As popular as Indian cuisine is throughout the United States, it’s still often not fully understood by the average non-South Asian American. Thriving on opposing flavor combinations and bold spices, what is considered “Indian food” isn’t just Indian. In addition to understanding just what is on the menu at your favorite Indian restaurant, it’s also important to understand that some of the best “Indian food” can actually be found at eateries whose owners are technically Pakistani, Bangladeshi, or even Nepalese.
Thanks to a complicated history and British colonialism, many South Asian regions — and therefore regional cuisines — span more than one country. You'll find that the delicious Punjabi cuisine of Amritsar in India is very similar to that in Lahore, Pakistan — which means that your favorite "Indian” restaurant with mouthwatering butter chicken might actually be Pakistani-owned. When looking at the best South Asian restaurants in the country, we also found that the best places weren’t exclusively serving what is considered to be Punjabi or North Indian-influenced cuisine; many top spots serve the South Indian fare found in Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh or even Hyderabadi, Gujarati, or Bengali dishes.
In order to determine just which restaurants serve the best South Asian food in the country, we started with our own working knowledge of the most renowned places in the culinary world — restaurants profiled by top publications as well as our own. We then took a deep dive into existing rankings and review sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor to get an idea of which South Asian restaurants are the most renowned and well-loved according to both locals and tourists. In a departure from previous restaurant rankings, we didn’t focus as much on the quality of the dining area or even of service. From personal experience, we’ve found that some of the most utterly delicious South Asian food comes out of hole-in-the-wall shops and stops that tend to be frequented by cabbies rather than celebrities. Of course, there are a few restaurants that earned a spot on the list due to their exceptionally gorgeous dining areas and high level of service, but our list prizes the quality of food, popularity among locals and tourists (particularly those of South Asian descent, known as desis, who understand the complicated cuisine better than anyone), and in some cases, the level of creativity that goes into making a classic dish new.
Predictably, we found that most of the country’s top South Asian cuisine can be found in areas with a high population of South Asians, such as New York, New Jersey, California, and Chicago. None of our selections are chains, although some have a second or third location due to high demand. All are known for impressively flavorful, wonderfully colorful, and often spicy dishes, and none have menus that will bore you. You don’t need to be desi to absolutely fall in love with the delicious food at America’s 25 best Indian restaurants.