Arts & Entertainment

After Nearly 25 Years, Delhi Dhaba Thrives in Clarendon

The Masala Papad at Delhi Dhaba is a refreshing and light appetizer, but it can get messy. (Photo: News-Press)
The Masala Papad at Delhi Dhaba is a refreshing and light appetizer, but it can get messy. (Photo: News-Press)

With all of the change that’s been characteristic of Arlington’s Clarendon neighborhood over the past decade, one restaurant that has persevered has been Delhi Dhaba. The Indian eatery was established in 1991 by an family of Arlingtonians who emigrated from New Delhi to the United States in the ‘70s.

In India, a Dhaba is a restaurant or cafe found along the highways and on the outskirts of cities, towns and villages. Originally they were started by Punjabs to meet the demand for nourishment from truckers who wanted Punjabi food around the clock.

Arlington’s Delhi Dhaba isn’t on the outskirts of town, but it is along one of the county’s major thoroughfares, Wilson Boulevard. And to those who grew up in Arlington, at least in my generation of Arlingtonians, it’s a staple of Clarendon’s landscape.

The restaurant’s most recent play at thriving in the new (read: gentrifying) Clarendon is a renovation the restaurant underwent in 2012. It definitely looks more modern now than it did then, even though they were updating their look from the ‘90s to now as opposed to the ‘70s or ‘80s to now.

Delhi Dhaba’s menu size is about par for the course for an Indian restaurant. They have a bunch of options, more so than most traditional American restaurants, but not nearly as many as say Saran Indian Cuisine. Saran is closed for its own round of of renovations, though, so Delhi Dhaba is a good alternative if your favorite is the multi-region restaurant on Lee Highway.

For example, their appetizer section is slightly smaller than Saran’s, though it has stand out dishes which distinguish it from its chief competitor in terms of food quality. It has a few dishes centered around papadum, an Indian crackerish bread, like the Masala Papad ($3.95). The papadum is shaped to form pockets for a filling that mostly closely resembles pico de gallo in ingredients (diced tomatoes, onion and cilantro), look and taste.

The Masala Papad is a refreshing, light dish, but the papadum tends to break, allowing the filling to fall out, onto your fingers – or your plate. I tend to follow in the footsteps of my mother who my father calls a “wild eater,” so the messiness of the dish doesn’t bother me, but diner beware of dribbling veggies.

The Vegetable Pakora at Delhi Dhaba is above average, but the spinach pakora that's part of the dish is excellent. (Photo: News-Press)
The Vegetable Pakora at Delhi Dhaba is above average, but the spinach pakora that’s part of the dish is excellent. (Photo: News-Press)

Delhi Dhaba’s Vegetable Pakora ($3.95) – an assortment of veggies breaded and deep fried – isn’t anything too special, though the spinach pakoras are the best I’ve ever had.

My dining companion skipped the appetizers on a recent visit there, preparing herself for the Saag Chicken ($11.95), which is her favorite dish. She said that the Saag Chicken – boneless chicken cooked slow in freshly chopped spinach – was neither the best nor the worst that she’s had. She said it wasn’t the most flavorful, but not bland either. She also noted in the moments after our meal was over that no one ingredient stood out over the others.

Delhi Dhaba, like many Asian restaurants, with the exception of Korean spots, have a bunch of vegan and vegetarian options, which are clearly delineated on the menu to cut out the guess work. Delhi Dhaba’s vegetarian menu is pretty big, but not all of the options are vegan.

Among the vegan options is a Baigan Bharta ($9.95) that’s a satisfying substitute for Saran’s. It doesn’t have that same smoky flavor as Saran’s, but it’s still great, with a spiciness that grows exponentially with each bite. Still, the spiciness doesn’t overwhelm.

Two other dishes on Delhi Dhaba’s menu – the Tadka Daal ($9.95) and the Bhindi Masala ($9.95) – are good, but have different consistencies what I’m used to. The Moong Daal was chunkier than I remember and the Bhindi Masala was noticeably less saucy. Still, again, these dishes were way above average.

Although it’s not at the pinnacle of Indian food in Northern Virginia, Delhi Dhaba is a great restaurant with more than decent service. It’s no wonder it’s survived all of these years.

Delhi Dhaba | 2424 Wilson Blvd. | Arlington | 703-524-0008 | delhidhaba.com