In The Midnight Hour: Bukhari
Hours: 24 hours, 7 days
South Asian food, with its long simmering stews and charcoal-kissed meats, lends itself to dining after hours. Many of the foods are cooked slowly, making plating as easy as plopping a spoon into a bowl for those who need to simply refuel, but the flavors remain complex—popping with jolts of spice perfect for waking up a tired palate.
Bukhari, a 24 hour South Asian restaurant serving Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi food, sits unceremoniously on a stretch of Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn. Popular with cab drivers, neighborhood business owners and residents, the restaurant puts out traditional dishes that don't hold back on heat or pungency.
The bare space is simply laid out. A sweets display case, jam-packed with Desi pastries and treats marks the left side of the dining area, while a steam table dominates the rear, its shelves holding plates of chicken tikka and other grilled meats. Both pieces of equipment are parked far enough away from the wall so as to make the restaurant appear makeshift, not particularly integrated into the space—as though the owners could just up and leave at a moment's notice.
Bukhari's food is anything but trendy. However, they did at one time offer something called "Indian pizza" that the Times' Dave Cook covered on his blog Eating In Translation. The foundation of that dish was something akin to their exemplary naan ($1.00), which arrived coated with sesame seeds and donning a gorgeous sheen, the outside crust giving way to airy interior. It's a shame about the disappearing pizza, but the burnished discs proved their worth by holding together under generous scoops of sauce.
Goat curry ($6) was the most expensive dish of the night and worth every penny. Fork-tender chunks of goat meat coated in deeply-hued, fiery curry make this a crave-worthy rendition of one of Indian cuisine's most mainstream preparations. Thankfully, there were a minimal amount of bones, which can often deter otherwise passionate eaters from trying the horned beast. Also on offer was the post-Ramadan specialty known as haleem ($5), a pasty mush of wheat, lentils and chicken stewed to oblivion and tasting heavily of cumin.
Of the grilled meats, we partook in a fairly-decimated though flavorful lamb chop ($3) and a phallic chicken kabob ($1) made from ground bird mixed with a pleasing blend of spices. That same ground chicken mixture was presented as a chicken "drumstick"—a meatball wrapped around a drumstick bone and fried. Ours was a bit spongy, but flavor-wise hit the mark with a kick of diced peppers. A meaty tikka-spiced chicken leg commanded its own plate but was shy on flavor. Adding the provided yogurt sauce did the trick. To accompany all that animal protein, we opted for a bowl of stewed chickpeas redolent with garam masala and jumble of potatoes and carrots with a subtle chili heat.
As is advertised, desserts share equal spotlight with the savory offerings, and the gulab jamun ($5/lb) are fine specimens. Soaked through with rosewater syrup, the fried balls of khoya and flour drip with the sticky stuff. Numerous types of halwa and other sweets fill out the rest of the case.
With its changing lineup of comforting slow-cooked dishes, Bukhari satisfies a niche if you're in the borough and have a twilight craving for Desi cuisine. Stick to the hot trays and you'll be treated to an excellent cheap meal, and don't forget to ask for extra naan.
1095 Coney Island Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11230 (map)
About the author: Zachary Feldman is a former debutante and current freelance writer. He makes hand-crafted, small batch bitters under the moniker Bitters, Old Men.