I am Indian and I am also obsessed with Indian food. Not just the Indian food that my mom makes, 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 eat 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.
- 1190 New Hampshire Ave NW, Washington, DC 20037
Best Thing to Try: Vegetable biryani
This dish made our best vegetarian dishes of 2018 list, and it still remains as my favorite dish at Rasika West End. Here is what I had to say about it: Time for a short history lesson. Biryani is a classic rice dish that was introduced to Indians by the Mughals. What was once an Iranian dish has since been associated with Indian cuisine, and is one of the most quintessential Indian dishes. It’s made by slow cooking basmati rice infused with saffron, cardamom, coriander, ginger, and a bevy of other spices and vegetables in a clay pot, which is sealed shut with a layer of dough. When cooked, the dough cooks as well and when served, the seal is broken and pillows of steam come floating out. Most Indian restaurants do not follow this procedure of making biryani, and are really serving you pulao, another Indian rice dish that is less arduous to make. At Rasika West End, the traditional version is available and it is so aromatic you will understand why the labor that goes into making this dish is so worth it.
- 1317 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005
Best Thing to Try: Kadai Mushroom
There is so much to love at Pappe: the lime soda, the thails which come full of small bowls of different curries, and the wide variety of vegetarian fare. I am currently obsessed with their kadai mushroom, a dish featuring hunks of different kinds of mushrooms that are soaked in a thick, tomato based sauce that is infused with the flavors of toasted cumin, ginger and garlic. Topped with fresh cherry tomatoes and cilantro, this is a dish I just can’t stop eating.
- 611 I St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Best Thing to Try: Tandoori Cauliflower
This Indian restaurant has settled in as a staple in the DC Indian fine dining arena. The light-filled dining room is spacious and welcoming, and the aroma of Indian spices only makes it all the more enticing. Everything on the menu is a delight, but the tandoori cauliflower is an unforgettable experience. Heady with heat, tender to the touch, and served with a warm tomato jus, it is cauliflower like you have never had it before.
- 8046 New Hampshire Ave, Hyattsville, MD 20783
Best Thing to Try: 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 Try: 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 Try: 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 20024
Best Thing to Try: 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 Try: 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.
- 3309 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008
Best Thing to Try: Corn and Pepper Uttapam
Uttapam are rice pancakes, regularly eaten in the southern Indian states. The uttapam at Bindaas are light, fluffy and slightly crispy around the edges. In other words, perfectly cooked. They come in three different flavors, asparagus, sweet corn and pepper, and tomato, green onion and chili. My favorite is definitely the sweet corn, which adds this fantastic sweet element to the pancake, combined with a hint of bitter and spice from the peppers. I could seriously eat 100 of them.
- 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 Try: 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
- 1317 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005
Best Thing to Try: Bhel Puri
Just days after opening last fall in Columbia Heights, Bombay Street Food had already become a neighborhood favorite. Quick, casual, spicy and reasonably priced are all hallmarks of this Indian venue, and I for one am in love with many of their street food dishes. The best one? The bhel puri, a wildly popular Indian appetizer or snack, made with a mix of puffed rice, fresh onion and tomato, drizzled with tamarind and cilantro chutneys, and then topped with fragrant cilantro. The dish is crunchy, sweet and spicy all at once, perfect with a cold beer or, even better, a sweet mango lassi. It is great for sharing but no one will judge you if you eat it all on your own.
- 740 6th St NW, Washington, DC 20005
Best Thing to Try: Spinach Masala Curry
Spice 6 is a fast casual venue, which means you can choose a vehicle for you dish, which includes rice, naan, or salad, and then a protein and a curry. I recommend the aromatic basmati rice, but whatever you pick, be sure to go with the spinach curry. It is full of aromatics like ginger and garlic and spices like cumin and garam masala. The spinach is super creamy, and will coat every grain of rice. I personally love it with tofu as my protein and a healthy drizzle of sweet tamarind chutney.
- 2433 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20009
Best thing to Try: Baingan Bhartha
This Indian restaurant has long since been a staple in the Adam’s Morgan neighborhood. The menu is full of Indian classics, creamy black lentils, sautéed okra, and spinach and corn cooked with fenugreek. The best of the classics is their baingan bhartha, where eggplant are cooked almost to a char in a clay oven and then mashed with onions, tomatoes, garlic, green chilies, turmeric, garam masala, ginger and coriander. The result is a velvety, smoky, earthy dish, perfect for mopping up with a hunk of warm bread. Take your leftovers home and eat over a mound of rice, smeared on toast, or even just plain.
- 243 K St NE, Washington, DC 20002
Best Thing to Try: 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