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Chakra Cafe, Old Town Alexandria

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North Indian and Bengali food are as different as traditional offerings from Wisconsin and Louisiana. Same country - different food completely. I wouldn't expect to see (and indeed would be horribly disappointed) if I were to find chicken tikka or naan on the menu. Bengalis don't eat that. Lots of fish and veg, mostly, and not as hot as what you get in North Indian restaurants.

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Tried lunch here today. Does not look like much has changed from the Farrah Olivia days, except for the removal of the bar and a new service counter added. It was not very busy when I walked in with maybe 2 or 3 other people in there.

Chips & Salsa ($2.50) - Delicious papadum chips made from lentils, served with sweet and tangy Chakra’sTomato Chutney for dipping (Plain, Garlic, Green Chilis, Black Pepper chips) - The chips are made in house and were tasty however the tomato chutney was bland and a very small serving relative to the the number of chips.

Chicken Curry ($10)- Chicken and sweet potatoes stewed with tomatoes and spices such as cloves, cinnamon and cardamom. Served with basmati rice. A nice serving with chunks of chicken. Curry was bland and chicken dry and not much spice despite asking for it hot.

Little disappointed as I was looking forward to some new options near the office.

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I have continued to keep this place in my lunch rotation since it is close and the people are extremely pleasant. I was in earlier this week and noticed some dramatic changes, particularly with the pricing.

Curry increased by $1.50 (Chicken - $11.50, Lamb - $13.50, Keema - $11.50)

Roti Wraps went from $7.50 to $8.50

Flatbread Pizzas from $8.00 to $9.50

Mustard Shrimp Salad from $7.50 to $10.50 - this was my go to order.

North Indian and Bengali food are as different as traditional offerings from Wisconsin and Louisiana. Same country - different food completely. I wouldn't expect to see (and indeed would be horribly disappointed) if I were to find chicken tikka or naan on the menu. Bengalis don't eat that. Lots of fish and veg, mostly, and not as hot as what you get in North Indian restaurants.

They are now offering Naan on the menu as well. I will continue to support but not as often.

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I don't see the fact that they're now offering naan as a reason not to go as often, if anything to me this means the opposite. What i'm assuming happened is that the owners weren't getting enough people who were interested in the bengali dishes so they felt the need to supplement with the ubiquitous naan to stay in business. So maybe if more people went and asked for the bengali dishes, they'd know there was enough interest in the Bengali stuff and wouldn't feel the need to add more Punjabi offerings. and a lot of things on the menu--shinghara, ghughni, five spice, and egg curry--seem to be very traditional bengali food. but thank you for your post--i've been meaning to go for ages, and your post was a good reminder!

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I had a very nice meal of carry-out from Chakra Café this weekend. The owner/chef is very sweet and friendly, and the menu contains both traditional Bengali items and items that are a fusion of indian and Bengali flavors with dishes from other cuisines such as pizza, quesadillas, and roasted butternut squash. They also have weekly specials that focus on a particular fusion cuisine, last week was indo-chinese (so sad I missed this!), this week is indo-mexican, and the owner said she had plans for indo-malaysian soon.

We tried:

Aloo gobi pizza--a piece of naan topped with spiced cauliflower and tomatoes, with a bit of smoked fontina and drizzles of what the menu called tomato chutney, which reminded me a bit of barbecue sauce. This was very tasty, mostly because the alu gobi was so good. I hate to say it, but their alu gobi is probably better than mine, and I am definitely going back to try the entrée version of it. the pizza is a good size for lunch or light dinner.

Tandoori paneer quesadilla--I would not have ordered it if the owner hadn't recommended it. I'm really glad I did though! It's a grilled tortilla with tandoori-spiced paneer, cheese, carmelized onions, and fresh spinach. Somehow the smokiness of the paneer with the cheese and the sweetness of the onions really worked together. Really good! again, a nice size for lunch or a light dinner.

Vegetarian ghugni--a chickpea and potato stew, served with rice. For me, really good chole is delicious, but so intense I can't eat that much of it. This was different, both because the spices were different ( no garam masala, or not much, and a lot of lemon from the onions) and because it was less overwhelming and more homey. There was something comforting and cozy about this dish and I could see craving it as a comfort food.

Vegetarian samosa--filled with potatoes, rasins, and peanuts. The spicing on the potatoes was a bit different than the usual version, and very good, especially since the potatoes were so well cooked and had the spices worked into them (unlike some versions where the spice just coats chunks of potato) and the cooked peanuts, which I'd never had before, were really nice, adding a soft buttery note. And the raisin flavor wasn't strong at all (which made me happy).

Butternut squash with panch puran spices--I can't really say too much about this as I'm not a butternut fan, but my dining companion enjoyed it and I could see that the spices worked quite well with the sweetness of the butternut. The portion could've been bigger.

Overall, I really enjoyed it and will be back soon.

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^Sounds delicious, sandynva! I think I know where I'm headed toward this weekend - nice font, too! (Calibri? Candara?)

I hope you enjoy it! my parents had a lot of bengali friends when i was growing up, making me particularly fond of bengali spicing, so i hope you like it.

don-thanks for increasing the font size!

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I tried this place the other day after reading the reviews here. Despite the decor of what looks like a former Starbucks, I really enjoyed my meal. The Lamb Burger was delightful, although the Red Curry Mac and Cheese was disappointing (sounds good in theory, but trust me, avoid it). The Bengali deserts were really interesting as well, can't say I have ever tried that before.

Also, the hidden gem is the loose leaf tea selection. About 30-40 varieties, and they made me a lovely Organic Genmaicha iced tea. For only $2.50 for a large.

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I had another great meal at chakra cafe last night with some bengali friends. came away very happy and wondering why this place isn't packed, especially by indian food fans who want to learn more about indian regional foods/stuff beyond the standard chicken tikka

what we had:

fries--the large basket is a generous portion, and they're sprinkled with a mix of garam masala, other spices, and a tiny bit of sugar. so you get spiciness, sweet, salty, and fried flavors all at the same time. for those of you that like kettlecorn, i could see these becoming addictive. i'm not a sweet/salt fan usually but thought they were delicious.

veg. samosa--very good and different than the usual version, they have peanuts and are served with tamarind chutney. not greasy either.

it's nice to see the bengali version of samosa instead of the standard one.

aloo gobi-- if it's done right, aloo gobi is one of my favorite foods, and boy is this done right. definitely the best version i've had in town. i'd put it up against my mom's, and that's saying something. and it was served with excellent basmati rice that was tasty by itself.

tandoori paneer quesadilla--an unusual combination but it really works! big enough for a light dinner.

my dining companions loved the saag paneer, though i didn't taste it. they said it had a better texture (not all baby food smooth) and more complex spicing than most versions.

My friend's son ordered mac and cheese which looked amazing--so gooey and cheese laden! i didn't have the heart to take some of his, as he clearly loved it, but am definitely ordering some of this soon.

They've also expanded their menu to have some less common dishes. the bengalis were really excited to see fish with mustard sauce on the menu, apparently its a really traditional dish you never see in restaurants. i was delighted to see vegetable manchurian, an indo-chinese favorite of mine.

They also sell some unusual bengali sweets which are definitely worth trying. my favorite is soan papri, which is like an indian cotton candy.

One note--at most places when i order things "medium spicy" i taste no discernable heat. not the case here, where even medium spicy had very noticeable heat. They offered to slice thai chilis into the quesadilla.

i'll be back again, and very soon.

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