One my favorite places in NYC is a little Indian restaurant on 1st Avenue and E. 6th Street called Milon Bangladesh. I have been going there for the past 20 years, ever since my mom introduced me to it after college. My mom fell in love with Indian food when she worked in the city before she got married, because they had cheap lunch specials and she was strapped for cash. After she met my dad, they moved to Long Island, had kids and she stopped working, so she never ate Indian anymore. My dad didn’t like Indian food and I don’t remember there being any Indian restaurants in my hometown.
Going to Milon for the first time with my mom and having her introduce me to all the different flavors (as a bread lover, I still remember that she let me order both naan and poori so I could try both) was like a window into the life my mom had before I was born. Her favorite food is Indian food??? Really? Who is this woman? I had no idea!
Milon became a go-to for me and my friends when we were in our 20s. It was festive, inexpensive, delicious and great for birthdays. They would flash the lights, blast a techno song and everyone in the place would clap as they brought out a free scoop of mango ice cream. The funny thing about Milon is that it is right next to another Indian place called Panna, which by all accounts, is exactly the same. They serve the same menu items, both have a billion Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling all year round, and they even share a staircase up to the entrance, where there are always two men vying to get you to go to one restaurant over the other.
The rumor I heard (unconfirmed) is that Milon and Panna are actually owned by two brothers who got into the fight. I’ve also heard that they share the same kitchen and the competition is all a ruse. Who knows. If you are a regular at either, you have a preference and never deviated. My friends are Milon people. We swear up and down that it is infinitely better than Panna. When we tell people to go there, we always say, “MAKE SURE YOU GO TO THE ONE ON THE LEFT.” If we ever meet a Panna person, we get into a semi-joking heated debate about how they are totally missing out on the better restaurant.
I remember the first time I took Mazzy. It was like walking into a tiny jewel box of lights. We pretended it was her birthday and she fell in love. In fact, whenever I take the kids, we pretend it’s someone’s birthday. Deciding whose birthday it is going to be is half the fun. And pretty much everyone who eats there does the same thing, so by the end of the meal, you’ve usually clapped along to at least three techno birthday celebrations in that tiny space.
When we got back into the city this fall, Milon was the first place I ordered takeout from. I think it was one of the last meals they served because a few days later, I tried to order again and no one picked up. I searched online and found an article about Milon shutting down for good. I walked down there and saw that Panna was closed too. Those two windows full of lights, both dark. There have been a lot of places that closed due to the pandemic, but Milon and Panna hit me the hardest. Deciding between those two doors is an East Village institution.
Then, a few days ago, I read that Panna turned their lights back on and is reopening. In fact, they will be expanding into the Milon space. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. I guess I’m a Panna person now. I hope they keep the wall up between them and both signs up. I hope they still have two guys trying to urge you into either entrance.
Maybe the brothers are back there in the kitchen laughing.