By Debby Critchley
Do you like Indian food? Old Town’s foodie scene just got richer with the addition of Diya, at 218 N. Lee St. on the second floor of Crilley Warehouse. Family-owned and operated by Raj Tamang and Shyam Lama, who also own Tandoori Nights Fairfax, the Indian-Nepalese eatery is a culinary salute to the ingredients and preparations of Tamang’s homeland.
The room is beautiful – painted in calming warm colors with comfortable seating. Rachael A. Bright from Local Colour Old Town, LLC provided a beautiful mural for the back dining room which can be used for private events.
The restaurant opened quietly on August 8 and held their ribbon cutting and grand opening on September 28. And what a grand opening it was. The room was packed with local civic and government leaders as well as neighbors and Alexandria’s foodies. The owners and management welcomed everyone with live traditional music and a buffet fit for the imperial palaces of this food’s earliest origins.
The grand opening featured a buffet that allowed us to sample many of the menu offerings. The pakora were made with mixed vegetables, chickpea flour, and spices then fried to a crispy deliciousness. Try the Nepalese Chicken Momo. The tender dough is filled with ground chicken marinated with fresh garlic and spices. The dumplings are steamed and served with tomato chutney.
Other recommendations are the butter chicken and tandoori chicken. Their versions are some of the most flavorful I have had in a long time. Vegetarians and vegans can delight in a menu full of choices of fresh and seasonable veggies. The chana masala, aloo gobi, and veggie korma are winners on so many levels for both vegans and meat eaters alike. The spices and seasonings make each dish a must have!
We would be remiss not to mention the traditional naan bread being made at Diya. Naan bread is not a new thing. Its first recorded history can be found in the notes of the Indo-Persian poet Amir Kushrau in 1300 AD. The flatbread resembles a pita, but unlike pita, naan has yogurt, milk, and sometimes eggs or butter in it, resulting in a more yielding texture. When the dough is made, bakers shape it into a ball and slap it on the interior walls of a tandoor, a clay oven. The bread puffs up and bubbles as it cooks. Paying homage to this important piece of Indian cuisine is important at Diya, and their authentic crispy and sturdy clay-cooked naan is also soft and bubbly in all the right spots. Our table quickly gobbled up three baskets, and went back for more.
Please do not pass up dessert. Theirs are the real thing and worth the calories. Whether you have the gulab jamun of milk balls in a rose-flavored syrup with a touch of cardamom or the kheer rice pudding topped with cashews and saffron, you will be transported.
The menu features both Indian and Nepalese food and boasts a full bar with well-chosen wine and beer selections. Bring a large group so you can share the wide variety of dishes. Come for the lunch buffet and spend your afternoon in a state of happily ever after.
DIYA Indian Cuisine
218 N Lee St 2nd floor, Alexandria, VA 22314