Best Indian Restaurant (2002)

Maharaja Palace

If a food has thrived for some 5,000 years like Indian cuisine has, we've got to believe there's something pretty special about it. For proof, all we have to do is stop in at Maharaja Palace, home to the Valley's most exciting display of what makes Indian so interesting. Here, we find how sublime the food can be, involving an elaborate labyrinth of color, texture and flavor. Tastes are layered and complex, often including ghee (clarified butter) for a creamy finish that's incomparably rich. Spices come in rainbow reflections, applied lavishly in tiers of turmeric, ginger, garlic, fennel, coriander, cumin, chili, mint and more. Playing the riff is garam masala, an intense, aromatic mixture that has no set recipe but often includes cinnamon, cloves, black pepper and black cardamom.

We're stunned by the kitchen's take on classics like mulligatawny, a from-scratch curry-kissed soup floating with chicken, lentils and fresh herbs. Lamb jalfraizee is luscious, a tender, meaty toss of tomatoes, onion and green pepper in a vinegary, ginger-imbued gravy served on a sizzling platter. And while Indian food has a reputation for causing sweaty brows and gasping breath, lamb korma is a jewel of delicate meat blended with tangy yogurt and nuts.

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