This East Merrick Road restaurant brings avant-garde delight to Indian cuisine


Tejinder Anand, known affectionately as T.J., likes to explore new tastes and flavors. He turns conventional American cuisine into unique Indian delicacies.

Anand is the owner of Diya, the new Indian restaurant on East Merrick Road in Valley Stream. Anand creates unconventional Indian fare, which he discovers through experimentation. The old Diya restaurant closed in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy.

The renewed restaurant is clean and white, with hints of pink on a couple walls. Each table is complete with a bouquet of red and yellow flowers in the center. Wood and leather chairs surround the white cloth tables. There’s a little bar on the side of the restaurant. Indian music plays very low in the background.

Anand said 80 percent of his clientele is non-Indian. Only 20 percent is Indian.

“In the last year, the Indian community in Valley Stream has grown,” Anand said. 

Anand began life in New Delhi. At age 13, he moved to New York. Now he lives in the Five Towns and also runs an accounting firm.

“I play with numbers and I play with food,” Anand said.

Anand is present in his restaurant – a hands-on kind of owner. He frequently makes deliveries for Diya. He also comes up with new recipes and shows his two chefs how to make them – one tandoori and the other a curry chef.

“I enjoy working here,” said Harish Chamoli, a  chef at Diya. “I have the opportunity to practice what I’ve learned in school,”

Soon, he’ll start making Indian pizzas again, which he has always made himself. His pizzas are essentially naan bread topped with tikka masala sauce and paneer cheese. He throws in chicken and vegetables for some versions as well.

The first iteration of Diya was on Rockaway Avenue in Valley Stream. It was open from 2007 until 2012. After Hurricane Sandy, there were power outages and other problems, so Diya had to close down. The new Diya opened in May 2023.

“I enjoy meeting people and entertaining people,” Anand said.

That’s why he opened another restaurant instead of retiring.

Other things the restaurant offers that aren’t normal Indian fare include lobster – both tandoori and masala style. That also includes crab paneer cake, which is crab meat, potatoes and paneer cheese. His “Lobster Lajawab” means “Lobster Wow,” because he can’t think of any better way to describe it.

He transformed the traditional potato skins with ingredients you would expect to see in an Indian restaurant: vegetables and paneer. His wings are baked, never fried. His steak medallion dish is different too — aged and marinated.

Another dish he created is “Drunken Chicken,” which is chicken soaked in beer and sauces topped with wild herbs and spices. It comes with white basmati rice. Beer for drinking is served in chilled glasses.

Yet, the most popular dishes at Diya are classics like chicken tikka masala and palak paneer — a spinach and cheese dish. Of course, Diya also offers drinks like Mango Lassi and sides like garlic naan.

“We are as fine dining as you can be in Valley Stream,” Anand said. “It’s a white tablecloth restaurant.”