Lower Manhattan is home to some of the most popular Indian/Pakistani cabbie hangouts. These eateries function as a hub for cab drivers where they can network, socialize, and just hang out. They all serve good, cheap fast food late into the night, but each place specializes in at least one item that should not be missed.
Punjabi Grocery & Deli in the East Village is a long narrow counter that has been serving vegetarian Indian food for more than 15 years. The place has a friendly and warm atmosphere and functions as a mini Indian grocery. It's stocked with packaged savory and sweet snacks and spices in addition to Indian music and videos. Rajwinder Singh (left) has been working there for years and shared that two Indian ladies in Queens cook all of the food.
The deli offers a few items that you cannot find in many places — dahi vada (fried lentil dumplings in yogurt) and kasta kachori (flaky fried bread stuffed with lentils). Their samosa chaat is exceptional and comes in a bowl with yogurt, chickpea curry, tamarind sauce and onions, topped with chili powder and chaat masala (tangy spice mixture).
On days when they have kachori, you can order a kachori chaat. A nice touch is the cut cucumber slices and the Indian green chilis on the counter. Traditionally, in North India, people take little bites of chili while eating their meal.
Across the street is a newcomer to the scene, Punjabi Food Express, which offers up a buffet with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options and ample seating. Many of the cabbies eating there said they frequent the spot because the food and breads are fresh and not heated in a microwave.
Raj Khanna, who works the counter, grew up in Mumbai and was quick to point out some of the unique street food classics from that area that they serve up in addition to the North Indian fare. For instance, their delicious bread pakora is a potato and pea curry sandwich that is battered and deep-fried, topped with chaat masala and served with tamarind and mint chutney. When you order any of the pakoras, they put them in the deep fryer again so they are served crunchy, which is not the case at many other places. There are also water jugs in the refrigerator if you need something to drink.