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Chicago’s New Wave of Indian Restaurants

Superkhana International and a handful of other new spots are taking South Asian cuisine in fresh new directions.

Chef Sujan Sarkar at Rooh
Chef Sujan Sarkar at Rooh Photos: Jeff Marini

Rooh

736 W. Randolph St., West Loop

THE TAKE:Chicken tikka for the scenester set
WHY GO:This San Francisco transplant aspires to be the city’s destination for Indian fine dining. Executive chef Sujan Sarkar, who moved from the Bay Area to helm the kitchen, remixes classic dishes with contemporary techniques and unexpected ingredients. Take the tuna bhel ($15), a glorified version of the traditional savory snack, made ultra-elegant with puffed black rice, diced tuna, avocado, and green mango — more tuna poke than Indian street food. Seeking a guided culinary tour? Opt for the prix fixe ($52 per person), a four-course meal during which the waiter shares the history of each course.
UNDERRATED PICK:The crispy Kashmiri lamb ribs ($16), glazed with apricot and chile marmalade and served with pickled radish and yogurt chutney.

Superkhana International

Superkhana International

3059 W. Diversey Ave., Logan Square

THE TAKE:Indian-ish dishes in a hipster-whimsical room
WHY GO:For five years, Yoshi Yamada and Zeeshan Shah have been serving wildly creative Indian fare at the pop-up Bombay Breakdown. Consider this 74-seat restaurant, opened with help from Jason Hammel of Lula Cafe, evidence of their success. The epitome of their unapologetically madcap approach: the butter chicken calzone ($19), a folded piece of naan stuffed with chunks of roasted chicken thighs bathed in a yogurt-based marinade and a buttery tomato stock.
UNDERRATED PICK:The dhokla ($11), a steamed quick bread made of chickpea flour. The neatly sliced hunks are dressed with sautéed sweet corn and an umami bomb of pickle aïoli. Call it cornbread’s Indian doppelgänger.

Moti Cafe

70 W. Huron St., Near North Side

THE TAKE:Grab-and-go street food with a DIY twist
WHY GO:Owners Jay Patel and Rushi Shah wanted to open a restaurant that reminded them of their mothers’ cooking but remained accessible to all. The menu nods plenty to tradition, from steamed Nepalese momo dumplings ($8) to bhel ($6), the crunchy, tangy mixture of puffed rice, chickpeas, and potatoes. But this may be the only place in the city where you can customize naan ($8). The flatbread is slicked with a tikka masala sauce, ready for you to top with your choice of chicken, paneer, veggies, or even smashed samosas. Wash the goodness down with a masala chai ($4), made with spices imported from India.
UNDERRATED PICK:The Smashbrowns ($4), a mound of crispy shredded potatoes doused with Moti sauce, the cafe’s spicy take on aïoli

Vajra

1329 W. Chicago Ave., West Town

THE TAKE:An Indian restaurant that raids the butcher case
WHY GO:Chicken and lamb tend to be the dominant proteins of most South Asian restaurants, but executive chef Min Thapa likes to use less common meats — say, papaya-rubbed venison ($34), which he serves tandoori-style with a buttery makhani gravy to balance the gaminess. The menu’s real star, though, is goat, sourced from Slagel Family Farm. Choose from goat kebabs, goat steak, goat momos with a side of Sichuan tomato sauce, or a bone-free take on a five-spice goat curry that co-owners Shalin Shakya and Rabin Gora grew up eating in Nepal.
UNDERRATED PICK:The Himalayan grilled chicken breast ($20), rubbed with mustard oil and liberally seasoned with cumin, coriander, chili powder, and turmeric.

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