Westchester’s Indian Cuisine Scene: More Than Samosas Meet the Eye
Little Kabab Station, Chutney Masala Indian Bistro, Little Spice Bazaar and others are coloring the typical Westernized-Asian standard with their own exotic (read: authentic) flair.
India’s version of a soft taco: the Bombay Frankie roll at Little Kabab Station
You’ve seen it all before in New York, countless times. When a new immigrant group opens its own restaurants, they offer simplified menus tweaked for the American market. Chinese cuisine was once represented by chop suey parlors while the immensity of Italian dining culture might have been manifested by a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs (washed down, of course, with a straw-bound fiasco of Chianti). But, as each immigrant group grows in number and Americans develop a taste for a new cuisine, those one-note ethnic restaurants eventually yield to dining diversity. Just look at today’s Chinese food scene in Flushing, New York, or Italian food and wine as represented by the Batali/Bastianich empire.
While once Westchester’s Indian food scene once may have mimicked the ‘sitar and samosa’ genre of New York’s touristy “Curry Row,” nowadays Westchester’s South Asian dining options are exploding with new and delicious choices. The next time you crave the flavors of India, skip that Westernized chicken tikka masala (a dish some claim to have been invented in Scotland). Hit these new-wave Indian restaurants for novel ways to experience India’s cuisine.
Little Kabab Station
With its stylish décor, modern aesthetics, and cheerful Bombay-food-truck theme, Little Kabab Station brings a vibrant street energy to the quiet environs of Mount Kisco. Look for lightened-up curries made, whenever possible, with locally raised produce—but the big story at Little Kabab Station is its delicious Bombay Frankie rolls. This traditional Indian street snack is similar to a soft taco, but made with griddled, whole-wheat paratha bread and a variety of fillings. Look for Frankie rolls of mild chicken tikka; seekh kabab (tubular sections of skewered, minced, spiced lamb); taka tak (sautéed lamb kabab); aloo channa (spiced potatoes); and pudina paneer (paneer cheese and green chutney). Go for every one of the available toppings, which include a layer of scrambled free-range eggs, lemon, spiced onions, and fiery mint chutney. While LKS is strictly BYOB, there is delicious chai available, and, like many of the restaurants in this article, it’s also perfectly vegetarian and vegan friendly.
31 E Main St, Mount Kisco (914) 242-7000; littlekababstation.com
Calcutta Wrap & Roll
As the name of this tiny Ardsley storefront might suggest, this place slings paratha rolls, but it’s also got a full menu—in fact, there are two. Look for a complete alternate menu for vegetarians, a luxury for local diners who usually find themselves shuttled off to the veggie ghetto at the bottom of other menus. You’ll find delicious “dals of the day” (often vegan) and thrifty lunchtime thalis that include raita, rice, and a choice of vegetables. Look for excellent dosas (crisp, rolled crêpes) rolled around both carnivorous and veggie fillings—we’re particularly fans of rice-flour dosa with potato stuffing, served with coconut chutney and sambar (lentil soup). The dosa arrives scattered with podi powder, a traditional Tamil seasoning of chiles, spices, and dried lentils.
465 Ashford Ave, Ardsley (914) 591-2222; calcuttawrapandroll.com
Little Spice Bazaar
Its winking motto is “loose spices of good character,” and, it is true, LSB vends loose spices, as well as Indian imports like rice and dried pulses, teas, soaps, and incense. But what sets this combination snack bar/import market apart is the genius of its timely marketing. Owner Bonnie Saran (who also owns Little Kabab Station, two doors down on Main Street) had the sense to offer Ayurvedic lassis to the yoga-loving Red Mango fans of Northern Westchester. Look for tangy, probiotic yogurt lassis, blended with a variety of fresh fruits and spices, plus freshly pressed juices and delightful snacks based on crisp papri and Rice Krispie-like bhel puri. The papri chaat is a standard Indian street snack of crisp crackers layered with red onions, cilantro, protein-rich chickpeas, yogurt, and heady spices—they’re a bit like South Asian nachos, but without all the greasy meat and goo. Bhel puri and papri chaat at once demonstrate that bright flavors can satisfy as well as grease and sugar. This snazzy newcomer has already earned the praise of no lesser eminence than Martha Stewart.
27 E Main St, Mount Kisco (914) 218-3333; littlespicebazaar.com
Chutney Masala Indian Bistro
Eschewing the heavy décor (and weighty cultural references) of Westchester’s previous Indian restaurateurs, Chef/Co-owner Navjot Arora of Chutney Masala Indian Bistro chose to recognize the fruitfulness of the European/Indian confluence. While you won’t find chicken tikka masala on his menu, Chutney Masala’s walls are decorated with Raja Deen Dayal’s fascinating black-and-white photos. These unflinchingly document the British Raj (India’s era of British occupation), a politically uncomfortable period of intense cultural cross-pollination. Chutney Masala offers thoughtful cocktails and calls itself a bistro, but this menu’s heart is very firmly Indian. Look for elegant cooking that might feature decidedly un-Indian tilapia and Maine lobster treated with classic Indian technique.
4 W Main St, Irvington (914) 591-5500; chuneymasalabistro.com
Masala Kraft Café
It’s 100-percent vegetarian, and, oh, while they’re at it, kosher. Even better, Masala Kraft Café makes no claim toward health food, and instead offers a menu rich in deep-fried street foods. Look for a deliciously greasy samosa chaat that offers deep-fried samosa skins topped with a spicy pile up of mixed chutneys, lentils, and cilantro. Or pick from several crisp and buttery dosas served with compelling coconut chutney. While you’ll find Kathi rolls, an alternate take on the Frankie and paratha rolls, Masala Kraft Café also offers Indian-style panini including the vada pav, deep-fried potato dumplings and spiced chutneys on a pressed roll. Slightly off-message falafels are available, as are bowls of vegetarian chickpea, spinach, and saag curries. Don’t miss exotic Kashmiri Soda, sour and slightly spicy, and deliciously salty and chili-hot muru, a cumin-haunted yogurt drink.
206 E Hartsdale Ave, Hartsdale (914) 722-4300; masalakraftcafe.com
Julia Sexton is a New York-based restaurant critic, food writer, and CRMA Award-winning blogger. You can track her dining adventures on her blog, Eat. Drink. Post., at westchestermagazine.com, or get her no-holds-barred take on Twitter (@JuliaSexton).