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Best Indian Buffet in Baltimore

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  • Let's Eat Jun 11, 2006 06:50 PM
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Everyone has an opinion, and they seem so widely divergent when it comes to Indian cuisine. I guess, like so many things, it all depends on personal preference. So, what's your favorite Indian buffet in Baltimore, and, more importantly, why? Although I'm particularly interested in what you thought of buffets in this post, comments about other Indian meals are welcome. Here are my impressions to get things started:

Akbar - A frequent best-of winner, our experience there was appalling. Sauces tasted like they came right out of a can of condensed soup. My dining companion ordered a cheese dessert and pronounced it rancid. Thinking he was exaggerating, I tasted it myself. I'm sorry I did. The management was positively brusque when he complained. Note that this was dinner and not a buffet. I'm interested to know if anyone has had a recent good meal here, and what it was that you liked.

Ambassador - A beautifully appointed dining room in one of Baltimore's lovely historic neighborhoods, but the food was mediocre on my one visit. I can see choosing this place if ambience is more important to you than flavor. Again, this was a lunch experience and not a buffet.

India Rasoi - Another best-of winner, this place is very small; their dining room is about the size of . . . well . . . yours. They seem to have few visitors, but that could be due to the "hey, let's go to Little Italy for . . . Indian" problem. Because there is so little room, the buffet has very few selections. I haven't sampled it, but I have come here for dinner and for takeout. I found the food pleasant but bland. In case you are not sure, that is not a hearty endorsement. Lamb dishes were best, along with the mulligatawny soup, although I prefer more spice.

Mehek - In Fells Point on Broadway near Thames, this is my choice for the true best of Baltimore. A nice selection of dishes with complex sauces, including a few items I have not seen anywhere else. I would like to see lamb on there, but that's a quibble. Their mulligatawny soup is very nice, although I can't help smiling wryly when I see they have tossed in a bit of pasta and labeled it "chicken noodle." The service is attentive and pleasant. Another nice touch: no soggy pile of bread in a sterno-heated tray here; they bring fresh, piping-hot naan to your table as soon as you sit down with your food.

Mem Sahib - The location, right next to Lexington Market, is a bit funky. I tend to eat here only when I am using the metro, as it is a block away. But the buffet is reasonably priced, and the food is above-average. The standout here is the attentive service, and the charming owner makes you feel like a friend. An interesting selection of desserts not found on most buffets, and a pretty good lamb. And let's not forget the Indian music videos on a large screen, if that turns you on. Overall, a very good value.

Mughal Garden - I found this buffet unremarkable in most respects. Not too good, not too bad. A decent value if you happen to be in Mt. Vernon.

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  1. Great post. Anyone have thought on this topic in the Wash DC area (including the burbs). My personal fav. is the Minerva. I find the location in reston a bit better than the one in fairfax.

    1. Am I the only one that hates buffets? The triumph of quantity over quality. It seems odd to me to complain about the quality of food at a buffet. What did you expect? It's a bunch of made-ahead food kept warm at a steam table! If you want quality food, why are you going to a buffet?

      1 Reply
      1. re: Hal Laurent

        I think it depends on what's in the buffet. Something that is meant to be prepared, then served and consumed immediately (most stir-fry dishes, for example) are a bad candidate for buffets. At the opposite end of the spectrum would be soups and stews, which actually may benefit from long simmering.

        As another poster has noted, Indian food does lend itself to buffet serving, being mostly of a stew-like consistency, and given that Indian food lends itself to an approach of "a little of this, a little of that", as is evidenced by the thali choices available at many Indian restaurants.

        The fact remains, though, that in *most* cases, what goes onto a buffet does suffer in comparison to dishes prepared to order.

      2. My favorite Indian lunch buffet spots are Mem Sahib and House of India in Columbia. With respect to the "mini-chains", I prefer the various Bombay spots to Akbar. I have found that Indian food is better suited to the steam table that other cuisines and find a good Indian buffet enjoyable.

        5 Replies
        1. re: ken

          Speaking of Bombay places, what ever happened to Bombay Grill in Mt. Vernon? That was good, inexpensive food in a nice atmosphere. There seems to be one on Lombard Street. Any good?

          1. re: Let's Eat

            The one on Lombard closed.

            1. re: Let's Eat

              The Bombay Grill at Mt. Vernon Place ( Madison and Charles) closed about four years ago and it's owner/chef,Tony Chemmanoor, opened across the street next to Donna's Cafe on Charles Street in a space previously known as the Ruby Lounge. The atmosphere and the cuisine is temendously improved. He specializes in a fusion of european and far east cuisines. The address is 802 Charles Street, Baltimore, Md.

              1. re: DX3

                You're referring to Saffron, where Edward Kim, formerly of Soigne, just started cooking. The food is incredible, but there is no remaining Indian influence.

                1. re: ko

                  Saffron has now closed, and Kim is gone. Chemmanoor has reopened the space as "Indigma." It's now classified as a contemporary Indian cuisine. They do tapas at lunch time, and more innovative dishes in the evening. The prices are much more affordable than Saffron. It's worth trying if you haven't given it a shot!

          2. My favorite Indian food in this area is at Indian Delight on Frederick Road in Catonsville. It's also BYOB!

            1. There's actually a good buffet in Towson called Kathmandu. As the name would imply, it's a mix of Nepalese and traditional Indian.

              1. "Ambassador .... Again, this was a lunch experience and not a buffet"

                So, they no longer have a lunch buffet?
                I haven't been there in almost a year, and that for dinner.
                Yes, I've heard on this board that their food doesn't stack up to others in town, but I'm a fan for the overall dining experience: the food, the patio and the service.

                Also, did anyone mentioned Bombay Garden (?) in Govans?

                1. I haven't tried Mehek, but I have tried all the others in the original posting. My favorite is Mem Sahib. The food is very good, just the right amount of spice. The lamb curry is great. The cold salads always seem very fresh. The owner is a nice young man who understands the importance of polite and friendly customer service.

                  1. I'm no connoisseur, but I've recently discovered the Indian restaurant called Sapphire in Laurel, right on Route 197. The price is fabulous and the food is delicious!

                    1. Time for an update:

                      Mehek - This place changes management more often than some people change diapers. In the past, the managers have always been very interested in improving the dining experience. Not any more. The bread is still piping hot, but in most other respects, the food has gone downhill with the latest management change. The soups are gone, along with the complex sauces. Couldn't find a hint of saffron on my last visit. The trays are no longer changed frequently, resulting in dry chicken and overcooked everything else. Can no longer recommend.

                      Kumari - This is the Nepalese/Indian place on Charles Street in Mt. Vernon. For $8 weekdays and $10 weekends, there is a nice selection of dishes, including a best-in-class okra (and this from a guy who has to be taunted to try that slimy stuff). The tandoori chicken was the best I've had, moist and full of flavor. Here, too, they bring naan fresh to your table. And if you like your mango lassi sweet and bursting with mango flavor (rather than sour and tasting mostly of yogurt and salt), this is the place to try. I'd like to see lamb on the buffet, and soup would be a welcome addition, but those are quibbles. This one is my new favorite, and it's been there for years.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Lettuce Eat

                        If Mem Sahib is the place next to lexington with the multi-layered levels and the large screen in the back, then I went to Mem Sahib a few weeks ago. It was an overall good experience: cheap (about 8.50 per person) and comfortable setting. The food selection was a tad small, but most of it was quite well done. The naan and puri (I think it was puri) were both very fresh. They had chicken, beef, and lamb options as well.

                        1. re: Lettuce Eat

                          great! thanks for the update

                        2. Cafe Spice has an awesome lunch buffet, they're on York Road in Towson, caddy corner to the Towson Library. Their lunch buffet changes daily and has a great selection. I believe the weekday buffet is $7.99.

                          Cafe Spice
                          321 York Rd
                          Towson, MD 21204
                          (410) 583-7770

                          The restaurant is below ground so relatively 'unatmospheric' but the food is fresh, the service good and I've taken many guests there and we've gone back for dinner. Highly recommend.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: aussiewonder

                            I will have to try Cafe Spice. I've been to the buffets at The Ambassador Dining Room (really great atmosphere), Akbar, Mehek and the Kitchen of India. My Fiance and I like the buffet at Kitchen of India on Joppa Road in Towson the best. Their Chicken Teka Masala seems unbeatable.The decor is not nice, but the food and service make up for it.
                            http://kitchenofindiamd.com/

                            1. re: Whitemarshjohn

                              I went to Kitchen of India today... I have very mixed feelings.

                              I found the flavors in ALL dishes VERY bland. The chicken tikka masala looked very promising when I was spooning it out of the tray, but when I ate it, sad to say, I was disappointed. Granted, I don't have a good reference point on what "authentic" Indian cuisine is (I think you can only say you have that point if you have a good Indian friend) because it seems that most Indian food in Baltimore is adjusted to the American palette (creamy but flavorful). Just was not my cup of tea. Same goes for the rest of the dishes. No lamb dishes on the buffet. I did appreciate Tandoori chicken in the buffet which I don't see very often (haven't been to many Baltimore Indian places, but have been to several outside of Baltimore). Overall, a good selection, but after awhile I felt like I was eating mush... just very bland.

                              The thing I did like though was the fact that all the meat (chicken) was very tender. You could tell that they break down whole chickens and use the meat rather than using prepackaged chicken breasts (which is easier to marinate and work with). I appreciated that all the chicken was very moist and tender and stewed well.

                              They brought out fresh naan, but I found it had a very floury taste. Not bad, but not good either.

                              I look forward to trying out the rest of these places. So far I have tried Akbar, Ambassador, and Kitchen of India, and haven't really been that impressed. So far, I have liked Ambassador the best (but I think it's a bad value price wise relative to all the other places).

                            2. re: aussiewonder

                              I went to Cafe Spice on Saturday (on the recommendation of a post on this site), and thoroughly enjoyed it. They didn't have lamb the day I went, and it was more expensive than I was expecting (it was $12; a little overpriced, I think), but good. My wife is a vegetarian; I am not. We both left stuffed and happy.

                              1. re: brats_n_curds

                                I will definitely give Cafe Spice a try. Will report back soon!

                                1. re: OscarTehGrouch

                                  I went to Cafe Spice today and it was overall good...

                                  I got in right before the buffet closed so the food wasn't fresh fresh but here's a general review.

                                  Rice (not like you can screw this up), and Naan were solid. The vegetable pakora was nice and crunchy but still too much batter (I don't see why Indian places can't make this like Japanese tempura). The vegetable makhani was great... wasn't too impressed with the other veggie dishes.

                                  Meat wise, no lamb on the buffet. The tandoori chicken was in my opinion overcooked... granted I got their late, but it was visibly overcharred and dry. The other chicken choices were chicken madras which I thought was good overall, but not great... ultimately... the flavor balance was not there... it was very spicy (don't mistake this for hot) and the spices lingered for the rest of the meal... I had to clean my palette quite a few times with some raita. The chicken korma was solid.

                                  Overall... everything was decent to good, and at least the flavors were not bland. The owners are friendly, and I appreciated the lady letting me in at the last minute and letting me help myself before closing it off.

                                  I would go again, but am not so blown away that I would go out of my way every single time. I'll have to keep looking and tryign the other places... maybe Baltimore Indian is bound for mediocrity.

                            3. Anyone know the name of the new Indian Nepalese place on Charles St? It's close to Mick O'Sheas, and has an Italian sounding name. I'm not referring to Kumari.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: hotel

                                Lumbini. Elizabeth Large wrote about it a while ago in her blog: http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/enter...

                                1. re: hotel

                                  I went there this week...fabulous...

                                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/512486

                                2. OscarTehGrouch: "I'll have to keep looking and tryign the other places... maybe Baltimore Indian is bound for mediocrity."

                                  Oscar, What is your basis for comparison? Have you moved here from another area where there was good Indian? The reason I am asking is because you seem very inclined to try many different Indian restaurants to find a good one and I happen to travel all the time so I am always intrested in restaurants outside the area as well - I travel a lot to Washington DC, Philadelphia, Delaware, New York City and Connecticut. Any help in those areas (especially Indian and red sauce Italian) would be appreciated. BTW, sorry that Kitchen of India was not to your liking (It is one of my favorite restaurants). Have you ever had Southern Indian food? I understand that it is different then regular Northern Indian food - the food is somewhat more spicy and can be hotter and they use lots of cocunut juice/oil or something. I've only had Southern Indian once at a place named Coromandel in Connecticut and it was different, but good. I think it would be hard to find Southern Indian food around here.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Whitemarshjohn

                                    My basis for comparison is many many Indian restaurants I have tried nationwide, (well west coast vs. east coast). I have several Indian friends, cook Indian food at home, and try to be objective as possible. I have tried Southern Indian cuisine several times at several places across the nation. It is starkly different than Northern.

                                    There is absolutely no location bias in my evaluations. One of my best Indian experiences is an Indian restaurant I frequent when back home in Washington State (I'm in Baltimore for school). Out of all places in the US, some of the best Indian I've tasted is this whole in the wall in Washington State. It is Northern Indian, and is home to the best biryani I have ever tasted.

                                    What I look for in Indian food is this. Balance and flavor. After learning some Indian dishes, I have learned that cooking Indian food is very unforgiving. Any uncareful measuring, flawed cooking technique, shortcuts taken, are errors that are enormously compounded in the end result.

                                    1. re: OscarTehGrouch

                                      I guess part of the fun of the whole thing (at least the way I feel) is the continued search for the best Indian food. I have not even ventured down to the Washington D.C. area yet for Indian food (at least not in the past 3-4 years), but from what I've read they have more Indian restaurants then the Baltimore area. Another thing that D.C has that Baltimore does not have are very high-end haughty Indian restaurants such as Rasika in Penn Quarter where dinner for two can run from $100 - $200 and they do not even offer a buffet. They have a Chef's tasting menu that offers several vegetarian and non-vegetarian courses. I've never been to a haughty Indian restaurant, but it kind of makes you wonder.
                                      http://www.rasikarestaurant.com/
                                      Here is another high-brow place:
                                      http://www.bombayclubdc.com/
                                      I'm sure some of the D.C. area Chowhounds are familiar with these places.

                                      1. re: Whitemarshjohn

                                        for indian buffet in the DC Metro area, Minerva is BY FAR the best

                                  2. Wow, my Fiance and I tried the new Mt Everest on Belair Road in the shopping center with Kmart and Salvo Auto Parts and really enjoyed it. We arrived early for dinner and started off with a vegetable combination appetizer and then had chicken tika masala and a lamb dish with vegetables. Everything was very tasty, the decor is very nice and the staff was particularly helpful and nice. We will be back again and probably try the buffet which they serve 7 days a week at lunch time. Mt Everest specializes in Indian, Nepalese, South Indian and American foods. I've heard that they have another location somewhere on Frankford Ave.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: Whitemarshjohn

                                      Whoa - I'm terribly late to the thread, but "Mt. Everest" caught my eye. Is this perchance a re-opening of the restaurant with the same name that used to be on E. Joppa Road in Parkville (where Kitchen of India is now)?

                                      *That* Mt. Everest was our absolute favorite Indian place and I was quite unhappy when they closed/changed ownership. I would love to hear that the Mt. Everest on Belair is the same place!

                                      1. re: MDS

                                        I have great news for you MDS. Mt Everest on US 1 in the shopping center with Kmart and Salvo Auto Parts IS the same Mt Everest. I found out that they have a location on Frankford and use to be located on Joppa Road where Kitchen of India now stands which they closed and this is there new location. I've been to the brunch buffet once and also had dinner there and both my Fiance and I really enjoyed the experience both times.

                                        1. re: Whitemarshjohn

                                          Oh, wow, that *IS* great news!!! I really missed them. We are definitely going to have to make a trek out there ASAP. Out of curiosity - did you happen to notice on the menu a tomato soup item? That was delicious stuff. Perhaps better once the fall weather comes around again...

                                          1. re: MDS

                                            I am sorry - I did not notice any soups, but I rarely choose soup when I'm having Indian food.

                                    2. We tried Cafe Spice for the lunch buffet and it was a little too spicy for what we like. Some dishes were very good - especially the desserts, the decor is very nice and the Hostess/Waitress was the greatest. I was a little dissapointed that there were no lamb dishes and they did not have Chicken Tika Masala - they had a dish sort of similar but without much chicken and it had bones in it. Our favorites Indian places currently are Kitchen of India, Mt Everest and The Ambassador Dining Room (we like the atmosphere here - the garden and old world charm and all). Other places we have tried aside from the above mentioned were Akbar, Mehek and India Palace. None of the Indian places we have tried so far were bad - just some were more to our liking then others.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Whitemarshjohn

                                        No lamd? Really? Ergo, no red meat?

                                        1. re: ko1

                                          No lamb - I guess they don't use beef at Indian buffets because they are hindu.

                                      2. Has anyone tried Lumbini on N. Charles next to Mick O Sheas? Wonder if its worth going to when Akbar is only another 5 minute walk up Charles.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: MrIncognito1

                                          Keep walking. I was there today with a few other chowhounds to check it out. Crosby_p wrote about it a couple of days ago on another thread as well. Overall, I'd say it is average to slightly below average for local Indian buffets. I'd still head to Mem Sahib for downtown Baltimore Indian buffet (located at Lexington Market.)

                                          The cost of the lunch buffet is $9.99, which I think is a couple bucks more than Mem Sahib. No a la carte was offered.

                                          Starting off inauspiciously on the buffet was a very mundane salad plate - iceberg lettuce leaves, carrot and cucumber coins and a plastic squirt bottle labled "Ranch dressing" next to it. There was a divided platter consisting of chutneys, tamarind sauce, raita etc. that were somewhat anemic too, but no pickle. As crosby_p pointed out, a good vegetable pakora, a couple kinds of rice, palek paneer (lots of palek, not a lot of paneer), channa or toor dal (wasn't sure), stewed goat, shrimp "chilly," vegetable makani, tandoori chicken, and chicken tikka masala were all in the trays. Nothing really stood out - although the shrimp did pack a good bit of heat. The naan brought to the table was thin and floppy with no discernable char - basic stuff. No other kinds of breads were available. The only dessert was a concoction of sweet shredded carrots - garjarela without much cardamom? I enjoyed most the goat and the shrimp. The dal, while thin, also had a good amount of spicing.

                                          I would suggest trying this place in the evening and ordering off the menu.