The 16 Best Indian Restaurants in NYC
Feast on the dazzling diversity of India’s culinary reach for Diwali and beyond.
Indians may be known the world over for their vibrant and colorfully chaotic culture of celebration, but here’s the clincher: They do next to nothing without a glorious, dizzying array of feast-worthy food to tie it all together. And this is especially true for Diwali, the shimmering annual Hindu festival of lights which celebrates the triumph of good over evil, starting on November 4 this year.
Also known as Deepavali (“row of lights”), as the story goes, diyas (clay oil lamps) were lit many thousands of years ago to illuminate the city of Ayodhya to guide Lord Rama and his wife Sita back to their kingdom after a 14-year exile. Today, to observe the festival, many Indians light up their homes with diyas to attract the blessings of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of auspicious beginnings and remover of obstacles (particularly beloved by children for his seriously relatable sweet tooth). While deeper philosophical and spiritual sentiments are woven throughout regional Indian customs—ultimately it is about the emergence of light from a period of darkness, welcoming an onset of new beginnings.
So just how over the top is it? “Diwali is almost a culmination of bringing together the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. So if you include all of these, that is what Diwali is,” says Julie Sahni—the legendary Brooklyn-based doyenne of Indian cuisine and classically-trained chef, author, and culinary teacher. Renowned for introducing Americans to the foods of India, Sahni launched her eponymous cooking school in 1973, and is featured in the upcoming book, Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized Food in America, releasing later this month.
Sahni, whose family hails from the same Tamilian village as Vice President Kamala Harris, reflected how the emergence of Indian food in cities like NYC (with a current population of more than 700,000) and throughout the United States was a welcome result of Indians migrating to all corners of the country. Indians are so dedicated to their food culture, she observes, that with this movement came specialty grocery stores selling samosas and masala vadas, family-run restaurants like Amma in NYC, culinary institutions like the Ganesh Temple Canteen, and more recently, even food carts.
Here are the 16 best Indian spots in NYC to experience flavors from every part of the subcontinent—during this festival season and beyond.
Bringing the grand legacy of Southern Indian food to the forefront, Semma—a Tamil word for unrestrained enthusiasm (phenomenal! superb! awesome!)—is the latest offering from the team behind Unapologetic Foods. Opened last month, its kitchen is stewarded by chef Vijay Kumar, a Tamil Nadu native who spent a decade plus at the award-winning Rasa in California. The menu, which also spotlights the cuisine of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Goa has excited the palates of many, especially South Indian New Yorkers. Elements like oxtail, venison, and snails are given prominent placement, a nod to Kumar’s farming and hunting roots; other dishes include Kanyakumari nandu masala, a dish of crab, parotta and coconut rice; and Uzhavar Santhai poriyal, a fried vegetable dish of mustard green, red beets, and butternut squash. Cocktails utilize Indian ingredients such as jaggery syrup, curry leaf infused gin, cardamom, and tamarind; and the interiors play off the restaurant’s tropical roots, from renderings of verdant plants to basket lamps.
The award-winning Junoon has been an institution of fine Indian dining since opening more than a decade ago. After a hiatus amidst the pandemic, it reopened this summer (in a new location just down the street from its original home) with a redesign and updates—including less formalized a la carte options, a new pastry counter overseen by chef Gustavo Tzoc, and a marketplace selling teas and spices. The kitchen, helmed by Akshay Bhardwaj, offers fare like the butternut squash shorba, featuring creative iterations of the gourd (roasted, shallow fried, cooked with coconut milk); a mushroom and truffle khichdi; and the much-loved Telicherry duck. The Banarasi bread pudding of jaggery caramel and Banares royal paan leaf is paired with seasonal elements like cranberries and pumpkin seeds. A robust cocktail program with new additions like the Vintage Paloma, made with a chai-infused mezcal, rounds out the menu.
Chef Surbhi Sahni launched Tagmo (“tigress” in Bhutanese) as its own full-blown restaurant in mid-September in Seaport (it originally began as a virtual mithai shop in 2019 and transitioned to a meal-delivery service during the pandemic). Bringing her considerable experience of two decades (Devi and Tulsi, Saar Bistro), Surbhi is a pioneering force in the industry—a queer Indian female chef celebrating the regional cuisines of farmers, spice wallahs, and homecooks; championing the welfare of her employees by paying livable wages; collaborating with small batch, sustainable food producers; and supporting food relief organizations. Mithai on offer include modern spins like burfis made with salted pecans, rose coconut, raspberry almond; classic favorites like besan ladoo and kaju katli. Savory items from the kitchen include sabudana vada, Maharashtrian crispy tapioca cakes of potatoes and roasted peanuts; gushtaba, Kashmiri minced lamb dumplings; and eral chukka, Tamil ghee-roasted prawn.
An unpretentious romp into the rustic joys of Indian food, Adda Indian Canteen is an earlier brainchild of Chintan Pandya and Roni Mazumdar, who have since launched a coterie of celebrated Indian restaurants in the last several years (including Dhamaka on this list and the soon-to-open Rowdy Rooster and Kebabwala). Keeping customer affordability at the forefront, a no-frills location was chosen for this hangout-friendly spot in LIC (among its closest neighbors is a 7-Eleven). In addition to the much lauded Lucknow dum biryani and paneer khurchan, with its excellent house-made paneer, Adda’s menu includes kale pakora with chaat masala and chutneys; junglee maas, a red chili spiced goat curry; the cumin-inflected king prawn dish jhinga kali mirch; and chili cheese toast topped with Amul cheese (a favorite pantry staple in many an Indian home), and a throwback to Pandya’s own Mumbai childhood.
For nearly two decades, Delhi native and owner Anuj Sharma has presented dishes at the family-run Amma—paying homage to the home-cooking of Indian mothers (amma means “mother). Particularly loved for its distinctive north Indian fare, the spot showcases the dazzling diversity of India’s culinary reach, whether it’s the beetroot kofta, Goan fish curry, Konkan prawn masala, cauliflower Manchurian or Bagharey Baingan (a stuffed baby eggplant dish from Hyderabad), the menu is a celebration of the global and regional flavors that crisscross the subcontinent. Amma continues to raise support for its donation program, dedicated to feeding folks during the ongoing pandemic and beyond.
From chef Amrit Pal Singh comes Angel—initially opened as an exclusively and mostly Punjabi vegetarian restaurant, the menu was expanded to meat-based dishes (chicken, goat, lamb) as a pandemic-time pivot to increase its dine-out options. At this Jackson Heights gem, Singh, who was an alum of both Adda and the recently-closed Rahi prior to opening Angel, offers vegetarian chaats including pani puri (the real trick is eating it in one go) and lasuni gobi, spiced and crispy cauliflower florets. House-made paneer graces the lotus roots kofta, paneer PB 35 appetizer (a nod to Singh’s hometown of Pathankot), and diwani handi, made of spinach, peppers, and mixed vegetables. There are also vegan versions of classic Indian favorites, like rajma masala, channa masala and dal tadka. Though Singh hails from Punjab, dishes from other Indian states, Maharashtra (dahi batata puri) and Telangana (baingan bharta), are also represented.
Considered as one of NYC’s first “Indian gastro bars,” Baar Baar is a reference to the jovial, lighthearted Hindi expression that means “again and again” (many a classic Bollywood tune celebrates this turn of phrase). Chef Sujan Sarkar—whose culinary repertoire extends from New Delhi to London to San Francisco and now NYC—brings a playful, present-day take to the multi-hued regional cuisine of the Indian subcontinent, with a respectful nod towards the ethos of traditional Indian cooking. A special Diwali prix-fixe menu, available the night of November 4 only, will feature dishes such as shrimp balchao with sweetcorn misal; tandoor cauliflower laced with ginger; achari salmon paired with seafood kichadi; and trio of holiday-inspired desserts including jalebi churro and a mango and tamarind sorbet. Live Bollywood music will keep spirits high as the night gets lit up.
Beloved across every part of the country, Indian street food offers a whiplash-inducing array of flavors, oft-combining spicy heat and savory sweetness within the same dish. At Chote Miya (which loosely translates to “a regular, approachable guy”), in DUMBO’s Time Out Market New York, stateside locals get a chance to indulge in essential favorites from Mumbai’s own streetside eateries—like the vada pav, Bombay bhel, and samosa chaat—along with heartier fare like “frankies” or rotis filled with chicken or paneer, butter chicken, and chana masala. Pair these perennial favorites with mango lassi, nimbu pani (Indian lemonade) or local favorite Thumbs Up, India’s take on cola.
A hallmark of Unapologetic Foods—led by chef Chintan Pandya and restaurateur Roni Mazumdar—has been to surprise and delight in equal measure with each new venture: Dhamaka (a wonderfully onomatopoeic moniker that translates as “explosion”) pays tribute to the fare of Indian roads far less traveled. Like the available once-a-night only Rajasthani khargosh, a traditional rabbit dish (as in whole); or macher jhol, a baby shark curry native to Bengal; or bharela marcha, a grilled dish of sweet peppers and peanuts that is made in a village in Gujarat. Opened last winter in Essex Market, Dhamaka’s interior displays sunbursts of color with a riot of jagged-edged murals visible through its glass exterior, as a nod to the Indian concept of “jugaad,” the notion that seemingly broken things still hold great value.
Ganesh Temple Canteen
Aptly described as a culinary “South Indian Paradise,” the Ganesh Temple Canteen is in a league all its own. Located in the basement of a Hindu temple, it has long been a favorite of in-the-know New Yorkers, like food celeb Padma Lakshmi. The all-vegetarian canteen is known for its well-spiced take on everything from lentil-based sambar and bisibele bhath to thali lunches and tamarind rice. For the dosa-obsessed, they offer over 20 different versions (including uttapams). The famed Madras coffee is not to be missed for those who have yet to discover the restorative magic of this South Indian brew. For Diwali and throughout the year, a fantastic selection of sweets and snacks—including crumbly sweets like mysorepak or badam burfi and crunchy savories like mullu muruku—are available.
Deemed a regular these days, Jimmy Fallon had declared Gupshup his favorite NYC restaurant last fall (while dining with fellow Tonight Show pals Questlove and Black Thought) to advocate support for local restaurants and small businesses. Taking inspiration in bringing the raging flavors of Bombay to the Big Apple, Gupshup’s menu features a modern take with dishes like pulled jackfruit tacos using parotta, a South Asian layered flatbread, as its base; gunpowder branzino with a raw mango curry; and Awadhi lamb chops, which draws on flavors from the regional cuisine of Lucknow. The extensive drinks menu incorporates Indian flavor profiles like cardamom, masala chai, even Parle-G (the much-loved tea biscuit brand). The artistic interior houses works by South Asian artists and a striking two-story wall of 3,000 tiffins to honor Mumbai’s dabbawalas, which expands to an outdoor seating area.
Nestled in the luxurious Le Parker Meridien hotel, this first outpost of the award-winning original in New Delhi offers a contemporary international spin on Indian classics under the globally-savvy direction of Patna native, chef Manish Mehrotra—amongst India’s most revered chefs today, he has worked in venues across Asia and Europe. At Indian Accent, inventive offerings like soy keema, wild mushroom kulcha, crispy jackfruit with cauliflower rice and pumpkin curry, and even a beet and peanut butter tikki, are woven throughout the menu. Cocktails, which include non-alcoholic options, are infused with unexpected ingredients such as toasted coriander.
The term “masala” cheekily references the idea of there being a little something for everyone–and at this downtown eatery, one thing is clear: A good time will be had by all. With a nod to the delightsome variety of spicy Indian fare, Masala Times, which celebrated its tenth anniversary last year, brings plenty of fun to their menu. Offerings include long standing late-night favorites like unda bhurji paav, spiced scrambled eggs served with buttered rolls; spicy chickpea and tandoori mushroom rolls (a.k.a frankies as they call them); paneer tikka and tandoori chicken kebabs; and their signature boxes, which are takeaway-friendly meals featuring plenty of carbs with dal and an accompanying egg, vegetable, or protein.
Few regional foods collectively excite Indians quite as much as the prospect of a satisfyingly crispy dosa (nothing can top that first crackly bite). Thiru Kumar of NY Dosas is the joyful purveyor of this cherished South Indian staple. His long-standing cart in Washington Square Park is usually visible if you just look for the long line of hungry revelers (whom he regularly showcases on his Twitter and Instagram accounts). Insiders know to ask for the off-menu items like samosa and kale dosas. His vegan and vegetarian menu includes tributes to his grandmother’s pesarattu-style dosa and perennial faves like the Pondicherry special, all served up with well-spiced sambar and chutney to enjoy against one of NYC’s most beautiful city parks. Kumar’s rapport with his customers is so strong, it recently extended to his offering his organic, homegrown curry leaf plants for sale (at his patrons’ requests).
How to order: Walk up. Outdoor seating available in Washington Square Park. Venmo and cash only.
Punjabi Grocery & Deli
For more than a quarter century, this unassuming culinary stalwart (the green awning only displays “Punjabi” in white letters as a clue to what’s inside) has kept locals satiated 24 hours a day with the sort of hearty vegetarian Punjabi fare that hits the spot no matter what time of day (or night). Opened by former cab driver Kulwinder Singh to serve as a welcome eatery and haven for the city’s cab drivers, Punjabi Deli & Grocery has since become a neighborhood institution for locals from all walks of life. From savory samosas and piping hot chai to saag, chaats, and yellow dal over rice, it’s a beacon of comfort that those-in-the-know come back to on repeat. While Punjabi Deli has not yet resumed its 24-hour daily schedule, it’s still open well past the dinner hour.
It’s impossible to ignore the soaring space of Tamarind (at a splendid 11,000 square feet), a fine dining hub in swanky Tribeca. The considerable interior gives way to prime vantage points, be it a mezzanine-level view of the dining room or the chance to nestle into a surprisingly intimate booth on the ground floor. The impressively affordable Executive Lunch menu, featuring flavors from Hyderabad to Goa, may command your initial attention, but there are more prospects to discover. Such as the Tamarind lunch wraps, which give guests a high-brow version of a kati roll filled with paneer, salmon or lamb. Or the nearly dozen offerings from their tandoor oven, from coconut-sauteed prawns to Chilean sea bass to venison chops marinated in hung yogurt. Intriguing vegetarian specialties include kalaikkose pirattal, a dish of brussels sprout, dessicated coconut, and Tamilian spices.