Jackson Diner: Next Stop Greenwich Village

The so-called kachori chat at the new Jackson Diner -- no kachori in sight, but good nonetheless.

Long ago and far away (well, Jackson Heights, Queens), there was once a tiny café called Jackson Diner. The proprietors had taken over a Greek diner near the corner of 74th Street and 35th Avenue, and transformed the menu to meet the dining needs of Indians from every corner of the country, who were fond of shopping at the specialty groceries and sari purveyors in the vicinity and needed a snack or a meal.

A picture-perfect garlic naan was strangely served with a side of ... hummus!

In doing so, the diner was one of the first places in the city to serve the vegetarian menu of southern India, including dosas, iddlies, and utthapams. (The only previous place was an Indian franchise near the United Nations called Madras Woodlands.) For Indian food aficionados accustomed mainly to meaty Punjabi and Bangladeshi fare, this meatless cuisine came as a brain-distorting revelation.

The original Jackson Diner served meaty northern fare, too, of a fresher-tasting sort than the steam-table joints of East 6th Street. Indeed, as the Age of Foodism dawned in the mid-'90s, Jackson Diner was clearly the best cheap Indian restaurant in the city.

Well, as often happens, the place got a swelled head and moved into a far larger space on the same block, closer to the subway. The new space was dramatic and modernistic and obviously designed by someone who thought of himself as an interior designer, and the old restaurant's sense of intimacy and quaintness was entirely lost. The food wasn't quite as good either, though, as compensation, Jackson Diner mounted a large and magnificent buffet that became the standard by which all others are judged.

Although we ordered goat vindaloo, the waiter brought chicken vinadaloo instead -- but it was properly spicy and generously portioned.

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