I found Panna II on Instagram, the Refinery29 profile to be exact, and I had to go. I had walked past it numerous times, because I live in walking distance from the colorful Indian restaurant. My friend Miso texted me on Friday night asking if I wanted to go to dinner and that I could pick a place (the magic words). I scrolled through my saved Instagram posts and found the one I had saved from Panna II. We left my apartment and walked into delightful chaos.
The restaurant is on 1st Avenue between East 5th and 6th Streets. When you walk up to the building there are four competing brightly lit restaurants and the men outside will try to get you to come to their restaurant over the others. If you want to go to Panna II, the entrance is up the stairs and on your right. The signage is basically painted on the door post, so you it is easy to get confused. It’s cash only, but there’s an ATM close by. It is also BYOB, as I saw a couple bring their own 6-pack of beer upon entering.
You must be aggressive when getting a table, if you go on a crowded night. Miso and I were only sat quickly, because we hovered over a waiter clearing a table for two. There was a group of less aggressive girls that just waited in the back, and they were there for 30 minutes. The restaurant is extremely narrow, and it’s surprising how many people fit. It doesn’t help that the decorations are literally like a mass collection of discarded Christmas lights and ornaments.
The menu is large and and dishes are automatically cooked with mild spice, unless requested. We got a samosa, two entrees, and split an order of plain naan, and our total was $40 with tip.
The crowd is a range of people and ages. The youngest is around college-age, while the oldest we saw were in their 50s. The dress is going-out-casual, as it’s usually the spot for dinner before going bar hopping.
If you go on a Friday night, like we did, there will most likely be some birthdays (we encountered two in a span of an hour). With no warning the lights will turn off and the Indian music will become louder. Then the birthday party will get their dessert and all will be normal again. It’s an anxiety inducing experience.