Chicago

Where to Eat Indian Food in Chicago Right Now

All picked by local South Asian restaurateurs.

Indian Garden
Indian Garden
Indian Garden

Diwali, India’s annual festival of lights, kicks off on Saturday, November 14, and while celebrations might be a bit limited this year, rest assured you can still gorge yourself on all the piping hot samosas, silky paneer, pillowy naan, and soul-warming biryani our fair city has to offer. We hit up three esteemed Chicago-based tastemakers-Zeeshan Shah of Superkhana International, ROOH Chicago’s Manish Mallick, and Ali Dewjee of Bombay Wraps’ growing empire-to get their take on the best of the best from Little India’s famed Devon Ave and beyond.

Belen Aquino
Belen Aquino
Belen Aquino

Superkhana International

Logan Square
From hand-rolled bagels slathered with chili crisp cream cheese and plump roasted butternut squash dusted with toasted pepitas and garam masala to a ghee-washed bourbon Old Fashioned and original fruit-forward syrups like the Thomcord Grape Cardamom Cordial from local bar wiz Colleen Malone’s Be Cordial line, these Logan Square boundary-pushers menu defies expectations in the most delicious way.

“Our butter chicken calzone is one example of how we’re different,” says Shah, its executive chef and co-owner. “A typical Indian spot may serve classic butter chicken with either naan or rice or both, but we wanted to present a unique experience here. It was kind of Jason’s joke during one of our early meetings. We all laughed at first, then Yoshi and I went to work on R and D. The result is something super fun while honoring the traditional flavors.”
How to order: Order pick-up ahead of time via Toast or amble up to the spot’s newly unveiled take-out window on Diversey Avenue to see (and, more importantly, taste) the magic in action.

Al Ajwaah Sweets

Little India
When Shah feels the need to satisfy his sweet tooth, the Superkhana executive chef and co-owner makes a beeline for this Little India mainstay. “The sweets are out of this world,” he raves. “I particularly love the halwa-they make a few kinds, but I really like the sooji halwa. It’s like the best version of cream of wheat if you left out half the water and added all the best sugar. It’s like nothing else.” But it’s not all lollipops and gumdrops here. “Their focus is on intensely sweet Indian desserts, but they also have very good samosas and chai,” adds Shah. “It’s the only place on Devon I actually buy chai.”.
How to order: Peruse the wares and stock up in-person at the Devon Ave cafe or get the party delivered via GrubHub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats.

ROOH
ROOH
ROOH

ROOH

West Loop
This lauded West Loop staple fits right in on restaurant row thanks to an upmarket and progressive approach to South Asian standards. “All food at ROOH Chicago is made fresh daily in the kitchen by our professionally trained team, some of whom have worked in Michelin Star restaurants in Europe,” notes owner Manish Mallick. “They work hard on making sure we serve the highest quality produce cooked with a balance of traditional Indian spices that invigorate the taste buds.” 

Tasting menus ranging from inventive brunch and dinner fare to themed lineups for holidays like Dawali and Thanksgiving lead the way, each a guided exploration of the country’s diverse culinary landscape. “My favorite is the Culinary Journey, encompassing four courses of artistically plated, delicious meals,” Mallick says, describing one of his restaurant’s signature prix-fixes. “It’s an experience to remember and salivate days after. The dishes bring flavors from all regions of India: North, South, East, West and the coastal areas. On the menu, each dish is marked with the city that inspired it so guests can take a true journey. Add the wine pairing or cocktails-Hyderabad Tonic and the Old Fashioned are my favorites-to enhance the experience.”
How to order: Reserve a seat on the heated patio for in-person dining, nab some take-out from Toast and Tock, or have the goods delivered to your door via GrubHub, DoorDash, and Caviar.

Annapurna Simply Vegetarian

Little India
According to Shah, this is Devon Avenue’s number one supplier of both standard and harder-to-find vegan and vegetarian eats. “There’s no meat in sight, and that’s great,” he says. “They do some things not everyone does, like khaman dhokla and fafda. These are so good and also so underrated in terms of what someone might expect at an ‘Indian place.'”
How to order: Drop by the sundrenched corner outpost for take-out and onsite dining options, order ahead with Toast, or have it delivered via GrubHub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats.

Moti Cafe

River North
When it comes to this laid-back River North counter-serve, Shah goes straight for the samosas. Fellow street food standouts like crispy baked fries drizzled with zippy house Moti sauce and spicy, garlic-laden vada pav share a bill with more substantial options like chicken biryani and tikka masala. Fusion-fueled spins like naan paneer pizza, curry ramen, fiery chicken vindaloo tacos, and Nepalese momos tossed in sweet chili sauce are on-hand to keep diners on their toes.
How to order: Pop into the Huron Street storefront for take-out or ride the digital wave and score pick-up and delivery from Toast, GrubHub, DoorDash, Postmates, and Uber Eats.

The Spice Room

Logan Square
This vibrant and beloved Logan Square joint is one of Shah’s local no-brainers. “I love Spice Room,” he declares. “I haven’t made a bad decision ordering from them, and I’ve ordered nearly their whole menu by now.” Highlights include a surprisingly complex and ultra-velvety lamb vindaloo, dreamy malai kofta in rich cashew sauce, and a particularly crave-worthy version of pav bhaji that consistently packs a fiery punch.
How to order: Call 773-360-8689 or check out the Armitage Ave storefront for take-out and onsite dining options or cruise over to GrubHub, Postmates, Caviar, and BeyondMenu for delivery.

Indian garden
Indian garden
Indian garden

Indian Garden

Streeterville
ROOH’s Mallick recommends this festive Streeterville addition, known for its extensive portfolio of familiar dishes and more obscure hyper-regional specialties prepared using age-old cooking methods and intoxicating spice blends. “Chicken biryani and Baingan Bharta are some of my favorite take-outs from Indian Garden,” Mallick says, praising the eatery’s off-site dining program. “The food always arrives fresh, warm, and ready to eat.”
How to order: Call 312-280-4910 or head to GrubHub, DoorDash, Postmates, and Uber Eats for take-out and delivery.

Bombay Wraps
Bombay Wraps
Bombay Wraps

Bombay Wraps

The Loop, Streeterville, Lakeview
Indian street food classics get the modern fast-casual treatment inside this decade-old crowd-pleaser’s three brick and mortar outposts. Dishes are straightforward, delicious, and always at the ready. “Chicken tikka is definitely a Bombay Wraps favorite,” says managing partner Ali Dewjee. “You can enjoy it in a wrap with a side of samosas and dipping chutney or mix up your regular lunch routine with a sandwich roll and a side of spiced potato chips. And if you’re looking for a satiating meal, chicken tikka over basmati rice with condiments and sauces are a sure hit.”
How to order: Stop into any location to check out take-away and outdoor dining options or request your pick-up and delivery online via Toast (The Loop, Streeterville, Lakeview).

Gaylord Fine Indian Cuisine

Gold Coast
This Gold Coast fine dining destination ranks high on Dewjee’s list for South Asian comforts prepared with upscale cheffy flare, even after the pandemic sidelined their legendary buffet. “When you crave the rich, warm taste and aromas of Indian food, Gaylord delivers,” she says. “Earlier in the year they had a buffet spread fit for a Maharaja and Maharani, however they continue to serve pick-up and delivery via an abbreviated-albeit tasty-menu. The chicken reshmi kebabs and the pepper fish are my favorites.”
How to order: Call 312-664-1700 or come by the E Walton Street flagship for pick-up and onsite dining info, click on MenuPages to snag take-out, or look to GrubHub and DoorDash for delivery in a flash.

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Meredith Heil is a Thrillist contributor.

Chicago

Robyn DaCultyre Is Doing It for the Culture

"The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone."

Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi

I was introduced to Robyn DaCultyre at an Untitled Queen show at C’mon Everybody in late January, and it was one of the most unique drag shows I’d seen in a while. Afterwards, I tracked down this self-described “drag creature” and video chatted about her drag origin story, the state of drag in her native Ohio, and the dual identities that make up her persona. Thrillist: I want to ask you about how Robyn DaCultyre came about and your point of view behind your performance.

Robyn DaCultyre: I’ve been travelling around the country from a young age in ministry and Christian studies. I moved to Chicago right after high school. Four years later, moved back to Columbus and decided I didn’t really want to do church anymore; that wasn’t where my heart was.

I had a really low point in my life and had a suicide attempt and then really found drag and started doing drag as a coping mechanism and way to let off steam. I started in July of 2019, and it was really a lot of punk and metal music. I created this drag creature of sorts and they were really out of this world and celestial and all of those fun alien type terms.

And then we went into a global pandemic and I had a lot of time to figure out who I wanted to be. Digitally I was still doing a lot of drag creature-esque numbers and all of that, but I had this moment where we’re on the front lines getting hit with pepper spray and rubber bullets and pepper spray-all of those lovely things. And I said, I have this platform and I need to start showcasing what’s happening.

Untitled [Queen] stepped in at the right time and messaged me and said, “I’m doing this show for Independence Day called Untitled in America with 52 different performers and I want you to be a part of it.” It was at that moment I was able to take the footage I had been recording on the front lines and incorporate it into digital content. I did a song called Black Like Me by Mickey Guyton that talks about white picket fences, but if you want to see how America is, then you should try being Black like me. The imagery of what’s literally happening in Columbus in that digital performance really spearheaded me into focusing on people who look like me.

Nina Simone is one of my biggest inspirations, and one of her quotes that resonates with me is that it’s the duty of the artist to resonate with the times. My art is politically charged. I like to entertain, but there will definitely be a time when you come to a show expecting to have your drink and be chill and that might not be the case.

How did the name Robyn DaCultyre come about?

I was smoking with Ursula Major, who was on season one of Dragula, and the first time I introduced myself to her I was Robyn Banks, which is my drag name originally. She said, “Well, do you just not want to be original at all?” [Laughs] And I sat with that for a couple of months, and I got really stoned one day and was listening to Janelle Monae, and she talks about doing it for the culture, and I said “I do it for the culture, too!” And the rest is history.

And you started a series called Melanated.

We started Melanated last February. I told the idea to my show director that there were no shows specifically run by Black people that only featured Black entertainers. I wanted to do this show for a night and she said, Why don’t we do it once a week for the whole month? The first show happens, and it’s a sold out crowd, and [my director] comes back and says we should do this every month. So I sucked it up and here we are a year later.

Melanated is the only fully Black show in all of the state. It’s a horrible marketing tool and not something I want to promote, but it is just a fact. It amazes me that we are the 13th largest city in America and there’s nothing here that’s fully focused on Black entertainers. The name also comes from Janelle Monae; she says she’s highly melanated and I said, that works.

Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)

You refer to yourself as a drag creature, as opposed to drag queen or king…

This is actually the first time I’m making this public. I am in this place where I want to separate the alternative creature from who this melanated goddess or whatever is. DaCultyre is definitely the person who runs Melanated and then Robyn is this drag creature that is out of this world and really loves punk and alternative music. And both intertwine to make Robyn DaCultyre.

You also do pageants. Tell me about that.

In 2020 I was appointed by Nina West, who is from Columbus, as the representative from Ohio for National Entertainer of the Year in Louisville, Kentucky. I placed ninth out of 13 contestants and I really fell in love with the system and fell in love with the pageantry and loved the idea of reigning and being different. I want to show that we as alternative performers, as bearded performers, you can come into these systems and shake things up.

Is there a uniquely “Ohio” style of drag?

No, and I think that’s one of the things that makes it so amazing is that everyone has their own unique style, and it’s all pretty much accepted. I started as a performer and a drag creature and there was space that was afforded to me and I transitioned to more glamor and pageantry and that’s afforded to me as well. I’ve been a bearded entertainer for a year now. The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone.

I think I have everything I need. Is there anything else I didn’t ask you about that you want to bring up, or‚Ķ

I don’t think so. Are there any generic questions you haven’t asked?

Generic questions‚ĶI think I asked all of them already [laughs]. I like to ask what you’d be doing if you weren’t doing drag?

It’s a great question. I have a day job that is very demanding so I need drag to get away. I’m also very creative and artistic. I used to do web design and all these other things to pull into my creativity. Drag is the longest thing I’ve stuck with in all parts of my life, so I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

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John deBary¬†is a drinks expert and writer. His first cocktail book,¬†Drink What You Want, is available now, and his next book,¬†Saved by the Bellini, is expected in early 2023. He is also the co-founder and president of the¬†Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of hospitality industry professionals through advocacy, grant making, and impact investing.

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