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[TAMPA] Jai Ho (Report)

There are Indian restaurants, and then there are Indian restaurants. Some seek to please adventurous Western palates with the standard down-spiced Indian and Anglicized Pseudo-Indian dishes. Nothing necessarily wrong with this: after all, who doesn't like chicken tikka masala or being able to take your heat-averse relatives or friends to an "Indian" buffet?

The other class is less visible, often situated in humble, even decaying strip malls. Their decor is simpler, sometimes non-existent. The clientele at these restaurants is primarily South Asian, and there are fewer concessions to the Western palate.

Jai Ho fits the second category. And perhaps that's why the best lunch buffet I ever had was there.

The trip over was an adventure in itself, taking the Bull Runner to the University Mall and walking its length, and then crossing Fowler Ave to its strip mall, which is the same as "Pita Pit", "Saigon", Jimmy John's, and "Apna Bazaar". Each of the stores at the strip mall had the address number clearly signed; and where I expected to see "Mirch Masala" I instead saw "Jai Ho." My waiter or the host told me that "Mirch Masala" was "way back", and they had since switched ownership or changed their name at least twice.

Once inside the nicely-furnished (but with a caveat; read ahead) dining room, not a single non-South Asian-looking customer was in sight. Except me, which I thought was encouraging: surely this place targets South Asians with authentic food.

And the food was excellent. This was definitely the spiciest Indian buffet I have been to. Though I should say that the food was not excessively spicy, but much hotter than you would expect from a buffet. The choices included "chicken curry", "goat curry", "amritsari chhole" (similar to chana masala, except fancier), aloo gobi, pakora, sambar, some korma, chili chicken, and a few others I can't remember. All were excellent: entree-quality. The staple grains - naan and rice - were also provided, as were the desserts of mango pudding and (IIRC) either payasam or sevvaya (basically kheer (rice pudding) with vermicelli noodles). The buffet was simply excellent, and at $8.95 it was fairly priced.

Though I found one thing to complain about, and that is where I was seated. This restaurant has really "wide" benches - even manually pulling the table up to me my curry and rice had to travel an excessive distance to my mouth. Not only does this feel kind of awkward, but it also makes keeping the curry off your clothes (always a battle) more difficult.

A few weeks later I went to the same restaurant and ordered mysore masala dosa ($4.95) for take-out. The dosa was large enough to fill me up, and when they say "topped with RED HOT chili chutney" in the menu, they mean it! Even for my tastes it was too hot. But a great value considering that it included two other chutneys (tomato, I believe, and what seemed like mint-coconut) as well as sambar, which made for a nice post-dosa soup.

Jai Ho is also in the same strip mall as Apna Bazaar, an Indian grocer and butcher with a prodigious selection of frozen / ready-to-eat entrees (the burfi was great, but at $7.95?!), rice, exotic vegetables, and the like.

The address for Jai Ho is 2311 E Fowler Ave, and the number is the same for the old Pure Veg Mirch Masala, which still shows up on Google Maps (the lady at the counter says they're working on it).

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  1. Went to the Jai today on your rec, and found the food to be excellent. All the food was fresh and delicious and the dining room was very classy and inviting. The flat bread was to die for. Loved the goat.

    First time eating Indian food so I have nothing to compare it to, but my taste buds work pretty well, and this was very good and high quality. Owners were very nice too.

    Nice find.

    1. Went to Jai Ho for dinner tonight based on your recommendation. I have eaten Indian food in several places around the country (and in Jamaica) and found Jai Ho to be excellent. Each dish was rich, flavorful and well prepared. We asked for medium spice and it was just right for our moderately adventurous anglo palates. My wife and I cannot wait to finish the leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

      1. I also took you up on the recommendation for quality Indian food. I'm originally from New York so I used to hit all of the spots in Queens which is full of Indian restaurants and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with how good the food was. Theres nothing worse than having expectations for a place and getting a poor meal so I was greatly satisfied. I ordered Bullit Naan (flatbread), Jinga Goan Style Curry and Reshmi Kabab. Everything was cooked fresh, I had a 30minute wait but that was fine because I knew they were cooking my order as I waited. That was a plus since I knew the food hadnt been sitting around all day waiting for someone to order it. I highly recommend this to anyone who loves fresh authentic Indian cuisine.

        1. Good God, bring on the heat. I've been leaning on Sabri around the corner for some time for USF-area Indian. I will see how Jai stacks up. Many thanks for the review.

          2 Replies
          1. re: andy huse

            I went for lunch today. Excellent. The place looks nice, service is good, and the lunch buffet was very good. Even the soup was great.

            1. re: andy huse

              My third visit (second to the buffet):

              You just missed my friend (from Mexico) and I! We were there from about 1 to 2 p.m. The food was once again excellent - a great introduction for my Mexican roommate, who never has eaten Indian food (what they call "comida hindu") but was very impressed, saying (if I heard right) "I haven't tasted such good food" or "I never knew this food was so good (rica)". He even had our picture taken as a souveneir. The staff was very nice and the lunch buffet was slightly different but still excellent: naan, rice, pakoras, butter chicken, chicken curry masala, goat curry (delicious), veg bhaji, aloo something, and best of all utthappam, which I was very surprised to see but very pleased as well. Their utthapams are not as good as the ones I had in Fargo, ND at Passage to India, but they were still good and just nice to see in a buffet. Strongly recommended!

          2. Sorry but the place isnt on par with real south asian cooking.

            3 Replies
            1. re: sis22

              If you know of a better Indian restaurant in Tampa, I'm all ears. Tell us what's good.

              1. re: sis22

                Perhaps you could clarify why?

                Almost all the patrons are South Asians, so they must be doing something right.

                1. re: tvdxer

                  Yeah, that post by sis22 is totally inexplicable. My wife and I went for lunch yesterday and it was great. Goat biriyani was delicious. The vegetable dishes were great. There was a curry fish that we both liked. The nan and the tandoori chicken were not exceptional but it didn't bother me. The deserts were incredible. I was sorry that I had made a pig of myself with two enormous plates of food so that I could really only taste the deserts. I will be back for sure.

              2. I did not like the food over there.My friend had nausea twice after eating at that place.Read a review at Yelp about Jai Ho.Much Balanced Review over there.

                @tvdexer -If there is no other good Indian restaurant in Tampa,it does not make Jai Ho best,because all of them are pretty bad.
                Ruchi on 56 th Street is a decent one, but many may not like it for the environment,but the food is way better than Jai Ho.

                1 Reply
                1. re: desertsand

                  The only reason am taking time to write here is the clear out the confusion...

                  Buy my words.. every cent of it... the best food (Indian) in tampa.. It gotta be @ Jai Ho.. Being a big fan of Indian food, I've been to all restaurants.. covering St. Pete, Clearwater, Brandon and Tampa and believe me...I stopped my search once I found Jai Ho..

                  Buffet - both weekdays and weekend, we get the best choices.

                  I couldn't stop laughing at Desertsand's comment on Ruchi.. as I had a chance to be at a party where food was catered by Ruchi restaurant and we got a chance to see and smell STALE food.. especially Rice..

                  Jai Ho really scores well with its kebabs, Chinese varieties and all the Veg Dishes. I would definetly recommend this restaurant to all.

                2. I am not sure how long this place has been here because I have driven that stretch of Fowler many times going to the other indian restaurants in the area but I had honestly never noticed it. However, based on the recommendations on this board, my wife and I went last night and were very impressed. The menu has a lot of stuff that I have not seen at other restaurants including an explanation of indian-chinese cooking which they feature on the last page of the menu. We split the vegetable manchurian and I had the lamb kebab. Both were top notch. I also had something called a bullet naan which had hot peppers baked into it. The waiter laughed at me when I ordered it but I was up for the challenge. Very hot but yummy. My wife ordered chicken tikka masala (I know) which did not have as nuanced as flavor profile as the other dishes. Not bad (and there is a lot of bad ctm in Tampa) but not as good as the other dishes. The setting is not as fancy as Cilantro and more in line with the Taj but that is really my last concern when looking for indian. It is a bit of a haul from south tampa but we will be back. I really want to try the lunch buffet since you all have given it the thumbs up.
                  Thanks.

                  1. I was thinking of going to Ruchi as we were driving past, but when I looked it up I found this post - and I'm really glad I did. We had an uttapam, bullet naan, mysore masala dosa and bhel puri. The bread was fresh and spicy. The dosa was light and crisp, with a large helping of potatoes and chutney in the middle. Everything was great.

                    If desertsand's friend got nauseous one time, why did he/she go back a second time to get nauseous again? I'm with the majority opinion here - a great find.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: proboscidian

                      I hit the lunch buffet at Jai Ho once a few weeks ago and liked it a lot...
                      I took a pic that I'll include here of the beautiful buffet 'vessels of love' that were filled with all kinds of nice things...
                      As soon as I get this gallbladder yanked I'm going back...

                      http://i10.photobucket.com/albums/a15...

                      I really liked the Goat Curry over the vegetable Biryani---- It's delicious, I hope it's legal...

                      But as I mentioned in another post where I talked about it, their Semiya Payasam dessert was off the charts... I'm used to loving it at 'half that good'...
                      On that day, a genius put his or her hands on that one!

                      Once on my way to Cilantro I pulled in to Ruchi instead.... Once...

                    2. THANK YOU!!! I have been craving good Indian food as of late, and although I hate making that trek out to the USF area, it does have the best ethnic food with the exception of perhaps Waters ave?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: askdrtodd

                        Tried the lunch buffet with a friend today, was very impressed. Delicious. This'll be a monthly spot now, I'd go more often but the food was so tasty that I larded myself out haha.

                      2. I'm so glad Jai Ho is gaining a reputation. I've been to literally every Indian restaurant in Tampa and this place is just flat out great. It's very rare to find a place that isn't afraid to put together a well-spiced buffet. Taj, Cilantro, Angithi, Shalimar, etc. try to broaden the appeal of their food to lure the patronage of all kinds of white people and they don't seem to realize that they lose the magic of Indian food, which is certainly in the spice.

                        Everyone in Tampa please spend your money at Jai Ho.

                        1. Thanks to everyone for the recommendation...went to Jai Ho for lunch today. Outstanding Indian food with a nice amount of spice and a wide variety of choices. I particularly loved the panek paneer (forgive my spelling...great spinach & cheese dish) and okra. Many imaginative dishes and a terrific bargain. I look forward to coming back.