On August 15, also India's Independence Day, I attended a Press Dinner at The Masalawala located in Manhattan's Lower East Side.
A festive and colorful restaurant, The Masalawala is a partnership between a father and a son who bring you Indian street food, in other words, ready-to-eat food and drink sold along a street-side shed or dhaba. Their motto is “taste above all.”
The folks here offered us a very generous tasting menu which consisted of six appetizers, way too many entrees to count, a few desserts, and of course, Masala Chai.
Being of Indian origin, I can safely attest to the fact that Masalawala serves up some tasty and authentic Indian cuisine in all of New York City.
I've tried the overpriced Devis and the fancy Tamarinds, and while I still like those restaurants, The Masalawala delivers far more in terms of taste, authenticity, and overall value!
179 Essex Street
New York, NY 10002
(lower east side)
MENU: The MasalaWala menu.
RECOMMENDED TO: Couples, Casual Dining, Small Groups, Kid-Friendly.
Since it was India's Independence Day, in addition to our tasting menu, we were also served a complimentary Mango Lassi, a divine concoction of mango and yogurt which is essentially a mango smoothie. Tasty and perfectly sweet, you could really taste the mango.
And I also had a glass of Yauquen Cabernet Sauvignon, a vibrant wine with sweeter tannins and body. Paired well with all the Indian food.
Appetizers (left to right)
Dahi Puri - my favorite. Semolina puffs filled with spiced potatoes, tamarind, mint, and yogurt. Traditionally you should eat this flavorful appetizer in one bite to really taste the concoction of flavors. Sweet, tangy, and crunchy at the same time. Mouthwatering and beautiful presentation with a pomegranate seed that sits on top!
Bhel Puri - Puffed rice, spiced potatoes, chickpeas, curry leaves, mustard seeds, with tamarind and mint chutney. The Bhel Puri echoes flavors of the Dahi Puri mentioned above, however this tasty appetizer doesn't contain any yogurt.
Mumbai Samosa - Hmmmm... Samosa is to Indian food as an Empanada is to Latin American food. Crispy triangle turnovers stuffed with spiced potatoes and peas, accompanied with mint and tamarind chutneys. Anything fried is delicious.
Kolkata Gobi Manchurian - Cauliflower florets tossed in ginger, garlic, and Indo-Chinese spices. Although I really enjoyed Masalawala's version of Gobi Manchurian, it could have been more flavorful, perhaps sautéed scallions and extra garlic/ginger would help enhance an already delicious dish.
Chicken TIkka - my second favorite. Tandoor grilled chicken marinated in authentic tandoori marinade. The Chicken Tikka was loaded with flavor, it just hit the spot.
Lamb Katori Kebab - Australian lamb grilled in a Tandoor Grill until soft. I'm not a big lamb eater, but OMG, the lamb was so tender and smoky, you could really taste the cumin. Outstanding!
Entrees (left to right)
Nawabi Chicken Biryani - a fragrant medley of slow-cooked long grain Basmati rice, saffron, spices, and chicken. Good.
Baingan Bharta - Roasted eggplant cooked with ginger and cumin. Baingan Bharta happens to my favorite Indian vegetarian dish, however this dish was disappointing. To begin with, I didn't like the addition of peas, and I believe the flavors were not concentrated enough to achieve that smoky eggplant flavor. A let down.
Vegetable Jalfrezi – my favorite. Tantalizing vegetables flavored with paprika, tomatoes, and coriander. My favorite Vegetarian dish, it almost tasted achari (pickle-like), tangy and delicious.
Shahi Paneer - Indian cottage cheese in a rich velvety cashew almond cream sauce. I always say Paneer is India's gift to the world, understandably so, it is rich and creamy, and you can't really mess up a paneer dish, IMO!
Chicken Saagwala - Fresh creamed spinach with slow-cooked chicken. Chicken and spinach is a favorite combo of mine. Yummy!
Lamb Pasanda - Sautéed lamb cooked in yogurt, cream, tomatoes, and cashew sauce. Can't recall the flavor.
Shrimp Konkani Curry - my favorite. South Indian curry with red cayenne pepper, coconut milk, and coriander. The shrimp was soft and cooked to perfection, the curry was so appetizing with a strong flavor of mustard seeds. A taste of heaven!
Kerela FIsh Curry – my second favorite. Sweet and tangy fish curry from Southern India with onions, tamarind, and fenugreek. Excellent dish made with tilapia.
Dal Makhani - A classic Punjabi dish. Black lentils, herbs, cilantro, cooked in a cream based sauce. One of my all time favorite dals!
Dal Tadka - Yellow lentils with herbs and spices. A simple lentil dish, it was good, but also nothing out of the ordinary.
Garlic Naans, Basmati Rice, & Raita
Garlic Naan – Delicious. So fluffy and hot. Loved it!
Basmati Rice – aromatic Indian rice.
Raita – a spiced yogurt sauce.
Load it up… my First Serving
Mango & Pistachio Kulfi - Homemade traditional Indian ice-cream. Both were delicious, but between the two, the pistachio was my favorite.
Gulab Jamun - Khoya dumplings in a sweet saffron syrup. The gulab jamun was painfully sweet in my opinion. This dessert was a let down.
Masala Chai - my favorite. An Indian meal is incomplete without a hot cup of Masala Chai brewed fresh with milk and Indian spices. The Masalawala's Masala Chai has been rated the "best chai in the city," and I second that. At many Indian establishments that offer Masala Chai, I find the chai too thick and lacking in flavor. Masalawala's version is light and robust in flavor. Simply divine!
VERDICT: 4.5 / 5
The Masalawala offers the best authentic Indian food in New York City. Everything at this restaurant is so flavorful, especially the Dahi Puri, Chicken Tikka, Shrimp Konkani Curry just being some of the many highlights. I haven't been to a single Indian restaurant where almost every dish was perfection, that's rare. The Masalawala hits the nail on the head on most dishes.
Additionally, I find that Indian food tends to be overpriced because it is often thought of as fancy, exotic, complex, but it really doesn't have to be. The Masalawala is excellent, authentic Indian food minus all the frills. The best part is it isn't overly oily or creamy, in other words, they use just the right amount of oil/cream needed to prepare a dish, and thus you won't have a trail of oil hanging out on your plate. For those of you wondering is the food spicy? Yes, a little bit for the average non-Indian, but nothing you can't handle, it's just the right amount of spice to please both the Indian palette as well as the non-Indian palette. And if Indian food isn't your cup of tea, just head to The MasalaWala for a hot cup of Masala Chai, you'll thank me for it.
Surely, I'll be dining at this lovely Indian restaurant soon again, for one, I need to decipher what's in that aromatic cup of Masala Chai, and second I want my husband, an Indian food fanatic, to try The Masalawala.
And last but not least, the owner (dad) went out of his way and gave each of us a doggy bag with leftovers + fresh garlic naan to go with it. At the end of a great meal, it’s this little gesture I seem to remember which made all the difference. And now I have to say, Thank You, Uncle!
|Food: Outstanding, or very close to it.||Dahi Puri, Chicken Tikka Kebab, Lamb Kakori Kebab, Shrimp Konkani Curry, Kerela Fish Curry, Vegetable Jalfrezi, Garlic Naan.|
|Drinks: Excellent||Mango Lassi, Masala Chai. Wine/Beer served as well.|
|Décor: Cozy & Casual||Old Bollywood tunes playing in the background.|
|Service: Excellent||Friendly & Attentive.|
|Value: Excellent||Reasonably Priced for NYC. Appetizers ~ $5 to $8. Entrees ~ $10 to $18.|
TELL ME: Have you been to Masalawala? Do you like Indian food? If so, what's your all time favorite dish? What's your favorite Indian restaurant in Manhattan?
I have to say- Indian food is starting to grow on me so this meal is looking DELICIOUS! What a spread and I love that you call the owner "Uncle"-->only we Indians have that familiarity with just about anyone :)! Have you ever tried Bengali food? It's a lot like Indian but less heavy and relies on a lot of mustardy flavors...am a big fan!
I do like Indian food, but I don't love eating it outside because I get enough of it at home. MasalaWala is the exception to the rule. So amazing!
I haven't tried Bengali food, but the funny thing is the owners at MasalaWala are Bengali, hence a lot of mustardy flavors, especially in the Konkani Shrimp Curry and Kerala Fish Curry - probably why I liked those the best. 🙂
Amelia @ Chai a cup of life says
This place looks fantastic and such a good idea. The food really looks great..esp the masala chai and the fresh bel puri Yum!
Really good find!
Thanks Amelia.. Masala Chai and Bhel Puri rock together, next time I'll just have to do appetizers and chai. 🙂
Kiran @ KiranTarun.com says
I can't wait to visit whenever we are in the city, next time. Everything looks so yum and glad you had a great time!
Happy Independence Day, Nisha 🙂
Next time you visit NYC, let me know so I can plan to meet you. Thanks, you too!
I'm constantly on the lookout for GOOD Indian food in this city! Can't wait to try this place!
Joanne - you would love it, if I love it, you would love it. Let me know when you try it.
So fun seeing you at the dinner!! I'm ready to go back.. let's set a date! 🙂
I'm ready too, if I wasn't going on vaca, I would definitely have planned it in the next 2 weeks, but I'm trying to avoid eating out too much next week so I can really enjoy myself. It's always so fun seeing you Lauren.
I like Indian food but I have never come something fantastic that I am willing to go back again. Everything on your plate looks sooo delicious.
Me too, MasalaWala is FANTASTIC! I have never given out such high scores for Indian food, except for the Indian food in London. This is that good.
This is in my neighborhood and I've eaten there many times. They also deliver and I've taken advantage of that many times.
First of all, the owners are just lovely. I've liked almost everything I've tried there and the place encourages experimentation. I would not have expected to like Kerela Fish Curry, but now it is a favorite.
@Anonymous - thanks for sharing your thoughts. Yes, they deliver too, it sucks I don't live in the city, but right outside. THe owners are super nice and warm - Indian hospitality. Kerela fish Curry is yummy!
OMG This place looks fantastic! Even though its Indian food at home almost all the time- when we go out it usually turns out to be to an Indian restaurant and almost always I will order Dahi Puri, Bhel and Pani Puri(Gol Gappe)! I could eat this everyday! This place looks fantastic definitely going on my list of places to visit when I am in New York!
@Sejal - There are very few Indian restaurants I truly love, many good ones, but very few exceptional ones, this is amazing. I love Indian street food, but I can't eat at a Dhaba when I visit India otherwise I risk getting sick. Definitely a must-do in NYC.
I totally forgot you live in NYC. I will have to ask you suggestions for my upcoming trip early next year. I love Indian food, we have a few places that are excellent here in San Francisco (although I can't tell you how authentic they are to family cooking). I do see a lot of Indians eating there so that must be a good sign!
@Tara - So i don't live in NYC, ohhhh I wish, but I do work in the city and live 10 minutes outside NYC. Sure I can help you out with suggestions, The MasalaWala is a must-do!
Looks delicious...and I love the name. SO much food! The samosas definitely look amazing. It's on my list Nisha. 🙂
@Ameena - I think you'd like this place, but it is a trek to the Lower East Side. I rate it as high as Dishoom, but not the exact same ambience. The owners are so warm and friendly. You'll love it.
Georgia | The Comfort of Cooking says
What a wonderful experience! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks Georgia, it was. 🙂
B Dav says
All of that food looks absolutely ridiculous! I am so jealous!
Indian is one of my favorite cuisines and those pictures make it so obvious as to why it's some of the best food ever!!!
Nooo.. don't be jelly! Come try it. The food is exceptional, I think anyone would love it.
Wow what a feast, such an array of food. Happy Indian Independence Day. JC
Yup, it sure was an array of food. Thanks JC!
Anne ~ Uni Homemaker says
Oh my goodness, everything sounds delicious! I got eye on the Dahi Puri, Mumbai Samosa and Chicken TIkk. YUM!
@Anne - the Dahi Puri was phenom! OMG... and Chicken Tikka was like the BEST I ever had.
Wow! That was a feast. Indian food is my favorite and I have no idea how to cook it so it is one of our top choices when we go out to eat.
@Christin - thanks. It is really good... I have some easy recipes on this website, and I break it down by using step-by -step images, hopefully it'll help you out in making Indian food. 🙂
If I were to open a restaurant it would be Indian street food! I really liked Tabla but it wasnt very casual food and it has now closed. I've heard god things about Bukhara and I like dhaba on 28th. This masalawala looks awesome and it on my list for next week!!!!!
@Archana - I loveeeeeeeeeeed Tabla, but it wasn't authentic. It was so good, so sad they closed it. Bhukkara Grill is suppose to be amazing, but I still haven't been there. It's on my list. Dhaba is good. This restaurant is the best Indian restaurant in Manhattan, IMO!
Natalie G says
Oh gosh all this food looks amazing! I am going to NYC in a month for my birthday and I need to ask you the best spots to visit haha
@Natalie - sure.
for Indian - The MasalaWala, for sure.
for Mexican - I really like Ofrende in the West Village. Mole is another favorite. For the best guac - Dos Caminos.
for Asian - I love TAO! The drinks, ambience, the salmon dish, banana bread pudding, it's all so good.
for Cupcakes - head to Billy's bakery - banana cupcake and carrot cupcake are phenom!
for Brunch - so many good places, I really liked Jane, Cornelia's Street Cafe. Balthazar is suppose to be amazing. Check out my friend's blog - http://www.LaurenLovesToEat.com for more ideas.
Hope this helps!
Nik Sharma says
That sounds like a fantastic fun time, I am jealous!
Awww... thanks Nik.
Asha Shivakumar says
Look at that spread girl, I am so glad you enjoyed it and while we are all just staring at it. Love the name...
@Asha - well, when you put it like that you make me feel bad, the good thing is you can make all of it. 🙂
Wow! All that food looks fabulous! Need to definitely visit this restaurant the next time I am in the city. Those kebabs look to die for.
Thanks Asmita.. it was delicious. Both the chicken and lamb kebabs were amazing, and I don't even eat lamb often.