Our guide to Indian and Indian-influenced fare
Published: July 6, 2011
$=$5-$10; $$=$10-$25; $$$=$25-$50; $$$$=$50+
Aladdin Sweets & Café 11945 Conant St., Hamtramck; 313-891-8050; aladdinsweet.com; $: This was once just a small, neighborhood place, lacking cloth doilies and polished steel cutlery. But what Aladdin lacked in china and stainless steel it more than made up for in flavor and authenticity. And, after a radical makeover, it now has a more commodious interior and a large patio too. As for the food, instead of complex preparations, try the simple choices on the menu, such as chick peas and spinach, to see how these humble beans and greens come to life when expertly spiced. Don't miss the excellent and hearty naan bread, including the bread with potato baked into it. This small, lively spot is much more than a sweets shop. No alcohol.
Ashoka Indian Cuisine 3642 Rochester Rd., Troy; 248-689-7070; 2100 Haggerty Rd., Canton; 734-844-3100; ashokaindiancuisine.com; $$: Bright colors, rich flavors, exotic aromas. With more than 150 items on its menu, Ashoka serves more than legume-based recipes and fiery spice blends. The bill of fare wanders the subcontinent from the north to the south, including southern Indian specialties, such as Mysore dosa, plain dosa, vada and bhaji poories. There are even sections of the menu devoted to Indian-Chinese food, a style with a following in India, with such selections as chicken spring rolls, chicken Manchurian with gravy and Singapore noodles. Of course, you can still get more typical Indian fare, including vegetable korma, chicken masala and lamb dopiaza. Full-service bar.
Bombay Grille 29200 Orchard Lake Rd., Farmington Hills; 248-626-2982; bombay-grille.com; $$: Bombay distinguishes itself with the word "grille." You can watch the process through a window in the dining room. Grilled items are prepared in tandoors, deep clay ovens heated by charcoal fires. Most Indian restaurants use gas, which is cheaper, but can't produce the flavor of a charcoal fire. In one tandoor, the chef balances long skewers dressed with lamb, chicken, beef, fish, cheese and vegetables. In another, a chef slaps flattened pieces of dough on the clay wall to make naan. The bread, which blisters as it cooks, is done when it falls off the wall, which takes only minutes. Native eaters use the fragrant, chewy naan to scoop up their food. It's integral to the meal, but has to be ordered separately. The unusual grilling and exotic spices produce flavors you just can't get otherwise. Seekh kabob — minced lamb cooked on a skewer — tastes nothing like the Middle Eastern variation called shish kafta, because of its rich spice blend. Chicken malai is marinated in yogurt and spices, then grilled. There are three vegetarian kebabs, some with paneer, a mild homemade farmer's cheese. This is a great place for carnivores and vegetarians to commingle; the entrée menu is about evenly split between the two. Wine, beer and liquor are offered.
Crown of India 28233 Ford Rd., Garden City; 734-522-1202; $$: This little joint has all the classic curries and other preparations, with perhaps a touch more care than usual. The menu ranges over vegetarian specialties, tandoor dishes, lamb and chicken selections, even with a special seafood section. And these are some very attractive prices; they don't often breach $13. Open for lunch (11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.) and dinner (5-9 p.m.) Tuesday-Thursday; Dinner extends to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Open for lunch (noon-3 p.m.) and dinner (5-9 p.m.) on Sundays. Closed Mondays.
Earthen Jar 311 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor; 734-327-9464; earthenjar.com; $: Featuring vegetarian north Indian food in one big buffet, with dozens of selections. But instead of all-you-can-eat dining, this is dining by the pound — $5.99 a pound to be exact. After your food is weighed, you can sit down and eat in their casual shop or carry it out. And no tipping means you can get almost a pound of scandalously healthful food for less than $6.
Haandi Cuisine of India 37116 Six Mile Rd., Livonia; 734-432-2088; haandimichigan.com; $$: It's a little more expensive than some Indian restaurants, but it has a full bar, including Indian beers and wines, and a quiet, cloth-napkin atmosphere. You get naan with your meal, so you're saving right there. Expect intense and multifaceted flavors and a very long menu — 111 dishes plus desserts. Most of the cuisine is northern, but they also feature a few Hyderabadi dishes. The lamb Hyderabadi is cooked in coconut milk and cream, with poppy seeds, so it's creamy, as you'd expect, but with a kick that lifts it out of the ordinary. Some other dishes that you might not see every day are a sweet corn soup, Goan fish curry and bharwan simla mirch, which is a green pepper stuffed with paneer, potato, peas, cashews, cilantro and ginger, grilled on the tandoor using a special recipe.
House of India 28841 Orchard Lake Rd., Farmington Hills; 248-553-7391; haandimichigan.com; $: Imagine a restaurant where you can enjoy a four-course meal and spend less than $20. With more than 130 choices on the menu, you can rest assured that your dish can be mild or spicy, tangy or savory. All preparations are mouth-watering, fresh, and flavorful. For something mild, try lamb sagwala (with spinach); for something hot, order stuffed bhindi (okra and onions). Best bet is the mango lassi (with buttermilk). Though they may get lost in the shuffle, don't miss the unusual sides, which include achar (a traditional Indian pickle), mango chutney, raita (cukes, tomatoes and onions with whipped yogurt), boondi raita (like an Indian take on falafel), papadum (a crispy lentil-based chip) and brown and green chutneys.
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