ASHEVILLE – An Asheville-based restaurant group finally has brought its casual Indian street food concept to the city.
On Aug. 28, Botiwalla restaurant made its grand opening debut at 697 Haywood Road in West Asheville.
The casual, counter-service-style restaurant specializes in Indian street grill-style meals, plus finger foods and snacks ideal for a quick bite day or night.
Botiwalla, a part of the Chai Pani Restaurant Group, is new to Asheville, but it has two other locations — Charlotte and Atlanta.
Many Asheville diners are getting their first taste of Botiwalla, and it’s been a long time coming. In the soft opening week, West Asheville residents and diners from across the city have expressed their excitement for having the new restaurant addition in the neighborhood, said chef and co-founder Meherwan Irani.
“It feels amazing. My favorite sentiment from the folks who are coming in is they’re saying, ‘Thank you,’” Irani said. “It just blew me away that so many folks who live in West Asheville were thanking us for opening the restaurant there not because there aren’t already great spots to eat at in West Asheville, it’s just an acknowledgment that West Asheville deserves a Chai Pani-esque restaurant, too. It’s been touching how excited people are.”
Botiwalla showcases Indian-style dining. However, it’s different from its James Beard Award-winning sister restaurant, Chai Pani, in downtown Asheville.
Chai Pani’s menu is designed to be “snacky,” while Botiwalla offers more substantial meals ideal for dinner and late-night dining, he said.
“Chai Pani focuses a lot more on chaat, which is, so to speak, crispy, fried, crunchy street food of India — pakoors, samosas and things like that,” Irani said. “Botiwalla focuses on the sigri ― the grill ― which is a lot more meat-focused and the meats are marinated ― lamb, chicken, paneer ― and served in griddled naan.”
Irani took the Citizen Times on a tour of Botiwalla’s Asheville menu to introduce first-time guests to some of his favorite, new and exclusive, and soon-to-be-added dishes.
Here are five things to try at the new West Asheville eatery:
1. Masala Smashed Potatoes
The menu is divided into three sections, beginning with street food and chaat that complement the grilled food portion.
The list of finger foods and snacks includes the spicy potato dumpling, Vada Pav, and a crispy cauliflower dish called Gobi 65 that’s seasoned with curry leaves, ginger, red chili and coriander and elevated with a ginger-soy sauce.
Irani recommends starting off with the SPDP, also known as Sev Potato Dahi Puri.
“The fingerling potatoes are boiled and smashed and fried until you get these crispy, crunchy edges on the outside and it’s warm and fluffy on the inside,” Irani said. “Hit it with some chaat masala ― that’s zingy and spicy spice blend that we use ― and it comes with a Maggi dipping sauce which is a sweet and spicy ketchup that we use in India.”
The SPDP is one of the vegan options, and there are many other vegan and vegetarian dishes available.
“Indian street traditionally tends to be vegetarian and quite often vegan, and also many of the dishes can be made vegan by the omission of one ingredient,” he said.
2. Chicken Tikka Roll
The Sigri section of the menu features dishes prepared on North Indian charcoal grills and a variety of rolls that are like wraps but use flatbread. Inside, there may be aromatic spiced meats and seasoned with fresh herbs, like the Malai Chicken Tikka and Boti Lamb Kofta Roll. Botiwalla also offers a vegetarian Paneer Tikka Roll made with Indian farmer’s cheese.
Irani’s go-to is the Chicken Tikka Roll.
“It’s chicken marinated in these North Indian spices with chili powder which is why they have that beautiful red hue to the chicken when it’s cooked,” Irani said.
The chicken is cooked on the grill and served on a buttered naan with Desi slaw, which is made with sour cream and a little bit of mayonnaise. Then, it’s topped off with green chutney, which he likened to an Indian chimichurri, made with mint and cilantro.
“It sounds simple but the combination of the juicy meat and the creamy slaw and the buttery naan is just heaven,” Irani said.
3. Desi Salad
The selection of Desi salads was added to the menu at the recommendation of Irani’s wife and business partner, Molly, to offer a non-bread option on the menu.
Irani said he was inspired by the Asian-style crunchy salads to create the Botiwalla lineup.
The foundation is made up of shredded white and red cabbage, carrots, scallions and roasted cashews with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds, cilantro and crunchy chickpea noodles on top. They’re served with a cumin-lime vinaigrette and may be ordered as-is or with an added protein, like Lamb Kofta.
“You can top it with anything from the grill ― chicken tikka, malai chicken tikka, grilled paneer ― it’s essentially getting the same experience but on a crunchy, crispy salad instead of bread,” Irani said.
4. Boti Rice Bowl
An exclusive to the West Asheville location, Botiwalla offers four styles of rice bowls.
“I felt that West Asheville could be a quick in-and-out spot and I wanted to give somebody something that was both easy to eat there and also take to go and also easy to reheat later on,” Irani said.
The bowl begins with a bed of basmati rice loaded with flavors and aromas.
“I love Briyani – this Indian multilayered flavored rice dish, and we use a Briyani masala in the rice,” he said. “That’s why it’s got so much flavor baked into the rice with yogurt and crispy onions also cooked into the rice.”
The rice is then topped with a skewer of the protein of choice with julienned onions, roasted tomatoes, mint and cilantro. It’s served with raita, a yogurt-based sauce.
5. Lime Ricky
Botiwalla’s wide assortment of beverages includes traditional Indian drinks and contemporary custom creations.
Bottled libations and fountain drinks are available, but it’s the house made specialties that make Botiwalla stand out.
The menu features freshly made Mango Lassi, Chai and Nimbu Pani ― a fresh-squeezed lime, simple syrup and soda water.
Also, there are a couple of flavored gin and rum-based boozy slushies to consider.
But Irani’s drink of choice is the Lime Ricky, a “super light” and “Super refreshing” nonalcoholic soda.
“It’s what I grew up as a kid ordering at Sarosh Canteen, my great uncle’s Irani café in India which Botiwalla is sort of an homage to that,” he said. “I remember as a kid running up and ordering a Lime Ricky and it would be a raspberry syrup, soda and fresh lime and ice. Here, we do one better ― we make the raspberry syrup in-house from actual raspberries.”
Coming soon to Botiwalla
More dishes will be introduced on Botiwalla-Asheville’s menu later, like the MG Road Wings that were on the menu of Irani’s former downtown Asheville eatery, MG Road. Also, Tamarind ribs are on the way.
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Where: 697 Haywood Road, Asheville.
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Sunday.
The restaurant will be closed the Sundays of Sept. 3 and Sept. 10.
Tiana Kennell is the food and dining reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today Network. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Instagram @PrincessOfPage. Please support this type of journalism with asubscription to the Citizen Times.