In The Midnight Hour: Lahore Deli
Open Until: 24 hours, 7 days
Sitting opposite the Houston Car Care Centre on Crosby Street, Lahore Deli caters to the camaraderie of New York City cab drivers. The city's sedan road warriors pack the tiny space, formerly a shoeshine parlor, vying for one of the room's six stools and crowding the Gatorade water cooler for convenient refills. But South Asian cooking isn't the only draw. On our visit, the line for the bathroom was longer than the line for food, and at one thirty in the morning it was impossible to avoid bumping elbows while making our way to the counter to place our order.
Once we gathered our order and nabbed a seat at one of the two Formica counters, it became obvious why Lahore is such a cabbie haven: this is some mighty good grub. Vegetable samosas ($1) are cheap as hell and fried to a greasy, shattering crisp, softening towards the middle where the dough bloats outward like a longshoreman's physique, swollen with its turmeric-spiked potato and pea filling. The filling itself has an upfront heat, the potato sturdy enough to avoid tumbling out with each bite. (Ask for some of their piquant yogurt sauce on the side.)
Lentil soup ($3) escapes any danger of blandness with a healthy dose of chopped cilantro, fried onions, and a pervading spice that resonates with each slurp. Even with those strong flavors present, cumin threatens to overpower the broth, but it all works. The lentils are stewed to a luscious texture, providing the soup with some fortifying substance—a bowl of this stuff would certainly put you right after a return ride from Bensonhurst.
A container of phool gobi ($5), spicy cauliflower stewed with tomatoes, onions, and peppers to a mashed consistency, showcases more turmeric and cumin, the heat from chilies lingering on the back of the palate. The red and green peppers studded throughout pop with bright sweetness, contrasting nicely with the barrage of spice. Protein and vegetable entrees come atop a huge mound of starchy, mildly-spiced rice. If you can, get anything with lamb or goat. If they're not available, treat yourself to a perfectly serviceable chicken curry ($5), hunks of bone-in bird embedded into the rice like flavor landmines (sure to be a new Guy Fieri phrase) and coated with curry. The generous portion could easily be spread over the course of two meals.
Those looking for accouterments like plates and metal silverware will be sorely disappointed. Everything comes in takeout containers, since many customers opt to scarf their meals while in their wheels (we envy the passengers who enter these vehicles). Dollar for dollar, Lahore is a steal and a unique slice of late-night life—a place where many mobile ambassadors can eat the foods they grew up with, even during the graveyard shift.
132 Crosby Street #1, New York NY 10012 (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.