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Babu Ji

Pia Mileaf-Patel

$40 a person

It's already been lauded by the NYC foodie scene, but I feel like as a Patel in the city, I can't help but add my praises for the lively, delicious meals at Babu Ji. It is so fun to eat there, and the food is actually as good as it seems. The menu is exciting, and plays with traditional Indian dishes by adding unexpected flavors ("Colonel Tso's Cauliflower"), yet the classics (black daal and butter chicken, for example) are done perfectly. The ambiance is very anti that of a traditional Indian restaurant. There is a projector, which plays technicolor Bollywood classics, and open windows to let in the summer air. It's a perfect place for a festive dinner and really delicious food.

Good naan makes or breaks any northern Indian meal, and while I could write songs about the buttery, salty, flaky, and doughy circles we ate at Bukhara in Delhi, that is not in New York. However, Babu Ji has other tandoori aspects done perfectly, like the tangy, tender marinated lamb chops. And their naan is pretty hecking good, too. It's a blessing there's no cheese naan on the menu—kind of like the Indian equivalent of red-sauce-restaurant garlic bread with melted mozzarella.

My two favorite things were the duck curry and the black daal. As the menu states, the duck curry "is legit." The meat falls off the bone and the sauce is rich and fragrant with coconut. (I feel like everyone uses "fragrant" to describe Indian food and I kind of hate it, but now that I'm trying to describe Indian food, I see why.) The black daal is punchy with orange zest, and also deep and buttery—I don't want to know how much butter, because I'll eat it anyway.

Also, a must-have—and I was skeptical of my dad's recommendation, 'cause he's my dad so everything he says is obviously wrong—is the Kulfi for dessert. It's like a creamy, spiced ice pop on a skewer, flavored with honey, cardamom, and pistachio. Or try a cup of chai—not like an iced chai latte (which, to be honest, are hard not to love), but spicier, creamier, and a real treat.

Forgive the photo quality—the lighting is not ideal for foodstagram, which is probably for the better (but not for this blog!)