100 Best Restaurants 2011: Masala Art

Only the top 40 restaurants were ranked in 2011's Best Restaurants list.

“Bet the jockey, not the horse” is standard advice in horse handicapping. It also applies to the restaurant business, where chefs and managers hop from place to place. This subcontinental charmer is the product of partners Atul Bhola and Surinder Kumar, who worked for years at the venerable Heritage India in DC’s Glover Park—Bhola as general manager, Kumar as chef.

Their Tenleytown storefront is a quietly transportive dining room with handsomely framed prints and unshowy but excellent cooking. To diners accustomed to curry-house takeout, digging into Kumar’s interpretations is like switching from standard TV to high def. Bhel puri, a street-food salad of puffed rice, tamarind sauce, and mango, is more pungent than other renditions, while butter chicken is an explosion of tomatoes and toasted spices.

The restaurant isn’t perfect—service can be scattered, main courses are sometimes marred by overdone meats, and pacing is a problem. But to find cooking this good at prices this agreeable is cause for excitement.

Also good: Chickpea-and-onion fritters; fish in coconut curry; chicken in cashew-and-saffron curry; naan with rock salt and cilantro.

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive to moderate.

>> See all of 2011's Best Restaurants

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.