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Chai Pani in Asheville, N.C. Serving Indian Street Food Wins James Beard Award for Best Restaurant in America

Chai Pani in Asheville, N.C. Serving Indian Street Food Wins James Beard Award for Best Restaurant in America

  • Chintan Pandya of Manhattan-based Dhamaka wins the best chef award in New York state.

Meherwan Iran’s Chai Pani, based in Asheville, North Carolina, serving Indian street food, has won the James Beard award for the Best Restaurant in the U.S. The awards were presented on June 13 by the James Beard Foundation in Chicago. The title of the Best Chef in New York state went to Chintan Pandya of Dhamaka in Manhattan. 

The five-time James Beard-nominated chef opened Chai Pani in 2009 in Asheville and has branched out in other cities as well. “Chai Pani literally means tea and water, and is a slang term in India for going out for a cup of tea, a tasty bite, a snack, or a little something,” says the restaurant’s website. 

“Restaurants are so much greater than the sum of what’s inside the four walls,” said Irani, while accepting the award. “A restaurant has the power to transform – transform the people that work there, transform the people that come in, transform the communities we’re in, transform society. Restaurants can transform the world.”

The London-born and India-raised Irani quit his day job in sales in 2009 to open Chai Pani in Asheville, after which he launched Spicewalla in 2017 to supply fresh spices, first to chefs and now to home cooks. He then opened a second Chai Pani in Decatur, Georgia, as well as an Indian street grill, Botiwalla, in Atlanta’s Ponce City Market. He also owns Buxton Hall BBQ in Asheville, as well as Nani’s Piri Piri Chicken, in both Asheville and Decatur.

Dhamaka is among the newest Indian restaurants to create a splash in the New York City food scene. It is one of four restaurants owned by Pandya and restaurateur Roni Mazumdar and specializes in regional Indian dishes that aren’t often found on restaurant menus. The duo also owns Adda in Long Island City as well as Semma and Rowdy Rooster in Manhattan.

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According to Food and Wine magazine, “the duo is on a mission to change the way diners think about Indian food and showcase the range and depth the cuisine actually has.” So, each one of their restaurants “pushes the boundaries and palates of their customers, often exposing them to dishes they’ve never encountered before, whether they are familiar with Indian food or not.” Their formula seems to have worked. Their tables are some of the hardest to get in the city, and they’ve some stellar reviews and accolades. 

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