Spice Waala, the Indian street food rendezvous on Capitol Hill, officially launches its second location on Friday, January 8.
Uttam Mukherjee and Aakanksha Sinha opened the original Spice Waala in 2019, following pop-ups at the Fremont and South Lake Union markets. They wanted to share the food they grew up with, in New Delhi and Kolkata, respectively. Their kathi rolls—four varieties of protein wrapped in roti, topped with onions and chutney—form the backbone of the menu, alongside different flavors of chaat, a crunchy, savory snack of fried dough and spices.
When the pandemic hit, Sinha and Mukherjee, a married couple who double as chefs and managers, considered ways to keep their customers coming. They experimented with dishes from across India and served up weekly specials: Kolkata-style chicken biryani rice; coconut curry with shrimp from Goa; and even steamed dumpling “momos” from Nepal. For Diwali, the festival of lights, the casual counter on 15th Avenue even prepared a four-course meal, complete with celebratory besan ka laddu (sweet balls of dough). “You’re exploring the country with us,” Mukherjee says.
The new Ballard location will incorporate the same open-concept kitchen as at Capitol Hill. Customers order at the bar, with every item on the menu under $10, a nod to a classic street food experience in India, where customers from all socioeconomic strata converge for the same freshly made comfort food.
As on Capitol Hill, this new location will be open for takeout only (order online here). “We just decided to bite the bullet and go for it,” Mukherjee explained, “It’s never been the plan to just open one restaurant, sit back, and enjoy that.”
Sinha, who earned a Ph.D. in social work and teaches at Seattle University, heads Spice Waala’s nonprofit partnerships, with a focus on equality and food justice. The restaurant donates 50 hot meals per week to Community Lunch, which serves the homeless on Capitol Hill, and 50 to Mary’s Place, a shelter for women and children. Since March, they’ve donated over 7,000 meals, filling an acknowledged gap in vegan and vegetarian meals. Mukherjee, who left Proctor and Gamble last year in October to focus on Spice Waala, translates those same values to the restaurant’s business side; all of their employees are paid the same living wage, none of whom saw direct pay cuts in 2020.
The Ballard Spice Waala is located at 2008 NW 56th St, and will hand out complimentary rice pudding on opening day. For updates on weekly specials, safety measures, and community outreach, see their Instagram (@spicewaala).