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 craving great Southern-style vegetarian dosa or Northern chaat.
With a variety of options — including buffets, upscale sit-down spots, and even grab-and-go eateries — the Indian joints around metro Phoenix can cater to any occasion with spicy, aromatic, and mouthwatering curries, mixed grills, and more.
Nandini Indian Cuisine
Classic northern Indian cooking, with its tandoori-style meats and thickly prepared, ghee-heavy curries, is the specialty at Nandini Indian Cusine in Tempe. This modest strip-mall restaurant offers a budget-friendly lunch buffet seven days a week, at which you can fill up on everything from chicken tikka to palak paneer and bottomless mugs of chai tea. But we recommend coming during the evening dinner service, where you have your pick of the restaurant's expansive, Punjabi-inflected menu, including house specialties like lamb boti kebabs: savory cubes of lamb marinated in spices, flash-cooked in the house tandoori oven and served still-sizzling on a bed of peppers and onions. You'll also find an intensely spicy lamb vindaloo curry, as well as an excellent rendition of the classic murgh makhani, otherwise known as butter chicken, that's smothered in a creamy red sauce and scented with spicy notes of ginger and cumin.
New India Bazaar & Cuisine
With a full menu of Indian fare, the restaurant tucked behind the market portion of New India Bazaar pleases with creamy gobi 65 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 take out like we do, then you won't have to worry about that at all.
There aren't many places in the Valley that offer the Northern Indian snacks called chaat, but Little India in Tempe serves an extensive selection of the stuff. 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 potatoes 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.
As families pack in and out of this modest vegetarian Indian restaurant, you'll quickly notice that if you didn't order a dosai, then you didn't do Woodlands right. Though this mostly undecorated spot in the middle of a Chandler strip mall might not gain any points on ambiance, the authentic food, friendly service, and plentiful selection of dosa (like the hot mysore masala or the cheesy paneer dosai) will surely have you coming back again. 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.
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 all 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.
Curry Corner might look a little rougher around the edges than when it first debuted on Apache Boulevard in Tempe back in 2010, but the beloved Indo-Pak restaurant is still a solid, budget-friendly neighborhood destination for spicy curries, tandoori-cooked meats, and southern Indian thali platters. The chicken achari is a creamy, tangy curry and a must-try for lovers of impossibly spicy Indian food, while most staple veggie dishes like palak paneer (cooked spinach with homemade paneer cheese) are quite good. For a hard-to-find Pakistani delicacy, it’s worth waiting the 10 or 15 minutes of extra prep time to try the goat kahari, a garlicky, gingery goat stew that's a house specialty at Curry Corner.
Chennai Chettinaad Palace
Though you can get all your favorite go-to dishes in this North Phoenix Indian 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.
You wouldn't be wrong to consider this restaurant a reincarnation of the original Bombay Spice Grill. Unlike its predecessor, however, Marigold Maison is a sit-down restaurant where you'll find a cozy dining room decorated with hanging lanterns and murals and service that's both courteous and prompt. On the menu, look forward to plenty of starters and shareable plates, including a section of street food and south Indian specialties. Skip the familiar stuff like the hummus, and go for something more exciting like samosa chaat, a common Indian street food featuring pieces of samosa under a blanket of yogurt, chickpea, onions, tomato, and cilantro. For entrees, the selection spans many types regional specialties including dosai, tandoori fare, and a classic selection of savory curries.
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 always friendly, attentive, and fast.
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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, puris, 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.
Originally published March 24, 2014. Updated April 25, 2016.