Serving Up Time-Honored Flavors Fast
Friends’ Fresh Take on Indian Cuisine Expands Across D.C. Area
By Sala Levin ’10
Photo by Rey Lopez
Six years ago, lifelong friends Sahil Rahman ’12 and Rahul Vinod ’11 asked customers to “tikka chance” on a new kind of restaurant: one that blended traditional Indian flavors with a modern, fast-casual eating experience.
That chance panned out, and this spring, Rahman and Vinod opened their fifth Rasa location, in Rockville, Md. It’s also the pair’s first location in their home state, after getting their start in Washington, D.C., and Virginia.
For Rahman and Vinod, Montgomery County isn’t just where they grew up—it’s also where their fathers, Surfy Rahman and K.N. Vinod, jointly opened the 31-year-old Bombay Bistro, a family-friendly Rockville institution, and later, D.C.’s stylish Indique.
When the younger Rahman and Vinod would bring their friends to their parents’ restaurant, they noticed that the unfamiliar menu often puzzled them, but that they loved the dishes. “What we realized was that it wasn’t maybe an issue of the food itself, but just how people were being introduced to the food and the culture,” says Vinod.
After studying business at the University of Maryland and working briefly in the corporate world, the younger Rahman and Vinod decided to try a new, fresh approach to Indian restaurants. Inspired by their high school and college meals at Chipotle, the two spent several years planning Rasa (“essence” in Sanskrit), including finessing the menu (with cleverly named dishes like Aloo Need Is Love and Tikka Chance on Me), securing funding, scouting a location, designing the interior and learning the basics—like how to cook.
Critics loved it. Tom Sietsema of The Washington Post praised Rasa’s “deliciously nuanced ‘Home Cooking,’ thin rice noodles and gingery shrimp that share their bowl with wrinkly green beans, mango salsa and mango coconut yogurt,” he wrote in 2018.
Early in the pandemic, Rahman and Vinod used their restaurant—and the then-on-hold second location, in Mt. Vernon Triangle—to do some good. They partnered with star D.C. chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen to distribute some 50,000 free meals to medical professionals and other first responders.
The pandemic didn’t stop the business from growing. In 2021 and 2022, Rasa opened in Crystal City and Fairfax’s Mosaic District, and the business now counts roughly 90 employees.
“While we’ve got big ambitions, we also hope to bring it back home to College Park one day, too,” says Rahman.
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