Chefs at Curry Hut expertly spice Nepalese and Indian cuisine, infusing more than a dozen curries and platters of tender meat and veggies with aromatic flavor that earned the attention of Chicago magazine. At the lunch buffet, dining companions sculpt towers and renditions of the Taj Mahal with street-vendor-inspired fare such as veggie fritters and potato samosas before diving into eight main dishes, five of which are vegetarian. Alternatively, à la carte diners pull from a menu that includes the entree-sized momo appetizer, in which spiced chicken dumplings encircle a bowl of kicky, mustard-colored achar sauce. In the kitchen, barrel-chested clay ovens and oven-chested dragons charbroil whole lobsters, yogurt-marinated chicken breast, and fluffy naan bread at 600 degrees, sealing in their juices for tender tandoori meals. While forks heft up spiced saffron rice, glasses of wine and beer ($3–$8) toast over white tablecloths.
Inside a sizzling tandoor oven, 15 styles of naan, paratha, and roti soak in the heat until they start to take on a slight char. Peacock's chefs then pull them out of the oven, serving them hot as an accompaniment authentic tandoori meats and curries. Dining here is an experience for all the senses, from the soft cheese stuffed inside paneer naan to the spicy murg vindaloo. Almonds and pistachios inside the nuts naan give a tender crunch and make it easy to sop up sauces such as the creamy murg kurma or one of many shrimp or lamb dishes. Vegetarian options also abound for people eschewing meat or hoping a vegetable a day will keep a full range of medical professionals away.
Miki Trikha and his wife, Nidhi, hope to expose Americans to the popular street foods of Mumbai, where businesspeople on their lunch breaks crowd together, the scents of buttery naan billowing around them on the warm breath of ovens. The couple, who also operate an Indian grocery store,
glide across a dining room that the Daily Herald calls “cute and contemporary.” Vibrant portraits span the length of the walls beside colorful, leaf-painted tables. Above a treat-filled glass case, a large menu board guides diners, explaining the flavors and lore behind Mumbai-style chaat. The popular street food combines a piece of fried bread with toppings including pomegranate, chickpeas, and tomato sauce alongside golden samosas and dumplings stuffed with zabiha halal meat or soaked in creamy yogurt.
The metallic symphony of a busy kitchen drifts into the room as chefs forge veggie crepes and crown tandoor chicken and lamb with fresh mint chutney. While downing imported Indian sodas, guests admire the eatery's high ceilings and exposed rafters, which shake with laughter and leave space for exaggerated gestures during fishing stories.
At Swad Of India, cooks seek out halal meats for their entrees, roasting platefuls of marinated lamb and chicken inside a traditional clay tandoor oven. The vegetarian options use the same blends of potent herbs and spices, although the cooks replace the meats with housemade cheese or vegetables exclusively sourced from county-fair ribbon ceremonies.
The chefs at Lal Qila Restaurant, named for the ornate 17th-century Indian monument, serve up a lengthy menu of tandoori- and clay–oven-baked Indian and Pakistani cuisine. Doling out large portions, they sizzle up spice-driven dishes loaded with goat, lamb, seafood, or chicken. Vegetarian options include cheese- and lentil-based dishes that fill the restaurant with exotic scents more effectively than tossing around a boomerang slathered in curry.
The epicurean alchemists at India House, winner of Chicago magazine's Best Indian Buffet designation, draw inspiration from the cuisine of Bombay and Delhi as well as Indian street fare and homestyle tandoori cooking. The menu's more than 250 items please vegetarian and meat-eating palates alike with curries, kebabs, and grilled saris that utilize the flavors of fresh cilantro, chilies, and coconut. A reviewer for the Chicago Tribune praises the restaurant’s “incredibly tender tandoori chicken,” and Chicago magazine says that the fiery "Hyderabadi-style mahi-mahi … is a must." Midday lunchers can dig into a buffet whose myriad options beget multiple trips and consultation with a pack of tarot cards before deciding which delicious curries should be ladled over naan and rice.
Dakshin Indian Cuisine's creative chefs blend southern-Indian spices with Chinese flavors, crafting a menu of artful eats with elegant tastes. Dakshin means "south" in Sanskrit, and the southern starters shine, with the traditional Rasam soup ($2.99,) chock-full of tamarind, lentil, and piquant spices, great for warming up stomachs and filling pockets with a snack for later. Thin, lentil crêpes, or dosas, hail from the south and come smothered with cooked minced meat in the keema dosa ($9.99) or potato and onion in the masala dosa ($6.99). Chinese influences seep through the sauce of the szechwan chicken hakka noodles ($9.99), covered in julienned vegetables and sprinkled with secret messages in Mandarin.