Desi Diner’s opening in downtown Northfield this summer excited many townies, Carls, and Oles. A sign for the incoming restaurant taped to the storefront in July announcing “Desi Diner Coming Soon” filled me with joy — the restaurant feels like a rebirth of Northfield. For the first time since the tragic loss of Chapati, which burnt down in the Archer House Fire in Nov. 2020, Northfield had a South Asian restaurant.
The storefront for Desi Diner previously housed Tandem Bagel, another Northfield restaurant that I loved dearly and lost suddenly. Much of the interior remains the same. The wooden tables, gray paneled walls, and general layout have stayed the same. The space’s design still makes sense despite changing the restaurants, and ordering at a counter helped prevent decision paralysis. Even without a line, going to a checkout counter makes me more decisive. Desi Diner owners replaced the fountain drink machine with a Coke-branded refrigerator housing their beverages.
As for decorations, Desi Diner has many paintings, photos, and objects connected to South Asian species, animals, and iconography. The decorations made the restaurant feel homier and inviting. The cold architecture of Scandinavian design gave way to a restaurant where I wanted to sit and be surrounded by color and art rather than a plain wall.
Foods from all over the Indian subcontinent are featured on the Desi Diner menu. I ordered my go-to dish Mutter Paneer, and an order of Garlic Naan. I ordered the same meal in early September when the restaurant opened. The difference between the quality of my meals in September and October shocked me. While I enjoyed my food the first time I visited, I loved my meal this time.
Mutter Paneer consists of peas and Panner, a soft cheese, cooked in a creamy, stomato-based sauce seasoned with garam masala and other fragrant spices. I ordered mine extra spicy, which is not an option on the menu, though I recommend ordering your food spicy if you like heat. The peas snapped, and the cheese melted in my mouth with a bite. The sauce had a pleasant burn and paired well with the soft, well-seasoned Garlic Naan.
Dishes on the menu come from all over the Indian subcontinent, providing diners with an array of options rather than a focused cuisine from one culture or region. Desi refers to people, foods, and cultures from various nationals in South Asia. Opening a Desi restaurant differs from opening an Indian restaurant, and it is important to distinguish between these types of cuisine. I appreciate that Desi Diner honors its name and offers patrons selections across the Desi Diaspora.
About half the storefronts on Division Street have turned over hands or closed since I started at St. Olaf in 2020. Desi Diner’s opening reads to me as a sign of downtown Northfield reestablishing itself after the hard economic impact of COVID-19. Seeing a new restaurant open that offered a large, expansive type of food not previously in Northfield for most of my time as a St. Olaf student.
Caroline Geer is from Northville, Mich. Her majors are Sociology/Anthropology and Race and Ethnic Studies.