“Fusion cuisine” is a term often used by restaurants that serve dishes with more sugar and MSG than flavor. That is not the case at Chal Chilli, an affordable and unassuming BYOB with some of the best Thai-Indian food in Murray Hill.
Though the drink menu does include white and red “house” wine, it is best to bring your own or stick with the non-alcoholic options. As for those, the sweet and refreshing mango lassi is the perfect drink to start with, not to mention a great way to cut the heat from some of the spicier dishes.
The menu here is extensive, with a variety of classic and inventive dishes that are perfect for sharing. The fish cakes are a great dish to start with: crisp on the outside with a sweet tamarind chutney. Another solid option is the fried stuffed chicken drumsticks that are served with a delicious complementary spicy chili sauce.
As for more traditional appetizers, there are also two kinds of dumplings: vegetable and “meaty.” Served four in an order, the Meaty Dumplings are made with chicken and shrimp and come with a sweet soy dipping sauce.
Unlike many restaurants, Chal Chilli does not rely on heavy sauces to cover up low quality ingredients. Instead, each dish is expertly prepared in a way that allows the quality of the meat and vegetables to stand out. While the chicken chili pepper is very heavy on the spice – so much so that it is difficult to take more than a few bites without stopping to try and cut the heat – the majority of the dishes highlight unique ingredients and skillful preparations.
One of those highlights is the skirt Thai basil steak, a grilled tender skirt steak that is sure to satisfy any meat-lover. Served sliced with garlic, chili pepper and fresh basil, the steak is topped with a secret sauce that is made in-house and has hints of mango and hot chili.
For the heat-averse, the grilled ginger lamb chops are an excellent choice and one of the few non-spicy items on the menu. Marinated with ginger, peanut butter and herbs, the lamb chops are grilled and served with garlic sauce over sautéed mixed vegetables.
Chances are the spicy Thai and Indian dishes will leave you wanting something cold and creamy for dessert. Luckily, the dessert menu includes items that can fulfill that craving; options range from a mango coconut napoleon and fried banana with vanilla ice cream to green tea, ginger and coconut ice cream. Served in two large scoops, the coconut ice cream has a strong coconut flavor and is creamy and decadent without being too heavy. A perfect finish.
All in all, what Chal Chilli lacks in flash and flare, it makes up for in flavor. With friendly service, terrific food and the helpful BYOB policy, this is the perfect spot for a nice lunch or dinner in Murray Hill.
Location: 124 Lexington Avenue (bet 28th and 29th)
Hours of Operation: Daily 11am to 11pm