The best cheap Indian eats
Five places to get your fix on a budget.
Mon Mar 28 2011
Bombay Chaat Indian expats satisfy their jones for chaat—the subcontinent's preferred street food—at this Jackson Heights hang, where non--Hindi speakers often take the point-and-smile approach to ordering. The small snack counter specializes in the puri-based chaats popular in Mumbai. These tiny fried shells are packed with a blitz of Indian staples (potatoes, chutneys, yogurt, coriander) for a unique blend of sweet, savory and tangy flavors. Most chaat can be popped into your mouth whole, though you'll need a fork for the excellent papri chaat ($6), which features thicker, crunchier fried dough crackers tossed among lettuce, potato, chickpeas, yogurt and a spice blend that packs a serious punch. 73-19 37th Rd between 73rd and 74th Sts, second floor, Jackson Heights, Queens (no phone). Average chaat: $6.
Biryani Cart Midtown lunchers flock to this heavily decorated food cart, winner of both the 2009 Vendy People's Choice Award and TONY's Carts in the Parc competition. The chicken tikka and kathi rolls are solid bets, but the star of the show is the chicken biryani ($6), which Bangladesh native Meru Sikder has been serving since he launched the cart in 2004. The dish features smoky, moist bits of chicken blended with yellow rice and topped with an egg boiled in saffron. Orders can be spiced according to your heat tolerance, and it's served with yogurt-drenched lettuce and a mango pickle to help cut the kick. At the corner of W 46th St and Sixth Ave (917-628-3269). Average dish: $6.
Hampton Chutney Co. Don't be fooled by the shopping bags and Lululemon-clad ladies still glowing from yoga—this Soho stalwart turns out dosas that make the Eat, Pray, Love vibe tolerable. The massive, golden-brown sourdough crpes serve as edible place mats for an array of fresh East-meets-West fillings, like a classic masala (spiced potatoes) dressed up with Jack cheese, spinach, tomato and homemade chutney. Wash it down with Indian-inspired drinks like sweet lassi and cardamom-spiked coffee. 68 Prince St between Crosby and Lafayette Sts (212-226-9996). Average dosa: $9.
The Kati Roll Company Calcutta-style wraps known as kathi rolls may not be as ubiquitous as falafel, but these portable one-handers battle admirably for our snacking loyalties. At this microchain, an American-friendly-friendly illustrated menu makes it easy to choose a filling for the thin, doughy paratha bread, which surrounds items like smoky paneer and slow-roasted, sacrilicious beef, each garnished with cherry tomatoes, onions, lettuce and a savory proprietary spice blend. 99 MacDougal St between Bleecker and W 3rd Sts (212-420-6517) * 49 W 39th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves (212-730-4280). Average roll: $4.
Liebe This Nolita newcomer initially triggered our eye-rolling reflex with its fast-food-of-the-future posturing (a bright, cookie-cutter storefront, plus the promise of "gourmet Indian fusion"). But its addictive kathi rolls quickly made us believers. Tender house-made roti—buttery and slightly charred from the grill—cradles simple, vegetarian-friendly fillings like paneer or spiced potatoes ($5.95), though we think it's worth shelling out the extra buck-fifty for the Seekh Kebab Roll, stuffed with grilled onion, your choice of sauce (including spicy-sweet mint chutney), and minced lamb marinated in house-ground spices and brightened with cilantro and lime. 227 Mott St between Prince and Spring Sts (212-796-5744). Average roll: $6.50.