Aatish Puniani was born in India, but has lived the majority of his life in Chicago. Bringing equal parts of his homeland's slow-cooking cuisine and simple, speedy service from city life, he has created Chutney Joe's – a simple, streamlined Indian dining experience.
The space and decoration are modern, and lack any of the usual tapestries or hookahs one might find sitting in their neighborhood buffet. The experience is closer to a chain restaurant than a dinner destination, but that doesn’t quite apply to the food.
Puniani has built the menu from his father's recipes, and even if the menu is short, it doesn't skimp on flavor. The "Create-A-Meal" includes two of the eight meat or vegetable items and naan or basmati rice for a side. Meats like the chicken tikka masala or Bombay beef hold their own to most Indian restaurants, while the lamb rogan josh (the owner's recommendation) is a dish with spice that's up to the challenge of experienced taste buds, for heat and flavor.
Vegetarians can enjoy the surprisingly flavorful gobi potatoes, or a decent spinach paneer. Grab the naan as your side, which is toasted as you go through the line – it makes for an excellent utensil as well as a side. Six different chutneys are available, including a tasty mango chutney, a hot killa chutney, and the refreshing kachumar chutney (like a traditional salsa).
Drinks include masala tea, coffee, soda, or bottled water, all for $2. The bottles of mango and strawberry lassi are on the small side, and are only recommended for those who have underestimated their tolerance for spice.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Dan Morgridge