>> Chawlas2 | Eat the World NYC

08 February 2021



COVID-19 UPDATE: Chawlas2 is takeout only for the moment, but there is a triangle park on the same block with convenient benches for would-be outdoor diners. You can also order online through their website.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Written by Joseph Gessert, photographed by Liv Dillon.

Chawlas2 is not the second of two restaurants, as you might guess from the name, but is rather the first US outpost of a chain that started in 1960 in Uttar Pradesh, a province in northern India near Punjab. The location is somewhat inauspicious, at the far edge of Queens near JFK. Despite the cars whizzing by on Rockaway Boulevard, the restaurant draws repeat diners from the neighborhood and across Brooklyn and Queens.

Chawla’s signature dish cream chicken ($11.99, below) is a variation on butter chicken, with the gravy bolstered by cream and green cardamon, and all the red parts omitted. The seasoning is sublime, and a nice contrast to the usual over-the-top fireworks of Indian flavor profiles. It goes best with plenty of naan or rice.

Speaking of naan, keema naan with gravy ($7.49) is a real standout from the sides menu. The naan is stuffed with seasoned ground chicken and served with a container of mutton gravy. There’s no chunks of meat in the gravy, but the flavor leaves no doubt that sheep were involved in the preparation.

Also on the sides menu are several chaats, Indian and Pakistani snacks that combine various contrasts: hot and cold, sweet and tangy, soft and crunchy. Chawla’s samosa chaat ($6.49, not shown) is a strong rendition of a great dish, with chopped-up samosas topped with chickpeas, potato, yoghurt, and the dueling chutneys of mint and tamarind. Pani puri are off the menu for the moment, presumably because they lose their crunch in takeout form, but papri chaat ($6.49, below) fills in nicely, with the samosas replaced with fried crackers.

There is a range of tandoori items, and both meat and vegetable curries, though vegetarians in the neighborhood might be better off down the block at Satguru Sweets, which has a full menu of veggie items. Chawlas’ chili mushrooms ($10.99, above) reflect Uttar Pradesh’s proximity to the borders with Nepal and Tibet, with the chili gravy more reminiscent of familiar Chinese dishes than most Indian food.

Chawlas2 is just off the Van Wyck Expressway, on a three-block stretch of businesses that includes four Indian restaurants, a Guyanese restaurant, a Guyanese-Chinese restaurant, two Jamaican restaurants, a Chinese-Thai-Indian restaurant, and more. Stop at Chawlas2 for the cream chicken and keema naan, and then maybe add a dish or two from one of the other restaurants down the block. The connections built between peoples by geography and immigration are present in the menus, and we very are privileged in New York to have access to all of these cuisines in such close proximity to one another. Maybe dropping your friend off at JFK doesn’t have to be such a chore after all.


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