Roti at Roomali
Something like Indian burritos, the roti wraps at this no-frills café arrive fresh off the griddle, pliant but pleasantly chewy. While it’s admittedly a stretch to call the thing “healthy,” roti, popular in northern India, is made from atta, a wheat flour with above-average amounts of bran, so it’s not totally junk food. Wraps are available with vegetarian fillings like aloo (potato) and channa pakora (chickpeas) or meat (chicken tikka or lamb kebab), but we like the simple egg version, which features an omelette-like sheet that fits perfectly into the roll, then gets stuffed with lettuce, tomatoes, raw onions and a mild cilantro sauce.
97 Lexington Avenue, (212) 679-8900; $6
Keema Naan at Lahori Kabab
Lahori Kabab features several Pakistani dishes, and boasts an impressive array of fresh tandoori-baked breads. One of the most remarkable is the keema naan—a pizza-sized, fluffy naan bread filled with cumin-laced, cilantro-strewn minced chicken. The bread is actually made by rolling out a piece of dough, spreading a layer of the meat evenly across its entire surface, and then topping the meat with more dough, making a sort of sandwich. Tear it apart with your hands and dip into the accompanying yogurt-mint sauce, or try the waiter’s suggestion, which is to mix a bit of sugar into the yogurt before dipping. Sounds weird, tastes great—a good combo.
124 Lexington Avenue, (212) 400-1166 , $5
Aloo Papri Chaat at Old Delhi
Old Delhi, formerly known as Kathi Rolls by Kabob Factory, does indeed turn out a delicious kathi roll. But we’re smitten with their chaat, the all-encompassing term to describe the savory snacks that can be found at street stalls across India. The aloo papri chaat is excellent—aloo is potato, while papri are crispy, Pringle-sized fried dough wafers. The two come topped with chickpeas, fresh cilantro and raw onion, and the whole mix gets thoroughly doused in tangy tamarind chutney, spicy chili sauce, and cooling yogurt. It’s light and refreshing, and very fun to eat—this is the sort of dish we could imagine shoveling during sticky tropical summer days.
101 Lexington Avenue, (212) 683-2293, $5
Bhelpuri at Tiffin Walla
Cheap eaters probably already know southern Indian favorite Tiffin Walla for its killer $7 lunch buffet (and if you haven’t been, go, it’s awesome), but if you’re not in the mood to actually bust your gut, try the bhelpuri instead. Basically the best bowl of Rice Krispies you’ll ever eat, bhelpuri is another kind of chaat, consisting of puffed rice (Tiffin’s is dotted with peanuts, thin rice noodles called sev, and chunks of cumin-flavored fried dough) topped with raw onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and an addictive mixture of zippy tamarind chutney and coriander sauce. If you get it to go, the restaurant oh-so-conveniently packs the liquids separately from the rice, so you can avoid sogginess and mix at your leisure.
127 East 28th Street, (212) 685-7301, $4
Fried Snacks at Curry In A Hurry
With a name like “Curry In A Hurry,” no one would mistake this brightly-lit storefront as a fine-dining destination, and some of the gloopy steam-table curries are admittedly a bit scary looking. But stick with the fried snacks, all ridiculously cheap, and you can’t really go wrong—the samosas (center; two vegetarian pieces for $2.50 or one meat for $1.50) have a crispy, not-too-greasy shell with a cumin-heavy filling (the mashed potato-like filling of the vegetarian version is particularly nice); the lentil-laced vegetable pakora fritters (right; $2.50 for two) are dosed with fennel seeds; and the chicken pakora (left; $2.50 for four) was a bit dry but still pleasantly spicy.
119 Lexington Avenue, (212) 683-0900