You don't have to go out of the country (or even out of town) to find great, authentic Indian food. In fact, there are plenty of places around the Valley that specialize in a range of Indian cooking styles, whether you're looking for great southern-style vegetarian dosa or northern chaat. With a variety of options — including buffets, upscale sit-down spots, and grab-and-go eateries — the Indian joints around town can cater to any occasion with spicy, aromatic, and mouthwatering curries, mixed grills, and more.
Little India: There aren't many places in the Valley that offer the northern Indian snacks called chaat — but Little India in Tempe does. The cafe is tucked into the back corner of an Indian market and requires you fill out a menu checklist to place your order. There are options like pani-puri, fried hollow puri you fill with flavored water, and aloo tikki chaat, which features grilled potato patties smothered in yellow peas, yogurt, tamarind, cilantro, onions, and other spices. But no matter what you order, don't skip the samosas. The triangular pillows enclose a wonderful filling of spiced potatoes and peas that only gets better when dipped in the side of tamarind chutney. (1813 E. Baseline Road, #108, Tempe, 480-730-7770, www.littleindiaaz.com)
Woodlands Vegetarian South Indian Cooking: As you watch families pack in and out of this modest vegetarian eatery, you'll quickly notice that if you didn't order a dosai, you didn't do Woodlands right. Though this mostly undecorated spot in the middle of a Chandler strip mall won't win points on ambiance, the authentic food, friendly service, and plentiful selection of dosa (like the hot mysore masala or the cheesy paneer dosai) surely will have you coming back. Plus the complimentary chutney bar, with pickled veggies, tamarind chutney, yogurt sauce, mint chutney, and coconut chutney, makes for a new experience with every bite. (4980 W. Ray Road, Chandler, Ste. 10, 480-820-2249, www.woodlandsaz.com)
10 Best Indian Restaurants in Metro Phoenix
Karaikudi Palace: We've got a lot of love for this Scottsdale spot, where three friends from culinary school opened an exceptionally Indian restaurant. Karaikudi Palace serves boldly flavored South Indian cuisine, including dishes such as kadai bindi masala, featuring okra, onions, bell pepper, tomato, and fresh ginger. If you want to explore the menu on your own terms, make sure you hit dinner, because the restaurant offers only a buffet during lunch, from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. On the other hand, the buffet is a nice way to ease into Indian cuisine, since you can taste a wide variety of dishes including grilled meats, curries, and even dessert. (8752 E. Shea Blvd., Ste. C11, Scottsdale, 480-998-6006, www.karaikudipalaceaz.com)
New India Bazaar & Cuisine: With a full menu of Indian fare tucked behind the market portion of New India Bazaar, the restaurant portion pleases with creamy gobi and spicy butter chicken served with basmati rice and hot, crisp naan. However, the real winner at New India, which is located on Seventh Street just south of Thomas Road, is the option for buffet to go. If you work downtown and are craving Indian cuisine, New India's by-the-pound pricing for the lunch buffet is a fast, easy, and cheap way to get your fix without running late. We will warn that service is rarely even cordial at New India Bazaar, but if you order to go like we do, you won't have to worry about that at all. (2544 N. 7th St., 602-712-0009)
Khyber Halal Restaurant: If there's one thing this Central Phoenix restaurant has going for it — besides the good food — it's that you can have foods from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India in one place. As far as the Indian options go, you'll see standard picks like tikka masala and paneer, the homemade Indian cheese. We prefer to dig into a giant platter of goat biryani, a rice dish that features sizable pieces of tender goat meat and heavily spiced basmati rice. We also love the fact that Khyber Halal is clearly a family-run operation, with the restaurant staffed by family members of all ages. (4030 N. 24th St., 602-954-5290, www.khyberhalalfoods.com)
Curry Corner: Regardless of whether or not you've already eaten your meal at Curry Corner, every time a new dish rolls out of the kitchen, it's like being transported to a place that smells like different parts of heaven. Aromatic and lightly sweet makhani curry or acidic, spicy achari curry paired with crispy, chewy naan bread or rice make for a satisfying meal. However, if you want to get the real Curry Corner experience, you have to get the joint's most popular dish — the mixed grill platter. This sizzling skillet of tasty tandoori and other spiced meats is a total sensory package that's as much about the crackling sounds and rustic visual as it is about the delicious smell. (1212 E. Apache Blvd., Tempe, 480-894-1276)
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Chennai Chettinaad Palace: Though you can get all your favorite go-to dishes in this recently opened North Phoenix joint, what truly sets Chennai apart is bartender Anthony Felsianes' cocktail menu. The flavored martinis and new twists on classic drinks have one thing in common — a heavy influence of Indian flavors such as mango, coconut, and rose that pair nicely with spicy dishes. Plus, at $6 per drink, Felsianes' cocktail concoctions are some of the most affordable drinks around. (2814 W. Bell Road, Ste. 1455, 602-993-0085, www.chennaichettinaadpalace.com)
Copper Kettle: Copper Kettle has moved locations more than once since opening in 1998, but it recently resettled in Tempe. The new restaurant's proximity to owner Syed Abbas' sister's restaurant, Curry Corner, caused family drama, but it doesn't seem to have affected the quality of the Indo-Pak cuisine. Copper Kettle serves a nice range of styles including Tandoori, Punjabo, and Balti cuisines. The mixed grill is a good way to go, with a platter of flavorful meats arriving at your table sizzling with a side of naan or rice. (1250 E. Apache Blvd., Ste. 101, Tempe, 480-967-4365, www.copperkettleaz.com)
India Oven: India Oven has been serving an extensive menu of Indian specialties for years. The restaurant — which also operates as a banquet hall — offers lunch and dinner buffets, as well as traditional dining. And with more than a dozen vegetarian menu items, there's likely to be something for everyone. We enjoy the flavorful chicken tikka masala as well as the mild, creamy shrimp korma, which features tender plump shrimp swimming in a buttery sauce full of Indian spices. With a side of freshly baked naan, you'll be in for a satisfying meal. It's just a bonus that the service at this Mesa spot is alway friendly, attentive, and fast. (1315 S. Gilbert Road, Mesa, 480-892-3333, www.azindiaoven.com)
The Dhaba: Two words: lamb vindaloo. Sure, The Dhaba masters a playful balance of classy dining and Punjabi street food where you can have your pick of many curries, puri, and pakoras, but that spicy, hearty lamb vindaloo is what made us regulars when we first tried it years ago. Combine that with other house specialties and the upscale, ornate dining area with fancy copper cups and plates and you have an Indian dining option perfect for a fancy date night or one-of-a-kind business dinner. If you're feeling confident, you can even go next door to India Plaza's market to get some spices and other ingredients to try your hand at Dhaba's dishes at home. (1872 E. Apache Blvd., Tempe, 480-446-2824, www.the-dhaba.com)