The Chakra Café, located next to on S. Washington Street in Old Town Alexandria, celebrated its grand opening Saturday, Sept. 24.
Owner Monisha Chakrobortty had dreamed about opening a restaurant since childhood, but life set her on a different path and for years she worked as a corporate lawyer. But the dream persisted, and there's a happy ending.
She focused on that dream for the last three years, two of which were spent searching for the perfect location and many months perfecting her family's recipes with Chef Austin Brown. Her dream opened for business in the form of Chakra Café. Chakrobortty says opening a restaurant is "not for the faint of heart," but was well worth the effort. She says she'd do it all over again, without reservation.
A daughter of Bengali parents, she felt there was a lack of Indian restaurants serving the traditional dishes of her youth. She admits that many of the Bengali offerings on the cafe menu are adapted from her mother's recipes and hopes when people eat her food, they will not only delight in the exotic tastes but also will feel relaxed and welcomed, as if they were in a friend's home.
Signature dishes include the Bengali Samosas—pastries stuffed with cauliflower, potatoes, peas, peanuts, and raisins, the Chicken Cutlets, served with a coriander chutney and a side of curried macaroni and cheese, and the Keema Kabob Pizza—a flatbread pizza topped with ground lamb kabob, roasted pine nuts, kalamata olives, goat cheese and mango chutney. Chakrobortty says you can't go wrong with the Mustard Shrimp Salad, served with a housemade cilantro lime vinaigrette.
The menu also offers an array of international cuisines fused with Indian flavors, such as a variety of quesadillas and flatbread pizzas. There are several vegetarian dishes and a large selection of gluten free items. In fact, most of the traditional Bengali dishes are gluten free and all of the meat is halal.
Chakrobortty's love of tea rooms is apparent—there are over 31 teas available, and the menu includes a nice array of coffee options. For early-birds, there's a selection of quiches, bagels, and muffins. The full menu is available starting at 11 a.m.
To-go orders are welcome, and Chakrobortty promises a beer and wine menu soon. The cafe features free Wi-fi, indoor and outdoor seating, and several comfy couches and chairs–perfect for a lounge-like atmosphere, if that's what you're in the mood for. The space is light and comfortable, decorated with turquoise walls, murals and colorful ceiling panels that many members of Monisha's family helped design and paint.
Hours are Monday through Thursday 7 a.m. - 9 p.m., Friday from 7 a.m. - 10 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. - 10 p.m. Phone: 703-299-6600.