Butter Chicken Brawl: The Dhaba in Tempe v. India Oven in Mesa
The Dhaba puts a lot into its presentation, as seen here with the popular butter chicken entree.
Murgh makhani, also called butter chicken, is a staple dish at any Punjabi restaurant. To make it chefs combine complex and bold flavors in a spicy, but irresistibly smooth dish. To achieve the creamy texture, chicken marinates in yogurt, turmeric, ginger, garlic, cumin, chili, and other spices for hours. It's then either pan-fried or baked in a tandoor oven with a butter and curry sauce. By the time the dish reaches your plate, the chicken should be so tender it practically falls apart. Order it with a side of rice or use naan bread to soak up the sauce.
In this Corner: The Dhaba
The Setting: As most Valley residents who frequent Tempe or Mesa will now, there's an unusual structure on Apache Boulevard called The Dhaba. Under one relatively small roof, guests can find a grocer, a clothing and trinkets store, and an impressive restaurant. The restaurant is small, but often full. Gold and red hues reflect off the strategically placed mirrors, which make the small establishment seem larger. and fills it with ambience.
The Good: The Dhaba spares no expense to present a meal that is as aesthetically pleasing as it is delicious. The buttered chicken comes out in a bronze bowl that contrasts the deep orange color of the dish, which releases a bouquet of exotic spices. The broth is thicker than in many places and is surprisingly spicy. We ordered it "medium" and ended up needing a few more glasses of water than expected, though you don't have to worry about losing any flavor. The Dhaba manages to balance spice with seasoning in its buttered chicken. The dish also comes with a side of jasmine rice cooked to the perfect, not-too-soft consistency.
The Bad: Though we loved the rice, there were a few dried pieces of basil in it that had lost their flavor and essentially just stuck in our teeth.
The deep red tone of India Oven's butter chicken comes from tomatoes, which also add a touch of sweetness to the dish.
In this Corner: India Oven
The Setting: India Oven is much larger than The Dhaba and the décor is more castle than palace. Grey brick covers most walls, which feature intricate paintings of tigers and scenic views. Bollywood movies play on TVs in each corner. Guests have the option to order from the buffet, which is full of fragrant, colorful Indian dishes that tempt those who have chosen to order off the menu.
The Good: India Oven provided a pleasant experience from beginning to end. The restaurant also has a massive event and dining hall, which would explain the incredibly friendly service. Servers bring you a never-ending supply of naan and one order of vegetable samosas that kept us more than busy while the chefs cooked our entrée. When our dish arrived, we were shocked by the sheer amount of food placed on the table. The buttered chicken had more of a smoky and sweet flavor than we were used to, which could be due to an heavy amount of tomato in the sauce. The sauce is also a little thinner in comparison, which only made it better for mixing with the rice.
The Bad: The smoky hints were nice, but India Oven’s butter chicken lacked the spice we crave. Also, the chicken was a little too chewy; there were a few pieces we wanted to eat, but just couldn’t do it.
The Winner: The Dhaba wins this round. Its dish carried a lot more flavor and, ultimately, we'll take quality over quantity when it comes to our food.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Phoenix dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.