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Bad Indian Food in Philly

I just can't believe how bad the Indian food is in Philly. They're all Punjabi (but not authentic at all), greasy, tasteless. Usually service is terrible too. I wonder why Philly is lacking good Indian restaurants?! NYC, D.C., Houston, LA have wonderful, authentic Indian restaurnts. I crave Indian food all the time and am always at a loss as to where to go for a good, home-style Indian meal. I heard Palace of Asia is opening in Philly soon. Anyone know when it'll open?

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  1. Lotus7 - Which Indian restaurants are you talking about?
    In West Philly? Olde City? Suburbs? Even among the Indian restaurants that do north Indian-style cooking there are differences.

    Have you been to any of the restaurants in the western suburbs of Philadelphia? I find that the spice mixture used in the dishes at Himalayan and A Taste of India agree with me the most. Royal India is decent, too.

    If you want authentic Indian cooking, you may want to try the vegetarian "feast" at the International Society of Krishna Consciousness's Sunday lecture/dinner. They often give their dishes a West Bengali style treatment, I believe. Quality in recent months has wavered from what they used to offer, but it's still reported to be the "real" thing, if you are looking for "authenticity."

    I wonder if you ever visited Minar Palace in Center City when they were open and had their Saag Paneer. As the joke goes, if you opened up a dictionary to the word "authentic," there would have been a picture of that dish made by that restaurant.
    Their version of that dish sets the standard for me for how good that dish can be, with all its spicy and aromatic exuberance.

    You know, many years ago, I had my first taste of Indian food at a New York city restaurant in the Village. It was so distasteful that I didn't have any desire to come close to that cuisine ever again. Many years later at an ashram-type place I was exposed to it again. Different experience. Continued exposure to this cuisine at various other places informed me that the first experience I had was nothing but an unfortunate aberration of tastefully cooked Indian food. So, even a large place like New York can offer less than desirable Indian food. I'd guess even in Queens and Brooklyn, with its large number of Indian restaurants, you can find both good and bad ones.

    Hope you continue sampling Indian food at other places in the Philadelphia metropolitan area and find a restaurant that serves food you enjoy. Check the many Indian restaurant/food subject threads on this board to get more specific reviews and information about specific restaurants.

    1. Try Lovash, on South Street between 2nd and 3rd (I think, maybe 3rd and 4th), it's the only decent Indian food I've had in the city. It's not fantastic, but it's pretty good. There used to be a really good place in Old City called Shivnanda, but they closed a while back. Khajuraho, just off Rt. 30 in Ardmore, is totally worth the trip.

      19 Replies
      1. re: Buckethead

        I have not tried Lovash. The best Indian food I have had in Philly are 1) Kashmir Garden 2) Karma 3) Cafe Spice. The first is more authentic and has a more varied menu than 2 and 3. 2 is good Northern. Cafe Spice is not authentic, but tasty in its own right. And take everything I say with a grain of salt about authenticity, given that the closest I have come to India is 28th and Lex.

        1. re: brescd01

          You know, I worked with a guy from Bombay. I asked him what his favorite Indian Restaurant was -- he said Cafe Spice. Bizarre. I've never been and hadn't planned on going there until he said that.

          1. re: DanielleM

            I really enjoyed Cafe Spice, but it was a bit different. I remember my dish was something I had not had at any other restaurant, and was soo good- called Lababdar or something.
            There is also a "fast food" version of Cafe Spice in Liberty Square foodcourt, but have yet to try it.

            1. re: DanielleM

              i always find this funny; just because someone is indian (or insert *whatever* ethnicity here) by nature we assume they are the expert. there are plenty of americans who would steer you to subpar american food, right?
              so next time you see an indian food place filled with indian people (example: devi vegetarian indian cuisine in downingtown; clientele consists of primarily indian people with NO taste buds apparently), remind yourself that this might be no different from seeing a mcdonald's filled with fat white trash. ;)

              anyway. felafelboy is right on with the indian options in the western suburbs. i haven't found a good joint in phila proper yet, either. however a taste of india in the gateway shopping center in wayne, very unassuming place, is absolutely to die for. all around the country i have yet to find another restaurant that tops this one. and they listen when you say 'extra spicy!'

              1. re: rabidog

                I do agree with you, rabidog, regarding the ethnic people in the restaurant thing, however, ....I enjoy Desi Village, which always has Indian people. We talked to the owner/manager who explained that they prepare the dishes for them differently than for the American guests- using more authentic Indian spices. We asked for ours to be prepared that way- very Indian spicy, and had the most wonderful dish- one of their frequent specials, made actual Indian style! (perhaps that Devi place does the same thing for their Indian guests)

                that being said, I do recommend that wherever you like to go, ask if they do that & definitely try it if they do! but I have been to TOIndia in Wayne, which I enjoy, but I liked my authentic meals at Desi Village better. I heard though that TOI may have changed ownership- is that true?

                Also, FYI--- the staff from Desi Village does demonstrations at Bloomingdales cooking dept on occasion if you can ever make it!

                1. re: pamd

                  hm, i was actually wondering about TOI myself. i know they have recently opened a second location, in exton, and i am wondering if one of the chefs from the wayne location may have moved over there? the dishes are still good, but slightly different i have noticed. still the same wait staff, anyway.

                  desi village - where is this one? i don't think i have been.

                  1. re: rabidog

                    oh, do try. It's next to Peace a Pizza/ across from Chili's/wawa on gulph (at 202). I had the best chickpea dish, wish I could remember the name, better than chana masala! The specials are really good.

                  2. re: pamd

                    Last time I checked, TOI did not change management, although they have fewer salad items in their lunch buffet. They used to have a chicken salad to die for. I could have just made a meal just eating the soup, and chicken salad. They used to also occassionally have an egg salad sort of mixture, too. In recent months, they have just had a basic salad mix, as well as a Punjabi mixture of cold vegetables. (Currently, the basic salad is about the same at Royal India, Himalayan, Gateway to India, and TOI. Royal India has two additional interesting salad variations.)

                    I once had a special dinner at Desi Village which was a catered event for a small group attending a lecture. The food was very good. When I returned for the lunch buffet, the preparation and variety was not as appealing. Most dishes I looked at had a different look than what I have seen at my favorite hangouts. They looked like they were not as emersed in sauces as I have seen elsewhere. Soup options and desserts were not as appealing as I have seen elsewhere. So, while the lunch buffet selections and appearance don't appeal to me as much as that I have seen elsewhere, the one buffet meal I had as part of the catered event was memorable. I had returned hoping that what I experienced was the norm for this restaurant, but it didn't appear to be the case. This restaurant has gotten good reviews. I have been there a few times where the selections didn't contain many of my favorites. I know if I go to Himalayan, TOI, or Royal India, more times than not, there will be more than a few memorable dishes. Gateway to India's lunch buffet in my last few visits has been disappointing, where a few dishes were unappealing or just off in taste, rarely the case at H, RI, or TOI.

                    I would recommend Desi Village for someone to try and let them form their own decision. At these restaurants, there always seem to be some days where all things come together well.

                    1. re: FelafelBoy

                      I try to take the long view on Desi Village in Langhorne, and count on 2 out of every 3 experiences there being memorable. There used to be a server there who knew all my preferences but he went back to India to get married and I haven't seen him since. I haven't been able to establish a relationship like that with anyone else there. One of the things I love about Desi Village is you'll find whole spices in your foods, which means they're taking more time with them than the usual places (whole spices have to release their flavor into hot oil over the course of a couple of minutes usually, especially cinammon sticks and cardamom pods, unlike powdered spices which just need to heat up for a couple of seconds).

                      1. re: Smellchipper

                        I go to the one in KOP- wasn't aware there was another in Langhorne- same owner?
                        As for the whole spices I agree. Also, in my experiences at all these places the lunch buffet is hit or miss of what dishes they decide to make that day that appeal to you- especially if you do not eat everything- like vegetarians. However, I can tell a lot by going for dinner & ordering dishes- but have them prepare it Indian spicy, so that's what I recommend (and often the specials). I do often notice people walking in just to check the buffet options before sitting at many places.

                        1. re: pamd

                          I mean don't get me wrong, there are a lot of Indian dishes which call for powdered spices, but typically in creamy dishes like korma you don't want anything that'll discolor the sauce. A lot of times the buffet option is crap and the regular food is good, or vise versa. I think the menu at Sitar India is very mediocre but their buffet is quite good.
                          As far as I know there's no network of dubbawallas to deliver homemade lunch to you the way there is in ny and sf. That would make up for the lack of quality affordable restaurants in center city. I just make my own now rather than going out to eat.

                          1. re: pamd

                            A question about Indian spicy; I always assumed that that meant super hot, but perhaps I'm wrong. I order mine medium hot and sometimes it's hot enough and sometimes it's not, but now I'm thinking that the term might not refer to the heat level, but to the seasonings and authenticity. Enlighten me.

                            1. re: gsElsbeth

                              Indian spicy is very spicy- not sure of what they do different, all I know is that when speaking to the manager, I was told "we do it Indian spice & American spice" based on the clients. So, we requested ours Indian - and then he asked how spicy we wanted it. We told him to prepare it like he would eat it. I didn't ask specifics, just know that I loved the dish!

                          2. re: Smellchipper

                            Interesting point made about the use of whole spices found in your food instead of the powdered spices.

                            I don't live near Langhorne, so my reference to Desi Village is to the restaurant in King of Prussia, a space which is quite large and nice. Last time I was at this place, I didn't care for its variety of soups or limited number of desserts offered at the lunch buffet.

                            The other point made about people checking out the buffet selection is true. Sometimes even the favorite places just don't have dishes that agree with you that day. I think it would be to their advantage to at least have a few vegetarian items that are the favorites of patrons. Non-vegetarianly speaking, most places always have tandoori chicken at the buffet or some variation of chicken in a sauce. TOI always has its dal makhani, which I have stated before is its least desirable (to me) item. Almost every other place I have been to makes a better version of it, which is strange given what a good job this restuarant does with everything else. All they have to do is to thicken it up with red kidney beans and I will give the dish a passing grade.

                            On the topic of "bad Indian food in Philly", am I the only one who feels this way ... when I go to an Indian restaurant, I look forward to some mainstream Indian soup, not some Americanized version. I have been to several restaurants that offer as the soup for the buffet, chicken soup, a soup that has not been taken on any Indian flavor. I feel that if you are going to serve chicken soup, at least accent it with some typical Indian spices. There are numerous other soups that could be offered, more characteristic of "Indian flavors." I have scanned various Indian cookbooks that describe various soups, and I'd think there would be something there a restaurant could offer or create to be more exciting and interesting than chicken soup. With the season of fall making its cold presence, I'd think the chefs could come up with an Indian spiced version of pumpkin or squash soup.

                            1. re: Smellchipper

                              How do you compare Desi Village in Langhorne to the New India Cafe in the Pine Watson shopping center?

                              1. re: gsElsbeth

                                New India Cafe doesn't seem to even use spices. Avoid it. See my review at
                                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                          3. re: pamd

                            I love Desi Village, the food and the service are above average. its always empty in there and Im hoping that they can stay in buisness.....

                          4. re: rabidog

                            Well let me add on to this by saying that the guy from India who recommended Cafe Spice really LOVED food, and was always asking me where to go--was very adventurous, and worked as a consultant so he had a per diem and could eat out all the time. I took his recommendation seriously because he was a food lover AND from Bombay.

                      2. re: Buckethead

                        I'm obviously a philistine, because I don't mind the Indian buffet places in West Philly, but Lovash is much better than any of them. They have a wide variety of Naans/flatbreads including one with coconut that is absolutely deeelicious. The owner might actually be from Goa, as there are some Goan items on the menu. It's a pleasant place to sit and eat as well, and they deliver.

                      3. I'm not an expert on Indian cuisine, but I think Karma in Old City is very good (in fact, I just had lunch to go from them today, and the lingering aromas from the empty takeout container are wonderful!). In my opinion, Karma is better that Cafe Spice.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: gina

                          oooh, have not heard of this one! i may try today. this isn't the hookah bar, is it?

                          114 Chestnut St (Cross Street: Front Street)
                          Philadelphia, PA 19106
                          (215) 925-1444
                          Fax: (215) 925-1472

                          can't find a webpage for them but let me know if you do. seems to have gotten good reviews across the board.

                          1. re: rabidog

                            No, not the hookah bar (haven't tried that yet--persian food, I think), but across the street. Here's the website:

                            http://www.thekarmarestaurant.com/

                        2. If you're looking for authentic, join the cab drivers at Kabobeesh in West Philly.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Susan H

                            Authentic Pakistani, not Indian, but it is extremely good.

                            1. re: JugglerDave

                              I can't agree that Kabobeesh is good after my second bad meal there. I find the curry dishes and rice over cooked, flavorless and steam tabled for too long, I can't taste any spices except for hot chili(which I love when mixed with other spices)and the kebabs ordinary.This food is not created with much care. The bread made in their own tandoor is very nice, the place itself is a lot of fun.

                          2. I went to Cafe Spice and loved it. It's got a nice atmosphere - very pretty - but more importantly, the food was terrific! There's one right next to the liberty bell complex. I walked there while waiting for my passport, so it's pretty central.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: creatrix

                              surprised nobody mentioned TIFFIN in northern liberties, haven't tried but everyone seems to love it. heard the dining room isn't much and take out / delivery the way to go

                              1. re: silverbullet69

                                Most of this thread is from 2006, Tiffin wasn't open at the time.

                                1. re: Buckethead

                                  yep, tiffin opened in dec 2006.

                                  the dining room space is plenty nice since they expanded it about a year ago. it's much larger now, and a perfectly fine space to eat in.

                                  however lately i have noticed a decline in quality so i don't frequent it as often. :(