In the process of unearthing tales of “life, death, and 3am revelations,” Amy Braunshweiger has also tapped into many a cabbie’s favorite place to eat. Here, she chronicles a recent foray to Pakistan Teahouse, a hack haven in Tribeca where the food is as tasty as it is cheap.
For the past couple of years, I’ve spent my time chatting up cabbies, gathering their experiences for my book of true New York City taxicab stories, Taxi Confidential. When it came to food, more than a few of the drivers I met raved about the fare at Pakistan Tea House.
My first impression of the joint: clean, white, smells like cumin. Two men worked quickly behind the counter, dishing up heaping plates of rice, curried vegetables, meats and dahls for a steady stream of customers, while from the kitchen Michael Jackson’s “Wannabe Startin’ Somethin’” pulsed.
One glace at the menu confirmed that this had to be Tribeca’s cheapest restaurant. A meal at the Tea House costs between $5.99 and $7.49 – putting me back about as much as a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice at nearby Bubby’s.
I tucked into my plate. First, a bite of curried eggplant, the taste of roasted cumin lingering pleasantly on my tongue. The fresh scent of my green peas and onions blended with that of the basmati rice, and my lamb was tender, falling off the bone, although slightly gamey.
Focusing solely on my meal was a challenge, as my friend’s plate demanded my attention. The juicy chicken jalfrazie was cooked with onions, bell peppers and tomatoes, and the curried cabbage and peas hinted at tumeric and black pepper. The naan was crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. I wanted to steal his plate and call it my own.
While devouring the food, I kept my eye out for patrons driving up in yellow cabs – I wanted to ask them why they frequented the place. (One taxi driver had pulled away just before I walked in.) But instead of cabbies, I saw what seemed like half the neighborhood getting take-out – a man ordering rice, a woman hulling away enough food for a small sports team.
By the time I realized that the two men in smart suits with Bluetooth earpieces attached to their heads were limo drivers, they were out the door.
In fact, very few people ate their food at the restaurant. It seems the locals appreciated the tasty fare and the low price tag, but desired more in atmosphere than the Tea House’s cafeteria ambiance.
The owner, Amjad Iqbal, a slight man with salt-and-pepper hair, insists the restaurant wasn’t opened with cabbies in mind. “It’s not just for taxi drivers,” he said. “That would be discrimination!”
But with about 50% of New York’s cab drivers coming from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh, it’s hardly surprising that Pakistan Tea House’s fast, affordable food is a draw. And as the eatery is open until 4 a.m., drivers working the night shift find it a comfortable haven.
According to Iqbal, Tribeca locals swamp the place by day. After sunset, the taxi and limo drivers roar through.
As we left, Iqbal gave me a dessert that looked like a slightly hard piece of white fudge. It was candy, made with condensed milk, almonds, sugar, a sweet explosion in the mouth. “It’s very healthy,” Iqbal insisted, smiling.
Pakistan Tea House
176 Church St (bet Duane & Reade) – Tribeca
Tel: (212) 240-9800
Open: 7 days, 10am- 4am (free delivery in Manhattan)