In New York, street food is usually not that spectacular. Typically, it’s either a hot dog, a hefty plate of Halal food that may or may not give you food poisoning (I have had my fair share of that), or tacos, if you luck out. They are cheap and filling, but it’s a risk not worth taking in most cases. Street food out of carts is not limited only to the five boroughs, but has been a worldwide way to sell food for ages. You can get Tako Yaki in Japan, rice cakes in China, and all sorts of things in India, which is where our cuisine will be originating from in this review.
Owned by Shiva Natarajan, “THELEwala” is a restaurant that specializes in Calcutta street food. About the same size as “Meatball Obsession” was from the outside, this diminutive eatery is slightly bigger on the inside, with enough room for a kitchen and some stools. Don’t let the size fool you, as what it lacks in scale, they make up for with their food.
Specializing in three types of Indian street food, diners can choose from different Nizami rolls (your best option for food on the go), Basti Khana (which are different warm meals), and Chaatwala, which are cold vegetarian dishes. All of the items are made fresh to order right in front of you, along with a perpetually fresh brewed pot of Masala Chai tea. If you were expecting an overpowering curry smell from this Indian place like you may have noticed at others you have visited, you will be pleased to know that the only thing you will smell is an odorless and efficient kitchen that is making some great vegetarian food, along with some lamb and chicken options.
This mammoth plate is the Tawa Chicken Fry, a hearty portion of sliced chicken, sauteed with red onions, red bell peppers, fresh coriander, and their own special Masala seasoning on top. Served with two parathas, which are essentially the Indian equivalent of tortillas, except these are traditionally made with whole wheat flour instead of corn or white flour, this is quite a bargain at $8. In terms of sheer size alone, this is an enormous portion that I could easily see costing double at a proper sitdown restaurant.
Once you get the plate under your nose, the different aromas all start to come together. The sweetness of the slightly caramelized red onion with that spicy Masala blend on the grilled chicken is a harmonious combo, tied together with the coriander adding some freshness to the meal. There is a very nice heat in this dish, and it can be made spicier if you ask for it. For me, this was the perfect amount of heat, bordering on the point where I was feeling it in my mouth and face, but not to the point where my nose was running and my eyes were tearing up. On the plus side, it totally cleared up my sinuses!
Getting this much food that tastes and looks great for that price is insane. I ended up ordering an additional paratha (which will cost you $1 per additional paratha) because I had plenty of food left over, and also because I just enjoyed the bread. The parathas are made fresh on the premises, coated with ghee and heated up to order. You can basically make a very filling Indian burrito with these, especially since the dough is thick and sturdy, while at the same time buttery and flavorful.
My visit to “THELEwala” was intense. There was a lot for my nose and taste buds to handle, but it was a great experience and a place I will be returning to often. I definitely have to try a Nizami rolls next time, maybe the Lime Paneer roll with grilled cheese, red onions, and coriander, or the Chapli roll with lamb and fried eggs. I have heard good things about their Chaat’s as well, and the menu is the perfect size to be able to get a taste of different things without having to spend absurd amounts of cash.
I highly recommend checking this place out, as it is a diamond in the rough on MacDougal Street. I managed to get the most expensive item on the menu, with other options as cheap as $3.50! The best news about this place is that they open at 11:30, and stay open until 2 AM on most weekdays and 5 AM on weekends! “THELEwala” has demystified Indian street food and made it incredibly accessible and tasty to New Yorkers. While I can not speak for how authentic it may be, I can attest to how amazing my meal was, and I hope to become a regular customer.
“THELEwala” is located on 112 MacDougal Street in NYC.