Updates (2009) on Indian restaurants in Philly area
Rather than having to plow through long threads on the already existing subjects on Indian restaurants in the Philly area, particularly in the western suburbs, I thought it might be helpful to start a new thread on the matter of changes which may be of interest to patrons of such restaurants.
As of early July 2009, here is what I noticed regarding two restaurants in the western suburbs ...
Bawarchi (in Chesterbrook Shopping Center, PA) - they obtained additional space by way of the business that used to be located adjacent to their location (the inside wall where the buffet trays used to be).
When I was there, they were still in the process of fixing up the new room. It had an ugly floor design which didn't match their original space and I trust they will be doing something about that floor design! Their buffet setup was moved to the other side near the back of the main dining area. Same food, same vareity, same taste, same price. (I still recommend, but be warned that there are very few desserts - the rest of the buffet makes up for this, though.)
side note: it is said that the sign of an authentic and decent "ethnic" restaurant is the presence of a large number of people, percentage wise, "native" to the cuisine area of that restaurant. On the day I was at Bawarchi, there were very few patrons there who were not from India. The food there is more "exotic" with fewer recognizable tastes to the western taste buds, so I'd think this restaurant would appeal to those people who are more used to the Hyderabad cuisine and/or who find the seasonings appealing.
Taste of India (at Gateway Shopping Center in Wayne, PA) - as of last week, I saw a sign taped to the front window informing of "Lunch Buffet $7.95 plus tax, Monday - Thursday, $8.95 plus tax Friday - Sunday. This price change is a huge drop from the previously increased prices. I don't know if the price change is due to slower summer business, the tough economic environment with fewer people being able to afford to eat out, and/ior competition in the area from other restaurants which had underpriced them. Plus, I don't know if the buffet is the same as it was in previous years, i.e. if $7.95 and $8.95 gets you the same variety and quality as before.
Chinnar (in Wayne, PA). - there has been a large sign on its front window informing of the lunch buffet now offering soup as well as a salad bar. Prevously, Chinnar did not offer soup as part of its lunch buffet.(It should be noted that the one time I was there and had the soup, it was very bland and lacked any distinctive "Indian spice" flavor.). The salad bar was barely different from its past offering of the basics for a salad. Still had a very large variety of main meal and side dishes in its lunch buffet as well as lassi and tea as part of its buffet. Most of the patrons were non-Indian. I was surpised to see the number of Indians present in light of the availability of other Indian restaurants in the area serving more authentic Indian flavored foods. Chinnar still offers a very satisfying variety of foods in its lunch buffet at a very reasonable price.
Hadn't eaten at Taste of India in the Gateway Shopping Center in Wayne ever since they increased their weekly lunch buffet price to over $11. It is still at the $7.99 price I saw advertised on its door over the summer.
The smell of the restaurant, politely put, was not like I ever remembered it, but the food was the same.
Since I have eaten "lighter" versions of Indian food since my last trip here, the heaviness of the food was noticeable - it was still very tasty, but heavy with oil, cream, and buttery seasonings and additions.
The rice was noticeably different from the rice at other places, in that it was coated in some sort of light oil. It was good, but not as light as one would find at other nearby restaurants.
The chana masala was much more flavorable than at other restaruants I have been to. Although the saag paneer was very flavorful, the amount of cream in it made it richer than it had to be.
I was always a fan of the way that TOI did its chicken tandoori, and its moistness and flavor was superior to that of the same dish I have had elsewhere which is a weaker version of this.
There was some sort of zucchini and potato dish which was quite heavy.
Excellent fresh green salad filled with all kinds of vegetables. There was a pakora dish consisting of the pakoras immersed in a heavy sauce. I passed on that and the other fried vegetable dish.
Lots of desserts. Seeing all the sweets here makes this place a dessert paradise for sweet lovers. There was a very attractive assortment of traditional Indian sweets consisting of very colorful burfis and laddus. I took a few small samples of each and almost felt like they made the trip worthwhile (even though the delicious flavor of the chana masala was still working its magic in me). TOI's version of carrot halwa is much more buttery than that I have had at Chinnar and Bawarchi which is basically grated carrots with a hint of butter, spice, and sugar. The one dessert at TOI I also had on this day was a mango pudding square - its not overly sweet and is sort of refreshing.
Since my last trip here over a year ago, I did notice the addition of two items not previously offered during the week - mango lassi and Indian tea. Previously, only places like Chinnar offered them as part of the lunch buffet during the week. Guess TOI figures it has to complete with the competition so it gave in.
In the middle of the week, this restaurant was less than half filled. Considering its price for the buffet and the variety of items, it deserved to be more crowded. I would recommend this kind of food when the weather starts getting much colder. This heavier food is more conducive to that kind of weather.
Due to previous trips here, I have learned to eat in moderation, and to take only very small samples of various sweets, to avoid the heavier fried and creamy dishes, and to take a smaller selection of main meal dishes. It worked.
re: Displaced California Foodie
We love Tiffin, it's our go-to place for guaranteed great food! We usually go to the one on Girard Ave, but did check out the Mt. Airy location a month or so ago. We were not disappointed. Plus, we've learned they're opening another one in Elkins Park, very close to where we live! Yahoo!
we live right by the mt. airy tiffin.
really like the food; we'd go there more often, but:
-if you eat there, you really feel like you're not the priority. not that they're rude or anything, it's just clear that take out and delivery are their thing, not eat-in;
-if you get take out, it's like a plastics party. i know that getting take out will require some plastic containers, but they just seem to go out of their way to maximize the amount of plastic you get.
so, we still eat their food, just not as much as we would otherwise.
I've taken full advantage of TOI's price reduction. They are seriously hurting for business. It's odd when only a few tables are occupied during a Friday lunch hour.
And I have to say that the lowered price hasn't really affected the selection. They haven't substituted a "cheap" dish for a meat dish. Everything seems the same to me. Though I can't help but think that the decrease in patronage means that some of the dishes are more likely to be reheated leftovers.
It is amazing isn't it that the quality and variety has remained the same?
Then again, the price was at this leve before they increased it dramatically. I wonder how many people were driven away - permanently when they increased the price to nearly $11 during the week and close to $15 for the weekend buffets.
I had little desire to return given that there were alternatives in the area - and ... unless I am celebrating a certain occassion, that amount of money for a casual lunch fill is out of my budget.
And yes, I am well aware that to get these iems ala carte any other time would cost at least twice as much, so even at the higher level, relatively speaking, it was still a bargain. And the price that TOI now charges for the weekend buffet should drive traffic back in - it's a great bargain and great value for the restaurant dollar.
But, the going rate for these lunch buffets in most of these restaurants during the week is around $9. Bawarchi charges more (with tax around $9.50) and has a much smaller variety of dishes, but there are a few that are not available at most of the other Indian restaurants that do north Indian/Punjabi style.
Every so often, I have a craving for sambar, idlis, vadas, and the tasty dal that is served there. The other dishes are mediocre.
At Taste of India, you get such a variety. You just have to be prepared to ingest foods prepared with alot of high fat ingredients. As I mentioned, the display of desserts during midweek was worth the trip to the place in itself. The tray of differently colored sweets (laddus, burfis) is like nothing I have seen at any other restaurant in the area (and that includes Royal Indian, Himalyan, Gateway to India, Jaipur, Desi Village, Devi, Bawarchi, and Chinnar).
I was surprised that with the smaller number of people, there were ADDITIONAL items as part of the lunch buffet, such as the mango lassi and Indian tea, that previously were not offered during the week lunch buffet.
I do enjoy fewer people in the restaurant, but I know that the price paid for an affordable buffet with many options is support by the public.
Maybe the cutbacks by companies in the area has had its affect on people who frequent the restaurant. The other restaurants in the Gateway Shopping Center seemed to be doing ok. For a few extra dollars, I'd rather go to these luch buffets to get a sampling of more dishes than to be limited to just a salad, sandwhich and a drink.
And as I said before, for anyone who views this area as distant to where they live, it is well worth the 45 to 60 minute drive to choose among the favorites we have recommended.
I have yet to visit Tiffin due to its location being close to another place that serves Indian food of a very authentic variety. And ... I do prefer the buffets as a lunch option.
I wanted to add, that the host at Bawarchi is very hospitable and appeciative of patrons, as you also find at Chinnar. At some of the other restaurants, the manner is not so expressive in this way .... if you know what I mean. Could be a cultural thing, but a "thank you for your business" gesture either by word or look is something that does convey good will - its absence conveys taking a business transaction for granted.
I hope the public continues to support these restaurants.
I appreciate your informative posts, FelafelBoy.
I agree that the host at Bawarchi is friendly and hospitable. I did not get that same impression at Taste of India.
Unfortunately, I think that horrendous flooring in the "new wing" at Bawarchi is there to stay. I saw them installing it when they first expanded into the former nail salon. Not sure what they were thinking...
ShakenNotStirred - your appreciation is appreciated!
I agree with you about the design of the new room. The flooring design and ambience does not match with the warm ambience conveyed by the hospitality of the servers and host. It is better suited for the interior of a large department store to encourage people to remain in an agitated state of mind moving to the next purchase, not sitting down to a relaxing meal. The large squares and design of the floor tiling don't match the feeling conveyed by the overhead chandeliers. It's a total mismatch.
I enjoyed the food on my last visit - the flavors from the Hyderabad cuisine style of cooking yields a result that no other restaurant in the area matches, from the flavors in the sambar (filled with large chunks of vegetables including squash, onions, and carrots) to the dal and navraton korma. My favorite dish on this day were the baby eggplants immersed in a very pleasantly flavored sauce. Those eggplants melted in my mouth!
The naan was very moist, and the vadas tasted like they had just been removed from the deep fryer - the exterior were very crunchy and the interior was moist and chewy.
I skipped the pakoras/fritters, due to the appearance of them consisting of mostly fried batter with very litle vegetable filling.
Two kinds of rice were very appealing - plain basmati and yellow rice including small nuts. These plain rices mixed well with the other dishes that complimented the dryness of the rice.
Chicken tandoori was very moist.
On this day, there was an interesting salda - very small bits of green cabbage and red pepper. Mixed with slices of carrots and cucumbers topped with raita made a refreshing combination.
The three desserts did not appeal to me this day - freshly cut canteloupe, galub jamun, and some soupy looking dairy dessert.
Perhaps if I hadn't had so much sambar, I might have enjoyed the masala tea as part of the buffet with the galub jamun. That is one nice finishing touch that Taste of India has - the selection and taste of the desserts. No one comes close to what they do for their lunch buffet offering in this regard.
It should be noted, that the flavors at Bawarchi may not appeal to the American palate that is more used to "familiar" flavors.
The negatives on my visit included the following - the appeal of certain smells is a subjective thing, and for me, on this day, the smell from the kind of incense being burned was repelling - it had a bitter smell and interfered with the pleasant aroma and taste of the food. The smell reminded me of what I remember as being the smell from the "smudging" done at native American ceremonies. It is meant of cleansing and hygeine, i believe. I have smelled various kinds of incense, and this was the most repelling I have ever smelled. Also on this day, tracks from the more raucous part of "Slumdog Millionaire" were being played. The combination of the smells, the sounds, and the sight (of the flooring in the new room) made for an experience that was unpleasant. Fortunately, most of the food was good and the servers and host were pleasant.
Smells are important in enjoying the taste of food, and on this day, the smell of the kind of incense burned was at odds with the aroma and flavor of the food.
Experiences like this encourage me to occassionally visit, and to revisit other Indian restaurants in the area that offer a different ambience, variety, and flavor (and more desserts!)
It should be noted that Bawarchi 's lunch buffet is one dollar more than that of TOI. I understood that when TOI was getting more traffic, but now it seems the other way around. Bawarchi was 60 percent filled, including the use of its new room. The higher cost of the buffet I could see in the quality of the food and perhaps the pay of the personnel. With TOI, you simply get a larger variety of food.
I noticed that at Bawarchi, items are cut up more delicately (other than the vegetables in the sambar), wheras at TOI, things are cut in larger chunks and cooked with more oil - that might be in keeping with the climate these cuisines originate - one from a hot climate, the other from a colder one, necessitating appropriate cooking techniques.
I definitely did not feel as bloated after eating at the buffet at Bawarchi (I actually felt "normal") vs. the way I feel after eating at TOI.
Thank you for your "heads up." Yes, Elkins Park is a schlep for me, as much as driving to CC, which is why I still haven't been able to get myself to get to Minar Palace for its saag paneer. The few days I have been to CC, the place has either been closed (on its "day of rest"), or I have been too busy. Didn't even make it to Sitar India on the one day I was in West Philly enjoying a blissful music concert across the street.(The music was just as delicious as I am sure the food would have been.)
Interesting that Tiffin is opening up places where there is not much competition. They might have a tough time in the Exton-Malvern-Wayne-King of Prussia-Norristown-Montgomeryville-N. Wales area with all the Indian restaurants here. I don't know of any places in this area that do not serve a lunch buffet. Without that option, they might find it very difficult to draw anything but a dinner crowd.
Sitar India Restaurant
60 S 38th St, Philadelphia, PA 19104
re: Displaced California Foodie
To respond to your request, here goes ...my comments refer to the lunch buffet offering ...
first, let me say, if you read through the various threads pertaining to your request, you will get a sense of what appeals to you.
What is best to me may not be best for you, so I will touch on the strong points of a few restaurants that I have been to in the past (have not been to many in the last year, so things may have changed). I will not comment on restaurants I have not had a personal experience with and suggest you read the comments of folks who have been to places in areas such as Montgomeryville and N. Wales (one restaurant has been panned repeatedly, the other is supposed to be decent).
My favorites in the western suburbs of the area referred to in my recent posts ...
Taste of India -
pros - north Indian food, intense rich creamy flavors, flavors are less sour than those found in south Indian cuisine (barely a taste of curry leaves being used to flavor dishes here or anything else creating a sour taste, other than the sambar which they serve on the weekend, which tends to be very sour), large variety of selections for the lunch buffet (caution - food is very rich, not diet food, and hospitality is conveyed in a way that lacks of "warmth" and "attention" or "appreciation for one's patronage"), outstanding selection and quality of desserts, may have lowest price of any such buffet in the area for this cuisine - considering the selection and taste, best value now, pleasant but small interior with nice tablecloths.
Bawarchi - the only south Indian cuisine style restaurant in the area outside of Exton-based Devi. Exotic flavors, decent variety of foods, very hospitable staff. (slightly higher priced lunch buffet).
Few desserts and unimaginable at that. Decor is bizarre and last visit I had there was affected by the ambience (of the mismatch between the music, choice of incense being burned, and the sight of the floor tiling in the new room). One of the few places that leave you with the feeling of having eaten healthy food (other than the fried batter foods) no matter how much you have eaten, and allow you to leave the restaurant not feeling like you acquired the mass of another body from the portions you have consumed.
Chinnar - the best in the area for people who want a large variety of dishes at a buffet and who do not want to eat spicy food. Most mildly flavored Indian food of any place I have been to. Some dishes there would be acceptable even to people who claim that they do not like Indian food -that's how mild the seasoning is. Chinnar tends to offer the most popular dishes in its buffet, so as far as a choice of foods, one would rarely be disappointed in not finding something that is recognizable and appealing.
Royal India - more north Indian style, sort of like TOI, with much better dal makhani. Shorter serving time for buffet, tends to run out of food quickly. Nice selection, good quality. RI sometimes serves "Indo-Chinese" styled dishes. If that is your preference, you might like the availability of such dishes at an Indian restaurant. A new area opened up for eating at RI - I haven't been there since this addition, so I can't comment on the new "ambience," and feel of the place.
Himalayan - decent quality, nice selection, pleasantly flavored dishes, north Indian style (not sour at all). Negative - sometimes the dishes get too oily and desserts though many in number do not match the quality you'd find at TOI. I have been to H for the buffet where there was only one or two appealing main entrees. At RI, TOI, Chinnar, and Bawarchi, there are always - always, many appealing dishes to choose from.
Devi - healthy south Indian vegetarian dishes. The best sambar of any restaurant in the suburbs hands down. Limited variety of foods, very plain but functional decor.
Aman - basic home cooked style dishes, mildly flavored, food prepared in way that is not oily like some other places.
Other restaurants in the area you may enjoy. I find them to be very average and sometimes subpar. If you find any that are noteable, please share your experiences. I think there is a place called, "Dosa Hut" in Eagleville near Jeffersonville. Haven't eaten there, so I can't comment.
I sometimes go to particular restaurants mainly because I am in the mood for a particular dish or flavor. Let us know of your adventures! You may want to let us know how some places are in Bensalem that do vegetarian cuisine.
From what I have heard, the most authentic Indian cooking is done by individuals from India in their residential kitchens, and by devotees at the various Hindu temples.
You can sample some of this kind of food at the various Indian festivals that are held in the area at various times of the year in different venues.
re: Displaced California Foodie
Try Aman's in the K-Mart plaza on DeKalb Pike in East Norriton. There are a number of strings on this on the PA Board. We went based on Chowhound recommendations and liked it a lot . We definitely plan to go back. The food and the service were excellent, and it's very much a family-oriented place.
Thanks for the great updates. I wish some of these places were closer. One of these days I really want to make the trek to Bawarchi. It sounds great.
Right now, I'm greatly looking forward to the new Tiffin opening in Elkins Park so I can get my Indian food fix more easily.
Haha, my husband loves tandoori chicken b/c it's usually the only non-spicy or mildly spicy item on the buffet. He dips it in raita.
I'm not a fan of Desi. My husband's co-worker is Pakistani and he told us that a lot of the food is Pakistani-influenced, which may explain why the food tastes a bit off to me.
I am not Indian but I lived in India for six years in the 1970’s and love Indian food. Although I did not order tandoori dishes for at least twenty years now I find myself ordering tandoori with some regularity. The reason is that I, or my friends wife, can cook many Indian dishes at home but we can only simulate tandoori because we do not have a tandoor. Your description of tandoori is very unfair I remember eating terrific tandoori at Moti Mahal in old Delhi and Bukhara in New Delhi and Karim’s in old Delhi. Tandoori is a wonderful cooking technique and unique to India. Although, I must say that there are very few restaurants in the USA that make great tandoori but all Indian restaurants offer tandoori. There is also the fact that authentic chicken makhani cannot be made without tandoori chicken.
Good to hear from someone with a more experienced background in Indian cuisine than most of us here who did not grow up with that cuisine.
I assume that you are partial to the regional cooking you are most familiar with due to your background. I understand that makes a difference in preference for spice/flavor and preparation.
I wonder what common aspect you find most appealing between DV an B, the two restaurants you indentified as your favorites.
Regarding tandoori chicken ... a neighbor of mine (from India) told me that most tc made in restaurants doesn't resemble the tc she identified. She talked of how flavorful it can be. I have had tc at various restaurants that resembles what you describe, but ... the tc I have had at Taste of India impresses me as having more flavor, which is why I have come to enjoy that dish at their buffet with the other vegetable dishes that tend to be swimming in an abundance of sauce.
What region of India are you from, and what characterizes its cuisine? That would help to put your comments in the context of the restaurant preferences you made. (south Indians I understand would be partial to cuisine from that part of the country and people from the Punjab and north would find another cuisine more "favorable.")
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