I take a right on the corner with more authority than I really feel. The streets down in the East Village don’t run on a grid and my cracked iPhone’s GPS is having trouble keeping up with us. We reach the next corner. Wrong way. I sheepishly turn around and head back to our original starting point.
We head back down the street for four or five more blocks. My CityMapper app keeps blinking, “You have arrived at your destination,” but there are no signs to indicate that we really have. Finally, flashing lights in an array of reds, oranges, and greens catch my attention. “We’re here,” I announce triumphantly, just as I was sure my two travel companions, Laura and Christina, were losing faith.
We head up the stairs as four Indian men scream at us, vying for our business. “Best food in town.” “Cheap price.” “No wait.” I shuffle our little group into Panna II, the original of the restaurants, and we are seated in a table by the door. “Best table in the house!” the host announces to us, and he’s right. The rest of the restaurant is cramped with an incredibly low ceiling created by the thousands of strings of Christmas lights that drape overhead. By the window, however, we all fit comfortably and have a great view of the entire, tiny place.
Laura has never had Indian food before, and I try to suggest a few dishes she might like, but it is difficult as the menu only has very rough translations of the Indian dishes. I order the Bali Chicken on a whim, as the menu boasts that this is the most popular dish, and three orders of what is essentially grilled cheese made with naan for the table. The food comes promptly and is just a delicious as I remember it from when I first visited two years ago, but it is really the service that sticks out. In a city full of scams and unfriendliness, the staff at Panna II joke along with us as we dance to the Bollywood music that pumps through the speakers, and even take a picture with us to document our trip downtown. After a long day of traveling the city, it was nice to relax with good friends in a unique experience.