Lately, every new restaurant has a concept. But whether it’s another $300 omakase, having to buy tickets for entry, robots serving quinoa, or a menu that’s a poem, they don’t always lead to a good time. Babu Ji, the NYC import (by way of Australia), doesn't have much of a concept. And yet it's an excellent time.
Babu Ji doesn't take itself too seriously. Yes, there's a tasting menu option, and yes, the plating could double as art - but the walls are covered with large paintings of moustached Indian men, the service is laid-back, and when you sidle up to the self-serve beer fridge (yes, it is as good as it sounds), they’ll give you tips on their current favorite double IPA from an obscure brewery. The space does feel a bit temporary, like it was quickly converted from another restaurant (and we forgive them, because it means they brought us this food faster). Maybe it just needs time, but for now it’s like replacing Katie Holmes with Maggie Gyllenhaal in Batman and thinking no one would notice. Then again, maybe you won’t notice because you’ll be so busy eating.
The food at Babu Ji is excellent across the board. The curries are complex and rich, the naan is fabulous, the more traditional Indian kebabs and tandoori dishes are top-notch, and the dessert is insane - the kind of thing you feel the need to text people about to ask if they’ve had it yet. The shareable plates make it a good option for groups, or if you’re a bold lone ranger, you can easily roll up to the bar, order a curry and a side of naan and have yourself a night. You can make reservations ahead of time for the tasting menu ($62 per person), which is absolutely worth doing at least once. You get to sample a few full-sized dishes as well as a naan platter with tastes of all the curries, and the whole thing is exactly what you need to figure out what you’ll go big on next time you come.
Babu Ji is an extremely refreshing take on Indian food in a city that sometimes forgets that eating should be fun. It proves that a great restaurant don’t always need to have some wild, out-of-the-box idea behind it. Just serve awesome food, make it a good time, and bring us another basket of naan.
This is a beautiful looking and tasting dish. The ginger-y beet sauce is painted on the plate and the yogurt kebab is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and fantastic. For Indian food rookies, this is not a ‘meat on a stick’ kebab, but instead more of a fritter.
If you like getting tricked into eating vegetables, this dish is the move. It is mouth-numbingly spicy and tastes nothing like cauliflower, which can be a pro or con depending on your feelings towards cauliflower.
Potato croquettes with a sweet pineapple sauce. Good not great, better to load up on more naan.
Shockingly not dry chicken with a bright, fresh minty sauce. Part of the tasting menu but also worth getting a la carte. Very good, especially for people intimidated by curry or trying to be healthy.
Saucy and delightful and way better than any other inauthentic butter chicken you may have had. That includes the stuff from Trader Joe’s.
A little rich, but still a great dish to share. You can get it with pumpkin if you’re vegetarian and enjoy celebrating the use of leftover jack-o-lanterns year-round.
Our favorite curry at Babu Ji. The duck is tender and the sauce is just the right amount of rich and slightly spicy. Perfect with the naan and more interesting than your usual curry dish.
We’ve never loved a dessert the way we love the kulfi at Babu Ji. It’s a long, ice cream popsicle and it’s a revelation. If this is what dessert in India is like all the time, it just jumped to the #1 spot on our travel bucket list.
Little fried cake balls that taste almost chocolatey. Excellent to eat with the kulfi as part of the tasting menu, but not a dessert we’d order on its own.