America’s 25 Best Indian Restaurants Gallery
August 24, 2018
The top spots for desi food
America’s 25 Best Indian Restaurants
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.
August 1 Five (San Francisco, California)
August 1 Five/Yelp
So named to commemorate the date of India’s independence from the British, August 1 Five provides a fine dining experience that combines traditional Indian cuisine with modern innovations in a beautifully furnished dining room. Executive chef Manish Tyagi, born and raised in India, uses his experience of living and traveling throughout his home country to combine traditional dishes with produce and a bit of style from Northern California. The result is not just traditional Indian foods with a kick, but also innovative dishes such as their bison keema (minced meat) made with bacon and quail egg or August 1 Five’s take on chicken and waffles: a waffle made out of dosa (a very thin South Indian pancake made from fermented batter) and served with spiced fried chicken and chili jaggery butter. You’ll even find Indian spices and herbs being used on their cocktail menu, as well as a global wine list suitable for the variety of flavors on your plate.
Badmaash (Los Angeles, California)
Badmaash means “mischievous” in Hindi and Urdu, and that’s exactly the kind of spirit that Pawan Mehendro and his sons, Nakul and Arjun, bring to the kitchen and their dining room. With locations in downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood — the former of which is decorated with pop art-style renditions of Gandhi in wayfarer sunglasses and old Bollywood movie posters — the trio has taken traditional Indian classics and given them a bit of flair. Start off with some dahi puri — cheekily referred to as Crispy Yogurt Puffs as they are, indeed, crispy semolina puffs stuffed with chickpeas, whipped yogurt, tamarind, and mint chutney — before diving into delights such as Dad’s Famous Coconut Curry Mussels (in a Madras-style curry) or their famous Chicken Tikka Poutine (masala fries covered in cheese curds, hot beef gravy, tandoori chicken tikka, and cilantro), a nod to the Mehendros’ Canadian background.
Bombay Darbar (Miami, Florida)
Find deliciously authentic Indian cuisine in Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood at a reasonable price when you dine at Bombay Darbar. Try the delicious biryani or favorites such as the flavorful mango chicken curry and lamb rogan josh (boneless lamb cooked in a tomato curry with yogurt and spices). The colorful bar has a nice selection of wines, cocktails, and beers including a couple from India, and the TVs playing Bollywood music videos along with a nice seating area makes this a great place to catch up with friends or family.
Cumin (Chicago, Illinois)
Explore the food of Nepal alongside the flavors of the rest of the Indian subcontinent at Chicago’s Cumin. Located in the Wicker Park neighborhood, it’s run by Nepalese brothers Rajesh and Sanjeev Karmacharya, who make sure to bring you the best of Nepal’s cuisine such as chicken momos (large steamed dumplings filled with minced and spiced chicken) and palungoko saag (spinach sautéed in spices), as well as Indian classics such as lamb keema samosas and chicken curry.
Dhaba (New York, New York)
Featured in The New York Times and highly rated by Zagat, Dhaba is a staple of Curry Hill — the section of the Rose Hill neighborhood of Manhattan aptly-nicknamed for its plethora of South Asian restaurants. While vegetarian dishes are to be expected on the menu, vegan diners will be happy to know that they have more than a few options here as well. Absolute must-tries include the kurkuri bhindi (fried okra seasoned with onions, lime, and chaat masala); pahadi murgh kabab (spicy skewered chicken chunks in a chili paste marinade); chili onion naan; goat kadai (goat curry made with onions, bell peppers, fenugreek, and coriander leaves); and highway lassi (mango lassi with a bit of Champagne). Come here for their lunch buffet, but carve out some time — they're well-known for it, leading to long lines.
Dimple’s BombayTalk (Iselin, New Jersey)
Oak Tree Road, which runs through the neighboring New Jersey towns of Edison and Iselin, is well-known throughout the diaspora in America as a bastion of the best South Asian food, clothes, and shopping. One of the most famous eateries coming out of Oak Tree Road, Dimple’s BombayTalk, has had enough success in the past 30 years to garner a second location further down the same street as well as a third just 20 minutes away in Sayreville. A vegetarian’s dream, the spot is a local favorite and has also been featured in both The New York Times and Condé Nast Traveller. Enjoy some fantastic Indian street food in the form of different types of sandwiches and chaats (such as the iconic aloo chaat) from Bombay as well as South Indian favorites such as dosa and uttapam (a dosa-like dish made by cooking ingredients into the batter). You’ll also find plates of Indo-Chinese and Indo-Thai food here, such as their gobi manchurian (fried cauliflower in Manchurian sauce) and haryali noodles (noodles sauteed in a mint and coriander sauce with veggies and shredded cottage cheese).
Dosa Grill (North Brunswick, New Jersey)
You won’t get a fancy dining experience by any means at Dosa Grill, but you will get absolutely delicious South Indian vegetarian fare. Enjoy classic appetizers and snacks such as idli (steamed rice cakes served with sambar and chutney), dahi vada (deep-fried lentils shaped like small doughnuts and covered in a thick yogurt), samosas, papdi chaat, and bhel puri, but know that the main attraction here is, of course, their dosas. Try the paneer dosa (filled with paneer cheese) or the Andhra special dosa (filled with spices, onions, and potatoes).
Ekta (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Ekta has two locations in Philadelphia and another in Bryn Mawr, having been established by chef Raju Bhattarai after he left fellow Indian restaurant Tiffin — an episode that led to a long-lasting rivalry between him and Tiffin owner Munish Narula which has involved police reports and accusations of health code violations. On the culinary level, however, Ekta seems to have won out thanks to Bhattarai’s own blend of garam masala used in much of their dishes. Try the Ekta naan, stuffed with black sesame seed, dry fruit, and nuts, with kid-friendly saag paneer (paneer cheese cooked with spinach, light cream, tomato sauce, and onion) or lamb vindaloo.
Ganesh Temple Canteen (Flushing, New York)
One often has to go far off the beaten path to find some of the best, most authentic food, and in order to find the best dosas in New York, you’ll have to head out to suburban Flushing and visit the Hindu Temple Society of North America, commonly known as the Ganesh Temple. In 1993, the temple opened up a canteen mostly for the purpose of making naivedyam, or food offerings for deities at the temple. In 1998, the canteen had seen such success that it had to move to a bigger location in the temple’s community center. To this day, people continue to make a pilgrimage to this temple not just for worship but to also enjoy authentic South Asian delights such as idli, vada pav, upma (cream of wheat cooked with vegetables and spices), and an impressive variety of dosas such as pondicherry masala dosas (shaped like a triangle, stuffed with spiced potatoes, and spread with spicy chutney, onions, green chili, and other spices) and ghee masala dosas (shaped in a cone tossed with ghee and served with spiced potatoes).
Haandi (New York, New York)
As The New York Times once noted, Haandi is where New York taxi drivers go for their biryani. Another Curry Hill institution, the Pakistani-owned shop is a favorite of New York City’s many South Asian locals and owes its success entirely to the food itself. There’s no fancy décor here, and presentation is not a concern as food is dished out of metal trays into paper plates or to-go containers. You have to know what you want here, as the menu board offers no explanation as to what exactly is in its many flavor-packed dishes. Go for the biryani, fresh naan, paya (hoof stew, here made with cow), or chapli kebab (a flat, round kebab made of ground meat that’s a popular street food).
Indian Accent (New York, New York)
Award-winning New Delhi restaurant Indian Accent opened up an outpost in New York in 2016 that’s gone on to earn quite a name for itself with chef Manish Mehrotra at the helm. Modern takes on traditional menu items make for a great way to explore culinary techniques from around the world as well as fantastic Instagram fodder. Chicken malai tikka is made with green chili cream, sugar snap peas, and summer truffle, and their keema is made with soy rather than minced meat, served with a quail egg and lime leaf butter pao.
Junoon (New York, New York)
Thanks to its boldly progressive South Asian cuisine, Junoon was awarded a Michelin star for the seventh consecutive year in October 2017 and remains the only Michelin-starred Indian restaurant in New York City. The restaurant is named for the Urdu word for “obsession,” and Manhattan foodies are certainly obsessed with chef Akshay Bhardwaj’s high-end takes on traditional dishes and even techniques such as putting octopus tentacles in the tandoor and serving them with arugula, marcona almonds, and mango vinaigrette; or making chicken tikka with cabbage slaw and a cashew puree with cashew crumble (in the popular Ghost Chili Murgh Tikka). The restaurant’s head mixologist Hemant Pathak also makes sure to literally spice up Junoon’s cocktails with herbs and spices from their masala room, creating mixes such as the Mirchi Mary, an Indian-spiced bloody mary, and the Masala Margarita, a South Asian take on the margarita.
Kabab King (Queens, New York)
The most ethnically diverse urban area in the world, Queens has many cultures thriving in its neighborhoods. The neighborhood of Jackson Heights, in particular, is highly diverse and home to a Little India on 74th Street as well as a Little Pakistan and Little Bangladesh on 73rd. It is on the corner of the latter that you’ll find Kabab King holding court, one of the most famed South Asian eateries in the neighborhood since it opened its doors in 1996. Lauded by The New York Times and The New York Post, the Pakistani-owned restaurant serves South Asian cuisine as well as South Asian takes on Chinese dishes such as Sichuan goat and sesame chicken. Their mouthwatering biryani is an absolute must, available with goat, lamb and chicken, and their chicken tikkas and seekh kebabs are ever-popular with the Queens cabbie crowd.
The MasalaWala (New York, New York)
The word “wala” in Hindi and Urdu usually refers to a vendor or seller; "masalawala,” therefore, roughly translates to “the spice guy.” The name refers to restaurant founder Roni Mazumdar’s father, Satyen, who was known for his hospitality and love of feeding guests throughout Mazumdar’s childhood in Kolkata, India. Having been inspired by Satyen’s own kitchen and love of spices, The MasalaWala has an undeniably authentic taste to its creative and modernized dishes. Try their delicious samosas and chicken tikkas, as well as their gobi Manchurian (cauliflower prepared with ginger and Indo-Chinese spices) and lamb rogan josh (lamb slow-cooked in a Kashmiri-style curry).
NeeHee’s (Canton and Troy, Michigan)
Specializing in vegetarian street food, NeeHee’s came about when brothers Rikesh and Vrijesh Patel, along with their wives Dipali and Krishna, transformed the popular food counter at their grocery store into its own full-fledged restaurant in 2009. With over 150 dishes on the menu and a large dining room that can accommodate groups of up to 20, it’s a popular family spot for South Asian locals in southeast Michigan and even has an education room for corporate meetings and training. You’ll find menus for vegan, gluten-free, and orthodox Hindu Brahmin diets here, as well as a menu for kids. Try the paneer pakoda (paneer cheese stuffed with chutney, deep fried in chickpea flour batter, and served with mint-cilantro as well as tamarind chutney), a vada pav, or one of their many chaats and dosas.
Paper Dosa (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
Helmed by South Indian chef Paulraj Karuppasamy, Paper Dosa started out as a pop-up before settling down as a full-service, dine-in restaurant in 2015. Start your meal with dahi vada, Chennai chicken, or kale and onion pakora (fresh kale, red onions, and jalapeños in a spiced rice flour batter that’s flash fried and then served with an eggplant chutney). Their dosas come in amazing varieties; try the masala dosa flavored with white truffle oil or the green chile dosa, filled with three cheeses and New Mexican green chile.
Rasika (Washington, D.C.)
Rasika has enjoyed such popularity that it has not one, but two, fine-dining locations in D.C. that the entire town is raving about. Executive chef Vikram Sunderam is responsible for a contemporary Indian cuisine that has brought President Barack Obama back here for two of his birthdays along many other Washington D.C. A-listers. Indian classics take on Western fine dining influences in the form of dishes such as their truffle naan, avocado banana chaat, and artichoke mushroom korma (korma being a traditional South Asian dish in which meat or vegetables are braised in a thick yogurt or water and then spiced).
Ravi Kabob House (Arlington, Virginia)
With two locations in Arlington, Ravi Kabob House is a Pakistani-owned restaurant that specializes in delicious kebabs, yet has plenty of vegetarian options as well. Cash-only and with little dining room, they’re simplistic in their operation, but the menu is bursting with flavor. In addition to their many different types of kebabs — lamb, chicken, seekh, fish, and more — they also have great samosas and delicious curries such as chicken kadai and palak gosht (a lamb curry cooked with spinach).
Sabri Nihari (Chicago, Illinois)
If you ask any Chicago-area desi for food recommendations, chances are the first place they’ll mention is Sabri Nihari. The beloved Pakistani restaurant is located on Devon Avenue, Chicago’s Little India filled with South Asian shops and eateries, and is often packed on weekends. Recipient of the Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand distinction — awarded to restaurants that serve “exceptionally good food at moderate prices” — Sabri Nihari is known for their signature nihari, a heavy stew made with shank of beef (although it can also be made with lamb, mutton, goat, or chicken) and bone marrow and traditionally eaten with naan. Other favorites include their palak gosht, chicken biryani, and frontier chicken, a northern Pakistani dish in which boneless chicken pieces are cooked on a low-flame grill with tomatoes, onions, green peppers, ginger, garlic, cilantro, and other herbs.
Shalimar (Iselin, New Jersey)
Shalimar is to Oak Tree Road what Sabri Nihari is to Devon Avenue. This institution has a larger restaurant location as well as a smaller, 24/7 Shalimar Grill around the corner, both of which serve the same delicious food, although the former also has an impressive South Asian sweets counter where you’d be remiss to not order some gulab jamun (fried milk solids in a cardamom and rose water syrup) or kheer (a type of South Asian rice pudding). Shalimar’s chicken makhni, or butter chicken, is very possibly the best in the country, and their chicken and cheese kebabs are utterly delicious as well. Other favorites of regulars include their spiced lamb chops, fresh naan, aromatic biryani, and mouthwatering nihari.
Surati Farsan Mart (Artesia & San Diego, California)
Located in the Little India of Artesia, a city just outside of Los Angeles, Surati Farsan Mart stands out even among the more than 100 other shops in the area that cater to South Asians. At both this primary location as well as a second in San Diego, you can enjoy all types of vegetarian street foods, primarily chaat, as well as dosas, masala fries, and dahi vada. On weekends, you can also get surati tacos and bhaji quesadillas, South Asian takes on California favorites, and any time you’re here, you have to try the chocolate dosa, a dosa filled with chocolate and topped with strawberries and bananas.
Tamarind Tribeca (New York, New York)
Lauded by The New York Times, New York Post, Village Voice, and Zagat Survey, Tamarind Tribeca is a fine dining experience that brings together South Asian cuisine and Tribeca sophistication. With a gorgeous interior and enough seating for 175 guests, the two-story restaurant has the perfect ambience for a date or business meeting with a menu that’s sure to impress. Try the lobster masala (lobster with shiitake mushrooms, chopped onions, garlic, and white wine); sirkha gosht (lamb cooked with malt vinegar, roasted garam masala, chili vinaigrette, peppers, and coriander chili chutney); or saag paneer.
Tiffin Asha (Portland, Oregon)
Chef Elizabeth Golay fell in love with South Indian food after she met and fell in love with Sheila Bommakanti, a South Indian civil rights attorney. Golay started Tiffin Asha as a food cart in 2013, and her wife joined her full time in 2014, helping her turn the popular food stop into a full-fledged restaurant by January of 2017. Tiffin Asha seems to be, in many ways, an ode to their cross-cultural love, with traditional South Indian food being given a kick thanks to Western culinary influences and techniques. Try the idli fries—fried idli wedges with a house-made masala, crispy curry leaf, and served with curried ketchup — for your appetizer or the kulfi (a South Asian ice cream made with milk and cream) in huckleberry-rose compote. The stars here are the “gun powders” — red, white, green, or black powders made with spices and lentils — which you can have your pick of to go with their delicious dosas such as the Hot Chick Dosa (chicken pakora with black cardamom-infused honey, pickled kale, and creamy yogurt cheese) or Studly Spud (yukon gold potatoes with tomato chutney and peppers).
Toosso (Sterling, Virginia & Rockville, Maryland)
In Urdu and Hindi, “toosso” means “stuff” — as in “stuffing your face,” which is exactly what Pakistani restaurant Toosso is perfect for. Toosso looks to encapsulate the laid-back, typically South Asian aesthetic of a dhaba, or roadside café, that one would find on the streets of Lahore or Karachi. With beautiful decor inspired by Pakistani marketplaces and Karachi trucks, it’s a wonderful spot to enjoy a bun kebab (a typically Pakistani snack in which a spicy beef or potato kebab is eaten on a bun with onions and chutney), mirchi fries, or some chicken tikka. Come on the weekends for the classic breakfast of halwa puri (a popular combo of halwa, a flour-based sweet, with puri, an unleavened and deep-fried bread), nihari, or haleem (a stew of lentils and beef cooked with spices and garnished with fried onions, ginger, and lemon).
Zyka (Decatur, Georgia)
Zyka is a South Asian restaurant that specializes in Hyderabadi cuisine, with their most notable dishes being their Hyderabadi mutton biryani and chicken kalimirch (a chicken curry that features freshly-cracked peppercorn gravy). Their most popular dish, however, originates from Tamil Nadu: chicken 65, a dish in which boneless chicken is marinated in ginger, garlic, and spices, before being battered and fried to make some of the most perfect fried chicken ever.
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