Indian food is poised for its moment in New York—bright flavors, regional diversity, phenomenal value—and there’s no better place to sample its appeal than where it all began: Saravanaa Bhavan, now open on the Upper West Side. Since 1981, the restaurant’s India-based locations have charmed native palates in Chennai, Delhi, Vellore and beyond; since 2005, its Murray Hill iteration has been met with lines around the block. Having won over vegetarians from Singapore to Germany, France to Dubai, it’s no surprise that proprietors Mathaiah and Veena Ramaiah have now found success with the uptown crowd. From its puffed Indian breads (made by a devoted Indian bread baker) to its plentiful thalis and crisp dosa, Saravanaa Bhavan offers a family-friendly atmosphere that’s big on flavor and light on the wallet.
Dr. Mathaiah and Veena Ramaiah, the father-daughter duo behind Saravanaa Bhavan, have a surprising story, with careers in cardiology and interior design rather than behind the stove. Their unlikely culinary empire kicked off with Bombay Talkie, an overnight success within New York’s Indian community and beyond, and followed up with the New York debut of Saravanaa Bhavan in Murray Hill, solidifying their reputation among New York’s dining scene. By employing experts—chefs with two decades of experience (at minimum) in India, a bread master with six years of devoted experience with tandoori baking, and even a well-trained front-of-house staff—the Ramaiahs have merged sharp management skills with clear direction and culinary precision, ensuring high standards and authenticity across the board.
Unsurprisingly, the theme carries through. And in keeping with the uptown theme, a variety of North Indian dishes join the southern specialties that brought Saravanaa Bhavan its original acclaim. Of those, start with the delicacies from the tandoor: garlic naan, bubbling from the heat of the clay pot in which it’s cooked, or aloo paratha, a savory whole wheat bread piped full with spiced mashed potatoes. Enjoy these on their own, or dip them into curries—also new to this location and inspired from regions in India’s north. Palak Paneer is a favorite, bright green with aromatic, herbaceous flavors between layers of spinach and cheese. Then there is Vegetable Makhanwala, a buttery gravy-based curry with mild spice but complex layers, studded with cauliflower, potatoes, peas and carrots—a wonderful introduction to the region’s flavors for the uninitiated.
While traditionalists will seek Saravanaa Bhavans’ creamy mango lassi to wash down dinner, savvy locals will be happy to find a list of biodynamic, sustainable, and Kosher wines—the perfect pairing for a Glatt Kosher-certified menu. And for the cocktail lover, there’s an array of cricket-inspired concoctions, from the Deccan Chargers (Absolut Peach vodka, passion fruit, lime, and cardamom) to the Kolkata Knight Riders (Absolut Currant vodka, black tea, guava, honey, and anise seed), each made with Indian spices.
For dessert, there are Indian donuts of sorts called Gulab Jamun, made with powdered milk and cheese and soaked in a rose water syrup. They’re served warm, sweet and tender with a soft center. Badam Halwa might remind American palates of pumpkin pie or rice pudding, but it is neither: the light grains are in fact from ground almonds, cooked down in honey and butter. On special days, there’s Payasam, a hard-to-find, coconut-milk based pudding that’s practically revered in Indian households.
413 Amsterdam Avenue between 79th and 80th Streets