Chipotle gained success by serving up Mexican food assembly-line style, and a new crop of Indian restaurants is now following that model. The New York Times takes a look at the growing niche, focusing in particular on Bombay Bowl in Denver, where the employee T-shirts promise "Simple Food. Endless Choices," and the sleeves wrapped around the Indian flatbread cheekily state, "All for me and naan for you." Customers can follow a step-by-step menu to create their meal, and employees will guide them to build a bowl, a plate, a salad, or a roti roll by choosing a protein, a sauce, a chutney, and of course, a level of spiciness. Another restaurant suggests adding a steamed dumpling to create a "value meal."
"We realize that some of this food can be intimidating to non-Indian consumers," says the proprietor of a similar restaurant in Massachusetts. "So we put them in control of their meal," hoping that someday dals and curries will be as familiar to American consumers as Subway sandwiches. Rather than competing with other Indian restaurants, "my competition is Panera, Qdoba, and Chipotle," says the Bombay Bowl owner. With that in mind, not all the food is exactly authentic—restaurants have developed such items as "nanini" sandwiches, "tandisserie" chicken, and "curritos." A new generation of Indians has "learned American fast food," says one assistant professor of food studies, "and they've made it their own." (Read more Indian food stories.)