Once, on our way out of Bukhara Grill, a guy in a suit asked us when we were coming back to the restaurant. “Haha, soon,” we said, caught off guard. He did not accept this answer. He wanted details.
It was like the moment at the end of a first date. After you share a weird hug and then instinctually say things like, “I had a really good time tonight,” and, “Yeah, let’s do this again soon!” But unlike the cringy goodbye with someone who posed with a Pomeranian for their dating profile picture, you don’t have to lie to the man in the suit at Bukhara Grill about when you’ll see each other next. You’ll want to schedule another dinner at this Indian restaurant in Midtown East as soon as you leave.
Bukhara Grill specializes in Northern Indian food, and their specialty is a namesake dal that was originally made famous by a hotel in Delhi. The restaurant opened in 1999, takes up an entire townhouse on East 49th Street, and has likely catered thousands of United Nations lunches over the years.
UN diplomat or not, there are a few ways you should incorporate Bukhara Grill into your life. One is their daily lunch buffet, which costs exactly $14.95 and comes with salad, naan, and about fifteen steaming pots of fried vegetables, biryani, rich bhuna curries, and charred claypot meats. Another way is to come here with a big group for an impromptu celebration, where the “Bukhara” embroidered bib napkins are required dress code, and beer and raita act as party punch.
Like many Indian restaurants, Bukhara is an excellent option for people who don’t eat meat. Especially because the best thing here, the dal bukhara, has absolutely no trace of anything that ever had a face. It’s made with black lentils and cooked so that some bites are chewy and others are smooth and creamy. This dal doesn’t have any cheese in it, but do a blind taste test with the lactose-tolerant community and we’d bet most people would guess it does. If you eat meat though, you can’t leave without trying something with lamb (the balti gosht is great) as well as the chicken makhani, which comes in a tomato-based masala sauce and arrives at your table in a trophy cup.
While you’re here, you’ll inevitably see a few men in suits like the one who caught us on our way out. They’ll be floating around the restaurant, checking in with diners, and possibly offering you complimentary cognac at the end of your meal. Between the immediate sense of hospitality and incredible dal and stewed meats, it’s really easy to answer the question “when are you coming back?” All you have to do is pick a date.
This garlic naan comes in the shape and size of a horse saddle, and sort of droops like one of Dali’s clocks. It’s fluffy, full of big dough bubbles, and you absolutely need to order it to soak up all the chicken makhani and dal. There are a bunch of other varieties of naan, as well as paratha and roti (and an $18 bread basket that we fully endorse for a group).
This is a cold appetizer with a pile of little pillow-y crackers and chickpeas topped with yogurt, a spicy tamarind sauce, and mint chutney. If you’re with a group, go for it. But otherwise, focus on the dal, naan, and chicken makhani.
Even bad samosas are kind of great. But, in hindsight, Bukhara’s will make those other samosas seem like exes from a former life. Each one is filled with a steaming-hot mixture of potatoes, peas, and lentils that will probably burn the roof of your mouth if you’re not patient.
We can’t say enough about this dal. Dip your paratha in it, drench your rice with it, invent technology so that we can all use it as an alternative fossil fuel. The world would smell a lot better with these creamy dal fumes in the air. Make sure to get this with some rice, naan, and raita.
A trophy cup filled with tangy, sweet stew and tender pieces of chicken. Get it spicy and use the naan to sop it all up. It’s excellent, and if we had a trophy room in our house, we’d keep this in there.
Another solid vegetarian option that comes with chickpeas and paneer. Even though it’s perfectly good, this vegetable dish is sort of “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” in comparison to the dal bukhara.
Technically this is an appetizer, but it comes as a pretty large portion of char-grilled boneless chicken pieces. It’s lemony, simple, and really good with all of the other rich flavors that will inevitably end up on your plate.
There are a bunch of meats to try at Bukhara, and they’re all cooked in a claypot oven on the first floor of Bukhara’s townhouse. These lamb chops are insanely large, well-done, and pre-marinated in yogurt sauce, so they’ll give your mouth somewhat of an acidic fuzz. It’s not bad, but it’s very specific.