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$20 Dinner

A Love Letter to Doaba Deli, a Homey Community Hub

This South Asian steam table spot—with a rare public restroom!—has been feeding students and cabbies cheaply and well since 2009.

The exterior of South Asian steam table restaurant Doaba Deli.
(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

In a perfect world, there would be hundreds of places like Doaba Deli all over the city. I'm talking simple, welcoming spots where you could stop in for a plate of cheap, perfectly good food, something warm to drink, and a bit of fellowship—no drama, no frills, and no-questions-asked access to a reasonably clean bathroom. 

Actually, in a perfect perfect world, such places would be funded and operated in a loving and non-corrupt manner by the City itself, as a necessary public service. But until that day comes, at least we have people like Inderjit Singh, who opened Doaba Deli almost 15 years ago and has been feeding people from all walks of life—though Columbia students and cabbies seem to make up the bulk of his clientele—ever since.  

Your menu is whatever you see at the steam table. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Does 15 years sound like not that long ago? Maybe, but the place feels like it's been here much longer than that. Other than the freshly painted, alarmingly green walls, Doaba Deli has a very lived-in vibe, with battered tables, faded signage, and a single, smeary menu whose prices have been updated by hand over the years. 

Thankfully, those prices have not gone up by much. The standard order here is a choice of three (usually vegetarian) dishes served with either rice or roti. It used to be $7, and now it's $10. Samosas are $1.50 extra. And really, ignore the menu. Whatever's set out in the steam table is what's available.  

Three dishes (dal, spinach, and squash) and rice, $10. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)
Three dishes (cabbage patta gobi, chickpeas, red bean radima) and roti, $10; the samosas are $1.50 each. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

When we went on a recent Saturday night, that included some decent yellow daal, a good spinach and mustard saag, a sweet squash dish that we liked a lot, and some chunky cabbage patta gobi. The white rice and freshly warmed roti were both fine, and the samosas were great. Several of our fellow patrons popped in just to wolf a pair of these latter savory pastries with a cup of chai. Everything can be given a zippy boost from the pickled achaar that sits at each table, which I suggest you spoon on with abandon.  

Enjoying the fare, handmade or not. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Despite signs boasting that Doaba serves "America's finest handmade paratha," and, additionally, that this is the "paratha capital of New York City," that particular style of flatbread was unavailable when we went. In fact, evidence—via unconcealed storage areas in the clearly visible kitchen—suggests that these days Doaba Deli is mostly heating up (or, in the case of our mango lassi, pouring out) institutional fare from bulk-sized containers rather than making stuff from scratch. 

That's not what I remember from years ago, but also, it's fine? Food-wise, Punjabi Deli in the East Village remains the gold standard among the city's South Asian steam table spots, but Doaba gets the job done too, and provides an important resource in a neighborhood that often treats the workers it relies upon (for food delivery, or ride share services) with disdain. 

Doaba Deli is located at 945 Columbus Avenue, between 106th and 107th Streets, and is currently open from 10:00 a.m. to midnight daily. 

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