When people in New York order Indian food, they’re often craving the cuisine in general and view the restaurants themselves as interchangeable. If you have a hankering for Lamb Vindaloo, although you may care about how spicy it is and whether the meat is of an agreeable texture, it’s unlikely that your primary concern is the actual experience of sitting in the restaurant, enjoying the food. The MasalaWala, a cozy Indian restaurant on the Lower East Side, is challenging this perception of Indian food by serving up a fresh take on the cuisine in an atmosphere that’s both modern and warm. The MasalaWala is the sort of place you go when what you want, first and foremost, is a good restaurant with good food. The food just so happens to be Indian.
Created by father-son team Satyen and Roni Mazumdar in 2011, The MasalaWala is a family-owned restaurant that encourages family-style eating. Everything on the extensive menu is homemade with fresh ingredients and prepared with impeccable care, so there’s no way you’re going to want to limit yourself to one dish. The owners of The MasalaWala hope that this restaurant can help to “[take] Indian cuisine forward”, and that intention is evident in the inventiveness and quality of the food they serve.
At The MasalaWala, which means “The Merchant of Spice”, the dishes feature flavor elements and preparation techniques from all over India. If you’re unsure of what that might entail, start your meal out with one of the “Street-Side Bites”, starters inspired by Indian street food. The Chicken Tikka, made in a traditional Tandoor grill and marinated in an authentic red tandoori sauce, is wonderfully tender and has a warmth and spiciness that is deeply satisfying without being overpowering. For a delightful surprise, try the Kolkata Gobi Manchurian. This unique, flavor-packed cauliflower starter combines ginger, garlic, and Indo-Chinese fusion spices.
Though all of the entrees are flavorful and of excellent quality, the Salmon Tikka Masala is particularly notable. Salmon is not the most common protein available at Indian Restaurants in New York, but it works magnificently when prepared in the Tandoor style with tomato cream sauce and fenugreek.
The two Reislings available on the wine menu are light and sweet enough to balance the spice and heartiness of the food. The Mango Lassi is a refreshing non-alcoholic beverage option, and serves a similar purpose. For dessert, try one of The MasalaWala’s homemade ice creams, available in mango or pistachio. Both flavors are creamy, light, and noticeably fresh.
To finish off your dinner, order a cup of the Masala Chai. Chai tea has attained great popularity in New York, but after trying the freshly brewed Chai here, you’re going to have a hard time going back to Starbucks’ version. The MasalaWala’s Chai warms you from the inside out, and is sure to become a winter favorite.
The food at The MasalaWala is undoubtedly worth the visit; what sweetens the deal is the welcoming atmosphere. With friendly, efficient service and the MasalaWala himself, Satyen, checking in with customers every now and again, this restaurant is a welcome addition to the neighborhood and is certainly deserving of the popularity it enjoys from locals and tourists alike.
The Masala Wala is located at 179 Essex Street and opens for lunch 12 pm -4 pm and for dinner 4 pm-12 am Monday through Sunday.