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.
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.
Indian Sizzler prepares a delectable menu of traditional Indian dishes, many of which are healthy. Garlic naan or paratha rolls sop up the sauces of popular dishes such as chicken curry—boneless chicken breasts marinated in garlic, yogurt, and ginger and swimming in curry sauce. Patrons hungry for a larger meal can combine their curry or kabob with a side of halwa, a dessert with milk, coconut, pistachio, and almonds. Sips from spicy soda give heat-loving tongues a kick and gulps of mango lassi or salt lassi—a salty blend of housemade yogurt and herbs—cool tongues more pleasantly than a bag of frozen peas.
At Kabab Kahani, grill masters skewer sustainably sourced, certified halal morsels of Indian- and Mediterranean-style meats, creating lamb kebabs, tandoori chicken, and gyros. The eatery also adheres to eco-friendly business practices such as recycling dinnerware and transforming leftovers into chicken feed. Guests can settle into the dining area’s vibrant red booths to gobble down falafel and lamb chops, or hop across the black-and-white-checkered floor in a game of human chess.