F&W Game Changers: Chintan Pandya and Roni Mazumdar
Fifteen hundred people. That is the average waitlist on a given night for Dhamaka, chef Chintan Pandya and restaurateur Roni Mazumdar's high-energy Indian restaurant on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Reservations open at midnight a month ahead of time, and within a few hours every table is booked by diners eager to get their hands on skewers of juicy goat belly seekh kebabs and cooked-to-order chicken pulao. Dhamaka, one of four Indian concepts in New York City owned by Pandya and Mazumdar, specializes in regional Indian dishes that aren't often found on restaurant menus. There is no chicken tikka masala on the menu — nor will there ever be.
Like Dhamaka, Pandya and Mazumdar's other three concepts — Semma, Adda, and Rowdy Rooster — are a far cry from the standard Indian restaurant in the West, restaurants with white table clothes, red linens, and old Bollywood movies playing on the televisions. Restaurants where the menus are filled with the same list of British curry house classics that fail to represent even one percent of the culinary diversity Indian cuisine has to offer. The duo is on a mission to change the way diners think about Indian food and showcase the range and depth the cuisine actually has. In the process, each one of their restaurants pushes the boundaries and palates of their customers, often exposing them to dishes they've never encountered before, whether they are familiar with Indian food or not. Their approach has been successful: tables at their restaurants are some of the hardest to get in the city, and they've raked in a slew of accolades from places like The New York Times and the James Beard Foundation.
At Semma, Pandya and Mazumdar prove that goat intestines, snails, and oxtails are all pillars of South Indian cooking, seen through the eyes of chef Vijay Kumar, who is given room to showcase many of his favorite childhood (and rarely-found-in-restaurants) dishes. At Adda Indian Canteen, a 2019 F&W Best New Restaurant, North Indian home cooking is put under the spotlight with everything from house-made paneer (also a rarity in restaurants) to perfect, tender goat biryani. Rowdy Rooster, which opened in February 2022, is set to change the face of Indian fast-casual restaurants: There are mega lines for their Indian fried chicken sandwiches and assortment of other street-style snacks.
It's about time that an Indian restaurant was on the tip of everyone's tongue as the most exciting opening in the New York City, the way Chinese, Mexican, French, Thai, and American restaurants have long dominated that list. Thanks to Pandya and Mazumdar, who have been on an opening spree over the past year and half, it's not just one Indian restaurant that people can't wait to tell you to try, there are four different spots — with more on the way.