There is Indian food on 6th Street and Indian food in Little India, and then there is Indian food in Jackson Heights. Forget the Jackson Diner, walk right past it to Delhi Palace. Take a seat along with the Indian families and the tourists and the new New Yorkers there bringing their out-of-town visitors. Ignore them. Focus on the food.
Do not waste your time with the appetizers, because you will be disappointed and think, “Gosh, the food here is really not that good.” I was prepared for average Indian food until my vegetarian thali arrived:
And even in that photo, it looks unassuming and low-key, doesn’t it? I usually try to sample everything on the tray first, but this time, for some reason, I started with one dish, and then went to the dal, and then it was so yummy I thought, “well, nothing else on this tray will be this good.” Bad strategy – because when I finally tasted the dish closest to the raita, it just slayed everything else on the tray and I was so full at that point I had to take five minute breaks between each bite because I couldn’t bear not to eat it but I didn’t know how I was going to make it back up the stairs to the 7 train.
The thali is still one of my favorite Indian food experiences, it is the savior of the budget traveler in India, where the thali is bottomless and beyond cheap and you get to sample many dishes at once even if you are all by yourself. I love the order of the metal tray and the assemblage of little dishes that fit inside it. Combine this thali with my southern India appetizers (I had idli, for sentimental reasons – idli end up being breakfast food because you get tired of the Western options if you are on the backpack trail, they are cheap and filling beyond belief), and the smells and tastes put me roaming the subcontinent with a backpack again. But in Jackson Heights, it’s not bottomless, but still: Three dishes, dal, rice, raita, nan bread – and choice of dessert! So you have no excuse not to go out by yourself.
Jackson Heights on a Saturday night is an adventure unto itself. Get off at 74th and Broadway and just walk around and feel like you’re in another country. And then go next door to the sweet shop at Delhi Palace and either pick by color or by guess or let the guy behind the counter fill up a box for you. By the time you get back home you will have room for the overdrive sweetness that is Indian baked goods.