114 E. 1st St.
With a graffiti-scarred green awning and faded posters in the window, Punjabi Deli doesn’t look like much. But a glimpse of the crowd inside signal that this is no ordinary convenience store. Punjabi’s pungent, simple versions of Indian favorites have attracted a loyal following of hungry cabbies, homesick expats, and parsimonious locals who can barely believe their luck at scoring a giant rice and veg assortment for five bucks. Since it’s open 24/7, the narrow space gets crowded – and hot – as diners wait for Styrofoam serving plates or plastic to-go containers. A row of microwaves crowns a display case with trays of chana masala, saag paneer, thick dal, and oversized samosas. Seasonings are strong, grease mostly absent. There’s no seating, so you must either stand and eat on the shelf along one wall, savor your bounty in one of the nearby pocket parks, or zap the food when you get home – and it holds up just fine.