6217 Bethpage Rd,, Hicksville
SERVICE: Order at the counter, and food is brought to you by easygoing servers as it’s ready, which sometimes means lengthy gaps between dishes.
AMBIENCE: Bright, tiled (watch the floors — they’re slippery) and bustling, with floor-to-ceiling windows for watching the tableaux outside Apna Bazar, the next-door neighbor
ESSENTIALS: Open daily 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; major credit cards accepted; wheelchair accessible; plenty of parking in the somewhat chaotic lot
It’s fun to be Alice in Wonderland once in a while. That was how it felt to stand at the order counter of Mithaas in Hicksville for the first time, staring up at a lengthy menu chockablock with unfamiliar Indian dish names and not a single descriptor, a line building behind me.
I knew only two things going in: This was mostly street food and sweets (mithaas means “sweetness” in Hindi), and it was all vegetarian. It’s worth working through that early sense of disorientation, though, for eating at Mithaas — the first Long Island location of a fast-casual Indian chain based in New Jersey — can be a playful romp through the crispiest, crunchiest and smokiest tart-sour-spicy-sweet snacks and breads you may never have tasted before. Since few of them cost more than $10, misfires aren’t painful, either.
Mithaas opened earlier this year in the Kundan Galleria, a bustling complex anchored by the Indian supermarket Apna Bazar. This sleek, light-filled cafe has floor-to-ceiling windows, heavy wood tables and a front counter featuring glass cases loaded with Indian sweets, some of them shimmering with edible foil. It feels like a slightly Indian take on an Italian pastry shop.
The eye-catching pastries belie the fact that Mithaas’ kitchen cooks up a deep well of vegetarian street snacks — chaat, puri, pakoras, dosas, flatbreads — delivered with an assortment of chutneys, dips and pickles. This is not a place to get a rounded meal, per se; when restaurateur Kamal Arora opened the first Mithaas in 2006, his vision was of a fast-food spot elegant enough to encourage lingering. Mithaas’ menu, created by chain head chef Surinder, mines multiple regions — north, south, Mumbai, the border with China (for a raft of Indo-Manchurian dishes) — but doesn’t stray from the street-food ethos, so a full feast could equal carb and fried-food overload. Best to order two things per person, at most, and share these — because dishes ordered at the counter are delivered to your table as they’re ready, meaning that 10 minutes might elapse between one and the next.
A solid place to start is with puri, crispy, hollow fried breads that look like miniature UFOs that are stuffed and slathered in multiple ways. A standout is the sev puri dahi puri, three to an order, filled with a spiced potato mash, slathered in yogurt and tamarind chutney, dotted with mint and pomegranate seeds and showered with the shredded chickpea threads called sev. Crunchy, squishy, sour, sweet, hot — it’s a circus in your mouth.
Save samosas for some other place; Mithaas’ are dry and not memorable. Ditto for a promising-sounding dish called medu vada — cuminy, fried lentil-batter doughnuts — which were, alas dull and parched. I’d go back again, though, for the dry-style Gobi Manchurian, a heap of hot, crisp fried cauliflower stained coral with capsicum but whose smoldering heat is modulated by a vein of sweetness. It could make you forget you ever wanted meat.
Lentils make multiple appearances, from an amorphous aloo tikki chaat — a jumble of crumbled fried lentil patties with tomatoes, red onion, chutney, yogurt and sev — to dal makhani, a creamy lentil curry that comes with excellent charred naan.
Flatbread and crepes reign supreme here, from papery roti to dosas to pancake-like uttapam. The cheese uttapam is akin to an Indian quesadilla — melted mozzarella oozing from between sour rice-flour crepes you’ll drag through sambar, an earthy lentil curry that comes with many breads.
Dosa competition is stiff in Hicksville, and it just got stiffer, as Mithaas’ are dramatic affairs, whether a crisp onion masala dosa the shape and size of a folded flag and filled with turmeric-stained potatoes and red onions, or a gossamer onion rava masala dosa as big as your arm that collapses into glistening sheaths as you rip it apart. The coriander and minced onion barely visible in its folds offer mini punches of flavor.
I’m happy to have made the acquaintance of mooli paratha, a peppery Punjabi flatbread with grated radishes inside, as well as Mithaas’ tandoori paneer tikka — triangles of sour, firm cheese slathered in a red chili sauce that arrives sizzling on a cast-iron platter atop shredded cabbage and onions. All of it, including the cheese, gains a deep char and addictive smokiness.
Pitchers of water sit on every table, but the citrusy masala soda makes a good foil for this spicy food, as does a refreshing green mango elixir called aam panna. For dessert, Mithaas makes a mean mango lassi — super-rich, and not too sweet — but there’s that glass case full of sweets. Ask for those buns filled with fresh cream, or honeyed gulab jamun — spongy cardamom-laced flour balls that are barely sweet, and that’s just sweet enough.