previte
If you think you can just roll up to Masalawala & Sons on a whim and get a table, think again. This Park Slope restaurant serves homestyle dishes from Kolkata, and we love the food. Apparently, a lot of people agree. Your first thought might be to head to Dhamaka or Semma (Masalawala's sister restaurants) instead, but those two spots are just as hard to get into. All the places on this list are worthy alternatives that will make you forget about the fact that your date with spicy biyebarir fish fry and steamed bhetki isn’t happening anytime soon.
Before the Unapologetic team became the rock stars of the Indian restaurant world in NYC, they opened Adda. This Long Island City spot makes our favorite Indian goat dishes in the city, like a steaming biryani covered in a layer of baked dough and a memorable junglee maas goat curry. All of these items make for some pretty good drinking food, so bring a friend or three to help you eat everything. Reservations aren’t hard to come by, but we still recommend making one because the place is small enough that you might have to wait if you try to walk in.
Kwame Onwuachi (Top Chef and Selena + Chef) has returned to NYC to open this restaurant in the renovated David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center. Much like Masalawala is inspired by the food in Kolkata (the owner’s hometown), Tatiana is heavily influenced by Onwuache’s upbringing in the Bronx. It feels like a quiet nightclub here, and the menu blends Afro-Caribbean flavors with iconic New York dishes—think egusi dumplings and a mizuna caesar salad with Trini green seasoning. The must-order here is the Wagyu short rib pastrami suya. Reservations for Tatiana are also tough to get, but your best chance is finding a table for a late dinner or for the same day if you check the morning of.
Pad thai and green papaya salads are all good, but that’s not what this Thai restaurant in Carroll Gardens is about. Both Masalawala and Ugly Baby are serving dishes that aren’t available at many other Indian and Thai spots in the city. Here, you might see a gigantic vegetable platter with a salted mackerel dip or some creamy blue crab hor mok cooked in banana leaf with coconut custard. Plan a dinner with a large group in their casual, colorful dining room—you’re going to want to taste as many things as possible. You can book a table at Ugly Baby on Tock now, a nice change from the laborious days of booking on the ‘gram.
When you’re at Masalawala, you feel like you’re eating at a family function in someone’s home. Dept. Of Culture gives you that same feeling. This Bed-Stuy restaurant serves a four-course, prix-fixe meal consisting of new takes on Nigerian food at a communal table with strangers. Before each course, the chef comes out to set the scene around what you’re about to eat like he’s the MC at an awards show, with a few funny stories and insightful anecdotes thrown in. Nigerian records spin, and people share their BYOB selections with the table, making for one of our favorite dinner parties in the city.
We know—you had your heart set on Indian food (specifically at Masalawala), but it looks like you won’t be able to score a table for another month. Omar’s is located a little over a mile from Masalawala in Prospect Heights, and their Indian food is also incredible. If you don’t know where to start, get the gobi paratha that's stuffed with shredded cauliflower or the smoky goat chettinad along with properly charred, chicken-stuffed Bombay tikka naan. As a bonus, this place also has Indian fusion pizzas that aren’t too shabby, such as one with chicken tikka and another with vegetables and masala.
One day, you’ll get to experience the Indian homestyle cooking at Masalawala & Sons. Sadly, that day probably isn’t today. But places like Wenwen in Greenpoint also serve comfort food that will remind you of things coming out of a home kitchen. Nothing feels precious here—instead, the Taiwanese dishes like the spicy 886 Noodle (think of a beef noodle soup without any broth) and the extremely tender braised pork belly with big chunks of cuttlefish feel nostalgic. And unlike Wenwen’s sister restaurant 886, it won't seem like most of the diners here have an NYU student ID. This place feels fun—especially when you see the bathrooms that could double as private karaoke rooms and the cartoonishly large Shyboy 4XL cocktail.
You’ve just walked into Masalawala & Sons at 7pm on a Thursday night without a reservation because you think you live a charmed life and things seem to always go your way. Now you know that’s not true. What to do? Head to Haenyeo, which you can walk to from Masalawala in less than 10 minutes. Since this spacious Korean spot is in Park Slope, it’s appropriately kid-friendly, but you should know it gets pretty loud once it starts to fill up. While their signature Oaxaca cheese-topped rice cakes live up to the hype, there are plenty of other amazing dishes like the crispy zucchini scallion pancakes and spicy pork bulgogi that arrives sizzling on a cast iron platter. We like dropping in on a weeknight for an impromptu date when we don’t have reservations elsewhere.
This Park Slope restaurant has dishes influenced by popular food from all around the world and about half of them are Indian-inspired. You can get things like a dosa with coriander-heavy coconut chutney and sea bream served with a mint yogurt sauce. But you’ll also find lasagna, ceviche, and jerk chicken. Book a table here when you foolishly promised someone you could get into Masalawala for a second date, and you need a classy-but-casual backup that’s still impressive.
There are lots of Indian restaurants to choose from in and around Kips Bay, but our favorite is Kailash Parbat on 27th and Lex. This place has food from almost every region of India and even a few dishes beloved by the diaspora in Singapore (where they have another location). If you’re dining with a group, order the chaat and kebab platters to pass around the table. You’ll also find homestyle dishes like Sindhi curry and paneer bhurji, as well as chole bhatura that fulfills all of our fried bread fantasies.
One of the many things we like about Masalawala & Sons is its mellow atmosphere. You can find that same relaxing vibe at Atoboy, a Korean restaurant in Flatiron from the Atomix team. In their narrow, windowless, mostly-concrete room, you may feel like you’re at an underground art gallery where food and drink is allowed. Your only option is a four-course $75 (gratuity included) prix-fixe dinner. Dishes change often, but your meal might include a plate of meaty yellowtail with potato crisps and a stack of glazed pork belly over whelk and diced vegetables. $75 might be an above-average amount to spend on a meal, but you’ll be getting some emphatically above-average food.