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Feb 6, 2009 07:59 AM

Recs for Indian Restaurants in Philadlephia

Having dinner with friends tomorrow night-- we all LOVE good Indian food-- and need some guidance. Reviews of Old City places (Karma, Cafe Spice) seem wildly contradictory ("This is the best, most authentic ..." or "This is the worst, most overpriced..."), while reviews of University City places seem to be years old!
I thought there were a couple of Indian restaurants opening (or reopening) last summer but haven't heard anything since. Indian food fans, please advise!

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  1. Don't bother with Old City. The two best places in the city IMO are Ekta and Tiffin. However, Ekta is takeout only, they only have one table there. King of Tandoor is decent too, but not as good as Tiffin in my limited experience.

    If I were you I'd go to Tiffin at 7th and Girard. They have one or two other locations now but that's the first one and they have a nice dining room upstairs. It's BYO.

    One place that reopened recently is Minar Palace, it's OK but not on the same level as any of the other places I mentioned.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Buckethead

      After years of not having been to Minar Palace (at its location at Sansom St.), I revisited it as its new location on Walnut St. in Center City.

      I had heard it was serving the same food, but in a more upscale designed interior than its prior incarnation.

      I was very pleased with the new Minar. The only thing I noticed that was different from the past were slightly higher prices, a very beautiful interior (the ambience had a "warm" feel to it - warm colors, warm lighting, spacious area, well lit menu board), and instead of being served saag paneer in one plate, the rice was placed on one large plate, and the saag paneer was placed in a separate bowl. Perhaps the separation of these foods was the same as years ago - I remembered differently.

      The great news is that the saag paneer was EXACTLY the same as I recall from years ago - even the rice was done the same way. This is the best saag paneer I have ever had at any Indian restaurant and since the last time I was there, I have been to other Indian restaurants. The saag portion of the dish was very rich tasting without tasting too "creamy," and the flavor was rich with the right amount of "bite" from the heat (from chilis I assume). The paneer were very tender and numerous. I think this kind of cuisine is more typical of north Indian (Punjabi) cuisines, but other north Indian restaurants I have been to have not equaled the flavor of saag paneer that MP makes.

      Along with the dish was served the same side dish of a very small "salad" consisting of sliced cabbage and I think two other chopped vegetables, served along with a small container of raita and a glass of water. Considering the quality and portion size of the sp, $6.95 was still a good value. As before, the food is served on paper plates and plastic silverware. The ambience and very pleasant decor makes you forget about the nature of the eating utensils, plates and glasses used. I had no problem with that.

      The staff was friendly.

      The restaurant is closed on Sunday according to the door posting and is open until 9pm on other nights.

      I compliment the owner for maintaining the same food quality, not increasing food prices dramatically, and providing patrons with a more pleasant eating environment.

      If I lived closer, this would be one of my favorite places to indulge in Indian food.

    2. I have eaten at Karma once and liked it. I can't remember how expensive, though I think it was on the high side... I remember liking the atmosphere and the service was prompt (we were going to a movie). My memory is a little hazy on what we had, I'm thinking it was the lamb vindaloo, some flavored nan breads, a curry....well, that's probably not much help. Anyway, its a place would go back to, whereas, I will not return to Palace at the Ben, which I tried recently.

      I haven't eaten at either of the places mentioned by buckethead.

      1 Reply
      1. re: rocknroll52

        buckethead is correct on all fronts, and to add to it, karma is on the expensive side, but is pretty decent, cafe spice is over-priced and not too authentic, but i can bring non-indian food lovers there and they all love it.

        and rabiddog below is also correct, i think tiffin is slipping a little too. ekta is currently my favorite in this town, especially their very spicy masaladar chana. mmmm!

      2. Palace at the Ben is beautiful - the people are really nice too

        2 Replies
        1. re: bronwen

          I have been eating Indian food for a long time and have tried many places. In my opinion Karma in Olde City is pretty good but I like Cafe Spice better (nicer atmosphere, brighter food). Tiffin though, is THE best Indian food I've had, though I've only eaten at the Mt. Airy location. Ate at Minar Palace after the Phillies parade and thought it was average at best, and the paper plates and plastic cups do NOT cut it!

          1. re: Schpsychman

            Ekta is better than Tiffin. But for a nice dinner out, I'd recommend either Palace at the Ben or Bindi (which i know is not authentic, but rather fusion Indian). Another decent place to sit is Minar.

        2. first the bad... i thought it was pretty much impossible to go wrong with indian food, til i sampled a place in university city whose name i must have blocked from my mind, but do remember it being on 38th st. there's also a vegetarian place around 13th st in the gayborhood (possibly chestnut?) which was also really really not good. and craig laban saw a whole lotta good in bindi that i just did not see, but i've only been there once so maybe i should try them out again. it just fell into that category of restaurants expensive enough that if you're not wowed, you're reluctant to go back, especially when it rarely gets discussed here.

          i actually haven't found anything terribly wrong at karma or cafe spice, though palace at the ben is better than both of those. cafe spice had some wonderful albeit expensive girly cocktails and an impressive appetizer array. karma's flavor was a bit lacking. both sorta failed to impress on the entrees. palace at the ben was good (and expensive), however tiffin is better still, though out of the way on not the most impressive block at 7th and girard and BYO. their expanded dining room upstairs was surprisingly pleasant. king of tandoor has a really nice dining room as well, and the food is pretty good. i really think tiffin's food has slipped a bit lately, and i'd rate those two pretty similarly. mostly because KoT sorta screwed up their chat appetizer dish which is a pretty hard dish to ruin! also lots of upselling going on there. also BYO. so all things considered (and i haven't been to minar palace so i didn't count them), i'd say tiffin is probably the safest bet for a surefire nice time granted your friends are all relatively city-savvy.

          15 Replies
          1. re: rabidog

            ... << ...i sampled a place in university city whose name i must have blocked from my mind, but do remember it being on 38th st ... >>

            New Delhi?
            Tandoor India?
            Sitar India?

            Out here in the suburbs there is a small place on Ridge Pike in Trooper, PA called Dosa Hut, specializing in dosas. Looks like an eat and run type place.
            If a person is in a hurry, it suits the need. Haven't eaten there, but did stop in. No ambience, but a fair selection of mainstream dishes and a variety of dishes. (Haven't eaten out in a long time! Been relying on prepackaged dishes from Jyoti and Kitchens of India.)

            By the way, if you want to top off your Indian meal with delicious ice cream, check out Edy's "limited edition" of Mango ice cream. It is at least as good as anything I have had at restaurants and has real pieces of mango in it.
            My local store ran out of it last night.

            1. re: FelafelBoy

              wow, all those are on 38th? i want to say sitar but i'm not 100%. i was walking there from the world cafe live, so it must have been near either walnut, chestnut or spruce.

              dosa hut sounds fun! i miss having a car sometimes. :(

              1. re: rabidog

                Sitar India is the only one of the three mentioned above which is on 38th St. Tandoor is on 40th and New Delhi is on Chestnut. The latter has a very decent lunch buffet though probably not quite up to the level of some of those out on the Main Line.

                1. re: l_street

                  Food at Sitar India has improved significantly in the past few years.

                  Witness the native Indians who dine there on a regular basis ordering off the a la carte menu.

                  1. re: l_street

                    Yes. I wasn't taking rabidog's reference to the 38th St.location literally, so I listed three restaurants very close to that vicinity. If she was heading to the area of 38th St. from the World Cafe, Sitar would have been the first Indian restaurant she would have met.

                    Typo in my post about Dosa Hut. One line should have read ...

                    No ambience, but a fair selection of mainstream dishes and a variety of DOSAS. not ...

                    No ambience, but a fair selection of mainstream dishes and a variety of DISHES.

                    1. re: FelafelBoy

                      darn! what i have really been craving lately is a variety of dosas, too! in india a lot of the places we stopped in for snacks had entire dosa menus (yet i still ordered a paneer/curry dosa at nearly every one of them). any dosa places in philly proper/accessible by train?

                      1. re: rabidog

                        Try Devi in Exton. In a shopping plaza, next to a Winner's Circle, across from Exton mall (across RT 100). The closest cross streets are RT 30 and RT 100, the place is off of 100 in a plaza on the left (if you're going 100 N) just after the traffic light at RT 30.

                        It is an exclusively South Indian restaurant, if you're familiar with the Udupi chain (also in NY and DC area)...service is iffy but food is fairly run of the mill Dosa-style straight from India.


                        1. re: bmcdeepak

                          Not sure if you were replying to rabidog's post or some other post.
                          (She seems to be without a car, and I don't think Septa goes to Devi!)

                          While Devi does a great job on the sambar and a decent job on some other vegetarian dishes, I found that Chinnar in Wayne, on Swedesford Rd. offers twice as many vegetarian dishes (for the lunch buffet offering, that is) as does Devi, which is strictly vegetarian. Granted, one gives up the more authentic spice flavoring of a place like Devi vs. the very toned down flavor at Chinnar, courtesy of American patrons who apparently favor less vs. more flavor.

                          A recent ride past Chinnar exposed me to large signs in its window, proclaiming, "Now ... healthy salad along with the lunch buffet." Ditto with soup. Last time I was there, there was no soup, and the salad was adequate, just your plain lettuce, tomato, cucumber. (Even Gateway to India, may it rest in peace, had a small salad offering with various accoutrements to add on the side - it was a nice touch and didn't involve much extra labor on the staff's part for preparation of these items.)

                          Anyone been to Chinnar since it started promoting its salad and soup as part of its lunch buffet? How are they? Is the soup something memorable, or just a bland thing? (After several bland experiences there in the past, I had to get a dose of authentic Indian flavoring, which is what I got by going to nearby Bawarchi, albeit with a smaller selection. I noticed that Chinnar got a larger crowd - who knows if that was due to its location, greater variety of selections, or less challenging flavors/spices in its dishes. My guess is that the taste of food at Bawarchi is too "exotic" for the typical American palate.)

                          Chinnar's lunch buffet prices are still advertised in it store window as being $8.95, as of 2/25/09. As of this date, Taste of India's window sign said $10.95 for its lunch buffet, weekend at $12.95.

                          Considering what one gets, it is still a good deal, but the price, and the amount of food offered at the buffet should remind the patron that this is not a "normal" lunch format or experience, and the price reflects that one is getting more than just a sandwich and a drink.

                          1. re: FelafelBoy

                            *sigh* true, i've been carless since october... since i live in the city, i usually get around very well but there are exactly three things i miss greatly: (1) a taste of india / royal india / bawarchi lunch buffets, (2) shopping for wine at moore brothers or total wine and (3) i would have loved to go on that assi plaza meetup! all food-related woes. hrmph!

                            1. re: rabidog

                              If we plan another Assi trip, I'll pick you up from a local Regional Rail train station. Contact me via email, or get on chefpaulo's list.

                              1. re: PattiCakes

                                Awe, thanks!! I think I got on chefpaulo's list. I'll definitely keep an eye out!

                                1. re: rabidog

                                  no prob. I live very close to Glenside, which would give you at least 2 RR lines you could take. Only about a 5 minute detour on the way to Assi.

                            2. re: FelafelBoy

                              Chinnar- I don't usually waste my room on salad when I go for Indian, but I think it was pretty basic. The soups both times I was there were really good. The one that I tried was an Indian version of hot & sour & we all loved it. The kids tried the tomato soup & enjoyed (but they are 1&3). They've also added some other things like dumplings too. It also still comes with a soda & the lassi & tea that's out. I seem to enjoy Chinnar very much as well as Bawarchi- don't tend to choose TOI anymore.

                              1. re: pamd

                                Sounds like the salad you are describing at Chinnar is what I had - it was very basic. I remember Royal India having three different kinds of salads. Himalayan had a decent salad offering. But my main reason for liking salad at TOI (and on the weekends they have various salads - years ago they had outrageous chicken salad and egg salad. Its chicken salad was the best I had ever had.) is not only the freshness of the greens, but the raita dressing is made with sour cream and is very rich. Because its main dishes tend to be on the spicier side, eating the salad and scooping up the raita dressing left on the plate with some naan was very delicious.

                                Hot and sour soup? I'd prefer that with an Asian dish, not with the flavors I want to linger. I think that some part of Indian cuisine favors sour taste. That's not to my liking. TOI leans toward the spicy and sweet, so its soups tend to reflect that - even it s tomato soup is rich (cream based) and sweet (sometimes too much sugar!!) Himalayan's soups tend to be more suble in flavor, and Royal India normally goes full out with giving its soups alot of flavor and spice. What I like most about Chinnar is its selection, variety of foods, large number of vegetarian dishes, normally fresh naan, and the freshness of its foods. For taste, I absolutely prefer TOI, Royal India, and Bawarchi, in that order.

                                Haven't been to it, but I heard that Indian Garden in West Chester is good. Can't vouch for it, though. .

                                1. re: FelafelBoy

                                  The soup was not at all like Asian hot & sour- that's just the name they gave it too. Also, all of my recent visits to Chinnar have been on weekdays, and usually the weekends offer a few more things, even though the weekdays there were packed with stuff & people.

              2. curious - where'd ya end up going? any good?