$5 and Under: The Masala Wala
Chai times three
A bay leaf spices the Masala Chai
We beg: Give us real chai or give us nothing.
Not poured from a box, mixed from a granular powder or befouled with a shot of espresso, but real tea leaves and whole spices brewed together with care.
The Lower East Side's month-old Masala Wala has answered our plaintive call three times over. It offers three types of the best chai we've found anywhere in the city.
The Indian Milk Chai ($2) is the milky light-beer version of the bunch. Barely sweet and lightly spiced with cardamom, clove and cinnamon, it's so delicious we could sip it with any meal. It's an excellent foil for a puckered spiced potato-and-pea samosa ($4).
Masala Chai ($3) is judiciously sweetened and spiced with bay leaves. The robust black tea and extra spices cut through the whole milk and pair well with pan-fried kofta ($4.50), which is a ruddy purple thanks to the addition of carrots and beets.
Served as a special, the Kashmir Pink Chai ($4) deserves to be sipped on its own. Saffron threads are added to the chai after it reaches a simmer, which lends it a sweet haylike incense.
The Masala Wala, 179 Essex St. (at E. Houston St.); 212-358-9300 or themasalawala.com
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