The Hindu festival of Diwali celebrates light over darkness—and in a normal year, it’s traditionally marked with family and friend gatherings, fireworks, and Indian sweets.

The holiday honors the triumph of good over evil, and in different regions of India, there are different Hindu mythologies for what story is commemorated. Although technically five days long, Diwali culminates on the third day of the festival on a moonless night, when people usually light clay lamps and fireworks to illuminate the night (the other days involve traditions like wearing new clothes and religious rituals). The holiday falls in late October or early November each year, and in 2021, is on Thursday, November 4.

But as the second year of the pandemic comes to a close, it could be another modified festival of lights in Colorado as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations increase in our state. No matter how you celebrate, Denver-area restaurants are fueling the festivities with traditional Indian specialties—many of which are also available year round. Safely eating out or getting takeout from these spots is a special way to ring in the occasion.

Feast on Favorite Indian Dishes

For those who want to gather in person, Paradise Tavern in Lone Tree is hosting a Diwali Dhamaka event on November 13 featuring a buffet, cultural performances, and games like bingo. Little India’s fourth location will open in Central Park later this month, but you can still order the restaurant’s most popular dishes for Diwali at its three other Denver locations. These include lamb pasanda—yogurt-marinated baked lamb cooked in a tomato-based curry—and chicken jahangir, which includes a special masala and vindaloo sauce.

Coriander will serve its crowd-favorite samosas at its Green Valley Ranch restaurant, which also features Indian-inspired cocktails like a tamarind margarita and “Shiva The Destroyer,” a cocktail of chile-infused tequila, orange liqueur, and lime juice. For a unique twist on Indian favorites, chef Charles Mani’s one-week-old Urban Village Grill (the next iteration of Urban Village) in Lone Tree touts its popular crispy kale, fried cauliflower, and “not-your-grandma’s” butter chicken dishes. Tamarind Indian Cuisine in Castle Rock says its popular favorites include vegetable korma (veggies cooked in a cashew-cream sauce) and malai kofta (fried potato-paneer balls in a rich sauce). Haveli in Littleton says newcomers should try the restaurant’s butter chicken and salmon tikka entrees.

Snack on Street Food

Indian street food is often less known and less common in mainstream Indian cuisine across the United States and Colorado, but chaat—savory snacks often found from roadside vendors in South Asia—are salty, sweet, tangy, and delightfully crunchy. Spice Room in Berkeley serves a classic Bombay bhel—a combination of puffed rice, potatoes, tomatoes, and onions, accompanied by delicious chutneys. The restaurant’s aloo tikki chaat comes with a spiced potato cutlet. For a messy but fun order, try pani puris—small, fried-to-a-crisp hollow bread balls filled with potatoes, garbanzo beans, and spiced water (“pani” translates to “water” in Hindi).

Sample South Indian Fare

If you’re looking for a trek away from the familiar North Indian dishes like naan, saag paneer, and chicken tikka masala, try Indian food from the southern region, like dosa (a rice and lentil crepe), idli (steamed lentil and rice cakes), and coconut-infused curries. For 20 years, the Aurora staple Masalaa has offered an all-vegetarian, South Indian menu, complete with giant dosas, lemon rice, and a variety of idlis. The South Indian city of Hyderabad is famous for its biryani—a mixed rice dish made with spiced meats or vegetables. Hyderabad House in Centennial is known for its biryanis, which come in varieties like chicken, fish, paneer, and veggie.

To cap off a Diwali (known as “Deepavali” in South India) meal, don’t forget a sweet-tooth-satisfying dessert. The Madras Cafe in Aurora is selling fresh sweets and snacks specially for the holiday, including milk cake (solid bites of milk, sugar, and ghee), coconut barfi (blocks of coconut, sugar, and cardamom) and rasgulla (milk solids in a sugary syrup). Authentic Indian sweets are also often found at Denver-area Indian grocery stores like Bombay Bazaar in Aurora, Konark Grocers in Highlands Ranch, and SV Groceries in Lone Tree. Try laddoos (spherical sweets made with flour and sugar), jalebi (spiral-shaped fried treats), or Mysore pak (gram flour, ghee, and sugar).

However you celebrate Diwali, Denver’s growing Indian food scene offers a rich culinary experience for those who enjoy fresh ingredients, diverse textures, and complex combinations of spices from the South Asian subcontinent.

Vignesh Ramachandran
Vignesh Ramachandran
Vignesh Ramachandran is a freelance journalist and co-founder of Red, White and Brown Media. He’s on Twitter at @VigneshR.