While coffee shops continue to sell a generally unrecognizable concoction labeled “chai,” the real thing, traditional Indian tea with milk and an aromatic blend of masalas — cardamom, ginger, and sometimes cloves — can be found at Chaiwali in Harlem, which also offers a menu of twists on culinary staples that sing rather than singe. This is not your average fiery, murky curry sopped up with a limp naan. Along with the classics (the samosas are flaky and served with life-giving green chutney), the menu includes such fun and dietary-restriction-friendly fusions as Delhi Smoked Eggplant Mash and Vindaloo Lamb Chops. When Chaiwali — a feminist play on “Chaiwala,” or “tea salesman” — opened in 2015, hospitality guru Anita Trehan sought to respectfully and strategically return Indian cuisine and culture to a block that continues to endure contentious change. (There was actually a South Asian immigrant community in Harlem in the Forties and Fifties.) That ethos is reflected in the healthier and fairly budget-conscious menu options as well as community immersion: During the Hindu New Year, Diwali, the space hosts a celebration with storytelling for children, vegetarian dinner, and Bollywood music. On regular days, the ambience in the two-story converted brownstone is nearly as festive, as warm-hued wood table setups are offset by more fanciful décor: a stuffed peacock, a tiger mural in the dining areas, and an oversize birdcage that seats ten on the outdoor patio.
274 Lenox Avenue, Manhattan