In my opinion, best Kosher restaurant in Manhattan (no exaggeration): Chennai Garden, 129 E. 27th St, just west of Lexington. Was recently reviewed very favorably by both the NY Times and New York Magazine (Best New Cheap Eats).
Everything is authentic Southern Indian, delicious, prepared fresh, and the two guys that own it are very friendly.
But here's the kicker. A magnificient all-you-can-eat lunch buffet with three entrees, soup, breads, etc is only $5.95!!! (Fill a large take-out for $4.95.) It's too ridiculous for me to describe what a bargain this is. If you just ordered a few of the condiments that are on the table, you would pay more than that. Dinner is menu only, considerably more costly, but still well worth it. (Figure around $12 - $17 for a full course meal.)
In regard to the hechsher (kosher certification), call them (212-689-1999) for the name -- "orthodox" is in the name, but I didn't recognize it.
Pradeef, one of the two owners (who I have become friendly with), is currently trying to get one of the majors to certify the place and is even willing to close on Shabbat if necessary. He also has an interesting history with Kosher dining. When he came to this country 20+ years ago, the first job he got was in the kitchen of a Jewish nursing home. His experience was positive and, before moving to Florida, he opened the first Kosher Indian restaurant in America (Madras Mahal).
The only drawback to the place is that the word is out and the lunchtime crowd in particular sometimes overflows to and beyond the front door. But tables are cleared quickly and there usually isn't more than a short wait for a table, if any. [They close on Monday.]
If you try it, please post your reaction to this board for the sake of those who may be skeptical of my wildly positive endorsement.
(The 10/29/03 Times review is no longer up, but I'll add a link to the other one.)
And here's what the NY Daily News has to say:
Eats beat: Chennai Garden
When you get a whole dinner for $14.95, it doesn't have to be exciting; it just has to be filling. But the dinners at Chennai Garden, a new Indian restaurant on a quiet street in Curry Hill, are both exciting and more than filling.
The excitement comes from the vibrant flavors of South Indian vegetarian food. Nothing is simply hot; instead, it's hot-and-tangy, or mild-and-earthy or tart-and-cooling. This array of tastes is clear in the $14.95 dinners served on trays called thalis, each holding several small cups filled with food, and each dish helping build a meal of balanced flavors.
One night, the Thali dinner tray held a cup of lentil soup, three different curries made with chickpeas and cilantro, with okra and tomatoes and with spinach and potatoes, plus basmati rice, rice pudding and a chappati or butter-brushed flatbread. The Chennai dinner featured the pancakes that are the house specialties. There was an onion uttapam, or lacy pancake, a small potato-filled dosa or rice and lentil-flour pancake and two peppery fried doughnuts. Around them were bowls of lentil soup, fig chutney, a sweet halvah and raita, a cooling yogurt.
If you don't want a whole dinner, order dosai - crisp, filled, paper-thin crepes the color of plain brown wrapping paper. All come with sambar, lentil soup and coconut chutney. Drink a mango lassi ($2.95), the fruit and yogurt drink that's the grandfather of all smoothies.
Chennai Garden, 129 E. 27th St., (212) 689-1999. Weekday $5.95 buffet lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Daily. [NO, closed on Monday.] Dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. All cards.