One of the many mysteries I’ve wondered about since I started driving a cab is why so many cabbies hang out near the taxi stand on 9th Avenue near 20th St. Starting around 10am (lunch time for day drivers who start at 5am), almost every car on the block belongs to a hack.
Today, thanks to a tip from Taxi Gourmet reader Salem P., I tasted the reason: Dil-e Punjab, a 24-hour vegetarian deli that specializes in enthusiastic welcomes and $6 South Asian lunches.
During the 15 minutes I spent there – scarfing down a delicious platter of chick peas, mustard greens with tofu, and ginger and green chili-laced spinach that would easily feed two – I watched the staff greet every man who walked into the place with what sounded like, “Heeeey!! What’s up? Great to see you!” – or whatever the Punjabi equivalent might be.
Who were the customers? Who were the employees? It was hard to tell at first. What was clear: they all seemed to know each other and be delighted to see one another. It felt like the Punjabi answer to “Cheers.” (Minus alchohol, plus tea.)
And it has the same port-in-a-storm quality as the other two spots – water is free, the bathroom is always open, chilies are everywhere, tabla drums pump through the ghetto blaster – although breath mints outnumber painkillers and the $4 CD collection is far larger than Lahore’s.
Except for the rice pudding that comes with the lunch platter (short on cardamom, long on milk) the food at Dil-e is just as tasty as it is at Lahore and Punjabi in the East Village, despite the fact that it sits in hotel pans and gets zapped in a microwave.
In fact, I’d have a hard time deciding which of the three spots does its dishes best – maybe a dirt-cheap deli taste test is in order?
Or it just a question of going to whichever spot is closest? I’m not sure, but I know I’ll be back. Especially if Harbhjan Singh is working the counter. Every time I thanked him, he would come back with “Thank you, too.” I could tell he meant it.
170 9th Ave (between 20th St & 21st St)
Tel. (212) 647-9428
Open: 24 hours/7 days