What is something Indians take for granted but foreigners love to rave about? Regional films? No. It’s Indian street food, of course! And we say this in all its glory when an Indian street food eatery in North Carolina called ‘Chai Pani’ was voted the best restaurant in the United States by the James Beard Foundation.
The James Beard Awards are among the most prestigious international food and beverage industry honours. It describes itself as a “nonprofit organization whose mission is to celebrate, support, and elevate the people behind America’s food culture and champion a standard of good food anchored in talent, equity, and sustainability.”
The ceremony, which was cancelled in both 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid pandemic, finally took place this year in Chicago, where the Asheville-based Indian restaurant was honoured with its top prize.
Chai Pani was established back in 2009 by Meherwan Irani and his wife Molly. Throughout the decade, the family-run restaurant managed to set up branches in seven locations across the US, including Decatur in Georgia, Charlotte in North Carolina, and Atlanta in Georgia.
Over the years, Chai Pani has cultivated a cult following among its regulars for serving some our favourite street food items like bhel puri, sweet potato chaat, chicken pakoras, sev potato dahi puri, mango chaat and more. The establishment also serves fusion wraps and burgers, including vada pav, crispy masala fish roll and keema pav.
While accepting the award, Chai Pani co-founder, Meherwan Irani, said “Restaurants are so much greater than the sum of what’s inside the four walls. A restaurant has the power to transform the people that work there, transform the people that come in, transform the communities we are in, and transform society. Restaurants can transform the world.”
The Outstanding Restaurant category is designated for the restaurant that “demonstrates consistent excellence in food, atmosphere, hospitality, and operations while contributing positively to its broader community.”
Irani himself is known to don the hat of a chef from time to time and has been nominated five times in the Best Chef category at the James Beard Foundation Awards. However, taking the honour this time was Chintan Pandya of Dhamaka restaurant in New York City, another Indian-origin chef.