In a restaurant, in a trailer, from the North, from the South -- these days, there's more Indian food in Austin than ever. Here's where to go for your fix.
An Indian lunch buffet for the Round Rock crowd: Trusty dishes like the Chicken Tikka Masala win hearts and tastebuds, but I urge you to try their pleasingly sour idlis. "Idli" is a spongy, fermented grain cake, and while it looks like something you could scrub your bathtub with, it is absolutely divine dipped in one of Chola's many Indian sauces, absorbing all the flavor into one savory, tasty bite.
Yes it's a standby, but Clay Pit got so many Austinites comfortable with the concept of Indian food that it deserves special recognition. The food here is mostly North Indian in execution, and their creamy lamb korma, laced with cardamom, cinnamon and sin, is truly outstanding.
Incredibly friendly service, a goat curry that'll bring a tear to your eye, and a gift-wrapped front door? It's no wonder Austinites have flocked to Taj Palace for over a decade. Leave room for the Gulab Jamun, a small dish of warm doughnut-like balls, served warm in cardamom and honey sauce.
Go for the buffet at Sarovar. The service has a little bit to be desired here, but Sarovar's "on tap" mango lassi (think: Indian smoothie) is so sweet and satisfying, it makes up for any deficiencies.
"Buffet" is a word often uttered not in delight, but in wariness. We're just not sure what to expect, and what we do expect usually isn't good: Crunch reduced to sogginess, meats swimming in questionable sauces, pudding with a skin. Fortunately, that isn't the case at Satay, where Indian rices, curries, and desserts don't suffer from a buffet format. I know, because I've gone not only for lunch, where buffet food is snatched up quickly, but dinner, where the buffet table tends to languish. I'm happy to report that its quality didn't.
South Indian (re: vegetarian) eating, and the paper dosas here are a fun novelty if you've never tried one before. They involve a teensy bit of filling scooped inside a huge, trumpet-like crepe, then served with a variety of spicy-to-creamy sauces.
Rainey Street District's glorious little Indian food trailer/pavillion: their huge garlic naan is not only portable, but hits the spot after one too many shots at Lustre Pearl.
Clay Pit's fast-casual spinoff, with a simpler menu and big lunchtime appeal. The "naaninis" (Indian-spiced veggies and proteins wrapped in naan) are especially popular.
Fish is rare on Indian menus, but Maharaja's owners are from Goa -- a state running along the Arabian Sea. It makes sense then that a whole portion of their menu is devoted to seafood, like the Goan Fish Curry: white fish smothered in coconut and spices, and eaten like a meaty soup.
A south Austin restaurant that tries to elevate the Indian dining experience, Royal India feels more posh than most joints in this list. That being said, the prices are reasonable ($8.99 weekday lunch buffet, all entrees between $12-$19), so don't let its fancy trappings scare you. Royal India is shooting for a new clientele: one that feels most comfortable in a Western-accessible atmosphere, but is still adventurous enough to order off a menu with foreign words.