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Who has the best Indian food in the Boston area?

I crave spicy, succulent Indian food - exotic, weird dishes; insanely spicey vindaloos; authentic stuff. Where should I go?

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  1. north indian/pakistani - madina market kitchen, grain & salt, punjab palace, india quality

    hyderabadi - kabab and tandoor

    south indian - the pongal

    nepal - mt. everest kitchen

    best buffet in the boston-cambridge area - kebab factory

    3 Replies
    1. re: Luther

      Vote here for punjab palace! Also, that little place in Inman Sq.

      1. re: CookieLee

        I'd say Punjabi Dhaba is a fun and cheap eatery but is not exotic, weird, extra-spicy or unusually authentic by any means.

        1. re: Luther

          I'm partial to Punjabi Dhaba because it is my neighborhood standby, but would say that their Dhaba Jerk Chicken is definitely extra spicy and a little exotic.

    2. Tamarind Bay in harvard square has interesting entrees during dinner.

      3 Replies
      1. re: nasilemak

        has any one tried the lunch buffet at Mantra?

        1. re: CambridgeFoodie

          i have but I did not find it to be particularly satisfying or offer enough variety for the price.

          1. re: CambridgeFoodie

            I've had it a few times. Not bad but not worth a special trip.

            It's a few $ more than it should be but is the only option if you work downtown, have limited time for lunch and a craving for Indian food.

        2. High-end and creative without being fusion-y: Tamarind Bay
          Truck-stop (cheap, down and dirty, awesome): Punjabi Dhaba
          Northern: India Quality or kid sibling Punjab Palace; Kebab Factory
          Southern: Tanjore
          Pan-regional: Namaskar, Bhindi Bazaar
          Halal/Pakistani: Grain and Salt
          Hyderabadi: Kebab and Tandoor, Rani
          Bengali: Royal Bengal
          Tibetan-in-exile-in-India: Martsa on Elm
          Lunch buffet: The Pongal, Billerica
          Friendliest: Ghazal
          Take-out: Guru the Caterer
          Desi Chinese: Namaskar, Grain and Salt
          Nepali/Indian: Himalayan Bistro
          Nepali: Mt. Everest Kitchen
          Indian-inspired dish: complimentary naan and dips at Banq
          Balti: Bhindi Bazaar
          Borrowed Indian technique in a Western restaurant: tandoor breads at Scampo
          Decor: Diva
          Patio: Kashmir
          Date place: Mela

          http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

          27 Replies
          1. re: MC Slim JB

            Great list, I would skip Grain and Salt and add Kathmandu Spice.

            1. re: StriperGuy

              Oooh. Mind meld. Me too.

              Nice list Slim!

              1. re: Aromatherapy

                Incidentally, I've heard great things about those places (and the food court Indian at the Allston Super 88), but my list only includes places I've actually tried. Glad to hear about more Desi Chinese options, like galangatron's citing of Indian Dhaba.

                I guess a lot of folks haven't been too happy with Grain & Salt lately; I haven't been back there in a while, but had a handful of great meals there early on. It's also the only place I know that does certain Pakistani specials like paya, nihari, and haleem (on weekends)

                http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  Slim,

                  Madina Market also has haleem, paya & nihari on the weekends.

                  I look forward to seeing how G&S does with these.

                  Nab

                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                    I'm surprised you've never been to JMP at the 88 food court. We just got our two usuals there for dinner the other night (lamb saag and chicken biryani, with garlic naan) and were as always entirely happy.

                    1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                      It always eluded my radar till you mentioned it here. Definitely on the list, will make a future Phoenix review some day soon.

                      http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                      1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                        It's good stuff, I especially like their saag... but it does tend to be a bit on the plain side (e.g. the much-lauded biryani). Their seekh kebab tastes like hot dogs. In that neighborhood I'd definitely go for Madina Market first.

                      2. re: MC Slim JB

                        kabab and tandoor has haleem (with your choice of beef, chicken, or goat) and nihari and they're not just weekend specials. i have also seen haleem on the menu at bengal cafe

                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                          Kebab, in Chelmsford at the Drum Hill shopping area, offers a chino-indian buffet on Sunday nights, I think. I haven't made yet, as I'm always sucked in by Pho88 next door.

                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                            JMP and Indian Dhaba are my two favorites for homey Indian cooking.

                        2. re: MC Slim JB

                          I want to start by saying that I really miss Dashkin in Framingham, which was, IMHO, the only all-around great Indian restaurant in the Boston area.

                          I think there are some individual dishes at restaurants that are great, but I must say that I've always been disappointed in the Indian food scene in Boston, especially given that we have such broad and deep options in many other ethnicities (i.e. Chinese). To be fair, I haven't been to as many places at MC Slim, so maybe I just need to get out more! Still. based on places I have been here are some quibbles with MC Slim's very impressive list:

                          > High-end and creative without being fusion-y: Tamarind Bay

                          I agree, although I still find their menu very hit-or-miss. Avoid them for lunch. I would also put Kebab Factory in this category. Not 100% authentic, but quite good with interesting and creative dishes. I have especially enjoyed their weekend brunch.

                          Still, I wish we had a restaurant in Boston like Washington DC's Rasika, which manages to be truly high-end and more creative, without being fusiony in the least.

                          > Truck-stop: Punjabi Dhaba

                          Honestly, I've never understood this place. I've been there many times, including with friends from North India and I don't see anything special other than the cool-but-dirty atmosphere and low-price.

                          > Northern: India Quality or kid sibling Punjab Palace; Kebab Factory

                          I think India Quality is pretty good, although not terrific. See above for Kebab Factory.

                          For the best renditions of the meat dishes that I associate with Punjabi food, I would actually go to the Helmand instead.

                          > Southern: Tanjore

                          I'm sorry, I don't like Tanjore at all. I thought the dosas were poor, and the uttapam and chettinad very underspiced. I love South Indian food, but with the demise of Dashkin I don't think this is a substitute.

                          The only real Southern food I've found since is at the weekend brunch at the Bombay Club (and only the weekend brunch) which features fantastic dosas and a number of interesting South Indian dishes with complex spicing. During the week, I find nothing special about the Bombay Club other than their location.

                          > Pan-regional: Namaskar

                          I don't get Namaskar either. I found it to be expensive, Americanized Indian food. Is there something specific that's good to order there?

                          > Bengali: Royal Bengal

                          I haven't been to Royal Bengal, although I have been to the Bengal Cafe on Mass Ave. I thought the food was very interesting (such as the fuchka, little whole wheat puffs stuffed with white beans and onions) and some interesting fish. Bengal Cafe was very home style. But although it was interesting, I didn't really enjoy it. I didn't find the flavors were very strong or particularly appealing. Maybe it's just my taste? Or maybe I need to pay another visit.

                          > Desi Chinese: Grain and Salt

                          I thought the "chicken chilly" at Grain and Salt was quite good, although I found the non-Indian-Chinese dishes to be uninspired.

                          > Nepali/Indian: Himalayan Bistro
                          > Nepali: Mt. Everest Kitchen

                          I'm not sure of the distinction here, although I prefer Annapurna for their Himalayan bhojan. Also, Annapurna makes some excellent Afghani appetizers (there used to be an Afghan restaurant on the same site). Also, excellent gulab jamun.

                          > Indian-inspired dish: complimentary naan and dips at Banq

                          Fully agreed on this one.

                          1. re: lipoff

                            Whaaat?! Don't like the Dhaba? You're dead to me.

                            In all seriousness, I got some good ideas here: have never been to Annapurna, for one. The observation that surprised me was Afghani for Punjabi style dishes. I'd think that a Persian restaurant would come closer to the Moghul side of the typical Northern menu. I always thought of Afghan seasonings as pretty distinct from typical Punjabi masalas, though a lot of the cooking techniques (slow stews, flatbreads, char-grilled kebabs) are clearly similar. A consonanace between palaos and biryanis, perhaps?

                            I've had a similarly hard time seling friends on the joys of Bengali. It really is its own thing. Mela does a couple of upscale versions of these, one terrific sabzi of bell peppers, which might be a gentler introduction.

                            http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                              I am generally lukewarm on the South Asian food scene in the area (I should say subcontinental food scene: there are excellent Afghan and Burmese places). The only restaurants that have impressed me are Punjabi in Arlington, the two Bengali places, South Indian in Framingham, some things at Kebab Factory, and the now defunct Maharaja (homely Pakistani food - current location of Annapurna). Indian Dhaba is tasty for Indo-Chinese, Guru the Caterer is solid and basic,Tanjore is (or used to be) serviceable, Diva is stylish and decent. There are any number of generic buffet/punjabi/Mughlai places that are not worthy of mentioning. I would avoid Namaskar, Bhindi Bazaar and Tamarind Bay (the first two I have found to be downright bad, and the third is overpriced and downright ill-advised).

                              Have to also agree with the anti-Punjabi Dhaba sentiment (sorry, Slim). The menu resembles the typical university canteen joint ubiquitous in north India, but the food itself leaves much to be desired. Not horrible, but completely unremarkable. At the very least they should have some parathas or chaat that induce cravings.

                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                I know Punjabi Dhaba gets a lot of love here, and I don't think it's horrible either, but I see it as totally unremarkable. Sorry! =)

                                I agree that Persian food is even more like the Punjab food of North India, although I must admit that I'm not a fan of Lala Rokh, except for their excellent service and romantic atmosphere. Some Afghani dishes seem to be to be very different from North Indian ones (indeed mostly due to spicing), while others are almost exactly the same. A good friend of mine from North India would satisfy his cravings for his mother's cooking at the Helmand.

                                And thanks for reminding me that I should give Bengali food another chance, especially since I work down the street from Royal Bengal.

                                elbev, I also liked Maharaja very much --- I used to go there regularly when I was an undergraduate down the street. I miss their gulab jamun especially --- I wonder who makes the best version nowadays?

                                And thanks to this thread for reminding me that I really need to get over to Masala Art, a place I've been planning to try for a while. Need a ride, MC?

                                1. re: lipoff

                                  Masala Art was pretty OK considering I had these coupons that said "free lunch buffet."

                              2. re: lipoff

                                I used to go for the Gujarati thali at Namaskar.

                                1. re: lipoff

                                  Hm. I like Tamarind Bay for lunch -- many more interesting options than other lunch buffets around and you don't feel like the stuff has been sitting around since 11 as they refresh the trays frequently. I still need to get to Kabob Factory to compare.

                                  1. re: yumyum

                                    I imagine you'll find there's no comparison. The Tamarind Bay lunch buffet had me spitting feathers (and I don't mean thirsty). KF strolls away with the buffet prize IMO.

                                    1. re: chickendhansak

                                      I'll say it again: The Pongol for a huge, diverse, amazing lunch buffet, worth hiking to Billerica for.

                                      http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                                        There may, or may not be, better "order from the menu" alternatives, but I have to say that The Pongal is, hands down, the best weekend lunch buffet in the area. The waitstaff seems especially tickled that my young (11 and 14) kids love the hot and spicy.

                                        Given that, every time we've gone, we've been the only Euro-Americans in the dining room, I'd guess many SE Asian-Americans agree as to the quality..

                                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                                          I'd give it a shot. Though the web site currently says "Our Restaurant is closed for kitchen renovation,until further notice. Sorry for the incovenience."

                                          1. re: chickendhansak

                                            Since this thread is back, I'll add that in the interim I've been to The Pongal about ten times and taken various people, all of whom leave rating it very highly. There are some things (especially the tandoori chicken) that I prefer elsewhere, but it has some fantastic dal and soups.

                                        2. re: chickendhansak

                                          I'm even more excited to check it out. Thanks!

                                    2. re: MC Slim JB

                                      Does Namaskar have Desi Chinese dishes?! I haven't been in a couple of months...have they revised their menu or maybe I never saw them to begin with? I will try to stop by to check them out!

                                      1. re: digga

                                        Namaskar is like most local places I've seen offer Desi Chinese dishes: 3 or 4 options at most, typically Chilli X, X Schezuan (their spelling), and X Manchurian (where X = chicken or paneer, which stands in pretty effectively for tofu in my book, and occasionally pork). I am intrigued by Indian Dhaba, which sounds like it has more choices.

                                        http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                                          indian dhaba has a large indo-chinese menu

                                          they have soup (hot and sour and sweet corn), hakka noodles, fried rice (vegetable and chicken), and all the usual main dishes (chilli, szechuan, and manchurian) available with shrimp, chicken, or paneer cubes. they make a great version of manchurian with gobi (cauliflower) too

                                          they also have indian street food like chicken lollipops and kathi rolls. one of my favorites is an indo-chinese version of chaat made with those crunchy little noodles you get with chow mein

                                    3. there is also indian dhaba on brighton ave in allston for indo-chinese food

                                      1. I really like Masala Art in Needham, and their bizarro whole spice-based cocktails are mind-blowingly good (though expensive). I also like India Pavilion in Central for more standard stuff.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: nsenada

                                          I've always heard good things about this place, too, but I rarely get to Needham to eat. Is there public transportation (commuter rail) nearby? I like the sound of those cocktails.

                                          http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                                            There's a lot in back with plenty of parking. The Needham Center stop is basically right across the street. It is on the pricy side, but those stainless food containers hold a lot more food than it first seems, for some reason. The cocktail "process" is rather unusual, and the bartender is pretty intense about it. He gives you a bunch of parameters, and you tell him what degree you want from 1-10. These include sourness, dairy, sweet, alcohol level, etc.

                                            1. re: nsenada

                                              Just went there last night for drinks - turns out the bartender hat concocted the awesome drinks I had is no longer there. Unfortunately, I forgot his name - would be curious to know where he ended up. I guess there's another guy there that does them, but he wasn't behind the bar when I was there.

                                        2. Best South Indian food is in Lowell - Udupi Bhavan is my fave, though Mysore Veggie, which is a block away, is a close second. Both are vegetarian, and are located near a large Hindu temple. Be sure to try the South Indian coffee, which is uniquely served upside down on the plate.
                                          I wish one could get better Hyderabadi food here (or "Andhra cuisine" as it's usually called in India), the truly hotly spiced food in the subcontinent. Maybe someday. Indian food here in general pales in comparison to what you'd get in India itself, or Britain even, but it's not always possible to fly for 18 hours just to have dinner. Chalta hai!

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: br cleve

                                            Hey brother cleve -- glad to see you here!

                                            Never heard of this South Indian upside down coffee. Cool.

                                            1. re: br cleve

                                              Up the road from Udupi Bhavan--in Nashua there's a new place called Meena's Kitchen--she's from Hyderabad. Not familiar with this type of cuisine, but here's the website:
                                              www.meenaskitchen.com
                                              See my post on New England board.

                                              1. re: whs

                                                I did a little research on Andhra cuisine and she definitely serves it--Pesarattu is on the menu. She does a 6 course buffet lunch--changes every day.

                                            2. How about Tantric in the Theatre District

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: golddavid

                                                I dunno, I think Tantric is kinda bad :-/

                                                1. re: Prav

                                                  Tantric is nice-looking, but rather Westernized, and pricey for what it is.

                                                  Rani in Coolidge Corner and Kebab & Tandoor in Waltham both do Andhra cuisine, no?

                                                  http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                    Actually, judging from the menus, neither of those places serve Andhra food. They do have Hyderabadi food. Hyderabad is in the region of Andhra Pradesh (pradesh=state), but the cuisines are quite different. Hyderabadi is closer to Mughlai cusine (think meat-heavy with biryanis and tandoori meats and breads, with other dishes such as bhagare baigan=stuffed eggplant and mirch ki salan=chili gravy), and Andhra is more like South Indian (legendarily spicy, and with both veg and non-veg varieties; think sambhar, rasam, idli, dosai and vadai with other dishes such as pesarattu=green moong dosa and meat and fish fried or in coconut or peanut sauces). Both are brilliant, the latter is much harder to find. From what whs says about Meena's Kitchen above, sounds like that place has Andhra food, but Nashua is faaar away.

                                                  2. re: Prav

                                                    Odd...its become our designated date place for when we go to the theater. What'd you get that was bad?
                                                    (We were there last night, and had their chilli-cheese naan. Yum!)

                                                2. I really don't think there's a single truly good authentic Indian restaurant in Boston proper (including Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Somerville, etc.). I refuse to acknowledge any restaurant that serves buffet style, because food was not meant to be served sitting out under heat lamps, and any chef worth his stock would never serve buffet-style. I'm sorry if this sounds pretentious, but I'm Indian, and I get pissed off by restaurants that serve buffet-style, as it gives people a really false sense of what authentic Indian food is.

                                                  Dosa Factory is passable, but pretty bland, incongruous with South Indian food. I will admit that I have not been outside to Udupi, but I have heard great things. For my estimation, Helmand is the closest you get to being good Indian cuisine. I am aware it is Afghan, but the cuisines are comparable enough that I feel not entirely off-base making this claim. For that manner, Martsa on Elm is pretty good (albeit Tibetan). For what you're asking the closest estimation I can give is Tamarind Bay Coastal Cuisine (much better than the original in Harvard, but still not great) and Punjabi Dhaba, though they have fallen off a lot since I first went there 3-4 years ago.

                                                  http://www.cheesesandwich.org

                                                  -----
                                                  Tamarind Bay
                                                  75 Winthrop St, Cambridge, MA 02138

                                                  Punjabi Dhaba
                                                  225 Hampshire St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                                                  Udupi
                                                  378 Maple Ave, Shrewsbury, MA 01545

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: cheezsandwich

                                                    I agree with you about the Helmand, and Udupi Bhavan is indeed fantastic. I agree that Punjabi Dhaba has been heading downhill compared to ~5 years ago, and that Dosa Factory is bland.

                                                    However, where I disagree with you is regarding your lack of acknowledgement of any restaurant that serves buffet style. Tamarind Bay has a buffet lunch. And the buffet is bad. However, the fact that they happen to serve a buffet lunch that's bad, doesn't change the fact that dishes ordered straight from their menu (especially at dinner) are terrific.

                                                    We've had similar discussions on this board recently about Chinese food. It does not bother me if a restaurant has to serve some inauthentic food that I don't like, if they also have fantastic food on their menu for me to order. We're in America, and restaurants are businesses. If some of my favorite ethnic restaurants have to have buffets in order to survive, I don't mind, as long as they also have the food that I want to order. It it true that Udupi doesn't make any compromises. But perhaps that's why they are in Shrewsbury and Tamarind Bay is in a beautiful space in Harvard Square?

                                                    -----
                                                    Tamarind Bay
                                                    75 Winthrop St, Cambridge, MA 02138

                                                    Punjabi Dhaba
                                                    225 Hampshire St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                                                    Udupi
                                                    378 Maple Ave, Shrewsbury, MA 01545

                                                    1. re: cheezsandwich

                                                      I don't really understand your assertion that the Tibetan food at Martsa on Elm is a "pretty good" "comparable" cuisine to Indian food.