Simi's centerpiece is a large hanging stained-glass art piece––a woman in full Sari playing a sitar amid a field of blossoming flowers. Zooming out, the restaurant complements the art with verdant flowing vines and a rustic gray stone partition. Amid these striking accents, tables line with dinner entrees of lamb curry, zesty seafood masala, and boneless chicken fired in a traditional clay-oven tandoor. Diners may also grab a bite during Simi's popular lunch buffet, which has been dazzling San Antonio for more than 20 years.
“Mela” means “gathering” or “fiesta” in Sanskrit, a fitting name since those are the kind of events that the restaurant facilitates with its traditional and very sharable feasts. The housemade breads, which range from flat naan to balloon-like poori, whet appetites for seasoned-to-order entrees, ranging from mild to spicy depending on the diner’s palate and how convincing they want to be when fake-crying. The eatery’s tandoor, a traditional clay oven, roasts dishes such as chicken tikka masala and tandoori shrimp; alternatively, curry dishes such as the spicy lamb vindaloo complement kebabs and succulent chunks of meat or veggies sitting atop beds of basmati rice infused with cashews, raisins, and saffron. A full bar rounds out the menu with domestic and imported beer, wine, and liquor that can wash down à la carte meals, buffet-style lunches served seven days a week, or buffet-style dinners that delight palates Sunday–Wednesday.
As an arm of the popular Mustafa Asian & Middle Eastern Grocery, Mustafa Restaurant plies patrons with deliciously authentic dishes of South Asian cuisine from all regions of the subcontinent. Siblings Syed Riyaz Siddiqui and Mohammed Fayaz charm visitors with an expansive bill of fare filled with nutty roasted basmati rice, tender hyderabadi chicken curry, and sweet, creamy Indian yogurt desserts. The menu takes visitors on a culinary journey of India and Pakistan, from the stir-fried noodle dishes that originate from Kolkata's Chinatown to the paper-thin dosas and gram flour donuts that grow from the trees of South India.
As guests savor the spices and fragrances of goan fish curry or fluffy, buttery naan, an elegant atmosphere envelops them. Beaded crimson cloth and sheer white curtains frame a room full of velvety pillows, embroidered wall decorations, and a buffet full of curries, basmati rice, and desserts.
Pavani Express waters fledgling belly gardens with a veggie-centric menu of delectable Indian cuisine. Fill metaphorical breadbaskets with the literal flatbread of chapati korma (two pieces, $4.99) or grow walrus tusks of flame with hot and spicy noodles ($6.99). Garlic fried rice ($5.99) wards off any vegan vampires prowling the restaurant while the cheese and spinach-loaded saag paneer ($7.99) bestows diners with faded anchor tattoos and disproportionately muscled forearms.
Inside a bustling open kitchen under new management, chefs sprinkle an aromatic blend of ground spices—the masala that gives the restaurant its name—into sizzling woks while stir-frying a variety of Thai-, Chinese-, and Indian-influenced dishes. Chicken, tofu, shrimp, and paneer arrive at tables coated with a variety of Asian sauces, ranging from citrusy orange to spicy Thai basil, and curried dishes, such as goan vindaloo, draw on Indian flavors.
Chef and owner Aparna Nayani constantly seeks to innovate, telling the Austin-American Statesman in 2010, “I take world cuisine and try to incorporate Indian flavors into it…. It’s a never-ending process.” Although she prominently features iconic Indian dishes such as curries and tandoor-baked naan, she also experiments with Italian, American, Mexican, Thai, and creole influences. Quesadillas brim with chicken tikka; housemade jalapeño-cream sauces perk up bites of penne; and filets of salmon emerge in a sheath of spicy chili paste. When she isn't forging batches of food for special events or NATO's annual eating competitions, Aparna occasionally leads cooking classes for students looking to learn more about her recipes.