Bucket List Item #1621 eat @ Milon Bangladesh
New York, USA
Long before moving to New York City, a little restaurant called Milon Bangladesh made it to my bucket list. It’s an iconic NYC Indian cuisine staple bursting at the seams with twinkle lights. It comes up over and over again in NYC bucket list blogs or lists of things you need to do in the city.
Well, it comes up about half the time.
You see, when I put this restaurant on my bucket list, I had no idea of the history behind it or the decades old rivalry between Milon and Panna II. I don’t think I even realized they were two different restaurants. In fact, I’m sure I had seen Panna on the internet and breezed by, thinking it was the same Indian restaurant. I think the history of these two restaurants is really part of what makes the experience.
To understand, you need a short history lesson. Milon and Panna are next door neighbors and are two of six restaurants left in what used to Little Indian. Starting in the 70s, but especially in 80s, this section of the East Village was once teeming with Indian fair. However, gentrification cut the number of Indian restaurants in the neighborhood from 26 to 6. I’m going to refer to Eater New York here for the full history lesson because they’ve done a really amazing job of painting a picture of what these streets once looked like. This link also offers a full story of these restaurants, while I’m only offering the abridged version.
So, the funny thing about these two restaurants is the intense rivalry that still burns to this day. I’m not sure if there are hard feelings there. It may be the fact that they’re literally on top of each other and look the same. Let me tell you what I’ve learned though. Milon came first, opening their doors in 1982. Panna wouldn’t open for another 7 years. However, Panna was the first to decorate their restaurant with twinkle lights. Evidently, the rivalry started when Panna opened next door with a similar menu but was heightened when Milon snatched the idea for the twinkle lights. I’ve read story after story about the staff at these two places constantly arguing and various fights outside the restaurant. I’ve been to each restaurant twice now, but have yet to see an argument myself. What I have experienced is the doormen at each establishment fighting over your business fiercely and attempting to coax you into their restaurants. The moment you step foot in front of their restaurants and glance their direction, they’re on you like vultures. It’s also worth mentioning that there is a third restaurant here called Royal Bangladesh that’s below these two restaurants, but I’ve never been because their reviews just aren’t as good.
Once I learned that there were two restaurants, I decided that in order to complete this bucket list check, I needed to visit each one more than once and make a well-rounded decision as to the better restaurant. Sadly, the answer is not so cut and dry and I think the two places come out pretty similar.
Staff: I’ve definitely enjoyed the staff and door people at Panna better. I found them less pushy and the waiters more attentive. The service at Milon was slow both times.
Ambiance: Both places play similar music and are decorated the same, but Milon is more comfortable. The music was a bit quieter and there’s a little more space, so you’re less cramped. They’re both small spaces, but Panna has me feeling claustrophobic before the food even comes. The music was also bumping both times I was there, so it was hard to have a conversation at dinner.
Food: This is where things get really tricky. Honestly, if I could combine the two I WOULD! I would start and end my meal with Milon. Their samosas are soooo good and their ice cream was bomb. Their mains? Meh. Panna was where it was at for the main dishes. I’m in love with their chana masala. They also have great condiments. It’s worth noting that each time I went, Dave and I ordered different things and tried a large range, but their menus are immense. I can’t confidently say one food is better than the other overall because there is so much I haven’t tried.
There was no clear winner in this battle, which really illuminates this decades old battle between the two. If I had to pick one it would be Panna because the waiters were so much better. Regardless, I think one of these two restaurants is a must see when you’re in NYC. I want to temper your enthusiasm and say these aren’t the best Indian restaurants New York offers. There are much better places for Indian. Milon and Panna are for the experience with decent cuisine. You have to do it though. It’s like another planet and the sheer amount of stuff will keep your brain stimulated the entire meal. It’s absolutely wild.