best Indian food
Realizing that every place has its ups and downs, here's my rough ranking of Indian restaurants in the Austin area:
** Sarovar, Shalimar, Swad, Tandoori Hut,
Star of India
* Chola, Curry in Hurry, Madras Pavilion,
Bombay Bistro, Bombay Express, Clay Pit ("contemporary Indian"), Rangoli, Taj Palace
Indian Palace, Masala Wok ("Indian Chinese")
[don't remember trying]
? India Kitchen, Bombay Grill
[no longer in business :-( ]
***Rushi--for everything, esp. daal variations and homemade ice cream
***Hyderabad House--esp. jeera rice
Even though there are definite regional tendencies in Indian cooking [north--breads, goat/lamb, dairy incl. paneer; south--rice, vegetables, seafood(?)]. Many "Indian" restaurants include dishes from different regions, so I'm including all Indo-pak restaurants here. So, what are your favorite dishes, at which restaurant, and (preferably!) why?
First of all a disclaimer. I really like Indian food, but I am not an authority on any of it. For example, I couldn't tell you the difference between curry and garam masala. I don't know the difference between the cuisine of the various regions.
Almost all the Indian food i have had in town i have liked, except for the occasional dried out piece of Tandoori chicken I've had on a lunch buffet.
That all being said, I had some take out lamb vindaloo from Tarka Indian kitchen last week. I didn't actually visit the place. My wife went and picked it up. I thought the basmati rice was excellent. There was a bayleaf and what looked to be a cardamom pod in it. It had a real nice fragrance, and was very tasty. The vindaloo came with an option of mild, med and hot. I got the medium. Very tasty, I thought.
Anyway, I'd like to hear what somebody that eats a lot of Indian food thinks.
This place is owned by the clay pit people, and is located on Brodie Lane next door to a Zen, around the corner from BJ's Brewhouse, etc.
I really liked Tarka. I went for lunch last week and got an order of the samosas, medium spiced chicken tikka masala (the national dish of Scotland!), and naan. With a drink, it was $16.75!! But it was my birthday and I was cranky, so I tried to reframe the sticker shock as a birthday treat.
The samosas were very, very fresh and delicious. They had not been sitting around waiting for a home. I really enjoyed the chicken tikka, it tasted very fresh, unlike at other restaurants in town. I wonder if they make it in small batches so that it's not made to stretch all day? The rice was perfect, simply perfect. The naan was meh; I was pretty underwhelmed. Then again, I'm a sucker for a nice, fresh, pillowy piece of naan and that's a rare treat in this town anyway.
I would definitely go again if I were to find myself hungry in that neck of the woods.
Now that I've been there 3 times (proximity, newness, etc.), I'd like to stick Tarka out there - didn't find anything with a search, either!
First time, I knew it was Clay Pit owned, so that was a big strike for me (sorry Tom in Austin, but I'm with Nab here). It was also a preview dinner night, so I think there was a lot of pressure to turn out good food, and it showed. Along with the one good dinner I had at Tandoori Hut up north, it was the best Indian I've had in Austin. The tikka masala was less reduced than I'm used to, but still actually tasted good. I ordered it at spice level 3 of 3, and it was to me, a bit hot for the flavor in the dish. The vindaloo was the chunky type that's more common in my experience (rather than puree with veggies), and the heat level 3 of 3 was just right for the dish. The saag paneer was very similar to Clay Pit's recipe (the only thing I enjoyed there), I believe, and had quite a bit of paneer in it. A surprise was the khuroos-e-tursh, which were 3 rather small disks of chicken in a sort of korma-like sauce, smoother and a bit sweeter with less cashew flavor. The batch of naan we got was about the best I've had. Samosas were brilliant on the texture side, but lacking on the flavor side - I guessed whole coriander seed. Overall, it was much better than Clay Pit on flavor, yet about even on ingredient quality, while priced lower for similar portions if I recall correctly (according to the menu - the test night was free!).
Second time was with a group, and the food wasn't quite as good, naan wasn't as fresh and uneven (a plus in my book so you get some crispy, some dense). About same things were ordered again, spice level seemed down a bit, samosas still good and crispy but missing something spice-wise (although the aloo inside had a much stronger curried flavor this time), but not bad. I did try a friend's tandoori chicken, and it was juicy but a bit weak on the marinade's flavor. The kebob was tasty but a bit on the anorexic side for the price.
Third time, the menu has changed and an early favorite (K-e-T, but $12 for 3 small pieces of chicken doesn't justify the sauce!) and tandoori chicken (also $12 I think, and only 1/2 a chicken!) are gone, along with a number of other non-curry dishes. The korma was surprisingly good (gritty cashew goodness), chana masala was above average (meaning good for Austin!), and the malai kofta went over well - the sauce was low on spicing overall but the tomato flavor was strong.
It's in the vein of Firebowl, Pei Wei, and Zen, with the same layout and general Westernization of the recipes. Based on the gushing reviews for Clay Pit on various review sites, lack of competition in the area, and success of Pei Wei/Firebowl, they have a hit on their hands here - and I'll probably be back when I must have something resembling Indian food and don't have driving time to go try Teji's or a trip to Dallas/Houston planned.
Tarka Indian Restaurant
5207 Brodie Ln, Austin, TX 78745
I ate at Tarka today for the second time, and really, really enjoyed it. The mulligatawny soup was so good my son and I were pulling the bowl back and forth across the table. Vegetable pakoras were good - flavorful, toothsome, with the same great cilantro based tangy dipping sauce that comes with the samosas. I LOVED the samosas-fresh, hot, bursting with flavor. LOVED the "shish-kebab"or grilled lamb/chicken patties...these came with wonderful basmati rice, great grilled bell pepper/onion, and the kids' meal was enough for me, even after the boy ate his fill. Hubby liked his vindaloo, and I am going to try a biryani next - can't wait. Nice to have this in the Southwest.
5207 Brodie Ln, Austin, TX 78745
Tarka Indian Restaurant
5207 Brodie Ln, Austin, TX 78745
I'm kind of spoiled because I used to share a house and kitchen with a guy from India--I've never ever eaten Indian food in a restaurant in Austin that came close to what he and his friends made. The difference: they were buying their spices fresh (or roasting/grinding them on the spot more like it) from MGM Oriental foods (now Mr. Mati has more competition than back in the day). There's one place in Dallas and one in Houston that comes close. In fact, the only restaurant I know of in Austin that uses spices that are *this* fresh is Fonda San Miguel.
Now if someone knows of an Indian restaurant with this level of attention to spice, please let us all know.
Thanks to suggestions from uarent, tom in austin, and others, I tried the lunch buffet ($10) at India Kitchen on Riverside recently. Quite good, actually. There's a small salad/condiment bar, including chutneys. The hot buffet offered two nice soups, both pureed. One was a medium-thick lentil soup (about like split-pea); the other was a tomato bisque. The samosas, pakora, and vegetable dishes were ok. The goat curry was tender with just enough sinew and gaminess to be interesting and had a savory gravy, not spicy at all but tasty. Decent butter chicken. Typical rice with peas was fine. Over-all, I'd put it on the first line of the ** group, with Sarovar, Shalimar, Swad, and Tandoori Hut.
About Whip In: it sounds so "Keep Austin Weird"--slightly granola Indian food served in a old South Austin convenience store turned hip beer/wine joint. The one dish I've tried was pretty good and hearty.
I am an unabashed regular at the Whip In. The wine picks over the past several months have been questionable, which may just come with the quirk (although I think it left with one of the former employees), but the beer is always up & down my alley.
Though the owners are Indian, budgethound's "granola Indian food" descriptor is accurate, though I thought they were first a beer/wine joint, then convenience store and now offering grub.
I heard tom in austin's voice telling me to put aside the notion of authenticity, and enjoy it for what it is, and I did. The rice needs some work though (it lacks some length and fluff), and the "house made naan" seems like standard-fare pita, but the goods I've tried are pretty tasty. The hot sandwiches are "panini pressed" in the pita/naan, but the fillings are good -- I had one that was not unlike a samosa, I think it's called The Africa Haute (Zambian corn pepper saakh, cilantro chutney, feta cheese) -- I could've sworn it had potatoes though, so that might not be the one. The beef & beer chili was delicious; tender falling-apart chunks of chuck, in a rich, deep, garam masala-laced sauce that was spicy as all get out. It wasn't Texas Red, and it sure as hell wasn't authentic Indian, but it was good. Spicy Sweet Butter Bourbon Chicken With Caramelized Onion Masala was pretty much like it sounds -- a mash-up between your standard Indian buffet butter chicken and your local mall's bourbon chicken (sans toothpick).
I like the food so far (when stopping in and without meal plans), and I'm sure I'll have eaten the entire menu by the end of the month, but then again, I also own a Whip In t-shirt.
Been back to the Whip In and had a good cucumber salad and a tasty panini-like hot-krab-tomato-chutney-and-cheddar sandwich. I'd say the food was about good coffeehouse price and quality. If you go for the (sixteen) beers on tap and/or the live music and need to grab a bite, it'll do the job nicely.
It's important to make a distinction between "most authentic" and "best" overall. Being the "best" involves level of authenticity and quality of ingredients.
Unfortunately, I've always found that some of the most authentic indian restaurants in Austin are terrible in terms of raw material quality, while some of the least authentic indian restaurants (clay pit) have far better quality ingredients, relatively speaking, although I will caution - I'm not sure if it's purely due to the terrible preparation/execution, but clay pit's "rack of lamb" is absolutely horrendous. The consistency is that of tough, chewy chicken breast.
Also, I was displeased with a lunch portion of chicken korma at Clay pit. The dinner portion was better, for some reason.
Honestly, when I was mentioning "highly authentic but low raw material quality," I was thinking of Airport Haven.
I do not have any real experience with indian restaurants outside of airport haven, clay pit, sarovar, and maybe a few other "obvious" "mainstream" ones that I am missing right now.
I suppose the only useful thing I have to contribute right now is that I highly recommend avoiding the "rack of lamb" at clay pit. It is terrible.
You've got it, dcx1287.
I don't care about authenticity if it doesn't lead to delicious food. (P.S. it often does -- traditions are traditions for a reason, especially in the nearly-alchemical semiscience of spontaneous food creation!)
I really like Shalimar, Star of India, India Kitchen, Madras Pavilion, Sarovar, Swad and others. (I've even had a recent infatuation with certain dishes at India Kitchen, such-as-but-not-limited-to their goat curry.)
But (in a crime that I'm sure Nab might swoop down and zap me for) I hold Clay Pit to be the best Indian restaurant in Austin. Probably because the dishes have been made of high quality ingredients, and Clay Pit has been by far more consistent than the other places in town. Reliability, especially when time is at a premium, is very valuable.
Now, I've had bad meals at Clay Pit; when this happens, you feel severely cheated due to the usurious pricing of both food and wine. When Star (for example) does me wrong, I hardly care about the cash -- I'm more offended by the loss of time. I won't get that meal back. But at Clay Pit, a mediocre meal sets you back some serious coin.
Clay Pit ain't authentic, but the food is pretty darn good. Be warned that with a menu that big, anyone can go wrong, and that in addition to the rack of lamb warning above, I also feel that for whatever reason they don't do a great job with their beef curries. ;)
re: tom in austin
Definitely freshness and quality of ingredients are important, however
if forced to choose between the two, cooking skill trumps ingredient quality.
In fact, a talented cook can manage a tasty meal from humble raw materials.
Isn't that the essence of BBQ or stews or Tex-Mex, for example?
tom in austin, I think we agree in large part, but I haven't had a good meal at Clay Pit
in 3 visits. The most recent was dinner a couple of years ago. I know we ordered fairly standard dishes, like saag paneer and one of the "house specialties"--goat curry, I think. Everything was basically flavorless except for being way too salty, maybe to compensate.
I'm still curious, what are your favorites there? dcx1287, too!
This thread is turning into a very nice round-up with good insights.
There was another similarly-titled one which I'll just cross-ref here:
In that above thread, Tom in Austin makes the case for Clay Pit, making the point that you may not find deliciousness in the more authentic fare, and instead should opt for dishes like the seafood w/ garlic and red wine. I'm going to take him up on that suggestion one day, even if I do think he should be suited up for a straight-jacket for calling Clay Pit the best Indian restaurant in town.
I gave India Kitchen a whirl not too long ago -- unfortunately, I can't remember what all I had, but I do recall getting 2 different "curries", and both were so strikingly similar to a standard 'butter chicken curry' (despite not having ordered that) that I couldn't help but think that they're using the same curry base for multiple dishes that aren't based on that foundation. I did enjoy it though, and the tandoori chicken was decent as well, but I also recall seeing several other things on the menu that I wanted to get back for. Based on some stuff I've read here and heard from other off-board hounds, I'll definitely be back to explore more of the menu.
I still haven't made much of a dent in the menu at India Kitchen, but feel the need to mention what's been haunting my dreams for the past several nights. The goat biryani is OUTstanding. Tender, yet toothsome, long (and I mean long) grain basmati intertwined with golden strands of onions, laced with a heady mix of mace, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon & nutmeg, all wrapped up with a generous amount of bone-in goat previously cooked down with no shortage of savor. The portions of raita and chutney they serve with this 10-lb order is some kind of sick prank. The what must be obsessive care and attention with which they make this biryani (and there are plenty of shortcuts) leaves me to believe my above suggestion of recycling curries was either a total outlier or a total lie.
You're the only one who mentioned Rangoli so I'll respond to you.
I know that it received terrible reviews when it first came out mostly due to service, but I was pleasantly surprised when I ate there several weeks ago at the Sunday lunch buffet. It wasn't spectacular, but compared to most of the stuff that passes for Indian food in Austin, it was a very welcome change. Rangoli is about as good as Houston average in terms of food (i.e. anglicized). Veggie items were very good, the two fish items were not-so-good, and the goat curry was quite nice.
I detest the rest of the one * places on your list so you might give Rangoli another try. Maybe they are simply inconsistent or have come along way recently?
Is Teji's really that good? I've never been able to convince anyone to make the drive with me.
"Non-traditional"/Indian inspired doesn't necessarily mean bad as evidence by Kiran's/Indika of Houston. Most of what is cooked at home in America these days would also fall under this category.
Houston >> Austin for Indian food especially. :/
aren't Rangoli and Taj Palace owned by the same people? for some reason i thought it was, so never gave it a try...
i just really had to reply in response to your Indika comment. you're ABSOLUTELY right. Love that place, and it's actually GOOD Contemporary Indian. I really didn't care for their brunch offerings at the time (though it's changed now), but their dinner menu was quite exceptional. Been wanting to try Kiran's also, but never had the chance. i used to LOVE the Indian restaurant that used to be in that space. what was it, bombay palace? NEwho, figure i should stop talking about Houston places on the Austin board...
My guess would be that Indian food in Houston >> in Austin, but I don't believe you've made a case for that yet. What is good for Houston? I remember what may have been the best bargain in Houston, Standard Sweets' buffet ($1.99 vegetarian, $2.99 incl. meats) was quite good, actually. Since then, the only place I've tried is Sri Balaji Bhavan, which was good, but I would say Swad is comparable with a less extensive menu.
Have y'all been to La Sani or Himalaya, which both have good reviews on b4-u-eat?
By the way, we can start a topic for Indian food in Houston on the Texas board.
I'm not even sure to begin making a case for the assertion. I can only suggest that you make a several day trip down to Houston and experience the food for yourself. Don't get me wrong, there are some good places in Austin, but even something middle range in Houston would be considered good in Austin. I have yet to have a particularly memorable or striking Indian/Paki experience in Austin.
I've not heard for La Sani, but I used to frequent Himalaya at least a couple of times a week when I was living in Houston. Himalaya really does live up to its reputation. Kaiser's specials really stand out. His food is truly perfectly spiced/prepared (most of the time) and I enjoy the spicy kick (though this has seemed to wane as Himalaya has become more popular). I regret not attending the Houston Chow get together last week, but ce la vie. The best special in memory was a roast beef curry that I've only ever seen once. It was topped with a mustard heavy Indian pickle (homemade?) that was the perfect compliment to the rest of the flavors. Crowd is mostly Indian/Paki at night or during the weekend. More diversity at lunch.
Kirans and Indika are in a class of their own. Most memorable thing at either was a Watermelon Seabass Curry at Kiran's. I ordered that special because I couldn't fathom how it could work, but had had excellent experiences in the past. It was perfect and the small amount of coriander (citrus notes) brought it together very well.
La Sani is on the list of places to hit during my trip back next week.
I haven't done Houston's Indian food seen justice--go experience it for yourself!
I vote for Teji's. It's where I head to when I need Indian food. I like the Bhindi Masala. Shalimar comes second to me, but for some reason, my wife and friends don't like it there.
Airport Haven was really good, but man, they were badly run. Had to wait forever for the food to arrive the last few times I was there, and then they closed. The food could be really good though.
Clay Pit is not Indian. Indian inspired, but it doesn't satisfy when I get the craving for Indian food.
Bombay Grill in Westlake is close, and I always enjoy it, but I must confess that based on the preceding posts my knowedge of Indian food is at a much lower level. I love their pakoras, the onion kulcha, anything shahi korma, the baigan berta, and the mango lassi. I am also a fan of lamb vindaloo. I am not a huge fan of the Clay Pit, and I have found the food at Taj Palace tasty in general but some a little on the greasy side (which tastes great, mind you, it is just visually unattractive)
Been to Swad, Curry in a Hurry, Sarovar, Shalimar, Clay Pit, and India Kitchen. As for the buffets, I gotta put India Kitchen as #1 hands down. Always fresh with a good selection of vegetarian and meat dishes with some nice chai and desserts to boot. I also think that they have the best made to order dishes too, but I'm a little impartial b/c the owners are very accommodating and are just nice people. My favorite dishes are the Baigan Bartha, the Palak Paneer, and the Bhindi Masala. The thought of the Baigan Bartha makes my mouth water, but it can sometimes be a little too rich, in which case the Bhindi Masala is a great option. The homemade pickle adds to all the dishes.
hmmm... interesting topic... i totally agree with you, every place has its ups and downs. unfortunately, there are mostly downers as far as indian food is concerned in austin... but i'll bite. :)
i've posted on this before. didn't like the vegetarian combo plate, wasn't seasoned to my liking. the bhatura portion of the chole bhatura was very good. it was flaky but not excessively oily. the chole portion, on the other hand, was just okay. again, it wasn't seasoned to my liking. overall, the place still tasted americanized to me... but as you're hinting, maybe it has to do with what you order...
probably my top pick. but this one is thoroughly a hit-or-miss, like you're saying about ups and downs. sometimes it's SUPER oily, other times right-on. when fresh, the paratha and naan are good . there's an okra masala dish that sometimes shows up on the buffet that's REALLY good, but i think it's really pointed gourd or tinda, not okra. i like it because it reminds me of the pointed gourd dishes i've had growing up. i'd ordered the saag paneer one time off the menu, and it came out ragingly spicy. very odd, i'd thought, as it really shouldn't be an overtly spicy dish. the rest of the stuff is just okay, but not bad...
probably has my second vote. i only like the appetizer/chaat dishes here, not the main entrees/dosas. i'll order the aloo tikki and chole bhatura when i have a craving for chaat. it can also be hit or miss depending on the day, but usually not bad. they basically use the same chickpea curry element in all of their appetizer/chaat dishes. the bhatura tends to be on the oily side, so i prefer the one at teji. but the chole element is definitely better seasoned here. the aloo in the aloo tikki is way too dense. not a fan, but still has that chole element poured all over it, so i'll still eat it happily... i usually order extra lime and jalapenos on the side and pour it all over everything also, to adjust the flavors to my liking...
this place is super american/modernized. i like that they have a wine list though, cuz i'm a wino. hehe... but for some reason, if you take the food to go and leave it in your fridge, it actually tastes authentic the next day. can't explain it. i have to say though that their aloo papdi chaat on the weekend lunch buffet is AMAZING and worth going for. they make it on the spot for you, but i usually steal the utensils and make it myself to my liking.
their saag paneer used to be really good, except they threw in random mixed vegetables into it (probably from the frozen mixed veggie variety). last few times i'd had it though, it was too runny. so i gave up on the place. everything else was just okay, not terrible though.
they make the BEST green chutney. unfortunately, that's mostly what they've got going for them. i'll definitely eat a dosa if you pour the green chutney all over it, but otherwise not sure why i would... the gobi manchurian dish used to be REALLY good, although it's really an indian-chinese hybrid. it had that fried goodness aspect that you typically can't get in a vegetarian diet. but lately, the dish has lost its way...
nice atmosphere, but the (vegetarian) food tastes bland to me, too americanized for me. didn't like anything here...
another mediocre indian restaurant. some of the stuff is okay, but mostly too americanized for my liking...
Chola, Star of India, Indian Palace and Bombay Express
i don't like these at all... i might throw Masala Wok into this category, but i can't compare it to "normal" indian food because they are specifically indian-chinese.
OH WHY did you have to bring up Rushi? i LOVED that place. it was the only authentic place in town and they closed. :( Tried to get everyone to go there, but my efforts weren't enough, just like what happened with my favorite addis ethiopian restaurant.
Airport Haven wasn't bad either actually. definitely had the right flavors for me. but could be really oily at times. too bad they're out of business though, i'd go there more often than the other mediocre indian restaurants that are still around...
I haven't been to Shalimar in some time, so I forgot that they have cool vegetables
like tindura (sp?), which was somewhere between okra and bitter melon from I remember.
By the way, maybe a silly question, but do you like fairly spicy food?)
Please try the Stuffed Baingan at Teji's. I was enamored of it for weeks!
( notes posted at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/369779
Yeah, I tried to get all my friends to eat at Rushi, too.
I believe they were doing well, but the owners said they were just too tired.
Very nice people, too!
yeah, the tindora isn't always there, but i'm especially ecstatic when it is. i guess its texture might be considered a cross between okra and bitter melon, but i think they're more a cross with cactus/nopales than bitter melon. it's not bitter at all though, like bitter melon is... i personally LOVE bitter melon though, my parents used to grow it in our garden growing up....
hehe, to say i like fairly spicy food is a severe understatement. :) (extreme chilihead here) sure, i'll give the stuffed baingain at teji's a try, at your request... might take me a while though, it's kinda far up north... i'll try to reply to your other post once i give it a try...