The MasalaWala

Delectable curries and Indian street eats in the LES

By Erik Mathes

With all of the options traditional and modern in the city, you’ve no doubt tried a variety of Indian curries in your time, but have you ever dabbled in Indian street food? We’re talking things like pani puri, semolina puffs filled with potatoes and tangy tamarind sauce, straight from Kolkata’s Chowringhee neighborhood; dahi puri, yogurt-filled pastries with chickpeas and potatoes, from the food stalls of Chandni Chowk market in Old Delhi; and crispy, crunchy, saucy and spicy aloo papri chaat, also with potatoes, chickpeas, and yogurt, but adding in pomegranate seeds and crispy wafers, typically served from roadside stalls carts in east India.

Lucky for you, The MasalaWala on Essex Street serves up a variety of street eats, in addition to a selection of classic curries (and other hot dishes), so you have the best of both worlds all under one roof. Staples like yogurt-marinated tandoori chicken; paneer tikka masala, with Indian-style pressed cheese in creamy, fenugreek-spiced tomato sauce; and Malai tiger shrimp, marinated in sour cream, sesame oil and nutmeg and grilled in a clay tandoor, are all available here for those who crave familiar Indian flavors. Meanwhile, street snacks like Chowpatty bhelpuri, a mix of puffed rice, curry leaves, tamarind, and mint, and samosa chaat—crispy turnovers filled with spiced potatoes and peas and topped with chopped onions, yogurt, spiced chickpeas, chutney, and pomegranate—draw in those seeking the next frontier.

The restaurant’s friendly owner, who goes by Mr. MasalaWala, is proud of the restaurant’s “Taste Above All” slogan, but he and his staff place plenty of emphasis on warm, welcoming hospitality, too. Servers will gladly answer any questions about unfamiliar ingredients and explain how to properly eat dishes like, say, the pani puri. (Here’s the scoop: carefully pour the tamarind sauce inside the hole at the top of your semolina puff, and then stuff it into your mouth in one bite—otherwise you’ll be covered in sauce.)

Here’s another new thing you’re going to love trying: a complimentary plate of one of Mr. MasalaWala’s favorite dishes, the Kolkata gobi Manchurian. Think crispy fried cauliflower florets tossed in a sweet and tangy sauce with ginger, garlic, and a fusion of Indian and Chinese spices, all topped with chopped scallions. For the finishing touch, end on a sweet note with a mango or pistachio wala kulfi, Indian-style frozen desserts made with cream and, surprisingly, no added sugar. Served cut into bite-size pieces and with tiny forks, it’s an experience you wouldn’t expect, all the more appropriate to end a meal unlike most others you’ll have in NYC.


noon–midnight daily

price range

$12 (dal makhani) to $22 (Atlantic salmon tikka masala)