Best Indian Restaurants in the U.S.
When Junoon burst onto Manhattan’s fine-dining scene in late 2010, it garnered almost as many accolades for its lavish décor as for its Michelin-starred menu and 250-label wine list.
Indian restaurants have come a long way from the mid-1960s, when the first significant wave of immigrants arrived. The cuisine of the subcontinent languished—often considered foreign and (unpleasantly) fragrant. Chefs remained discreetly behind the tandoors, a far cry from the sexy star-chef reputation of Junoon’s Vikas Khanna.
While still not quite as assimilated as Italian and Mexican, “Indian food is one of the fastest growing segments in the culinary scene and is gaining popularity within the American mainstream,” says Varli Singh. In 2011, she founded the Varli Food Festival to showcase Indian cuisine, chefs, and restaurateurs.
Now refined palates are making the distinction between buttery North Indian chicken makhani and crisp South Indian masala dosas, and are trying out flavors that crisscross the subcontinent, from lesser-known regions like Chettinad, Kerala, and Assam to neighboring nations of Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.
And as Indians have spread throughout America, so has their food. “Restaurants with cultlike followings are no longer limited to New York City,” adds Singh. Indeed, devotees of desi cuisine find their fixes in Maine, Miami, and beyond.
Here is our sure-to-be-disputed list of the best Indian restaurants in America, from a power-lunch favorite in D.C. to a farm-to-table pioneer in Minneapolis.
Everything is bigger in Texas. And that applies to the Indian community, which has a huge presence in Houston in particular. While larger numbers means increased competition, Indika’s innovative fusion menu has it sitting comfortably atop numerous “best of” lists citywide. In a state that loves its jalapeños, chef Anita Jaisinghani’s authentically fiery red-hot chili pepper shrimp and pork chop vindaloo (sensitive palates: beware) have found an enraptured audience.
Mysore Woodlands, Chicago
For Chicago’s Indian community, all roads lead to Devon Avenue, with its scores of South Asian groceries and boutiques. Vegetarian Mysore Woodlands holds its own amid numerous meat-centric neighbors like the Pakistani institution Sabri Nihari. Order the Mysore Royal Thali—a seemingly bottomless platter decked with soup, mixed-vegetable cutlets, samosas, three different curries, and much, much more—to discover why. mysorewoodlands.com
Rasika, Washington, D.C.
Visitors to D.C. soliciting dining recommendations are almost always steered to Rasika: it’s among the best, Indian or otherwise, and owner Ashok Bajaj was fêted in The New York Times as “arguably the most successful restaurateur in Washington.” The Penn Quarter flagship proved so popular that a West End outpost opened in 2012—to the same rave reviews. Expect nouveau Indian dishes like lobster pulao and an apple jalebi beignet with cardamom ice cream, paired with creative cocktails.
Punjabi Dhaba, Cambridge, MA
A dhaba is a roadside stall frequented by truckers in India, and this no-frills café is hardly a few notches above its namesake. Yet Punjabi Dhaba has long maintained a cult following among a decidedly non-trucker crowd in Cambridge—everyone from college students to hipsters to multigenerational Indian families. They throng to the counters for generous portions of chicken tikka masala and shahi paneer, sopped up with greasy aloo parathas. royalbharatinc.com
Junoon, New York City
It’s not often that an Indian restaurant can be described as sexy, but that’s the vibe that Junoon gives off. Credit goes to the amber lighting, sumptuously upholstered banquettes, latticed sandalwood screens, and pools with lotus blossoms lazily adrift. In an open kitchen, chefs do their part, presenting elegant, updated versions of traditional dishes like Hyderabadi chicken korma and goat cheese and mango cheesecake. It’s a recipe for a well-deserved Michelin star. junoonnyc.com
Udupi Palace, San Francisco
The expansive rice-and-lentil crêpes served with coconut and tamarind chutney and often heaped with spiced potatoes known as dosas are a staple of South Indian cuisine. At this authentic vegetarian mainstay with locations in San Francisco and Berkeley, patrons dig into a two-foot version that is nothing short of epic. Make room for side dishes like idlis (steamed-rice cakes), sambar, and uttapam (lentil-and-rice pancakes). udupipalace.org
When chef Raju Bhattarai defected from Philly institution Tiffin to open Ekta, the resulting feud brought some seriously bad blood to the culinary scene in the so-called City of Brotherly Love. To add namak (salt) to the wound, the new kid on the block swiftly went on to surpass the original with its bold flavors, the secret to which may well lie in Bhattarai’s house-made garam masala spice blend. His lamb vindaloo is guaranteed to singe your tongue; find relief in a tall glass of ice-cold mango lassi. ektaindianrestaurant.com
Badmaash, Los Angeles
This kitschy new gastropub is a downtown L.A. newcomer, but its chef, Pawan Mahendro, brings 40 years of experience with him to the kitchen. Badmaash means “naughty” in Hindi, and Mahendro adds a dollop of mischief to both the décor and his offerings. Consider the Pop art–style images of Gandhi in colorful sunglasses, or the chicken tikka poutine, a nod to his Canadian background. Wash down the Mumbai street food–inspired fare with a sugary Thums Up, India’s answer to Coke. badmaashla.com
Origin India, Las Vegas
The tranquil Origin India, with its modern furniture against a backdrop of Moghul-style archways, feels a world away from the Vegas Strip. While the kitchen can’t boast of mega-chefs and Michelin stars, it does lay claim to a delectably tender murgh dahi wala daubed generously in yogurt—at a price that would barely cover a cocktail in much of Sin City. Be sure to dabble in the street-food menu, featuring urban favorites aloo papri chaat and pani puri.
When this hip Wicker Park restaurant opened its doors in 2010, it brought to the forefront a little-known cuisine from the Indian Subcontinent: the flavors of India’s neighbor to the northeast, Nepal. Nepalese brothers Rajesh and Sanjeev Karmacharya draw on their heritage at Cumin, where you’ll find ghorkhali khasi (goat stew) and palungoko saag (sautéed spinach) alongside more familiar items like onion bhajis (seasoned fritters) and chicken jalfrezi (spicy stir-fry). cumin-chicago.com
G’raj Mahal, Austin
To call G’raj Mahal a food truck would do it a disservice—it veers more in the direction of self-contained food trailer park, complete with a tented seating area, waiters, and even reservations. Fans of the bohemian café’s organic samosas, pakoras, kebabs, and curries won’t have to brave the elements much longer: a brick-and-mortar restaurant is expected to open by the end of 2013. grajmahalaustin.com
Bombay Darbar, Miami
You might assume that Miami’s top-rated restaurants would be Latin—Cuban, perhaps, or maybe Puerto Rican or Argentinean. But glaringly out of place in that roster is Bombay Darbar in Coconut Grove, rated No. 5 on TripAdvisor. After all, Miami is a place that can handle the heat. And the humble, 34-seat Bombay Darbar packs a punch with its chicken biryani and lamb rogan josh. bombaydarbarrestaurant.com
Karaikudi, Edison, NJ
Some say the pungent food from South India’s Chettinad region in Tamil Nadu is the nation’s spiciest, which would be no small feat. This meat-heavy cuisine takes center stage at Karaikudi along Edison’s Oak Tree Road—a hub for New Jersey’s immense Indian population—in the form of fierce dishes like pepper chicken and nandu masala. Chef Floyd Cardoz of New York City’s North End Grill and winner of Top Chef Masters has been known to rave about the fish curry. karaikudiusa.com
Tulsi, Kittery, ME
Kittery is not exactly a bastion of Indian immigrants. But at least one did find his way to this small New England town synonymous with outlet malls: Mumbai-born Rajesh Mandekar, who opened Tulsi not far from the stores. The spicy fare will add a jolt to a mid-shopping-spree refueling stop. The elegant, jewel-toned space serves an impressive array of vegan and gluten-free dishes alongside a tangy, saucy shrimp balchao and Kashmiri lamb curry. tulsiindianrestaurant.com
Utsav, Vernon, CT
Behind a nondescript façade in a bland Connecticut strip mall you’ll find a menu that’s anything but. The word utsav is derived from the Sanskrit for “festival,” and this colorful restaurant celebrates flavors from across India. That said, the two owners can’t help but favor the dishes of the southwestern state of Kerala, from which they hail, a region known especially for its aromatically spicy cuisine—seafood in particular. Order Amma’s fish curry or calamari Cochin. 575 Talcottville Rd.; (860) 871-8714
Jackson Diner, New York City
The Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights is synonymous with New York City’s sizable Indian community, which means it’s your go-to source for Bollywood movies, spangled saris, and of course, cheap and tasty eats. Jackson Diner stands proud as a 30-plus-year institution. The lunchtime buffet is a surefire winner: all the chicken makhani, goat curry, and saag paneer you can eat for $9.95. jacksondiner.com
Gandhi Mahal, Minneapolis
In August 2013, an unusual Kickstarter campaign reached its $10,000 goal for an innovative urban farming project. Its driving force was Ruhel Islam, who is on a quest to serve the diners of Gandhi Mahal the freshest farm-to-table Indian fare possible. As of now, he harvests as much as 10,000 pounds of food annually within a two-mile radius of the restaurant. The results of his efforts are evident in the shahi king korma, a velvety sweet and savory chicken curry laced with saffron, and tandoori butterfish. gandhimahal.com
Surati Farsan Mart, Los Angeles
Informal chaat houses, serving salty and sweet treats like bhel puri (puffed rice, potatoes, and onions in tamarind sauce) and barfi (a condensed-milk and sugar dessert) are an institution in India. Meet their L.A. counterpart: Surati Farsan Mart, a casual market and café specializing in authentic vegetarian street food. You’ll find it in Artesia, a suburb commonly known as SoCal’s Little India. If it’s a bit of a hike, you can always order heaping trays of sweets online. suratifarsan.com
Bombay Club, Washington, D.C.
Where do D.C.’s political and media sets go to power lunch when a craving for fiery shrimp curry or lamb vindaloo sets in? President Obama, Nelson Mandela, Harrison Ford, and many others have opted for the venerable Bombay Club (part of D.C. restaurateur Ashok Bajaj’s empire). A baby grand piano presides over the neutral, earth-toned dining room jazzed up with pops of magenta, and there are plenty of cozy corners perfect for brokering a clandestine deal. bombayclubdc.com
Shalimar, San Francisco
Somewhat inconspicuously, a profusion of low-budget Indian and Pakistani joints abounds in the admittedly sketchy Tenderloin neighborhood. It’s not for those with delicate dispositions—you’ll occasionally be battling with flies for table space—but Shalimar reigns supreme as one of the area favorites, thanks to its delectable lamb chops and nihari stew. shalimarsf.com