For multiple reasons, I’m not a huge fan of food halls. I don’t enjoy the suffocating crowds, power-walking in search of often mediocre food that passes itself off as fashionable just because it exists where it exists. There are exceptions. While I always dread going to Ponce City Market – a gigantic, loudly echoing venue with parking from hell – a recent meal at Botiwalla made it worth the effort.
Botiwalla isn’t new. Chef/owner Meherwan Irani opened it in 2016 after his restaurants in Asheville and Decatur, both named Chai Pani, became huge hits. The deal at Chai Pani is crazy-good Indian street food whose flavors have all the historic ethnic diversity of the Indian subcontinent. Botiwalla, which also has a location in Alpharetta, specifically vends the cuisine of the Iranis, Persian refugees who fled persecution in Iran soon after Queen Victoria set herself up as Empress of India in the late 1800s. The immigration movement persisted into the early 1900s. Thus, Irani cuisine combines classic Indian and Persian tastes and style, and, interestingly, incorporates influences from the ruling Brits, who loved the food at teatime. That’s a very abbreviated history.
The important thing is that Botwalli’s food is absolutely delicious – rich and moderately spicy with all the right ingredients to keep your sensitive mouth from overwhelm. I have to beg you to try the lamb sliders. Lamb burgers have been my fave since I was a kid, but they didn’t start appearing in restaurants until relatively recently and they are inevitably overwhelmed with Greek and Middle Eastern spices. Botiwalla offers two charcoal-grilled sliders, cut nearly as square and thin as Krystals! They are vibrant with ginger, chilies, mint, cilantro, and cumin, topped with a crisp slightly sweet slaw. All of that is stuffed into buttered buns. Other grilled dishes are rolled into cushiony, thick, warm, and buttered naan bread. The popular chicken tikka is marinated in: yogurt, lime juice, chili paste, and various North Indian spices. It’s rolled up with slaw and chutney. There are vegetarian options, including naan rolled around grilled veggies, one of them with paneer, the tasty Indian cheese.
You have to order snacks, especially puri – classic, paper-thin, crispy little orbs made with flour They’re cracked open and filled with a mixture of ingredients the menu accurately describes as “mindblasting.” There are potatoes, onions, cilantro, chickpea noodles, sweet yogurt, and tamarind chutney – a flavor and texture for every taste bud. You might also try the salted smashed fingerling potatoes, crispy and creamy, spiked with lime, cilantro, and chaat masala, the Indian concoction of various tastes that Americans know best when it comes to Indian food.
Botwalli’s interior is fun. You order at a counter but there are plenty of tables. A huge tile wall announces that this is a “high class restaurant.” There’s a big pink pillar labeled with “rules of the café.” It’s a long list of forbidden behaviors, including flirting with the cashier, heavy petting, and sleeping in the toilet. The only thing missing is the Alpharetta location’s tile portrait of a muscular rooster flexing his biceps while proclaiming that “Botiwalla makes you strong.”
Inside Ponce City Market
675 Ponce de Leon Ave.