We were looking for possibly THE most authentic Indian restaurant/eatery in NYC. I am sure there were a few of those, but I wanted the place to also be super interesting. We hit the jack pot when we found this place, Temple Canteen. They don’t use the name “temple” lightly, but it is named Temple Canteen because it is situated below the actual temple, called Ganesh Temple. And therefore, it is hard to miss, just look for a big temple in a middle of residential area, which makes this place even more stands out.
There was a section to leave your shoes for those people who are going into the temple. We were not exactly sure how to get to the restaurant, and if we also needed to leave our shoes to get to it??? But then we found a sign near there for the Temple Canteen, with an arrow pointing towards the back of the temple.
Around the back, there was a beautiful walkway to the right, with statues on the columns. They had another sign for Temple Canteen, telling us to go through this walkway. As we admired the walkway design and the statues, we made out way over to the end of the alley.
At the end of the walkway, there was another sign with arrow pointing to the left. There, we found a nice big signs for the restaurant, with a security staff station. We told him we are there for the restaurant and he told us to go down to the basement. They had the sign for the restaurant at every corner… No one will ever need to ask “where is Temple Canteen?”
At the bottom of the stairs, we found an open door with their last signage for Temple Canteen. The inside was really large, but since it is located in the basement, there is no window. They have enough lights there to keep the room well lit.
The room was set up like a cafeteria, with plenty of tables and chairs. And with so many people coming into eat, it was almost full. The tables were all one size, and sits four people. The ones who were there alone or couples, they shared the table with strangers if there was no other empty table available. It seems like that was normal things to do, so everyone was used to it.
There was an ordering counter at the end of the room, and even though there were many people on the line, they were very efficient and moved pretty fast. They had menu posted everywhere, on the top of the counter, side of the counter, and near/around the counter. Some of the dishes were shown in photos, which was helpful to know what they look like if you are not familiar with Indian cuisine. As this is a popular and famous spot, thanks to Zagat, NY Times, and even Anthony Bourdain, they also have some tourist coming for a visit, wanting to try their food.
They had several quick items on the counter, including some sweets, soups, and rice. You can pick up any of these items while you are in line for the cashier, and add them to your order when you pay.
They also had some other items in bags, mostly snacks I believe, to take home with, or eat them with your meal. The prices seemed to be all very low, super affordable, which is another reason why this place is so popular.
They offer authentic South Indian food, such as idli, dosa, pongal, upma, sambar, chutney, etc., and are all pure vegetarian. I hear that since it is a community center as well, they do some events here, like weddings and other community functions. We visited Temple Canteen on Sunday, and with our luck, they offer a special lunch special, ONLY on Sunday!!! Of course that is what we ordered. The Sunday Lunch Special, Thali Lunch ($10) comes with plain rice, vegetables, sambar, rasam, chapathi, papad, yogurt, pickle and sweet. It also came with naan.
This much food for $10 is a total steal! And you get to have a taste of so many different dishes, it was great. The one thing about it was the pickles. This red thing was so incredibly spicy, my entire mouth was on fire after having a very small amount. I am glad I didn’t just put the whole thing in my mouth! Other things were not as spicy as the pickles, but still, spicy enough to get your sweat going. Yogurt was there to calm down the spiciness, it was a plain yogurt so it didn’t have any sweetness to it. Everything was very tasty, I enjoyed them very much. I was completely full to the point I could not finish everything, but my husband was there to help me clean up the plate. He also enjoyed everything, it did live up to our expectations.
Addition to the lunch special, we also ordered Madras Coffee ($1.50) and Masala Tea ($1.50) to go with our lunch. They were really strong, I mean, REALLY strong. I liked the coffee better, only because it was a bit easier to drink. It was really sweet. The tea had a bit too powerful spices, it was overwhelming to me. But still, at $1.50 each, it was good to be able to try them.
They had so many interesting decorations everywhere, very entertaining in a way. Also, with so many of the customers here are natives, and it was really cool to see all the authentic clothes they were wearing as well.
They had a Temple Gift Shop close to the entrance, so we checked them out before we left. They had sooo many small, colorful, interesting items. Most of them were priced really low, much like their food offerings.
They also had some large statutes, and many different types of books. They also had postcards, music CDs, and other little trinkets.
It was a really good experience, we were very pleased with the food and the ambiance. The staffs were friendly and helpful, and other patrons were nice also. I am not sure if I will go back, as it is a bit far and not so easy to get to. But it was worth the time and effort to get there. I heard that their dosa is really amazing, so if we do go back in the future, I would like to try one of their dosa for sure. if you are looking for a very authentic Indian cuisine and atmosphere, this is the place to go!
Temple Canteen – 143-09 Holly Ave., Flushing, NY 11355