The Early Word–Aamchi Pao (Best Vada Pav in Manhattan?)


Left, keema pao, right, vada pao

For years, I’ve been predicting (and hoping) that there will be an Indian street food explosion similar to the banh mi craze, enabling me to eat papri chaat and vada pav anytime of day in any part of the city. (And I’ve been saying it well before Tom Colicchio got in on the action!)

As it stands, Mumbai street food specialist Mumbai Xpress is beyond wonderful, but is all the way out in Floral Park; Sukhadia’s Gokul makes good bhel puri, but their batata vada (potato fritter) for the vada pav is often cold and flaccid by the time you get it; and Tabla’s seasonal frankie cart makes serviceable frankies (egg-washed wraps filled with meat or veg) and bhel puri, but it all tastes sort of light and delicate, and lacks the oomph and wonderful flavor overload that really good renditions have.

Happily, Aamchi Pao has arrived on a West Village stretch of Bleecker. It’s a small spot dedicated to the Mumbai street foods based on pao, or pav (pronounced pow), a soft, junky white roll, usually buttered, that’s served with many delicious, spicy things. The most iconic of these is the vada (“wada”) pav, a sandwich filled with a fat, crispy, heavily spiced potato fritter and some chutney. The Marathi word “pav” came from the Portuguese word for bread, “pao,” and is sometimes still spelled “pao.” The restaurant’s name means “our pav (or bread)” in Marathi, the language spoken by the indigenous inhabitants of Mumbai.

Aamchi Pao opened last weekend, in the former home of the fusiony Indian Bread Co, and it is already making what is probably Manhattan’s best vada pav (granted, it’s not a large field of competitors). Aamchi Pao avoids the most common vada pav problem–vadas that are fried in advance and turn leaden–by frying the fritters in advance, but then crisping them on a hot griddle to order. The fritters are beautifully spiced, tasting of green chiles, ginger, turmeric and mustard seeds. The buns are buttered and griddled to order and have the proper soft, sweet, junky chew. The sandwich is sauced with garlic and coriander chutneys, but lack the usual raw onion and cilantro topping. I suppose you could ask for it.

Besides the quintessential vada pav, you can get a pav bhaji, a simple, heavily spiced vegetable stew often served with a pav to mop it up. Then there are other options, like a paneer pav, pulled goat leg pav (uh, yum) and keema pav (spiced ground meat). In a savvy move, Aamchi Pao is calling their sandwiches “sliders,” which does neatly describe the size.

I also tried the beef keema, above, which was tasty. The keema had that warm, cinnamony taste of garam masala. I’ve never seen keema served on a pav before (which is not to say it doesn’t happen), but the keema does fall right off the bun, making it a bit harder to eat (pinch up bites with the bread).

In any case, it was a great lunch, and I’m hoping Aamchi Pao is a harbinger of things to come.

194 Bleecker Street, 212-228-1909