The Best Indian Food in Midtown Might Be Sold Out of the Back of a Newsstand
I remember the first time the “newsstand” that serves Indian food was mentioned here on Midtown Lunch. It was October of last year, and like most great Midtown Lunch discoveries it was mentioned in a comment, posted to the piece I had written about the Latin food being sold inside the Blimpie on 6th Ave btw. 37+38th:
Zach, if you had walked one storefront down from there, you would have found an even odder lunch option—the “newsstand” next door has a sign in the window: “Indian Vegetarian Food.” For $6 you get basmati rice, dal, two scoops of whatever vegetable dishes they have that day, bread (paratha? roti?), some pakoras, and a tin-foil ball filled with onions, lettuce, and tomatoes…though the selection has varied the two times I’ve tried.
Like many who may have seen that comment, I envisioned one of those green square sidewalk newsstands, somehow serving up vegetarian Indian food (behind all the gum and candy bars, I guessed?), although I had no idea how. Alright, I don’t know what the hell I was picturing… but I knew it sounded awesome. When I finally made it down there, I discovered it was actually a convenience store that was mostly a newsstand- and sure enough, in the back left hand corner, there it was… Gujarati Indian food, a vegetarian cuisine from the Gujarat region in Northern India, being served out of a mini steam table.
It’s almost six months later, the magazines are all gone, and the Latin food that used to be sold out of the Blimpie, is now occupying the back, right hand corner of the store. I think it’s finally time for a proper +/- (and some hardcore Gujarati food porn)
$6.99 gets you a pretty massive amount of food. There’s rice, plus your choice of two vegetarian dishes, a salad (which consists of lettuce, tomato and onion wrapped in tin foil), soup (which he referred to as “dal” but I didn’t see any lentils in it), a thimble full of a pickled chutney kind of thing, and one piece of gulab jamun, the fried balls soaked in syrup. For bread, you get a pretty astounding 4 pieces of roti, which is made fresh in “the back”, although from the outside it’s hard to imagine there’s any room for cooking in the closet looking space the food appears from. (It’s probably just a stairway to some secret Gujarati lair.)
There is a lot of great Indian food in Midtown, and most of it (with the exception of Sukhadia) has got meat- so you might think that I’d be anti. But this place has a lot going for it, making you miss the meat a lot less. First and foremost, everything tastes different. It may sound stupid, but one of my biggest issues with most Indian places tailored for the American palatte is everything tastes the same! They just take one or two sauces, cover various meats with it, and call it different dishes. Of the three things I tried (mixed vegetables, the green okra like veggie in the bottom right and the “soup”) each had it’s own incredibly distinct flavor, and was clearly made without any regard to the typical Midtown office worker’s tastes.
In other words, this food tastes like it’s being made for the people who are looking for Gujarati Indian food in Midtown. In fact, we ended up sitting next to an Indian gentleman who was more than happy to inform us that this was the only good Gujarati Indian food in all of Manhattan. When I asked about Sukhadia, he let me know that even though it pained him to say it (the guy who owns the place is apparently a good friend of his), Sukhadia is just not that good, owing to the fact that they don’t cook any of the food there. All of it is cooked in Jersey and then driven into the restaurant. Surprising, but not shocking- he did go on to say that it is great for sweets (they have a huge selection behind the glass in the front).
To alleviate the pain of this shocking discovery, the man offered us one of his methi pakora, an Indian fritter made from chickpea flour, or as the owner liked to call it- “Indian falafel”. All the pakoras are made fresh in the newsstand, and these looked pretty outstanding. They have various kinds, including ones made from potato (aloo) and hot chilis (mirchi), but the latter may not be advisable if you are not into the spicy. All are $4.00 for a nice size order, and they also serve up a mixed pakora, which seems like the way to go.
If you don’t speak Guajarati it is admittedly difficult to understand alot of what the owner says, and the menu may be unfamiliar to you if you’re more used to the Anglicized style of Indian food served in the U.S. (Chicken Tikka Masala anyone?), but the easiest way to avoid that is just go with the thali ($6.99 mixed plate) and choose your dishes from the steam table. If you want to get a little more adventurous, there are all sorts of exciting things on the “snack” menu, including puri (Indian fried dough), pau (bread usually served with some sort of vegetable or curry), and khaman (which I believe is a steamed tea snack made of chickpea flour). I can’t imagine you could wrong with any of it. They also have lassis, and and extensive menu of “milkshakes” which I’ve also heard are great.
I love meat, but I’d take carefully prepared vegetarian food, over watery Indian food relying too much on the presence of lamb or chicken, any day… which means that in alot of ways this newsstand Indian may be one of my new favorite places for lunch, and has all the elements we’ve come to hope for in the perfect Midtown Lunch: cheap, a lot of food, weird location, authentic, unique and most of all, delicious.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- I’m a vegetarian
- Unlike many Indian places in Midtown, all of the dishes taste different
- Everything is cooked fresh, and it is authentic Gujarati food (and better than Sukhadia, as well)
- I don’t mind not knowing exactly what I’m eating (at least I know there’s no weird meat in it!)
- You get sooo much food! A full meal (two dishes & rice) plus soup, salad, chutney, dessert and 4 pieces of roti! It’s craziness…
- The latin food from the Blimpie is now in this place, so if you have a co-worker who doesn’t like Indian, this is a great solution!
- More spicy then most Midtown Indian places, and if you like it “extra spicy” they will be happy to accomodate you
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- Yo goober, where’s the meat?
- Dishes on the steam table change every day, and some can be hit or miss depending on what you order
- There’s only one guy behind the counter, so if there’s a line it can sometime take awhile
- I don’t like spicy Indian food, with flavors I’m not used to
- Where’s the tandoori chicken?
Khodiar Lunch Services (aka Gujarati Food Inside a Newsstand), 1013 6th Ave. (btw. 37+38th), 212-840-3767