While Italian and Chinese food are also well-liked, Indian food is becoming a favourite in the city that has many popular and top-notch restaurants. Last year, Alinea -- one of the city eateries -- was voted the top US and North American restaurant.
"In Chicago, rest of the Indian population is growing and local people are catching up with Indian food," Naren Soni, owner of Gaylord India Restaurant said. Soni said that non-Indians had warmed up with the spices in food which have been toned down according to their tastes.
New York restaurants like Chicago are good. In New York, there are more chains, a lot more choices, locations, and a variety of fusion food like Indo-Chinese, Indian and Latin American.
"We have more repeat and referred customers and new clients," he added. While the Gaylord's downtown location is 38 years old, the Schaumburg one is 13 years old. Gaylord India is the oldest restaurant in Chicago.
In 2009, Gaylord was rated best in Chicago, Soni said, adding that at the downtown location, 70 per cent of his clients are non-Indians and 30 per cent are Indians. Schaumburg has 50 percent non-Indian and Indian clients.
"At present Chicago has 100 plus Indian restaurants compared to about two in Oct 1972 when he started, and 50 about 10 years ago. It has grown a lot," the owner of the Zagat rated restaurant said. Growth is more because Indian population is growing and local people have started liking the cuisine.
Business is seasonal - more in festive times and during conventions and moderate for the rest of the year with winter being slow, and spring, summer and fall generating more business. Also, Indian food is comparatively cheaper than high-scale restaurants, Soni added.
Many Indians live in the suburb of Schaumburg, so Indian restaurants are flourishing there. India House has recently opened Bombay Chopsticks where Chef CS Rawat from New Delhi, whips up the tangy palate. Rawat was a chef at Kwality and Chopsticks in New Delhi.
"Indo-Chinese food is in popular demand," Jagmohan Jayara, owner of a popular food chain told PTI, adding that people get the same Indo-Chinese food they get at home.
"Since 1993, my business has may be increased by 10-fold," Jayara said.
Jayara who has five locations for India House in Chicago and one in Florida, said that right now Bombay Chopsticks is more popular than India House. "I want to take the Indo-Chinese concept to a different city where there is a large Indian population," Jayara said.
Jayara said that about 80 per cent of his clients are American in the downtown location and it is 50-50 in other locations. "We do Holi celebrations," says Anu Sharma, who along with her husband Arun Sharma, is the owner of 'The Indian Garden' restaurant in downtown Chicago decorated in ethnic Indian artifacts like tabla, lamps, diyas and rose petals.
"Our business has grown a lot," Sharma said of her restaurant that is currently one of the top three Indian restaurants in Chicago. "It is Zagat rated and 60 per cent of our customers are non-Indians," Sharma said. Her husband Arun is manager with Four Points by Sheraton Chicago O’Hare Airport.
"I like Indian food because of its unique taste and spices," Don S, who lives in Chicago and visits various Indian restaurants here, said. "The taste of the food reflects the blend of the culture and ages," John Moor, a customer, said. "It is spicy, exciting and very rich in flavour. It is spicier than western food. It is also very healthy. I like the spices in the curry. One of my favourites is the lamb dish."
"I like Indian food and eat it once in a while," another fan of Indian food, Jackie Segafredo said. Vijay Puniani of Chutney Joe's in downtown Chicago caters to the health-conscious audience. His restaurant Chutney Joe's uses no oil for non-vegetarian dishes and very little oil for vegetarian. "We're going to open our third restaurant in two years," Puniani said. Puniani, who opened the restaurant two years ago, said that it is doing well.
He plans to open up more restaurants and has applied for franchises in New York, New Jersey and Washington. Other restaurants like Indian Bistro located in Palatine, a suburb of Chicago, has a Mexican chef. Owner Sanjay Mehta, who partnered with Raj Dhondiyal and Santosh Mishra said that half or their customers are American and the rest Indian.
On the future of Indian food, Soni was positive. "It is growing. More and more people have acquired the taste for it. There are also a lot of vegetarian choices in Indian food that people like," he said. "Demand is growing in Chicago and every quarter there is a brand new restaurant," Soni added.