When you're dining meat-free, Indian restaurants are usually a good bet; even those not devoted to southern Indian cuisine have plenty of vegetarian options to offer. Om on the Upper East Side is a neighborhood standout for just that kind of eating. Its clean, smallish dining room is mostly empty on weekdays, which is when it functions mostly as a take out joint, so it's an easy table to boot.
Om's version of Tandoori Paneer ($7.95), warm, charred cubes of India's famous and irresistible mild, milky cheese, is lovely. The just-crisped cubes of paneer are especially delicious when dipped into either of the two the two excellent chutneys—sweet-sour tamarind and fresh mint/cilantro —served alongside. The accompanying undressed iceberg/raw onion salad doesn't do much on its own, but when folded into a fluffy piece of warm naan along with the cheese, it makes a tasty little sandwich.
Malai Kofta, patties made out of potatoes and vegetables that are simmered in a tomato and cream gravy, is done especially well at Om. Their version ($11.95) may be the best I've ever tasted: light and fluffy like matzo balls but far more flavorful. The gravy's richness is kept in check by plenty of ginger, garlic, and chili.
Cheap, filling and packed with protein, it's hard to overstate the centrality of lentils to the Indian diet, and all the varieties and colors of this legume are used to make daal, or lentil stew. Om's signature version, Om Daal ($9.95) calls upon black lentils, fresh tomatoes, and plenty of butter. The thick sauce, enlivened by cumin and green chiles, is sneakily fiery, but the restaurant's fluffy naan or tender basmati rice help temper the heat.
The cooking at Om tastes complete: fully bloomed flavors that meld well and deftly show off the kitchen's prowess. If you're looking for a go-to neighborhood standby on the Upper East Side, this is it.
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