The city’s top spots for Indian food are now in Manhattan — and top they are: excellent, elegant, and diversified enough to shed the cuisine of the patronizing, oversimplified designation of “ethnic food” and place it squarely on the level of French or Italian.
It should come as no surprise that the best Indian restaurant in New York arrived directly from the source: Indian Accent is an outpost of a critically acclaimed Delhi restaurant. This lends it a certain authenticity and authority, but what sets it apart is the creativity of its chef, Manish Mehrotra. He has reimagined traditional recipes for a luxury setting (the cost of a meal here is not insubstantial) — but not by subjecting them to the techniques of the cuisines that are more typically associated with fine dining. Rather, he is extremely careful when it comes to ingredients and preparation, and playful and intuitive when it comes to presentation and unexpected combinations. The result: beautiful dishes like the ghee-roasted lamb — served with a bamboo steamer filled with roti pancakes, inspired by Peking duck — and the delicate stuffed Kashmiri morels, crowned with a play on the traditional cracker known as papadum, made here with Parmesan cheese.
A stunning spin-off of the original Tamarind in the Flatiron District, the Tribeca location convincingly draws from all corners of the subcontinent with its sprawling menu. Beyond the requisite chicken tikka masala (one of the best we’ve had), the dishes delight at every turn: A lamb appetizer (Nizami Keema) combines tender grilled strips with soft minced meat and pillowy nan, while Punjabi Mutton—actually made with goat—falls off the bone in a rich, vibrant curry. But the most consistent pleasures come out of the twin tandoor ovens, visible from the main dining room; superlative lamb chops—tangy, spicy and tender—and moist sea bass slathered with thick yogurt and a subtle blend of roasted spices that enriches the flaky fish without overwhelming its delicate flavor.
Like Indian Accent, Junoon, too, aims to normalize the idea of Indian fine-dining in New York — and succeeds heartily, to the point where it’s earned a Michelin star — but plays it a bit safer, with beautifully prepared and elegantly presented but familiar dishes, and the dining room has a slightly stuffier vibe.
Junoon, “passion” in Hindi, delivers on the promise of its moniker with an authentic, yet elegantly modern take on Indian cuisine. Restaurateur Rajesh Bhardwaj, inspired to share his love for the food and culture of his native India, assembled a talented team to create a world-class restaurant that would re-define how Indian cuisine is presented on the international gastronomic stage. A restaurant that is the recipient of a prestigious Michelin star the year it opened and has earned the same coveted award every year since its 2010 debut.
The food at Babu Ji is simple yet remarkable in the general Indian dining scene as it’s made from high quality ingredients, cooked earnestly and offered in a considered and regularly changing menu that spans Indian street food, cross regional curries and tandoori specialties.
There’s a tasting menu, a thoughtful wine list but also a fend-for-yourself beer fridge. Silver-haired dadimas are parked on sleek black banquettes next to ball-capped millennials as taken with ’gramming the meal as eating it.
Small brass crocks of sweet, free-range butter chicken and fresh pomegranate kofta in cashew-shallot curry are ushered out next with puffs of garlicky naan and bowls of cumin-laced basmati rice in tow, faintly spiced (too timidly for true-blue heat seekers) but satisfyingly creamy enough to make up for the portion and price.
It’s the superb kulfi (Indian ice cream pop) that sums up Babu Ji’s intentions. The process is laborious—the milk base stirs with cardamom, pistachio and honey for six hours, and the traditional conical molds are shipped in from the motherland—but the effect is infectiously fun, with diners rolling the ice-cold metal casts between their hands before the chewy confections slide out.
Curry Hill, the stretch of Lexington Ave that runs straight through Murray Hill, is nicknamed as such because it's rife with Indian restaurants -- the best of which may be Dhaba. The restaurant, which translates to “roadside stall,” serves a large menu of Punjabi dishes like makki di roti (a flat cornbread) and unda -- or egg -- curry. While those are both absolutely worth ordering, do not pass on a plate of Dhaba’s Chole Bature: chickpeas cooked in a spicy tomato gravy served with a deep-fried flatbread (bature). Dhaba’s version is puffy and just the right amount of greasy, especially when you get it fresh from the fryer.