I am Indian and I am also obsessed with Indian food. Not just the Indian food that my mom made, but Indian food from all over the subcontinent. Each of India’s twenty-six states has its own distinct cuisine. Which means that you can wildly diverse dishes depending on which part of the country you are in. Not every type of Indian food is available in D.C., but we do have a pretty decent representation of the variety of Indian fare that is out there. Here are my recommendations of the best spots for Indian food, and the dish you shouldn’t miss at each one of those venues. You should note my favorite dishes are vegetarian, because I’m a vegetarian. These restaurants are not all vegetarian however, other options are available.
• 1190 New Hampshire Ave NW, Washington, DC 20037
Best Thing to Try: Gujarati Lasagne
It’s hard to imagine how Chef Vikram Sunderam finds time to sleep, seeing as he serves as Executive Chef of five Indian restaurants in D.C., each with their own menu. The most popular of these five are the two Rasikas, and I find the sister restaurants to be different enough that I have a favorite dish at each one. At Rasika West End, the gujarati lasagna is a culinary dream come to life, with veggies sandwiched between layers of khandvi, a savory gram flour snack that hails from the state of Gujarat in India. The lasagne is drenched in a creamy gravy called khadi, which is studded with black mustard seeds. Sunderam is a genius at not only incorporating ingredients from different parts of India, but adding an international touch with his magic wand, as he did with this “lasagne.”
• 611 I St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Best Thing to Try: Mushroom Biryani
This Indian restaurant is a newcomer in the D.C. dining scene, but it’s already giving old staples a run for their money. The light-filled dining room is spacious and welcoming, and the aroma of Indian spices only makes it all the more enticing. The mushroom biryani is fragrant and warm, with loads of wild mushrooms and spices like cumin, cardamom, and cinnamon. Enjoy it with a side of cool cucumber raita.
• 8046 New Hampshire Ave, Hyattsville, MD 20783
Best Thing to Eat: Masala Dosa
South Indian restaurants are few and far between, but if you venture out to Hyattsville you will find Woodlands, where the dosas are in abundance. Dosas, which are essentially Indian savory crepes, can come plain or stuffed with different ingredients; I would get the one stuffed with spiced potatoes. The dish fits the exact definition of a perfect brunch entree: light but hearty, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, spiced but not too spicy.
• 2000 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC
Best Thing to Try: Veggie Karee
The Foggy Bottom Bindaas features a dish not often seen on Indian restaurant menus: veggie karee, where hunks of paneer and veggies like green beans and peas and cauliflower come swimming in a savory, spicy gravy, ladled over saffron rice. It smells heavenly and is even better to taste. The dishes at Bindaas are all designed for sharing, which is going to be a challenge with this one.
• 1810 K St NW, Washington, DC 20006
Best Thing to Try: Paneer Tikka Masala
When anyone wants to meet for lunch in Farragut North, I immediately think of Rasoi. While most of downtown D.C. is full of either fast casual options or brutally expensive fine dining options, Rasoi is delicious and affordable. The casual restaurant hosts a lunch buffet that is only $12 and you can choose from nearly a dozen dishes. Don’t skip the paneer tikka masala, a classic Indian dish where hunks of marinated cheese are cooked with peppers, onions and a bevy of Indian spices like cumin, green cardamom, and garam masala.
• 3512 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008
Best Thing to Try: Morel Vegetable Stew
I love a lot of dishes at Indique. I love the Punjabi chole, where chickpeas are cooked in a style native to the state of Punjab. I love the mini dosa, which reminds me of traveling to the south of India. I love the cauliflower stir fry because it is spicy and earthy and delicious. But what I love most of all is the morel vegetable stew. Meaty, chewy morel mushrooms are soaked in a creamy, coconut milk gravy that is infused with the flavors of ginger, onion, and green chilies. It is a comforting, soul-warming dish which also showcases an ingredient – morel mushrooms – that grows wild in the Himalayas.
• 10151 New Hampshire Ave, Silver Spring, MD 20903
Best Thing to Eat: Cauliflower Manchurian
The cauliflower manchurian at Jewel of India is one of my favorite dishes of all time. I have even ordered it and served it at dinner parties. Hunks of cauliflower are battered, fried, and smothered in a slightly sweet, deeply spicy sauce and then tossed with sweet onions. It’s uber flavorful and downright hearty. Non-vegetarians: you will love the chewy texture of this dish.
• 633 D St. NW, Washington, DC 20004
Best Thing to Eat: Ragda Pattice
It’s awesome that the appetizers, breads, and sides are given as much attention as the entrees at Rasika. The original best Indian restaurant is still the best. I am currently obsessed with the ragda pattice, a popular street snack all over India but especially in Mumbai. Potato patties infused with chilies are blanked in both a tamarind chutney and mint chutney for a bright sweet and spicy flavorful profile. I wish I was eating one right now.
• 4441 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20016
• 1101 4th St, SW, Washington, DC
Best Thing to Eat: Dum Aloo
I find both the Masala Art locations to be warm, comfortable spots to eat with decent food. The food is mostly North Indian and not particularly innovative, but they do some classic Indian dishes well. I would definitely include the dum aloo in your order; it’s a potato dish that originated in Kasmir, a state in northern India. The potatoes are served in a sauce flavored with cardamom, ginger, coriander, cumin, garlic, fennel, and turmeric. Great for mopping up with a hunk of naan.
• 1736 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20009
Best Thing to Eat: Jackfruit Curry
Le Mirch suggests that their cuisine is “Indian with a French flair” but to be honest most of it seems like traditional North Indian food. Most of their dishes are pretty middle of the road, but I do like their jackfruit curry. Jackfruit is actually indigenous to India and used extensively in Indian food, but for some reason you rarely find it in Indian restaurants in the US. At Le Mirch the jackfruit is cooked and served in a onion based curry. The jackfruit itself is meaty and filling, and chili powder adds an enticing level of heat.
• 4909 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20016
Best Thing to Eat: Tadka Daal
The venue is sort of plain and not much stands out on the menu, but the tadka dal at Cafe of India does remind me of my mom’s home cooking. Whenever you mention dal, most people think of dal makhani which is the creamy, dark lentils on the menu of every Indian restaurant. Tadka daal is made with yellow lentils, cooked slowly with turmeric, ginger, garlic and mustard seeds to give it a deep, nutty flavor. It’s great with just a bowl of white rice.
• 815 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20006
Best Thing to Eat: Truffle Naan
At Bombay Club there is so much. Butternut squash samosas. South Indian eggplant. Okra with pickled onions. Saffron vegetable biryani. But the truffle naan, well, do I even need to say more?
• 262 Georgia Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20001
Best Thing to Eat: Tandoori Chicken
Salt & Pepper does Indian food right: hearty, flavorful, and comforting. The Georgia Avenue based eatery makes all of the classics we associate with Punjabi cuisine and they do not disappoint. I am particularly a fan of their tandoori chicken. You could go in and eat at the no-frills restaurant, but fortunately they also have a pretty decent delivery range. Be ready to wait a while though – most dishes are made to order, but this is a pain I’m willing to endure for heavenly loaves of naan bread dipped in chicken tikka masala sauce. -Jose Lopez-Sanchez
• 243 K St NE, Washington, DC 20002
Best Thing to Eat: The Thali
H Street was seriously lacking solid Indian food, so Indigo’s opening in late 2013 (marking the shop’s long-awaited transition from food truck to brick and mortar) was highly anticipated. This truly is a mom and pop (okay, husband and wife) joint: the hand-written chalkboard menu changes daily, and lists not only their outstanding authentic Indian street food (all based upon traditional family recipes), but also cute, funny notes from the owners to their kids. Kind of cheesy? Yup. The type of shit I love about locally-owned small businesses? Absolutely. Also cool: I’ve multiple times seen the owner greeting customers, expediting orders, etc. – normal stuff. BUT, I’ve also seen deaf couples walk in, and he immediately goes over and starts signing and making sure they’re taken care of.
Standout dishes include the spicy chicken Saag with (approximately) eight pounds of spinach wilted in with the chicken and the goat curry, a deep, ridiculously heady blend of tender goat and a house-ground spice mix. Props also for some of the best roti and daal in D.C. Can’t decide? Go with the Thaali platter that allows you to select five different meat or vegetable options. Tons of vegetarian and vegan dishes as well, and a dope patio perfect for weeknight lounging and beers. This place rules. -Logan Hollers
• 1247 First St SE, Washington, DC 20003
Best Thing to Try: One of their six chef designed bowls
From our First Look: Order one of the six chef designed bowls. They spent time developing flavors and know what works with what. We will be returning for the Tikka Chance on Me (chicken tikka, roasted tomato sauce, basmati rice, sauteed spinach, pickled radish, kachumber, toasted cumin yogurt, mint cilantro chutney, lentil crisp). It’s the most familiar flavors, but it’s done better than most every other Indian restaurant and for $9, a entirely fine price for lunch in D.C. -Brandon Wetherbee