Currying Favor

Currying Favor

Written by M.V. Moorhead Category: Food Reviews Issue: February 2017
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Taj Mahal

Dining with an Indian food first-timer? Take them to this Scottsdale outpost of a longtime Prescott favorite. Though it hums with the energy of Bollywood music from the inevitable big-screen TV, the atmosphere is elegant and peaceful. More importantly, the eatery offers a range of spice settings that anyone can handle, including in its signature dish, chicken tikka masala ($16.99), that famously non-Indian Indian classic believed to have been developed in Glasgow in the 1970s to appeal to the Scottish palate. I have Scottish lineage, and I found the creamy curry gravy over white rice heavenly, so I guess that counts as a seal of approval. Just as good is another classic, lamb vindaloo ($17.99): tender meat in a tantalizing tomato sauce, perfect with garlic naan ($3.99). Every order comes with a “spicy, medium or mild” option. The first time I said “mild” and was given a pitying look, so I agreed to medium, and was glad I did. Chase these with cooling, milky-sweet kheer ($3.99) – rice pudding, that is – for dessert.
Must try: The mulligatawny soup ($5.99), delicately shredded chicken, lentils, potatoes and peas in a dark broth, is a warming treat on a cool day.
4225 N. Craftsman Ct., Scottsdale, 480-257-1791,
West Valley
Biryani & Bites

Hidden behind a tattoo parlor, the first Arizona location of the California-based Peacock Restaurant Group has something for everybody – as long as everybody likes it spicy. As with Daawat, the menu offers no descriptions, but wimpy Western tummies beware: When the Manchurian chicken ($7.99) is one of the milder dishes brought to your table, you know you’re in for some heat. It’s served with chopped red peppers in a style similar to what you’d see in a Chinese restaurant, but even more fiery. The shrimp biryani ($11.99) is likewise radioactive, even with generous applications of the smooth yogurt sauce raita used as a coolant. But if you’re imagining you’ll get a break from the heat with chole bhature ($6.99), a chickpea stew served with a pallet of tasty, chewy fry bread, abandon all hope – at Biryani & Bites, it’s even more magma-like than what came before.
Must try: Having pleaded for the mildest dish I could get, I was brought the butter chicken ($8.99), fine white meat in a bright orange curry. It’s a treat, but even this had me grabbing for my mango lassi smoothie.
15224 N. 59th Ave., Glendale,
Daawat Indian Cuisine

Spice-tolerance-wise, the leap from Mexican to Indian cuisines isn’t all that daunting, so little wonder Indian food is trending upward in the Valley right now. Of the new and new-ish paneer pushers, this one is among the least palatial: a small storefront with a focus on carry-out, the only cultural décor being a wide-screen TV pumping out Bollywood clips and music videos. The menu is quite extensive, however. Wonton-like samosas and fritter-esque pakoras ($3.99 and up) make for munchable appetizers, while yummy, light dosas ($5.99 and up) do a charming impersonation of crêpes. The dishes go undescribed in the menu, though, and some of the servers aren’t linguistically equipped to help novices, so unless you’re a pretty advanced student of Indian cuisine, you’re better off sticking to standards relatively familiar to Westerners, like chicken curry ($9.99) or tandoori chicken tikka kabab ($7.99).
Must try: The biryani dishes, like the bone-in goat biryani ($11.99), pair meat with golden basmati rice, onions and plenty of spice – think nutmeg, cloves, cardamom – for a heady and memorable dinner experience.
18635 N. 35th Ave., Phoenix, 623-249-4076,
East Valley
Curry Bowl

This new spot in Chandler is a bit more user-friendly for Indian food newbies than the others on my tour. For starters, it features a staple of Indo-American dining the others didn’t: a lunchtime buffet. For one modest price ($9.95), you can partake of a stewy lentil dish called daal, some exceptionally moist tandoori chicken, a range of spicy biryanis, chole bhature, fried cauliflower, fried onion pakoras and much more – vegetarian and non-veg, mild to nuclear. There’s also a variety of cheerfully colored chutneys ranging from sweet to savory in a procession that includes mint, mango, peanut and my favorite, tamarind – that you can spread on wonderfully crisp, curling dosa pancakes. On another visit I ordered off the helpfully descriptive menu, taking a meat-free approach with vegetable samosas ($3.95), fabulously spuddy conical fried nibbles filled with peas and potato, with sides of chutney to spoon over; and masala uthappam ($8.95), a hearty pancake with potatoes and onions cooked right in.
Must try: My favorite dish from the buffet was navaratan korma, a rich vegetable stew packed with cubes of paneer, a soft-curd cheese. It’s also on the menu ($10.95).
955 W. Chandler Heights Rd., Chandler,

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