Editor's note: In "The Vegetarian Option," columnist Maggie Hoffman will seek out the best vegetarian dishes at omnivore-friendly restaurants in New York.
120 Lexington Avenue, New York 10016 (b/n 28th and 29th; map); 212-523-3663; chinesemirch.com
Cuisine: Indian Chinese
Veggie Options: A good dozen
Cost: About $20 per person, excluding drinks
Murray Hill has a bevy of vegetarian restaurants, particularly South Indian ones, but if you're looking to spice up your routine, you might want to consider Indian Chinese food.
I'm not talking about some new fusion trend: Chinese immigrants to Calcutta arrived as early as 1778, and the first of many Indo-Chinese restaurants there opened about 85 years ago. Adapting Chinese food to Indian tastes, these chefs created a cuisine that borrows from both traditions. From crispy snacks to spicy stir fries, the dishes at mini-chain Chinese Mirch are flavorful and fresh-tasting examples of Indian Chinese food. Luckily for us, the menu includes plenty of tasty options for vegetarians.
We started with a few appetizers, and they were delicious—perhaps the best part of the meal. The addictive Gobi Manchurian ($8.50, pictured above) is salty, spicy, garlicky, and a little sweet, tossed with chunks of pungent fresh ginger, onion, cilantro, and hot little peppers. I could make a meal of this dish—all you need alongside it is a cold beer. Don't pass up the crispy okra ($9), though. Sliced in wedges and coated in a very light, delicately spiced batter, it's fried until crunchy and served in a paper cone. The okra remains moist inside, but the coating is totally crisp (caveat: we devoured them too quickly to test their staying power.)
Chili Paneer ($12) is available dry or with sauce (pictured here), but I think I prefer the drier version. The paneer is buttery and chewy, a good foil for the dish's heat. It's spicy but not fiery, and quite filling. We made the mistake of also ordering the Chinese Mirch Potatoes ($9) which were tasty, but essentially the same dish, substituting potatoes for the paneer.
More sneakily spicy is Chinese Mirch's Coriander Vegetable dish ($9.50), a large platter of fresh green beans, broccoli, mushrooms, bok choy, and baby corn tossed in a hot cilantro pesto. No limp veggies here—these still have their snap, which we appreciated. Nothing like an overcooked green bean to ruin your evening.
To cool your tongue, you might want an order of Hakka Noodles ($9). They're delicate lo-mein, remarkably greaseless and a little smoky, with ribbons of carrots and bok choy. Though these might remind you of the Americanized Chinese food of your youth, they're prepared quite well and offer respite from the heat.
As is often the case, the vegetarian dishes on the menu at Chinese Mirch are a little cheaper than everything else, and these dishes were totally satisfying and pleasing to a table full of meat eaters. Carnivore-herbivore coexistence? Easy. Though you may want two orders of those okra fries.
About the Author: Maggie Hoffman also writes about cooking for Pithy and Cleaver.