Indian is one of those cuisines that my wife Jun and I have consistently enjoyed in our culinary journey. The heat and spice from the country’s food is not something for everyone, and I am forever grateful that Jun has the same appreciation for the addictive flavor that I have loved for a long time. On the other hand, we have not yet quite found that go-to place that we would happily call the “best of Indian in the city of X,” similar to the way we consider Ugly Baby the best Thai restaurant in New York City. After we moved to DC from NYC last year, we have had good (but sometimes mixed) experiences at the acclaimed Rasika, which does have killer palak chaat salad but not quite there in the showstopper category, and tried a couple of take-outs and deliveries in different places around DC and Maryland for delicious but not overly spectacular meals. On our recent summer trip back to NYC, I figured we should try a new Indian restaurant, the much-hyped Dhamaka in Lower East Side that has been getting accolade left and right since it opened last year. Oh boy did it deliver!
Before opening Dhamaka, the chef Chintan Pandya already made a name for himself with a more polished version of Indian food at Adda in Long Island City (which we visited previously and enjoyed quite a lot). Unlike the urban sophistication that Adda seeks to showcase, Dhamaka focuses on small villages around the vast country for inspiration. Dhamaka’s website says it wants to show “the other side of India, the forgotten side of India.” While Jun and I are certainly not experts in the topography of Indian cuisine, our eyes opened instantly once we started tasting the small dishes, beginning with the delicious fried beguni eggplant and the housemade paneer tikka whose texture was a model of how this beloved Indian cheese should be prepared. If you are reluctant to try a more adventurous dish like goat kidney and testicles, I highly recommend the paplet fry of pomfret fish. Accompanied by ginger, cumin and green chutney, it was easy to debone, exquisitely fried and had the wonderfully rustic flavor that gave an extra dimension to the fish.
If you think an everyday Indian take-out curry is too sweet and geared toward Americans who may not be as receptive to the spicy flavor, Dhamaka will show you how the real Indian cuisine is done in its main dishes. Faithful to its “unapologetic Indian” slogan, the restaurant does not compromise on its authenticity and heat in the interest of making its food popular to the wider audience. By the time we started digging into the main dishes of murgh kofta, a playful take on Scotch egg of chicken mince with egg in the middle, and lamb shank nihari, a sizable mutton in a broth of red chili, with a friend who joined us, we were profusely sweating, in an exhilarating way (Jun and I were relieved that our friend’s wife, who can’t take even moderately spicy food, was unable to come out for the dinner). It was not just the fiery flavor of both dishes that caught our attention; the texture of the minced chicken was also spot-on, and the lamb to our pleasant surprise didn’t have the gamey quality typically associated with the meat that could’ve otherwise undermined the brilliant dish. After all that blissful food, the lone dessert of chhena poda, a cheesecake-like plate of malai paneer, was a perfect antidote to calm down the spicy sensation.
Since its opening, Dhamaka quickly became one of the most difficult restaurants to get a reservation. Unless you plan weeks in advance via Resy, the restaurant suggests, try to come in in earlier hours where the bar seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis and you may have more luck with walk-in tables. The colorful dining space and lively vibe of downtown Manhattan will further enhance your meal at the restaurant. There were so many other dishes that Jun and I wanted to try; the way to go at Dhamaka is to come in a larger group and share as many dishes as possible. Do complement your meal with a glass of cold beer; I’m curious to see if the restaurant will further develop its wine list over time. I’m happy to declare Dhamaka hands down the best Indian restaurant in New York. It deserves all the hype and much more. It will be our go-to restaurant for Indian food on our future visits to NYC.
KenScale: 8.75/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.75/10)
Address: 119 Delancey St, New York, NY 10002
Reservation via Resy