Thai and Indian influences act as the epicurean muses for chefs at Zaafaran, where fresh, healthy ingredients compose exotic entrees. The dinner menu invites guests to strap on their tongues' waders and discover seafood-fraught dishes such as the crab singapore, a stir-fried jumble of lump crab steeped in Singapore-style gravy ($20), or the saag tadka curry, where swells of tumeric yogurt and cream surge across sautéed spinach ($9).
Shah Jee's has dished out warming Pakistani food for more than 16 years. Whole-wheat roti flatbread scoops up sauces from chana masala and saag paneer, both of which are vegetarian and seasoned with spice blends from Pakistan. Daal masoor mingles red lentils with garlic, herbs, and spices, and chicken masala highlights halal meat that’s been simmered with tomatoes and onions until tender. The chefs also whip up daily specials, many of which are vegan, vegetarian, or prone to blushing when called special.
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.
Home cooking can be hard to find when home is on an entirely different continent. But the owners of Himalayan Restaurant knew how to bring the flavors of their South Asian home to Chicago. They sought out Chef Bishnu Subedi, who relies on his 12 years of experience as well as his training in a Kathmandu culinary school. Befitting the subcontinent’s rich and diverse history, Chef Subedi designs expansive menus, which embrace the Northern Indian, Nepalese, and Asian subcultures that define the region’s cuisines.
This cultural fusion is readily apparent in dishes such as the momos: steamed Nepalese-style dumplings that are typically stuffed with minced chicken or vegetables and served by street-food vendors throughout Nepal. Northern Indian flavors completely shine through on certain dishes, including the tandoori chicken, which marinates overnight in spiced yogurt before the chefs quickly barbecue the meat inside a traditional clay tandoor oven. House-made paneer cheese and fluffy naan also evoke the flavors of South Asia; the restaurant further embraces its cultural roots by serving Indian beers and water from melted Nepalese glaciers.
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.
Taking its name from a style of Indian dance, Thumka Indian Bar and Grill strives to capture the vibrant spirit and flavors of the South Asian subcontinent. The intermingling aromas of saffron, cumin, mint chutney, ginger, fenugreek, coriander, and green chilies fill the dining room, providing a brief overview of a menu that manages to highlight the regional culinary traditions of virtually every corner of the country.
The chefs embrace the northern tradition of roasting skewered chicken, lamb chops, and vegetables inside a geothermally-heated tandoor oven; they also create crepe-like dosas, which traditionally hail from India's southern regions. A selection of fried rice entrees and Szechuan-inspired dishes even demonstrates the chefs' versatility in creating Indo-Chinese cuisine. A la carte dining is also available.
With its simple wooden tables, tiled floors, and burgundy-hued booths, Thumka Indian Bar and Grill's dining room embraces a cozy, homespun spirit. Ornate lamps hang from the ceiling, casting their light across mustard-yellow walls, which are adorned with bronze sculptures and colonial-style windows. The warm ambiance makes the dining space an ideal place for birthday celebrations or hosting catered events.
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.