The East Village has changed significantly over the years. Once a gritty bastion of the arts and music scene, it has, like so many other neighborhoods, become a symbol of gentrification. It’s now filled with crowded bars, hip cocktail spots, and expensive restaurants, with only a few affordable options mixed into the fold. Punjabi Grocery & Deli (114 East 1st Street; 212-533-3356), however, is a piece of the old ‘hood. The small storefront serves a selection of cheap vegetarian eats.
Since 1994, the spot has been a favorite among cabbies (who park just up the block) and the vegetarian set, as well as people looking to get some aromatic food on a dime. It’s nothing fancy, just a counter (with only two stools), a deli case filled with Punjabi specialties, and an array of packaged goods.
Numbered one to six, industrial-sized aluminum trays hold curried vegetables, daals, and saag paneer, and line the top of the glass-front fridge. Platters of shiny samosas ($1.50), rice, and pakora (fritters) sit underneath. Pick a combo; the staff dishes it onto styrofoam plates (or, for an extra 50 cents, an eco-friendly non-styrofoam alternative), then tosses it in the microwave.
A small bowl of rice with any two vegetable items is just $4. A large plate with three items, $6. Throw in a roti, the chewy charred flatbread, for an extra dollar. Or, make your own sammie with one roti and choice of up to two vegetable items for $5; the platters come with fresh lettuce, cucumber, and red onion. If you really want to fill yourself up without spending money, samosas and aloo tikki (spiced potato patties) are just $1.50 each; get one with a heaping spoonful of chickpeas for $3.50. Top it off with the hot sauce that sits next to the register for a bit more spice.
The spot is open 24 hours a day, so it’s the perfect stop on the way to the bar — or right before you pass out.