First Taste

First Taste: Tikka Shack Is Authentic Indian Food With a Modern Twist

Indian food is less intimidating in Tikka Shack's modern, open atmosphere.
Indian food is less intimidating in Tikka Shack's modern, open atmosphere. Rudri Bhatt Patel
When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

Restaurant: Tikka Shack
Location: 21001 North Tatum Boulevard, #48-1520
Open: About six months
Eats: Traditional north Indian cuisine with modern edge
Price: $10 to $20 per person
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., daily

Bright yellow umbrellas, open space, festive lighting, and green shrubbery on the walls (yes, walls) welcome patrons inside Tikka Shack — Desert Ridge Marketplace's modern Indian eatery. The message is clear the moment you peruse the menu — to make north Indian food accessible and unintimidating for all who enter. There's even a step-by-step guide for the uninitiated.

click to enlarge Don't skip the refreshing mango lassi. - RUDRI BHATT PATEL
Don't skip the refreshing mango lassi.
Rudri Bhatt Patel
First, pick a curry (anything from tikka masala to spinach masala to original curry. Second, choose a protein (chicken, paneer, shrimp, or lamb) and then add an option for regular, garlic, or cheese naan, or samosa. All curries are described, which eliminates the guesswork of deciphering hard-to-pronounce ingredients. Finally, those who have already developed a love of Indian food have the option of ramping up the spice level.

Sometimes, modern ambiance might scare the diner who craves good, traditional Indian food. Tikka Shack delivers in its authenticity. The first hint of this came in the form of a drink served in most regions across India — lassi.

At Tikka Shack, the mango lassi isn't a processed mixture of cream and a sweet mango-like substitute. The yogurt tastes homemade and fresh. The mango isn't overpowering or packed with nauseating sweetness, but subtle and blends well with the yogurt. The temptation is to drink it in one gulp, but it's best to enjoy it with the tikka masala fries or with one of the entrees. Overall, don't skip the lassi. It's a refreshing beginning to what is to come. 
The homemade quality of the lassi is intentional. Co-owner Parish Patel says he and his team "worked to make certain the drink and food tasted as authentic as possible," he says. "That means working with original Indian recipes."

Patel's overriding mission is to create a space that appeals to all races, ages, and cultures. It appears this goal is working. "We have teenagers coming in, telling their parents exactly what they want to order," Patel says. There isn't any what-to-order hesitation and he hopes with the Desert Ridge location, more people will be willing to dip into Indian food.

click to enlarge Masala fries are $5.50 and a fun appetizer to your meal. - RUDRI BHATT PATEL
Masala fries are $5.50 and a fun appetizer to your meal.
Rudri Bhatt Patel
So much is worth exploring on the menu, beginning with the appetizers. The masala fries are spiced well with onions, scallions, tomatoes, cilantro, and tikka masala. Fries aren't soggy, and have the right amount of crunch even with condiments. Tikka Shack also provides a pour-your-own beer with four selections. Lassi or beer is a good option to wash down the fries.

If fries aren't your thing, tikka pizza, samosas, or kofta tots are equally appetizing. The appetizers are $5.50 or less, meaning you can order one or more starters for your meal.

The entrees lean toward north Indian cuisine some Middle Eastern influence. Tikka Shack's menu is organized into vegetarian bowls, biryani, side dishes, grill, and craft-your-own curry selections. In other words, there is no shortage of choices.

click to enlarge The garlic naan brings out the flavors of the vegetable jalfrezi. - RUDRI BHATT PATEL
The garlic naan brings out the flavors of the vegetable jalfrezi.
Rudri Bhatt Patel
Vegetarians will likely love the veggie jalfrezi, a combination of bell peppers, potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, and green beans simmered in a curry sauce. The risk with Indian cuisine is it can potentially overwhelm with a burn-your-mouth kind of spice level, but with this particular entree, the flavor comes through — a combination of cumin, chile, and coriander.

Garlic naan only enhances the curry taste, and if you choose to pair it with basmati rice, you won't be disappointed. The rice is a loose, fluffy, multicolored mixture which combines well with the vegetables. Other vegetarian bowls include chole masala, malai kofta, and aloo saag. (Again there is a brief description of each entree, so it is user-friendly to those who may have never heard of these items.)

Meat-and-potato types need not fret. The tikka grill will cater to those who love kebobs on salad greens. The tikka chicken masala soaks into the meat. "The meat is marinated for several hours with spices, and we don't like to take shortcuts," Patel says.

A combination of fresh ingredients, traditional Indian recipes, and a dedication to detail is a perfect trinity for food at Tikka Shack. Other meat entrees include lamb, shrimp, and spicy chicken. Combine one of these meats with a salad, bowl, or wrap.

It is impossible to try everything on the menu in one sitting, and the flavors are so diverse that multiple trips are required to assess what entree will emerge as your go-to dish.

click to enlarge Kebobs are marinated in the house sauce for several hours. - RUDRI BHATT PATEL
Kebobs are marinated in the house sauce for several hours.
Rudri Bhatt Patel
Top 40 music plays on the speakers overhead and the staff  are not only patient, but friendly. They are polite with those who have questions or fumble through the menu or want some friendly recommendations. Tikka Shack is the kind of place you can grab a quick lunch during your work day or rally the family to come on a Friday evening. The vibe is casual and contemporary, and the overwhelming feeling after you stuff your face with all things Indian is satisfaction.
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Rudri Patel is a lawyer turned writer and editor. She is the co-editor of the online literary journal The Sunlight Press and on staff at Literary Mama.
Contact: Rudri Patel