TL;DR: Indian food version of Cava Grill + ShopHouse + totally worth the trip to Northern Virginia. Don't be put off by the GIANT menu + stick to the BBQ bowls. Vegan options are color coded blue, GF is green.
Choolaah is a fast-casual Indian place on the corner of Mosaic District. It's been open for less than a month, but already I'm hooked (and so is Maxim). He's a bigger fan than I am, but I still consider it to be a strong competitor within the DC fast-casual food scene.
First, the menu is HUGE, and honestly, though, it's kind of overwhelming. You can create your own bbq bowl, choose something ready-made, choose just sides, etc etc. B U T everything is color-coded perfectly, and the cashier/server is awesome about helping out.
Even better, go HERE and click your dietary restrictions, to see allllll your options appear before your eyes. And yes, onion & garlic-free is an option because #badbreath is a real thing. Especially on first dates. Or the 315th first date.
**UPDATE** It was brought to my attention that one of the reasons that onion/garlic free is usually an option at Indian restaurants is to reflect different strict vegetarian lifestyles. One of them, Jain Vegetarianism, is a strict form of vegetarianism where followers do not eat meat, fish, eggs, onions, garlic, and potatoes.
side note: naan is not normally vegan, but their wheat naan is.
Anyways, I just stuck to what the hype has centered on: The BBQ bowls. And honestly, it's where it's at. Their bowls consist of a bed of white/brown rice topped with meat of choice (tofu + veggies for me!). Then masala on the side (my fave is the chickpea masala) + naan bread.
But I also always buy the veggie samosas. They're amazing. And I mean AMAZING. Each order comes with three mini samosas that I dip in the Choolaah Lava sauce. And hold on, because I'm drooling just typing this.
The food is SO good. Maxim loves Indian food and made us go back for seconds the next day. If you're vegan, get chickpeas or double tofu for the protein. But other than that, have at it. I'm trying the Tandoori wrap the next time I go, so I'll keep you guys updated.
Honestly, though, I love that the fast casual food scene has brought out the best of masala and samosas.
Reasons besides the food to be obsessed
ANYWAYS, there are so many reasons I'm obsessed (besides their food tasting good?) with Choolaah. First, they have a HAND-WASHING station. It's literally a weird, majestic...thing...that you stick your hands into and it sprays all this sanitized water on your hands. With one-use towels next to it. It's called the handwash-o-matic and their justification is that "hand sanitizer is so 2015." Like honestly, though, these people are great.
There's something about a company/brand that successfully uses sass and fun in their brand without coming off cheesy. From a marketing + advertising perspective, they're killing the game. And from a blogger going to eat there perspective, I would go every single day if I lived in Mosaic District.
Pricing-wise, it's about the same as any other fast-casual place in the DMV. $30 gets you two drinks, two mains + veggie samosas on the side. When the food comes (you pay before-hand), it arrives on these amazing themed trays. The decor is chill, a very open layout with cute little "booths" next to the windows + tons of space for kids to hang out.
What I love, is that everyone eating there looked super happy + pleased with their meal. The people are more than happy to make sure that you're experiencing an incredible meal.