A year after Indian ventured from under the Asian umbrella to its own category on Newsday’s Top 100 list, cuisine from the subcontinent continued to grow stronger in 2018, with a flurry of top-notch regional restaurants taking root on Long Island.
While we’ll miss the egg-centric Raju Veg & Egg, which closed shop after roughly a year in business, we were encouraged by additions to the list, including Taj Indian Fusion, a red carpet spot in a Wantagh strip mall, and Mithaas, the New Jersey-based vegetarian chain that decided to take its act on the road and expand to Hicksville.
Note: Most dishes mentioned are samples of the restaurants’ menus and may not be available at all times. Seasonal changes and dish substitutions are common.
Akbar Garden City
Akbar Garden City (2 South St., Garden City): Named for a 16th century gourmand Mughal emperor, this upscale Northern Indian restaurant can be classified these days as a pioneer of Long Island Indian movement after nearly a decade trafficking in consistent, high-voltage cooking. Sink into regal rooms decorated with extravagant carpets and chandeliers, and ponder tandoori specialties such as chicken tikka marinated in yogurt with garlic, spiced minced lamb or seekh kebab, that is moist, and grilled lamb chops that are neatly charred. Unlike many Northern Indian restaurants, it's the vegetables at Akbar that leave a real mark: baingan dahiwala, eggplant in yogurt with onions, and aloo gobi, the union of potatoes and cauliflower, are delectable. More info: 516-357-8300, theakbar.com
Tandoori chicken is served at Akbar Garden City.
Clay Oven (601 Veterans Memorial Hwy., Hauppauge): A top practitioner in the growing niche that is halal fare, owner Lubna Habibi pushes the limits of authentic South Asian food beyond what we've come to expect. Think tandoori chicken wings, pakoras that play on cheese sticks and a lamb meatball curry that falls in the Scotch egg family. Most dishes on the menu are $10 or less, so it's easy to venture outside your comfort zone and leave with a little extra for tomorrow. So tack on aloo bonda, fried mashed potato cutlets battered and arranged atop a bowl of soothing yogurt and nutty chickpeas, tandoori lamb chops and the anda kofta, a curry that literally translates to egg and meatball in Hindi. As she prepares to open a third location in Copiague, Habibi has visions of a Clay Oven franchise. (Other location at 863 W. Jericho Tpke., Smithtown). More info: clayovenhalal.com
An assortment of dishes at Clay Oven in Hauppauge, complete with lassis, rice and fresh made and baked naan from the clay oven.
Diwan (405 S. Broadway, Hicksville): After nearly three decades cooking on Long Island, chef-owner Bobby Chhikara knows a thing or two about Indian cooking, and that swagger is on display at both locations of this grand pan-Indian restaurant. Grab a pint of King Fisher lager and delve into the vast menu. An appetizer of spicy barbecue ribs has piquancy and tenderness. Hot garlic shrimp with a fire-charged white wine-butter sauce proves a hit, too. Breads are a must to mop up a fragrant goat curry. Chhikara's kurkuri bhindi is not to be missed, crispy shoestrings of curried okra that are a worthy adversary to the best matchstick French fries. (Other location at 37 Shore Rd., Port Washington). More info: diwanrestaurants.com
Chicken biryani is served at Diwan in Port Washington.
Dosa World (355 S. Broadway, Hicksville): Dosa World offers dosas, including rava dosas, and vegetarian fare from north and south India. A first-order snack of bhelpuri is a guilty pleasure, a layering of puffed rice and crispy sev, tamarind and chutney. The pondicherry masala dosa, a giant rice crepe, lends a spice blend with a moderate kick, while the rava dosa with gunpowder chilies -- dry spiced -- delivers steady heat. Rava dosas are made from unfermented batter that creates an especially crispy crepe. Like a regular dosa, it's awfully large, but heavier and square, folded like sheets. Still hungry? Get the South Indian thali with papadum; aviyal, a vegetable dish with coconut and curry leaves; a dish of sauteed vegetables called poriyal; tomato-based rasam soup; and poori, fried bread. More info: 516-390-4444, dosaworldny.com
Behl Puri with puffed rice, crispy tomato, onion, tamarind and cilantro is served at Dosa World in Hicksville.
House of Dosas
House of Dosas (416 S. Broadway, Hicksville): This plain-looking vegetarian spot features the bright flavors of south India. Rice crepes, or dosas, are filled with an infinite number of vegetable varieties that are slightly sweeter than one would expect. Be sure to try the mixed-vegetable uttappam, a thick rice-lentil pancake, and the bhelpuri, a street snack of puffed rice with onion, tomato, chili and spices. More info: 516-938-7517, houseofdosas.com
Aloo Bonda, lentil dumplings stuffed with onion and potato, is served with spicy chutneys at House of Dosas in Hicksville.
Masalah Grill (195 Walt Whitman Rd., Huntington Station): It's easy to miss this tiny jewel box of a Pakistani-Indian restaurant that has grown to be the standard-bearer for the kind of South Asian cuisine one can now demand on Long Island. Opt for a seat instead of takeout in this no frills spot, and you'll be treated to South Indian mastery of chef-owner Farzana Sohail and chef de cuisine Francis Calaco. Aromatic rice biryanis come studded with fall-off-the-bone chicken. Tender hunks of bone-in goat arrive bobbing in creamy korma, a complex curry of coconut milk, cashews and almonds. Fragrant vegetables -- spinach, eggplant, cauliflower -- are a wonderful complement to the meat-centric menu. If there is a drawback, it's that hearty sandwich-like stuffed naans, filled ground beef, chicken or vegetables are available only during lunch. More info: 631-271-1700, masalahgrill.com
Chicken tikka Masala is served with naan and basmati rice at Masalah Grill in Huntington Station.
Mithaas (217 Bethpage Rd., Hicksville): 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. Mithaas' menumines 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. 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. More info: 516-605-1230, mithaas.com
Mooli paratha (radish bread) is served at Mithaas in Hicksville.
Saravanaa Bhavan (285 S. Broadway, Hicksville): The popular Indian vegetarian chain opened its first Long Island outpost last year in Hicksville with a sleek, modern design that befits a successful chain. With a menu of more than 100 items leaning heavily on south India, it's easy to be overwhelmed. If you are on your own, consider the southern thali meal, a daily selection of about a dozen dishes, including curries, chutneys and pickles. Among the highlights is the dosa, a manhole cover-size crepe cooked crisp on one side, porous on the other, that is rolled up or folded crisp-side out. Saravanaa Bhavan makes more than two dozen types of dosas. The stars of the show here are the rava dosas, including the onion rava masala dosa, that could change the way you think about Indian food. More info: 516-261-7755, saravanaabhavan.net
Mysore dosa is served at Saravanaa Bhavan in Hicksville.
Southern Spice (1635 Hillside Ave., New Hyde Park): Southern Spice takes its cue from the Chettinad region, near the tip of India, where the pleasing cuisine is celebrated for its complexity. Chef Sridhar Munirathinam's is an excellent practitioner, doling out classic fare that includes the only place we enjoyed kothu parotta, a popular Tamil Nadu street food, featuring shredded parotta (fried bread), eggs, scallions, fiery spices and your choice of meat. Lamb is a winner. Pair it with fiery Chettinadu fish curry that includes chunks of dark fish in gravy with notes of cinnamon, cloves, cumin, fennel, mustard seed and a side of cooling gutti vankaya eggplant and an order of garlic naan to ensure no schmear of curry gets left behind. More info: 516-216-5448, southernspiceny.com
Gutti Vankaya is served at Southern Spice in New Hyde Park.
Taj Indian Fusion
Taj Indian Fusion (1929 Wantagh Ave., Wantagh): The new star on Long Island's Indian fine dining scene sparks appetites with flavor-packed fare and gracious style. Housed in a modest Wantagh strip mall, Taj has rolled out a red carpet at the front door to show this is not your run-of-the-mill South Asia restaurant. Here, chef Nirmal Gomes, prepares traditional Indian dishes, playfully takes an Italian turn, and brings in a hint of China. Gobi Manchurian translates into addictive cauliflower fritters, deep-fried, then stir-fried with garlic, shallots and peppers in a sweet-spicy sauce. What's dubbed "Tandoori Genghis Queen" unfolds as a satisfying, whole red snapper, marinated in a spice blend and yogurt, grilled in the clay oven. Gomes has fun crossing borders, as will you. More info: 516-900-1700, tajindianfusion.com
Whole red snapper is served at Taj Indian Fusion in Wantagh.