[Lexington Ave, NYC: Curry Hill]
When I first arrived in NYC I lived on 29th Street in Curry Hill. As you probably guessed, there are a lot of Indian restaurants in the neighborhood. They come and go fairly frequently. I think almost half of the ones that were there when I first moved to NYC have gone out of business.
One of my regulars (a major understatement) was a spot called Shaheen on 29th between Lexington and 3rd Ave. It was a total hole in the wall where cabbies gathered to read the papers and eat their dinner. I used to join them for dinner practically every night before my girlfriend (now wife) moved out here. It was nothing fancy but the price was right and it was properly spiced i.e. not toned down for weak NYC pallets. Isha, the woman who operated the cash register and served up the plates, was really nice and always hooked me up. I was very sad when they closed down.
But this post is not about the lost wonders of Shaheen, it’s about two South Indian vegetarian restaurants, Chennai Garden on 27th St. between Park Avenue South and Lex and Tiffin Wallah on 28th b/t Park Ave So. and Lex. If you follow the links you can see the menus are very similar. So which one is better? Here’s the breakdown:
1) Ambiance: Tiffin Wallah wins. It has a sort of hip, loungy feel going on. Last time I was there they were playing Ananda Shankar’s cover of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” as well as some old soul and more recent down-tempo tunes.
2) Price: A draw. Prices are almost the same for buffet and a la carte.
3) Most importantly, the food: Each offers a South Indian veggie buffet but I prefer my food made to order. I ordered bhel puri and somosa chaat at both places and I have to say the bhel puri at Chennai Garden was much better. It had a lot more onion, tomato, cilantro and other ingredients that gave it a fresher taste. The somosa chaat is a closer decision. It’s hard to say which was better. My wife had a paper masala dosa at Chennai Garden and the buffet at Tiffin Wallah. She prefered Chennai Garden but paper masala dosa is her favorite food in the world so that may have swayed things a bit. Bro-in-law had the buffet at both places and thought they were both equally good. Like many South Indian veggie spots in NYC, both restaurants are kosher. So if you are observant, that’s a good thing to know.
The verdict? Wifey says Chennai Garden, bro-in-law says Tiffin Wallah for the vibe and my vote goes to Chennai Garden for the food. But go ahead and try both if you are in the area and judge for yourself.
I did not take pictures this time but here are some pics of bhel puri (above) and somosa chaat (below) so you know what I am talking about. Bhel puri image is from Chaat Street and somosa chaat image is from Yummy4Tummy.