It was back in 1918 when the first of the Indian restaurants in NYC first fired up its curry-making stove burners on West 42nd Street. Since that time, the Indian food scene in the Big Apple has greatly expanded. And gotten much, much better. It evolved into affordable buffets that were sprinkled throughout nearly every neighborhood in the city.
You can still do the all-you-can-eat subcontinental buffet snacking, but in the last decade or so, more elegant Indian eateries have opened in New York—some with precious tasting menus—serving up creative and elevated takes on Indian fare.
All this means that you can take your pick on what type of Indian dining experience you want to have when eating at the best Indian restaurants in NYC.
Raja Sweets and Fast Food
Don’t mistake this for an Indian sweet shop. The owners, a couple from Punjab, originally filled this Jackson Heights, Queens space with CDs and DVDs. But once music and movies began going digital, they had a dilemma.
That is, until the wife had a lightbulb moment: she would make her Indian home-cooking in the shop and convert the DVD store into a restaurant. And it worked. Today Raja Sweets is an excellent place in Jackson Heights to chow down on some excellent vegetarian Punjabi fare. Located at 72-31 37th Ave. at 73rd Street.
The restaurant group behind this Lower East Side eatery—Unapologetic Indian—also run hit restaurants Semma and Adda. Dhamaka is decidedly the best of the three great restaurants and, not surprisingly, the most difficult to get into. The dishes may seem unrecognizable—you’re not going to find chicken tikka masala on the menu here—because the chefs forage recipes in India that have not really made the jump across borders and oceans. That’s part of the appeal. The other is that whatever they put on the menu here is excellent.
Benares, or Varanasi, as it’s more commonly called outside of India, is a holy city. It’s a place where people go to die, get cremated, and have their ashes tossed into the Ganges River to ensure they reach moksha, or nirvana, in the afterlife.
It’s questionable why anyone would name their restaurant after this famously chaotic city. That is, until you eat at this Tribeca restaurant. Benares is good. They’re not re-inventing the wheel here—just serving up high-quality takes on Indian staples that are good enough to feast on until it’s time to get tossed into the Ganges.
Meaning “passion” in Hindi, Junoon is an upscale Indian eatery in the Flatiron District that is the epitome of elegance on a plate. The handsome, sleek space is a lovely venue to sample the fine Indian fare that comes out of the kitchen.
The lunch menu is one of the best deals in town, given the quality of the food and experience at Junoon. For three courses, it’s $48. (At dinner, it jumps up to $95.)
Ganesh Temple Canteen
People don’t necessarily patronize Ganesh for the food. In addition to frequent worshippers, non-Hindus come out of curiosity. This is one of the most unique Indian restaurants in NYC in that it happens to sit underneath a Hindu temple. And oh, the southern Indian food happens to be pretty good, too. Tuck into a crispy dosa and then go up and wander around the temple.
There have long been two swaths of neighborhoods in Manhattan that are crammed with Indian restaurants, many of them mediocre: Murray Hill, lovingly nicknamed “Curry Hill,” and East 6th Street in the East Village.
Malai Marke exists in the latter and it’s the best Indian restaurant of the bunch that line the block. The menu is long, but lamb lovers should take note that they do the lamb meat very well here. And a delicious anomaly is that the restaurant has a section of the menu dedicated to the unique Chinese-Indian fare from Kolkata.
Let’s be honest: the food at Panna II, a longtime East Village stalwart that is around the corner from the block-long chain of Indian eateries, is not very memorable. But that’s not why this place is packed every single night. It’s all about the chaos and disarray of the diminutive, narrow room that is strewn with so many Christmas lights and chili pepper lights that eating here is really more of a feast for the eyes. Located on the corner of First Avenue and East 6th Street.
Punjabi Grocery and Deli
Located in the East Village since the 1990s, you might walk by Punjabi Grocery and Deli and dismiss it as one of a gazillion similar rundown bodegas in the city. That would be a mistake. This is one of the most memorable Indian restaurants in NYC the deli’s famous samosa chaat, is a lovely crunchy, slightly spicy, full-flavored styrofoam bowl of subcontinental scrumptiousness.
A food cart located on the southwestern side of Washington Square, NY Dosa is run by a Sri Lankan who knows how to make a dosa. He’s not there every day but if you see a food cart and a line of about 20 people, he’s griddling up dosas that day. There are usually only two kinds, both vegetarian, on offer but have no fear: every dosa that the “dosa man” makes is terrific.
This Flatiron District eatery got a lot of attention and press when it first opened in 2021 because one of the owners (or financial backers) is Indian actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas. But the real star at Sona is chef Hari Nayak.
Start your meal at Sona with an order of chaat, made with fire-roasted Japanese sweet potato, and then move on to the fall-off-the-bone grilled tandoori lambchops and the crispy dosa that is filled with melted gruyere cheese.
An outpost of a restaurant of the original Delhi restaurant—possibly one of the best fine dining restaurants in India—Indian Accent offers three and four-course dinners of Indian decadence and deliciousness. The eatery, as you could have guessed, puts on a 21st-century spin on Indian fare, sometimes fusing ingredients from other cultures to create something that is elegant and oh-so satisfying on the palate.
Counting down the days to your trip to NYC so you can start devouring all the delicious food in sight? We feel you—that’s how we travel, too.
Let’s hang out while you’re in town, preferably on our Greenwich Village food tour! Let us feed your curiosity and show you our New York.
David Farley is a West Village-based food and travel writer whose work appears regularly in the New York Times, National Geographic, BBC, and Food & Wine, among other publications. He’s the author of three books, including “An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town,” which was made into a documentary by the National Geographic Channel. You can find Farley’s online homes here and here.