Move over, chicken tikka masala and mango lassis. There’s more to Indian cuisine than those oft-ordered standards. Way more. After all, the country spans 1.27 million square miles and naturally encompasses a range of regional cooking styles.
In general, the North is characterized by meats and flatbreads cooked in a clay tandoor oven, plus dishes from the Muslim Mughal empire (such as biryani, a spiced-rice entrée). Seafood, rice, and mustard oil characterize the East, while the West (specifically Goa) is responsible for the classic meat dish, vindaloo (with vinegar, garlic, and chili). The more tropical South incorporates coconut and tamarind in many of its primarily vegetarian dishes.
That said, throughout the country, spice blends (masalas) add flavor and color, dairy and coconut creaminess, and chilies heat. Influenced by the Mongolians, Persians, Chinese, ancient Greeks, and European colonizers, the Indian culinary tradition is rich in vegetarian options, with little pork or beef.
At virtually all Indian spots, expect to begin your meal with a basket of complimentary pappadam (crispy lentil crackers), served with cilantro-mint, tamarind, and pepper-onion chutneys. Although Southern Indian fare is a bit more difficult to find, the majority of menus include food from all over the country, encompassing savory snacks or street food (chaat), saucy curries (many of them vegetarian), tandoor-cooked flatbreads and meats, biryanis, and Indo-Chinese dishes (which are very popular in India).
In the tradition of American ethnic restaurants, most county establishments are comfortable and zero-pretense, with low or moderate prices, lunch specials, delivery, and catering. Capacious daily lunch buffets are a staple — and an ideal way to experience the breadth of the cuisine.
Read on for where to get your Indian fix, with an emphasis on which qualities make each restaurant unique.
Urban Eats Done Right
Tucked into White Plains’ lengthy East Post Road, Ambadi provides all the traditional dishes you’d look for at a neighborhood Indian joint, including korma, tikka, and paneer. More recent additions include Indo-Chinese and Thai dishes for the busy urbanite who prefers a more eclectic dinner order.
Dinner and a Movie
After spending 14 years cooking in acclaimed Manhattan Indian restaurants (such as The Jewel of India, Baluchi, and Malika), Zahir Miha opened this restaurant around the corner from Jacob Burns Film Center in 2016. Unique offerings include tandoori pomfret (whole fish) and Bollywood chicken (tandoor-grilled kebabs with an apple, coconut, and cashew sauce). Since the restaurant recently obtained a beer and wine license, Bollywood Grill now hosts a happy hour with half-price wine on Sundays through Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
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Tiny Restaurant, Big Menu
Don’t judge a book by its cover — or a restaurant by its footprint. Sandwiches (called kati rolls) might have inspired this small takeout spot founded in 2010, yet its current menu is extensive. In addition to rolls (on the appetizer menu), you’ll find Indian classics, plus South Indian dishes, such as dosas and vadas, or savory lentil donuts. A previous Best of Westchester winner, the restaurant cooks with canola oil and all-halal meats; allows customers to specify if they’d prefer their order mild, medium, or hot; and designates 10 dishes on the menu as vegan and gluten-free (e.g., dosas can be prepared sans butter, for vegans).
At this cornflower-yellow jewel box, you’ll have an elevated, special-occasion-worthy dining experience. The refined, British Raj-inspired ambience and superior fare are no surprise. After all, warm and personable chef and co-owner Navjot Arora worked for upscale hotel chains for many years. (He’s also the owner of nearby Thai restaurant Sambal.)
From the extensive, well-planned menu (complete with a cocktail and wine list), order an appetizer sampler or entrée thali (round metal tray with several dishes) for the most varied experience. In addition to the classics, Chutney Masala excels at unusual fare, including achari murgh tikka (tandoori chicken with an Indian pickle marinade) and gila i purdah kebab (naan-wrapped pounded lamb kebabs, akin to an Indian hot dog). Other must-tries include the spicy, crave-worthy Indo-Chinese chili chicken and baingan mirchi ka salan (sweet and sour eggplant with toasted sesame and peanuts).
According to Anu Arora, co-owner (and Navjot’s wife), the restaurant avoids artificial colors; does not overuse curry, oil, or cream; and never repeats sauces. Meat is hormone- and antibiotic-free; brown rice can be substituted; and dishes are thoughtfully demarcated as vegan, gluten-free, spicy, extra-spicy, and with nuts. To learn how to prepare the dishes at home, sign up for one of Navjot’s monthly cooking classes.
Larchmont and White Plains
Contemporary Cuisine and Cocktails
It was time to shock the industry and be seasonal, creative, and do things no one had done before,” says owner Shawn Nagpal, who opened the first of his two restaurants in Larchmont in 2012 (he added the White Plains location two and a half years ago). In this case, “creative” translates to chicken tacos, calamari, high-end cocktails, seasonal seafood (such as Atlantic cod and red snapper), locally produced beer and wine, cooking classes, and contemporary décor, with the elegance of white tablecloths. Accommodatingly, the restaurant menu designates dishes as vegan and gluten-free.
The Great Indian Spice Wheel
By Sarah Longstreth
1. Cardamom The world’s third-most expensive spice, after saffron and vanilla, it comes in green and black varieties. Green has a light and sweet flavor, with a mild eucalyptus note, while black has a powerful, smoky flavor. It’s used in rice dishes, curries, soups, spice mixes, teas, lassis, and desserts.
2. Cumin Cumin lends a distinctive flavor to Indian cuisine. Its ridged brown seeds are toasted before use, bringing out warm, earthy, and smoky tones. It’s a staple in stews, soups, and curries.
3. Coriander It’s one of the oldest and best-known spices in the world (you’ll recognize the leaves as cilantro). Both the leaves and golden-yellow, ridged seedpods are used in cooking. The seeds taste best when freshly ground and produce an aromatic flavor with citrus notes. It’s a major ingredient in popular favorites, like chicken tikka masala.
4. Nutmeg/mace Both these spices come from the same evergreen-tree fruit: Nutmeg is the inner part of the seed, and mace is its fine outer coating. It is used in savory meat dishes and soups, and is sprinkled on drinks and desserts.
5. Turmeric Made from roots and shoots, this close relative of ginger has a warm, bitter, pepper-like flavor, with an earthy aroma. It’s one of the principal ingredients in curry powder, which goes in a wide range of savory dishes, and it’s sometimes found in drinks.
6. Fenugreek Used as both an herb (leaves) and a spice (seeds), it has a strong, bittersweet aroma and flavor. It’s prominent in lentil dishes and vegetarian curries.
7. Saffron The world’s costliest spice is carefully produced from the threadlike stigmas of the saffron crocus flower. It has a sweet/grassy flavor with a metallic and honeyed aroma. It adds a rich, golden-yellow color to meat and rice dishes.
8. Cinnamon The inner bark of the cassia tree yields an aromatic spice that humans have harvested for thousands of years. It’s a key ingredient in various curries, pairing particularly well with coconut and chickpeas.
9. Mustard Seed These tiny seeds come in yellow, black, and brown. When crushed or cooked in oil, they release a smoky, nutty flavor that is a favorite in curries and chutneys.
10. Ginger Made from the roots of a flowering plant, this hot, fragrant spice is useful fresh or dry. It’s also a main ingredient in lentil dishes and meat and vegetable gravies.
11. Garam Masala Meaning “warm spice mix,” recipes for this ground and roasted spice blend vary widely according to regional and personal taste; a typical version might contain cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, black pepper, bay leaf, and mace.
A Golden Micro-Chain
Opened in 2001, this lively mainstay is the sole New York outpost of six total Coromandels, the remainder of which reside in Connecticut. Expect a classy, white-tablecloth interior and dishes made to order with exacting levels of preferred heat. Don’t miss the soft and pillowy garlic naan, tender lamb vindaloo, and creamy chana saag (chickpea and spinach curry). Unusual for an Indian restaurant, the large menu includes several beef dishes, including beef olathiyadu, a Kerala Christian entrée featuring fresh coconut and herbs. In addition to a main dining room with a bar (rendered more upscale via royal-blue light fixtures and white tablecloths), Coromandel features an adjoining banquet hall (with a dance floor), which can accommodate private parties of up to 125.
Traditional Indian for Modern Schedules
This Purdy Street shop is a great all-around find, but its flexibility is what local residents really love about the curry house. Pickup and delivery are just where it starts: The kitchen is also available for event catering and even meal prep. Trying out that new diet but don’t have the time to cook a week’s worth of lunches and dinners in advance? Curry on Purdy’s team will work with you to come up with custom meal solutions that fit your busy schedule.
Southern Fare at Reasonable Prices
Want a taste of South Indian cuisine? This neon-lit spot, which recently added a second location, specializes in cooking from Kerala, including vadas (savory fried snacks) and seven types of dosas. In an unusual twist, the menu offers many beef entrées, plus a gamut of Indo-Chinese fare (such as chicken lollipops), vegetarian dishes, and duck and crab roasts on the weekends. The restaurant serves halal food, strives for “reasonable” prices, and offers a bevy of lunch specials, including platters for less than $10.
A fun and funky fusion
From the owners behind Tandoori Taste of India in Port Chester, this modernist take on classic Indian includes both classic curries and masalas and updated dishes like tandoori tacos, Indian-style fried chicken, hot pickles, and tandoor-fired barbecue. The chicken tikka “indi-tacos” are a must-try.
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Pleasantville, Mount Kisco
Affordable Street-Fare Favorites
Both of Bonnie Saran’s Indian micro-restaurants feel like food trucks, complete with vibrant hues and a down-home vibe. Little Mumbai Market specializes in street foods from its eponymous city, such as samosas, bhel puri (chaat with puffed rice, vegetables, and tamarind sauce), sandwiches, and customizable rice or salad bowls, with multiple choices of vegetarian or meat fillings, sauces, and heat levels. Little Kabab Station features a full-fledged menu, including some unusual additions, such as chicken tikka crêpes, tea for two with a pot of masala chai, and dessert skewers (such as Campfire Kabab with marshmallow, chocolate, and graham crackers; and gulab jamun, or syrupy Indian donuts, on a stick).
Homey Yet Artful Vegetarian Fare
Rainbow confetti-like strands of beets and carrots adorn the surface of the green moong dal chilla (lentil pancake) served with sweet mango pickle and raita (yogurt sauce). This colorful dish, like a Jackson Pollock painting, represents the artfulness of this casual, kosher-certified, vegetarian spot’s cooking. When it’s on the menu, try the South Indian Kerala thali, a platter including beets with spiced yogurt, cabbage with grated coconut and sweet ginger pickle, shallot curry with spices, pumpkin with spiced coconut paste, sweet roasted noodles in cardamom-infused milk, and more. House specialties include crispy potato-stuffed masala dosa (fried lentil and rice crêpe), samosa chaat (crushed samosas with chickpeas, chutneys, and yogurt), and sandwiches, such as the crave-worthy Snowman’s (akin to an Indian grilled cheese, with chutney and vegetables). Wash them down with homemade masala chai or the creamy, vegan golden latte (with turmeric, almonds, cashews, cardamom, and honey). In addition to offering an entirely vegetarian menu, Masala Kraft can accommodate vegan, gluten-free, and Jain diets (the latter is a Dharmic religion that forbids consuming meat, onions, garlic, and root vegetables). Instead of takeout, learn to prepare the 9-year-old restaurant’s creative dishes at one of its monthly cooking classes.
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A wall mural of the Taj Mahal reveals this restaurant’s focus: Moorish palace cuisine, such as mughlai biryani (long-grain basmati rice, chicken, dried fruit, nuts, and saffron). The menu includes more than 15 vegetarian entrées (such as avial, or eggplant, squash, and root vegetables in a coconut-curry sauce, and a textbook rendering of sag paneer, or spinach and Indian cheese) and gluten-free options. Opened in 2004, owner Mohammad Alam recently revamped the interior, opting for soothing pastels and a sit-down bar for cocktails.
A Little Taste of Everything
This Hudson Street mainstay, also sometimes called “Nawab Eastern Cuisine” or simply “Nawab Restaurant,” blends the varied spices and techniques of different cultures into a delightful hotpot of menu items, bridging Pakistani, desi Indian, and halal Chinese traditions. Both dine-in and carry-out are available, as well as online ordering and contactless delivery.
Bollywood-like glitz adds pizzazz to this spacious Yonkers spot, with an elegant dining room and full banquet hall. The subcontinent-spanning menu includes Mughlai dishes from Northern India (such as biryani); fiery and vinegary vindaloo from Goa; and fish in fenugreek-cumin-turmeric sauce from the west coast. A section entitled Indian Chinese Corner has fried rice, noodles, chili chicken, and vegetable Manchurian. (There’s also a kid’s menu and a wine list.) Check the website for special offers (such as buy one appetizer, get another at 50% off on Mondays).
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Manhattan Polish in Westchester
One look at RaaSa’s extensive menu, and you’ll know you’re not in a typical Indian restaurant. Along with the classics, you’ll find innovative dishes such as chennai jhinga (a tender lentil pancake topped with spiced shrimp and coconut-avocado chutney), ambiya tikki (spiced, roasted-beet patties stuffed with mango relish), yam kebab (ground spiced yam with chickpea flour, served with lotus root chips), and even a perfectly cooked lamb shank. For the diet-conscious, RaaSa cooks with olive oil and can prepare many of the dishes vegan (the menu already offers nearly 20 vegetarian entrées).
Credit for the revelatory food is due to Chef Peter Beck, whom husband-and-wife co-owners Ashok Salian and Priya Kapoor-Salian (right) hired to create the menu when they purchased the restaurant in 2015. While Beck garnered Michelin stars as executive chef at the acclaimed Manhattan restaurants Tamarind and Benares, the Salians spent years in the hospitality and fine dining industries before opening their own place. At RaaSa, Salian handles the food and impressive wine and cocktail list (be sure to try one of the 10 wines by the glass or 19 by the bottle, which include selections from KRSMA Estates in Hampi Hills, India), while Kapoor-Salian manages catering and the front-of-house. The elegant yet comfortable ambience and welcoming, solicitous service match the sophisticated fare. The sunny, lofty space features ample windows, gold globe light fixtures, and red- and wallpaper-accented walls.
Cozy and Traditional North Indian
Housed in a cozy, tavern-like space with a beamed ceiling, white walls, and abundant brick, this 48-seat eatery emphasizes North Indian cuisine. Meaning “rhythm” in Hindi, Raga offers classic Indian options, along with chaat, Indo-Chinese chili chicken, crab soup, six vegan dishes, and a unique naan stuffed with minced chicken tikka, raisins, nuts, and spices. Lasooni gobi, or batter-fried cauliflower tossed with garlic, ginger, tomatoes, and coriander, and hariyali kabab, boneless chicken marinated in yogurt, spinach, mint and cilantro, ginger, and garlic, are must-orders.
A 2013 Best of Westchester winner, Rani Mahal serves lunch and dinner seven days a week, with hearty and heartwarming dishes like lamb and chicken tikka, plenty of tandoori favorites, and an excellent vegetarian selection. A cozy patio is a recent pandemic addition, allowing regulars to get their fix while remaining socially distant, although takeout and a full catering menu are fine choices year-round. Try the kabab medley, featuring selections of lamb, chicken, shrimp, and seek.
Dip Into These Essential Condiments
By Sarah Longstreth
Snacks and starters aren’t complete without these relishes made of fruit, vinegar, and sugar; often flavored with cilantro, spicy green chilies, and lime; sweet-and-sour tamarind; or ginger and mango.
This yogurt sauce with cooling cucumber and mint makes a perfect addition to spicy-hot dishes.
Dozens of different fruits and veggies transform into
Number 1 Neighborhood Takeout
Located in Peekskill’s Beach Shopping Center, this hidden gem offers a lunch buffet and dinner service six days a week (it’s closed on Mondays), but the piping hot containers of takeout have warmed many a local’s cold nights. A special selection of Indo-Chinese menu items — traditional Chinese spices and cooking techniques modified with Indian sauces — is always an adventurous order.
Just Like Maan Used to Make
With more than 25 years in business across Westchester and the Bronx, Shirley’s India set up shop in New Rochelle back in 2012 for its dining and catering operations, championing the home-cooked styles of cuisine its namesake learned as a girl from her own mother in Kerala, India. Shirley’s reopened after the pandemic shutdown this Mother’s Day for take-out and catering services, offering everything from its famous appetizer platters to medium and large trays of all your favorites. (You can even rent an “action station” for live service!)
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A Feast for Vegans and Vegetarians
With separate sections on the menu for vegetable and vegan entrées, this comfortable eatery, which opened in 2007, is ideal for anyone avoiding meat. That said, it specializes in fare from Kerala, offering fish curry, dosas, fish moli (with ginger, garlic, and coconut milk), chicken Malabar (with potatoes, curry leaves, and red chili), aviyal (potatoes, carrots, banana, and eggplant with coconut yogurt, cumin, and curry leaves), and eggplant or okra thiyal (with spiced coconut paste, tamarind, and brown sugar).
Modern Takes on Classic Dishes
When you’re out for the evening in Tarrytown — say for a show at the Music Hall — and smell the delicious scent of naan wafting through the air, this is the place to be. Open for both dine-in and takeout seven days a week, this North Broadway spot is always a great decision.
Classic but Upscale Indian Buffet
Calling the foodie haven of Port Chester home, this traditional Indian buffet has a more posh feel to its interior and skews more old-school in its menu than its new-school counterpart, Indi-Q BBQ. Open since 1996, this spot is one of the oldest operating Indian joints in the county, with must-tries include everything from the classic dosas and samosas to house specials like the tandoori salmon masala.
The Curry Myth
“I’ll pass on Indian food; I’m not a fan of curry.” Does this sound like you or someone you know? You may have heard the word “curry” applied to any dish with flavorful gravy made with complex combos of spices/herbs, or even used as a synonym for Indian food. But there’s way more to Indian cuisine than curries. (You’ll find varieties of curry in cuisines worldwide, btw.) Crack open an Indian menu, and you’ll find plenty of other dishes to try. If it’s sauces and stews that put you off, go for the well-known tandoori chicken, mixed-rice biryani, or crispy stuffed crêpes called dosas. Whatever you order, it’ll pair well with warm, irresistible flatbreads, like paratha and naan.