Since 1944 Kalustyan's has been a reliable repository of Indian spices for New Yorkers, both home cooks and chefs alike. The original founder and owner, K. Kalustyan, has long since passed, but the current proprietors have kept it going strong by expanding their assortment to include ingredients from around the world, and also by creating a thriving mail-order business. The two-story establishment is situated in the heart of the Flatiron district, between 28thand 29thon Lexington, where upon entering, customers are greeted by the wafting aromas of exotic teas and spices. The first story is filled floor to ceiling with everything from whole allspice to turmeric roots, amaranth to whole wheat berries; friendly staff are there to guide customers through it all. Wander upstairs, however, and around the corner you will find a small deli staffed by a couple of friendly old men.
Don't let their affable demeanor fool you though. These guys really take their craft seriously. They make a mean sandwich, and it's not just any meat-and-mustard-between-two-slices kind of deal. These are Lebanese pita sandwiches, and they are works of art. Make sure to get the kibbeh pitas, savory and satisfying with cakes of cracked bulgur wheat and spiced ground beef. Don't skimp on the hot sauce, and to balance out the heat, ask for some homemade lebney, a smooth, creamy derivative of Greek whole yogurt with olive oil. A word of caution: no matter how neatly constructed these sandwiches are, somehow, they always manage to fall apart.
Vegetarian options are also plentiful. Staples such as the mujaddara, or lentils cooked with rice and onions, foul mudammas, fava beans with garlic, lemon, and olive oil, and piazos, spicy lentil fritters, are definitely worth a try. Many of these items are available as either sandwiches or platters, and come with a side of pickled vegetables and marinated olives.
There are a few tables by the window looking out onto the street, but most customers choose to take their food to go. On their way out, they usually take home a few pints of the excellent olives, some dolmas, or imported Mediterranean cheeses. With sandwiches this good, reasonable prices, and a shop stocked with thousands of spices from around the world, it's no wonder customers keep coming back to Kalustyan's.