When we first went to the original Babu Ji, we couldn’t stop talking about it. From summer to fall of 2015, while other people were starting conversations with questions like, “What TV shows are you watching now that Mad Men is over?” and “Should I really see a hip hop musical about Alexander Hamilton?,” we were asking everyone we encountered in NYC one thing: whether they’d tried Babu Ji yet.
That first U.S. iteration of Babu Ji (they started in Australia) was something very special. The small, bright room on Avenue B was buzzing, the service made you feel like you were a guest at a cool dinner party, and there was an overall sense that you’d stumbled into a one-of-a-kind spot. And the Indian food - a mix of traditional dishes with some twists - was really, really good.
Unfortunately, that original Babu Ji is no more, but they are back in business with a new space on 13th and 5th. While some of that 2015 magic is gone, you can still have a nice meal here.
The magic has gotten lost in the shuffle largely because the new location near Union Square is bigger and more corporate-feeling. That’s not to say it’s the kind of place you’d find in Midtown, but it’s also no longer the kind of place you’d find on Avenue B. It’s a bit like your favorite web series getting picked up by HBO - there’s a guy in a suit walking around now, and you’re not exactly sure what his job is other than to look important. To make the most of the space, you definitely want to sit upstairs if you can. The self-serve beer fridge is up there, and it’s brighter and a bit more fun than the dark, below-street level ground floor.
The menu is more or less the same as it was before, and there are traditional dishes like Tandoor Chicken, as well as more creative ones like General Tso’s Cauliflower. We’ve found that when everything’s going smoothly, the food here is still very, very good. But we’ve also experienced a few service hiccups where dishes came out not quite warm enough, or all at once very quickly. If you want to guarantee comfortable pacing of your meal and want to try a lot, you should consider the $62 tasting menu, which lets you sample a big mix of the menu, and isn’t a bad idea if you’re willing to spend. A la carte will certainly cost a bit less, but it’s not going to be a cheap meal either way - the dishes aren’t huge and they do add up very quickly. There isn’t a right or wrong way to do it.
Put it this way: bringing up Babu Ji isn’t going to be our lifeline in cocktail party conversation anymore. But if you never made it to the original, or are looking specifically for quality Indian food in a nice environment, we’d confidently send you to Babu Ji.
For what it’s worth, we still haven’t been to Hamilton.
These are crispy puffs filled with tamarind juice and yogurt. Pop them in your mouth and take them down in one bite. Get them as a starter.
This thing reminds us of a jalapeno popper. There’s a goat cheese-like yogurt inside, and a beet-ginger sauce. Always a worthy starter.
One of Babu Ji’s signature dishes, we’ve found it to be a bit too sweet on recent visits. It’s crispy and tasty, but it’s not an absolute must-order.
A super rich pot of chicken curry, this is always satisfying and worth getting if you want a curry dish. Get some rice and naan to scoop up the sauce.
While the curry is enjoyable, the tandoor chicken has become our preferred chicken dish at Babu Ji.
A piece of grilled fish might not be the first thing that jumps out to you here, but it’s actually one of the best things on the menu, thanks to the great ginger-honey sauce.
The lamb chops come with a nice yogurt raita and apricot chutney, but we think there are better options in the tandoor section. Get them if you really love lamb.
“Naan pizza” loaded with tons of cheese and garlic, and some pickled green mango butter sounds like it would be awesome. But it’s not, and tastes like something someone made in a toaster oven while slightly high. The plain naan here is good and doesn’t need a bunch of cheese on it.