Not that long ago, Long Island Indian restaurants were limited in identity — mostly takeout spots serving staples that we have long come to associate with the cuisine: tandoori chicken, saag paneer, samosas and naan. Buffets were almost a must to make money. Much has changed in recent years, as South Asians have migrated east from the city, bringing with them chefs skilled in regional fare that ranges from crispy South Indian dosas to fragrant North Indian kebabs. Today, there are eateries dedicated to vegetarians, halal eaters and even one where eggs are king. That’s why in 2017, the subcontinent graduated from Asian cuisine to its own category on the Newsday Top 100 list.
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 gourmand Mongol emperor, the current iteration of this upscale northern Indian restaurant has practiced high-voltage, very good cooking for nearly a decade. Sink into regal rooms, decorated with lush carpets and chandeliers, as you consider tandoori specialties such as chicken tikka, marinated in yogurt with garlic, spiced minced lamb, or seekh kebab, that is moist and right, and grilled lamb chops that are neatly charred. But it's the vegetables where Akbar excels: eggplant in yogurt with onions, or baingan dahiwala, and the union of potatoes and cauliflower, or aloo gobi, are delectable. More info: 516-357-8300, theakbar.com
Chicken tikka masala is served at Akbar Garden City.
Chennai Dosas (128 Broadway, Hicksville): Though the cheerful little eatery offers some familiar northern dishes, such as palak paneer (a spiced stew of spinach and house-made cheese), the true focus is on South Indian specialties headed by the dosa, a lightly crunchy, filled crepe. The Chennai rava masala (semolina) dosa platter is among the winning options. Also stellar: Kangipuram iddly, cream of rice cakes studded with chilies and cashews; aloo chat, a spicy boiled potato and chickpea salad; and the electrifying Indian-Chinese dish called gobi Manchurian, featuring cauliflower sauteed in a firecracker Szechuan-style sauce. More info: 516-681-5151, chennaidosasny.com
The Kanchipuram idli platter is served at Chennai Dosas in Hicksville.
Clay Oven (Multiple locations): When it comes to halal dining, Lubna Habibi is pushing the limits of authentic South Asian food. Think tandoori chicken wings, pakoras that play on cheese sticks and a lamb meatball curry that falls in the Scotch egg family. With most dishes on the menu at $10 or less, it's easy to venture outside your comfort zone and leave with a little extra for tomorrow. Along with the cheese sticks and wings, you'll need the aloo bonda, fried mashed potato cutlets battered and arranged on top of a bowl of soothing yogurt and nutty chickpeas; tandoori lamb chops and the kofta, literally translated as egg and meatball in Hindi. Locations in Hauppauge (601 Veterans Memorial Hwy.) and Smithtown (863 W. Jericho Turnpike). More info: clayovenhalal.com
Paneer pakoras, cheese sticks rolled in green chutney and breaded in chickpea batter with a cayenne spice, are served at Clay Oven in Hauppauge.
Diwan (Multiple locations): 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 go to town on 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. And the kurkuri bhindi is not to be missed -- shoestrings of crispy curried okra that are a worthy adversary to the best matchstick French fry. Locations in Hicksville (405 S. Broadway) and Port Washington (37 Shore Rd.).
Tandoori mix grill with chicken and lamb sausage is served with peas pulau and naan at Diwan in Port Washington.
Dosa World (355 S. Broadway, Hicksville): Dosa World offers dosas, ravi dosas and vegetarian fare from North and South India. A first-order snack of bhel puri 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, dosaworld.us
South Indian thali arrives with with papadam, aviyal, poriyal, kootu, kuzhambu, rasam, sambar, and yogurt 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 Southern 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 uthappam, a thick rice-lentil pancake, and the bhel puri, a street snack of puffed rice with onion, tomato, chili and spices. More info: 516-938-7517, houseofdosas.com
Mixed vegetable uttapam is served at House of Dosas in Hicksville.
Masalah Grill (195 Walt Whitman Rd., Huntington Station): The smell is seductive at this trim counter-serve spot that's big on takeout. But those who value flavor over frills owe it to themselves to grab a table. At the first bite of the delicate fried turnovers called samosas, you know you're in the hands of pros. Another appetizer, chicken tikka seekh, stars marinated tandoor-roasted chicken thighs -- smoky, crimson, glistening. Seekh kebab, spiced chicken sausages, are also a winning order. More info: 631-271-1700, masalahgrill.com
Vegetable samosas are stuffed with seasoned potato and peas at Masalah Grill in Huntington Station.
Raju’s Egg & Veg
Raju's Egg & Veg (70 S. Broadway, Hicksville): If there is a clear sign Indian food has made it on Long Island, it's Raju's. The Hicksville outpost of this egg-centric Indian chain is the first in America. Here, chef Rajubhai Rana or "Rajubhai," as he is familiarly known, specializes in more than two dozen Gujarati egg dishes. Seeing the menu for the first time is likely to give you shell shock. Stay calm. You'll notice that almost every dish falls into one of four categories: hard-boiled, omelet, scrambled and sunny-side up. Order several to share including the green boil tikka, whose green sauce sings with the freshness of mint; the masala half fry, trembly yolked eggs strewed with fresh chilies, tomato, garlic, ginger and masala and the eggs-plotion/volcano biryani (not on the menu but always available). More info: 516-822-2400, rajueggandveg.com
Bhurji (scrambled eggs) is served at Raju's Egg & Veg 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 over 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-sized crepe cooked crisp on one side, porous on the other, which is rolled up or folded crispy side out. Saravanaa Bhavan makes more than two dozen types. The stars of the show here are the rava dosas, including the onion rava masala dosa, which will change the way you think about Indian food. More info: 516-261-7755, saravanabhavan.com
Onion rava masala 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 located near the tip of India where the pleasing cuisine is celebrated for its complexity. Chef Sridhar Munirathinam is an excellent practitioner, doling out classic fare that includes a fiery Chettinadu shrimp curry as well as a milder chicken version that includes chunks of dark meat in gravy with notes of cinnamon, cloves, cumin, fennel and mustard seed. Pair them with a side of cooling guthi vankaya eggplant and an order of garlic naan to ensure no schmear of curry gets left behind. More info: 516-216-5448, southernspicerestaurant.net
Kerala crab cakes, fried crispy and served with a coconut gravy, at Southern Spice in New Hyde Park.