Thalis make perhaps the world’s most perfect meal: one single plate boasts sweet, salty, and savory, protein-rich meat or beans alongside hearty grains. Sometimes you get rice, sometimes you get bread, sometimes you get both. Whatever you get at the restaurants described below will fill you up and stimulate your tastebuds. By Jessica Allen.
Every night from Tuesday to Sunday, starting at 5.30 pm, Vatan serves the same three vegetarian courses: an appetizer thali, an entree thali, and a dessert. All you have to do is choose your drinks and indicate whether you prefer mild, medium, or hot. Then you can sit back in the re-created village, under the shadow of a (fake) banyan tree, and eat as much as you care to. The sari- and kurta-clad servers will keep bringing out Gujarati specialties like bhaji (spinach and corn) until you say stop.
For lighter eaters, there’s Mustang Thakali Kitchen, in Jackson Heights. Its puri thali and vegetable thali includes lentil soup known as dal, spicy potatoes known as aloo dum, chopped greens, achar (pickles), and puffy round disks of bread known as puri. Hungrier eaters might opt for the buffalo thali, which swaps the stew’s traditional yak for buffalo, the mutton thali, the chicken thali, or the fish thali. Or you can begin your meal with a so-called chicken lollipop, a piece of chicken that’s been marinated and deep-fried.
Like its neighbors along Lexington Avenue, Bhojan specializes in Kosher Vegetarian Indian, specifically dishes from Gujarat and Punjab. In addition to its focus on chaat, or snacks, such as the samosa chaat (pictured), Bhojan makes terrific thalis, serving them up in a little dining room, where green wine bottles are chandeliers and copper pans are ceiling tiles. The vegan thali comes with dhokla, or steamed lentil cakes topped with green chilies, chapatti bread, and small sweet balls called ladoo, among other goodies.
Tiffin Wallah offers vegetarian thalis, including the overflowing Gujarati thali (pictured), filled almost to bursting with dishes like yellow dal, poori bread, date chutney, and undhiyu (eggplant, yams, and potatoes in a buttery sauce). The South India thali comes with a huge dosa, an uttapam (vegetable pancake), medu vada (lentil donut), coconut chutney, and spicy sambar (a soup made from peas and lentils). To finish, you get a small bowl of sweet almond paste with ghee and saffron known as badam halwa.
The vegetarian thali at Anjappar comes with curd, pappad, rasam (a soup made from tomatoes and lentils), sambar, achar (pickles), vegetable sabji (stew), poriyal (shredded greens and coconut), brick red kootu (pounded lentils and spices), and rice, all specialties of the region of Tamil Nadu known as Chettinad. Even though the thali comes with chappathi bread, order some parotta, buttery, fried swirls of whole wheat. With more than 30 locations around the world, Anjappar knows its way around the table.