Manhattan has its slices of South Asia – Curry Hill, Curry Row in the East Village, and dhabas scattered across the island. But to fully immerse ourselves in New York’s chai culture, we trekked to Jackson Heights, Queens, the heart of the city’s South Asian community. Descending the steps from the 7 train, you might feel like you were dropped off in the middle of Mumbai – and saved the airfare! Surrounded by sweet shops, sari stores, sidewalk astrologers, and halal butchers, we knew we had come to the right place to find some of the best chai wallahs in New York.
Tinny Bollywood music drifted out of a roadside chaat shop and the smell of samosas frying filled the hot, sticky air. We bumped into a six-foot sardar pitching palm reading services. The only future we were interested in at the moment was where we were going to find the best chai in the neighborhood. Without hesitation, he directed us to Al Naimat Restaurant & Sweets at the corner of 74th St and 37th Ave. Twirling his wiry white mustache, he promised their chai was “Sab se acchi.”