Asad Sheikh says Indian restaurants in D.C. have been too tame on “Americanized” palates. With Bombay Street Food, which he hopes to open in Columbia Heights by the end of November, the founder of the Curry Mantra chain in Northern Virginia wants to give the District a true taste of the fiery food stalls that peppered his youth.
Although there are two Bindaas locations slinging Indian street food in Washington, Sheikh insists the city hasn’t seen anything like what he’s about to bring. “The Mumbai street food was missing big time in D.C.,” Sheikh tells Eater, later promising, “You will get a nice kick of the spices.”
One of Sheikh’s favorite selections is the pav bhaji, which he says translates to spicy potato gravy on a soft roll. The filling is mashed with tomato, onions and cilantro. Other pav selections include a keema pav — minced lamb or chicken with ginger and garlic — and a vada pav, another spiced potato dish marketed as an Indian veggie burger.
Stateside staples such as butter chicken and tikka masala will also be served. A monsoon season section of the menu are another nod to Sheikh’s hometown of Mumbai, where people wait out the rain while snacking on pakoras (vegetable or cheese fritters) and drinking glasses of chai tea.
The city’s name was officially changed to Mumbai from the English-colonial Bombay in 1995, but Sheikh said he still thinks of the place he grew up as Bombay.
After a tipster sent Popville a picture of Bombay’s “coming soon” sign in the former Vietnamese Chelsea building at 1413 Park Road NW, Eater called the office line, and Sheikh picked up the phone.
He says he’s partnered with chef Pradip Shrestha, a longtime collaborator under an umbrella that has included three Curry Mantra locations, London Curry House, and 1947. The original Curry Mantra’s bhel puri — a mixed bowl of puffed rice, vegetables, and chutneys — impressed Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema back in 2011.
Although Sheikh aggressively expanded from his first Fairfax restaurant to Falls Church, Vienna, and Alexandria, he said he’s sold his Virginia businesses so he can direct all his efforts toward D.C. “The District needs complete focus,” he says. “I’d rather focus in D.C. and grow in D.C. with this concept.”
Sheikh does, however, consult with his former kitchens to maintain the original standards.
For this latest labor of love, Sheikh says he and Shrestha recently took a 10-day research trip to Mumbai to visit the masters of street food embedded in his memory. According to Sheikh, who says he’s been in the U.S. for 18 years, all the best purveyors are right where he left them. “It’s second and third generations there,” he says.