NYCReview

Rowdy Rooster review image
8.2

Rowdy Rooster

$$$$

149 1st Avenue, New York
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Whenever we encounter someone who still gets excited about the latest fried chicken sandwich, we feel the same way we do around a Disney adult. A little judgmental, but mostly perplexed. Do they truly still believe it’s the happiest place on Earth? Are we just disillusioned because we once saw Minnie Mouse with her head off smoking a cigarette behind the bathroom? 

Rowdy Rooster brings something truly new to the fried chicken craze. The East Village spot is the first-ever Indian fried chicken specialist to open in the city, and their short menu also features vada paos, pakoras, and Indo-Chinese-style chili cauliflower. They make an unquestionably good fried chicken sandwich. But we’ve had a lot of those. It's their upgraded takes on beloved street foods like vada pao and crispy pakoras that feel like a whole new world.

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We live in a time when fried chicken sandwiches are sentient enough to start Twitter beef, and we’re hesitant to give them any more power. But the team behind some of the highest-rated spots on our site–Dhamaka, Semma, and Adda–bring something unexpected to each project. This time, they’ve taken the simplest of Indian street foods–the vada pao–and fried the dense potato ball with a uniquely peppery dry rub, topped it with a perfect, earthy green chili-garlic thecha, and placed it in between a pao roll buttered with bright yellow butter that tastes too good to be true. Eat it with masala-seasoned pakoras (we prefer eggplant for some variety with our potato pao) and you’ve got something to talk about. 

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Of course, you should still try the fried chicken. You can get boxes of little bone-in or boneless pieces, or a proper sandwich. Choose between five spice levels–the heat becomes tongue-twisting around Level 3, where the chili powder to the garam masala ratio starts to get serious. The Big Rowdy is the larger sandwich topped with scallion yogurt, red onions, and mint-cilantro chutney in between a large potato bun. There’s nothing wrong with the perfectly soft and fluffy bun, but we strongly suggest getting one or two of both the Lil’ Rowdys and a vada pao instead—you want as many of those pao rolls as you can get. We always get an extra roll or two just to eat plain, or to form a sandwich with the tangy chili chicken or cauliflower. 

Rowdy Rooster wants to bring something new to New York, and technically, they do. You’re not going to find another spot dedicated to Indian fried chicken in the city right now. Yes, the spice rub is their own, based in garam masala more than the cayenne-heavy dry rub you’ll usually find in Nashville-style hot chicken. Yes, there’s mint chutney and yogurt instead of a spicy aioli. All of these things make for a great, slightly different bird in a bun that just might snap you out of a fried chicken fatigue. But the vada pao and pakoras–both new and nostalgic at the same time–will keep us coming back.

If only we could shake things up for Minnie Mouse too. 

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Food Rundown

Rowdy Rooster review image

Vada Pao

Our favorite item on the menu. We especially appreciate the thecha on top. Though it looks similar to the mint chutney, be warned–the base is primarily green chiles and it’s much spicier. The pao isn’t topped with scallion yogurt like the chicken sandwiches but you can get yogurt on the side or order a mango lassi if you need some relief from the heat.

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Lil' Rowdy

There’s no difference between the Lil’ Rowdy and Big Rowdy sandwiches except the bun, but we’re too obsessed with their pao to resist going with the snack-sized option. How do they toast and butter it so perfectly every time?

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Big Rowdy

A worthy sandwich with a larger piece of chicken and a soft potato bun to accommodate the size. It’s not our first choice, but again, we’re just obsessed with the pao, and that’s an “us problem.”

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Eggplant Pakora

You’ll get a cup of fried eggplant nuggets with a spice mix that’s spicy, salty, and a little sour. The potato pakoras are good too, but we like the contrast between the crispy coat and buttery soft eggplant.

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Chili Cauliflower

This is Rowdy Rooster’s version of the popular Indian Chinese dish gobi manchurian, and we like that it’s on the tangy side as opposed to sweet. Like any fried food covered in sauce, eat it as quickly as you can. Wait too long and it gets a bit mushy.

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