At Kababi Zaytoon Mediterranean Restaurant, the scent of crispy fried falafel blends with the sounds of chicken, kofta, and beef kabob sizzling to perfection. Tender lamb chops and flaky tilapia filets send hungry stomachs rumbling with anticipation, with freshly squeezed carrot, pineapple, and watermelon juice on hand to cleanse the palate. Crystal chandeliers cast a constellation of warm light over slate counters and walls of dark, varnished wood, while a stone fountain decorated with leafy ferns bubbles gently and invites guests to make wishes for an endless supply of baklava.
Well-provisioned with spices and sauces, Cuisine of India prepares savory North Indian and Nepalese dishes, assembling a substantial menu of regional recipes gathered by the owner's extended family. Broaden your tongue's horizons with traditional Kathmandu momo chicken dumplings ($7.00), before shepherding lamb or goat herds over palate plains flooded with creamy tomato masala ($13). A traditional charcoal-fired clay oven bakes flattened tandoori bread such as naan ($2) and cheese-injected paneer kulcha ($3.50), their rich tastes protected by highly trained leavening agents. For vegetarians, stuffed eggplant, brimming with vegetables and nuts, provides a healthy reprieve from strict candy diets ($13).
The Himalayan mountain range is home to some of the world’s tallest peaks, but travelers to the region know it holds something even more impressive than mighty Mount Everest. That would be the local cuisine, which is made possible by a confluence of Indian, Pakistani, and Nepalese traditions. Fortunately, Houstonians need not travel halfway around the world to sample regional dishes such lamb masala, goat biryani, and boneless chicken curry. At Himalaya, chef Kaiser Lashkari draws on family traditions to craft generous portions of dishes such as his Hanifia–style Hunter beef, which is best described as India’s answer to pastrami. As a bonus, the restaurant’s BYOB policy means guests can bring along a bottle of beer to enjoy or a canteen of melted Himalayan snow to suck a little extra nutrition out of.
Don’t be put off by the small strip mall storefront; Gourmet India on Westheimer and Eldridge Parkway is plenty big inside. As the name suggests, tables are covered in linen and quickly gobble up robust lunchtime crowds, making this easygoing eatery feel busy but never too crowded. Unlike lesser Indian strip mall joints that push out a few paltry steam trays for midday buffet eating, Gourmet India is for serious lunchers. Energy Corridor residents and workers will appreciate the wide range of vegetarian and meat-based buffet items, plus specialties like goat curry that are available off the menu. Prices are a little higher than run-of-the-mill Indian take-out places, but the menu selection is broad and the setting is a definite step up from most strip mall spots.
Owner Narin Sehgal and chef-in-chief Gary Grewal channel the culinary traditions of their Punjabi hometowns to craft delicately spiced dishes for a menu that was rated "excellent" by Zagat. Chicken tikka and tandoori prawns soak up a savory marinade before warming up in the same clay oven that gives a flame-kissed crust to breads stuffed with paneer, nuts, lamb, or mint. The black-lentil base of dal makhani spends an entire night slowly absorbing the essence of distinctive herbs, much like a college student cramming for a big botany exam. Abundant subcontinental flair outfits the dining rooms, including arched doorways set into clay-colored walls, rich prints, and tasseled chandeliers.
Mobi Siddiqui and Asim Malik have imported both the classic and contemporary tastes of India and Pakistan and infused them into Moghul's Restaurant & Lounge’s menu of tandoori and charcoal-grilled specialties. In the fragrant kitchen, chicken is prepared more than a dozen different ways, as the chefs pair it with flavors of pickle sauce, ginger, black-pepper sauce, and spicy curry. Chunks of boneless lamb marinated in various spices crown plates, and the leg of lamb–a Moghul’s delicacy–can be shared among a group of friends or used to gain an edge in a three-legged race. Basmati rice soaks up the spiced onion and tomato juices in biryani dishes, and meat-free fare arrives in the form of fried vegetable balls, lentils, and the spinach, cottage cheese, and traditional spices of classic palak paneer.