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The List

Thelewala Restaurant at 112 MacDougal Street

Some time ago, a friend and fellow diner began to routinely ask of a new place, “So, are we putting it on The List“? The List is now one that is shared between a number of friends I typically eat with.
Any New Yorker who eats out frequently (or every meal) typically keeps a mental list of restaurants. Such a list is dynamic, changing organically over time as places are added and others dropped. Eating becomes an exercise in balancing mood and desire with deciding which place or cuisine should be next in the rotation. Exploring new restaurants becomes not just a quest for variety for one meal but also simultaneously judging whether the place is a candidate to be added to The List. Of course in the case of a group list, not every member is equally enamored with every restaurant, so the choice of where to eat as a group also takes into consideration places that may be less liked or be the favorites of others.

Historically, MacDougal Street (between West 3rd Street and Bleecker) has not been a place to canvas if you are looking for quality merchandise or good food. It is arguably one of the tackiest and most touristy streets in New York City. There are a handful of places that have found favor with locals such as Olive Tree, Mamoun’s Falafel, and Panchito’s, but generally, I have avoided the block. However, in the past year or so, there have been quite a number of shop openings, all newly and nicely done, and I have dabbled down the block, discovering a few places of note.

I love Indian food, and a tiny place, Thelewala at 112 MacDougal, recently caught my eye one evening – the street outside the restaurant was overflowing with a large number of young Indian Americans. Any ethnic restaurant dominated by customers of that ethnicity is a good sign. The window was virtually wall papered with glowing reviews from reputable sources such as the New York Times, which called it one of the 10 best inexpensive restaurants of 2011. Trying it out was necessary, and I was not disappointed.

I have eaten Indian cuisine for decades but did not recognize the words Thelewala, Nizami, or many of the entrees. I learned that Thelewala is a street cart vendor in India, so, as I suspected, this food offering was a departure from standard Indian fare that I was acquainted with. From the New York Times:

This is street food at its brightest and most fresh. Thelewala is nominally a restaurant — it has a counter, a few stools — but the menu is short (six rolls, three platters, four chaats, no desserts) and cheap (the most expensive item is $8). According to the owner, Shiva Natarajan, whose portfolio of restaurants includes Dhaba and Bhojan, it’s the kind of late-night fare that vendors hawk to idling cars in his native Kolkata (formerly Calcutta).

Like everything at Thelewala, the chaats are painstakingly made to order. There is no holding pattern here, no steam tables or heat lamps. Order a Thelewala chicken roll ($4.50), and strips of hormone-free chicken are pulled out of a marinade of green chile, cilantro, ginger and garlic, and cooked on the griddle. It’s what you’d expect in the middle of the day; it’s dazzling to find such care and craft at 4 a.m.

The food is delicious, and without consultation or the vote of my friends, I have added Thelewala to The List :)

2 Responses to The List

  1. def want to check this place out

  2. Brian Dubé says:

    you should – a great find for quick eats.


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