With Masala Wala, the Indian Street-Food Trend Heats Up

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Photo: Jenny Miller

First came a boom in high-end Indian cooking, and now the trend seems to be going the other way. When Masala Wala opens at 179 Essex Street in July, it'll be downtown's third fast-casual Indian spot this year, following newcomers Thelewala and Masala Twist. Owner Roni Mazumdar tells Grub Street he plans to serve "healthy fast food" that draws from "Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi street food." That'll mean some familiar dishes like samosas and masala dosas, and other less well-known (around here) specialties such as mughlai paratha (Indian/Bangladeshi stuffed bread), halim (a Pakistani dish of lentils, wheat, and lamb, slow-cooked overnight and then steamed), and newfangled preparations like biriyani "bowls," with a price point of less than $10 for a meal.

The 30-seat eatery is designed as a hangout spot, with free Wi-Fi and beverages like lassis, "pink" tea, Madrasi coffee, and beer — and, eventually, Indian breakfast. Mazumdar, a former technology product manager, also plans to introduce iPhone ordering at some point, and he's unabashed about his ambitions to turn the concept into a franchise, perhaps something like "Chipotle, the Indian version," he says. This is also kind of similar to the Tiffin Box from ANGR, but not vegetarian. Wonder what Bobby Flay and Curtis Stone would've thought of this one!