Lexington Ave and 27th Street is not just another intersection in Manhattan, it is ground zero for cheap Indian eateries in NYC, dubbed “Curry Hill”. In the past few months we have visited two of these seemingly similar places and had two very different experiences.

Saravanna Bhavan
81 Lexington Ave at 26th, Murray Hill

Before I entered the door, I thought this place had better be good, because it’s not going to get far in name recognition from non-Indians. But little did I know that this is a large Indian chain with outposts all over the world. And while the food was fair and inexpensive, I felt like a number and the food was churned out in more of a fast-food format. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing for an interesting, fast meal. And with Indian food, I never mind a vegetarian menu. We had some dumplings and fritters and cakes, which were all tasty and come with the exact same sauces. The main draw here is the foot long, paper-thin dosas. Their size is overwhelming, but they are actually light and flavorful, especially with the trio of spicy condiments. While I am not running back to Sarvavanna, you could probably do worse in terms of value and convenience in Curry Hill.

Tiffin Wallah
127 East 28th Street at Lexington, Murray Hill

Tiffin Wallah is one block away, also serves inexpensive vegetarian Indian food, but is in a different class in terms of overall experience. It’s popular and usually packed with a young crowd, but has more of a mom and pop feel than Saravanna, probably because it is not a chain and has warm service and a genuine feel. We very much enjoyed the Thali Dinners, which is a sampler platter delivered in little metal cups, which I gather is what a thali is. We shared a north Indian and south platter to contrast the differences in dishes. They are Tiffin Wallah: papadum, palak paneer, chana masala, rasam, raita, chapati, pulav & kheer and South India idli, medu vada, masala dosa, uttapam, sambar, coconut chutney & badam halwa. They are not cheap at $14.50, but are much better than ordering all the dishes, rice and breads separately, and was more food than we could even finish. We found the experience fun, the food delicious, and would definitely come here again. (But they do need to work on their website =).