As a kid who was born, raised, and attended school in Brooklyn, my whole world opened up in high school when I befriended the new kid who happened to live in Tribeca. I can still remember the first time my new buddy took me around to his favorite lunch spot, Pakistan Tea House: in the loud, crowded cafeteria, a steamy counter displayed exotic-smelling stews, and on a steel flattop, freshly-baked naan bread crisped and puffed. My plate tasted as good as it smelled, and I've found a way to wind up at Pakistan Tea House each and every time I pass through the downtown Chambers Street area.
On a recent snowy, blustery day, the restaurant was an even more welcome refuge than usual. The office workers from nearby buildings that usually take their food to go and eat at their desks decided to stay a while, clustering at the communal tables and scooping up fragrant chana masala, stewed chickpeas and mashed eggplant with that warm naan. As I always do, I ordered Pakistan Tea House's excellent Vegetarian Sampler ($6.99), which gets you a styrofoam plate full of fluffy white or brown basmati rice and your choice of three vegetables.
Nine offerings were available the day of my visit, including lentil daal, cabbage and peas and cauliflower; I opted for a mix of old standbys and new surprises: my absolute favorite South Asian dish, Saag Paneer, buttery-rich stewed spinach studded with squeaky cubes of milky paneer cheese; a mild, creamy Yogurt Curry draped over fluffy vegetable fritters stuffed with onion, spinach and carrots; and a simple but tasty dish of tender chunks of Potato in a Light Tomato Gravy brightened with plenty of amchoor, or dried mango powder. I decided to gild the lily and order a piece of Naan ($1.99) as well: warm and steaming, with a crisp crust and plenty of chew, the bread was the perfect vehicle for sopping up every last bit of sauce from my plate.
Pakistan Tea House is a special place: not only is its above-average food an incredible bargain, but it's also a welcoming spot that's open from 10 a.m. to 4 a.m., seven days a week. In the morning and early afternoon, the restaurant fills with office workers; in the middle of the night, it's home to cab drivers pulling a late shift and night owls with the munchies. I'll continue to come here each time my train passes Chambers Street.
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