Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was a dearth of great Indian cuisine in the GNO. But the restaurant scene, oh boy it is a-changin’! In the past decade, pandemic and hurricanes notwithstanding, the region has seen a huge influx of Mexican restaurants (tacos a-go-go), Thai food, and most recently Indian. It’s hard to believe how quickly time passes. It seems like only yesterday in the early oughts when food fanatics lamented our sore lack of worldly cuisine, and then poof! Our wishes are coming to fruition right before our eyes.
To be totally fair, there have been a couple of old-school Indian food standbys supported by loyal local customers whose hearts will never stray – Taj Mahal in Metaire comes immediately to mind. Touted as the first Indian restaurant in town, it was launched by the late Har G. Keswani and his wife Anila in 1982. Today, Anila and her son Anjay also run Nirvana, an Uptown Indian spot on Magazine Street which opened in 1999. Both locations offer well-attended lunch buffets and elegant,white tablecloth, gut-busting dinners. Whether you enjoy a creamy lamb korma, tangy tandoori chicken, or the vegetarian bliss of spicy saag paneer, most of the entrees at Taj Mahal and Nirvana fall gratefully under budget, even after adding a side of garlic-stuffed naan or steamed basmati rice.
In 2014, a little eatery dubbed NOLA Desi Kitchen opened quietly in a strip mall on Williams Boulevard. Suburban Kenner (brah), the land of endless strip malls, sports a surprising number of international foods, generally of the Latino persuasion – think Cuban, Brazilian, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan. Naturally, it was both surprising and exciting for the denizens of Kenner (brah) to have NOLA Desi Kitchen offering Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi cuisine, all prepared with halal proteins. Almost all of the entrees are served with tandoori naan, from their spicy Nihari lamb and goat korma to the creamy butter paneer and lentil-laden masala daal, which leaves plenty of spending space for an order of potato samosa or a tall, cool glass of mango lassi.
Several years ago, rumors began circling of a gas station in Hammond serving what many claimed was the “best Indian food in Louisiana.” While folks in the Bayou State are all too familiar with great gas station eats, one serving Indian food was completely new. Though many New Orleans residents raved about the food at Punjabi Dhaba, exclaiming it was more than worth the trek out of town, they only had to wait a couple of years to get the same delicious fare right in their own backyard. Late in 2020, in the midst of shutdowns and COVID-19 woe, Chef Neeta (a.k.a. Bonsi Lal) left Punjabi Dhaba and opened Mantra Indian Cuisine inside the old City Diner on the I-10 Service Road. Mantra offers Northern Indian cuisine, and with the huge portions, you better go hungry. All entrees are served with a hefty helping of steamed basmati rice, so whether you get aloo gobhi (cauliflower and potatoes), rogan josh with tender lamb cooked low and slow, or garlicky lasuni chicken, you’re bound to have leftovers. Plus, Mantra also has a huge selection of naan, stuffed with everything from minced meat to homemade cheese, and cashews and raisins.
After a highly influential and educational trip through India, industry vets Tyler Stuart and Merritt Coscia returned to New Orleans and began popping up around town offering a taste of what they discovered. In the summer of 2020, the duo opened Plume Algiers, their first brick and mortar inside their home located on Teche Street in Algiers (obviously!). The tiny restaurant offers a constantly rotating menu with dishes like banana chaat with fried banana and tamarind, shrimp kaathi rolls, moreish appam (ie. fermented coconut bread) and Kerelan fried chicken with garlic and chili chutney. Because everything is so incredible, it’s easy to order too much and go way over budget, but if you stick to a kaathi roll or a dish of stir-fried mushrooms with roti, goat cheese raita and tarragon, you’ll be able keep your wallet intact.
Speaking of pop-ups, another duo has been making the rounds under the Instagram account @lufu.nola. Sarthak Samantray and Aman Kota have been bringing Indian goodies to bars, breweries and music venues all over town, from Urban South Brewery and the Saturn Bar to Gasa Gasa and Happy Raptor Distilling. Follow their account to discover where they’ll be next serving up dishes like dal makhni with lentils, tomatoes and coriander; ragada patties or potato cakes with yellow peas; or khasta kachori – a fried, carom-flavored pastry with a tomatoey potato curry.
Finally, owner and chef Manish Patel of Tava Indian Street Food made a huge splash at Magazine Street food hall Auction House Market featuring his rice and lentil dosa, pressed naan sandwiches and flaky partha wraps. But now he’s ventured into his own digs in the Paramount Building on O’Keefe Avenue. Patel is featuring an expanded menu, but diners still enjoy favorites like his chana salad and fusion-style panini.
*Article originally published in the April 2022 issue of Where Y’at Magazine