One thing that DC is not short on is international/ethnic dining options. Cuban, Burmese, Thai, Ethiopian, Mexican, Indian, Afghan… you name it, we have it. There’s always something new to try, and if you’re like us that bucket list of eateries just keeps growing.
Since moving to the DMV area we’ve been on the look out for a great quick serve South Asian restaurant. While we’ve found a few, we always find the quality to be lacking – usually the chicken is dry as a bone, the flavors are a little off, or the naan is nothing more than a piece of cardboard. We’ve yet to find a place where quality meets efficiency. That is until last weekend.
Named after one of Asia’s longest and oldest road (1,600 miles running from Bangladesh through India, Pakistan, and ending in Afghanistan) Grand Trunk is a family business owned by Kamran Cheema. Cheema’s mother can even be found cooking away in the kitchen and occasionally his father is helping to make the lassis.
Holding the title of “South Asian gourmet fast food” the cuisine is inspired by the flavors found along Grand Trunk road. Located immediately across the street from the Archives metro, their doors to one of DC’s oldest buildings opened on Indiana Ave at the end of January. Convenience of location is already winning them huge favors.
Stepping into Grand Trunk is a Bizarre sensory experience – almost Alice in Wonderland type bizarre, but who wouldn’t want to spend time in Wonderland? Upstairs everything appears to glitter and sparkle. High backed chairs occupy the corners near the windows, and cream color plush wall seats tone down the darkness of the black chairs on the opposite end of the table. A glitzy circular bar area brings the upstairs room together. Downstairs the original brick walls and wooden ceiling beams contrast with leather (pleather) plush white booths, egg shaped chairs, transparent stairs, and floor mounted TV’s. (Yup, you can walk all over your least favorite sport’s person’s face if you want to.) Our absolute favorite installation had to be the huge wooden table and benches made from a single tree. All that was missing was the Hookah-Smoking Caterpillar or the Mad Hatter and we’d swear Lewis Carroll was back from the dead.
What will absolutely keep bringing us back to Grand Trunk though is their dedication to providing a level of more refined food than your average quick serve place. Three tandoori ovens were imported from India. Produce is sourced locally whenever possible, and never from large scale food sellers. Lamb comes from New Zealand, beef from the USA, and milk (like the whole milk in their shakes) comes straight from Amish country in Lancaster, PA. Spices are ground in house, and sauces are properly simmered overnight for the best outcome.
We wouldn’t be doing our job properly without having some recommendations for you to try, now would we?
When we were traveling in Nepal one thing we had every. single. day. was what they called “milk tea”. Grand Trunk has their own version called the The Grand Trunk Signature Truckers’ Tea (black tea, milk, sugar, cardamom) and it’s as authentic as any we’ve had in the DC area having immediate flashbacks to rice fields, temple bells and early morning prayer rituals. Granted with the summer weather heading our way one might prefer a chilled drink and we thought the Mango Lassi - a traditionally yogurt-based drink from India and Pakistan, and the Chocolate Milk Shake were winners. Delicious. Refreshing. We could double fist our way through DC with one of each in our hands.
We’ve found that if a place can’t make an acceptable Chicken Tikka Masala it isn’t worth it to go back and try something new. Maybe that’s like judging a book by it’s cover, but it’s such a staple dish we can’t wrap our heads or stomachs around one that’s poorly executed. We even make it at home along with our own frying pan improvised naan. Grand Trunk’s Agra Chicken Tikka Masala (chicken marinated in yogurt, lime, freshly ground GT spices, homemade creamy tomato sauce) didn’t disappoint and was served alongside a generous portion of delicious Basmati rice. Naan is also an option as a side if you’re not feeling the rice.
If you know anything about us you’ll be tired of hearing us say this, however we will nearly always choose lamb over any other protein (except for fish). We thought the Gujranwala Lamb Masala (slow cooked lamb, pureed tomatoes, onion, green chilli, roasted cumin, cilantro) was well done – the lamb was tender, the flavor scrumptious – making this dish our go-to choice for future visits.
One dish we were surprised by how much we enjoyed was The “Archives” All American Naan Double Burger. Grand Trunk’s Naan Burger is not only a signature dish but also one of the most popular and widely raved about according to Cheema, and we weren’t disappointed by the Archives version either. The burger priced at less than $8 is definitely well worth the cost in both flavor and heft. One bite in and we were already feeling full. Make sure you order a side of chickpea battered onion rings, or either their garlic or waffle fries.
There are so many options on the Grand Trunk menu from speciality naan entrees including Keema Naan, Spiced Potato Naan, and even dessert Naans to lentils, meat skewers, a kids’ option, vegetarian dishes, burgers and even breakfast. Grand Trunk stays open until 12am on Saturday and Sundays as well so if you’re looking to get out of the bar for a bite to eat, these guys can accommodate those random drunk-people cravings. Unfortunately salads are currently unavailable for the time being. Customers can also expect new menu items soon including *perhaps* a new burger, and a ginger naan.
We’re super excited that Grand Trunk has made a home in DC. We might technically live in Northern Virginia, but we’re not above hopping the metro into the city just to get some Grand Trunk take out. It’s worth it. We hope to see many more great things from Cheema and his family in the future as they continue to establish and grow their roots.
641 Indiana Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20004
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