Lunch is a quick little affair these days, since we rarely have time to sit down to our fast food, or afford and enjoy good cuisine. Once in a while we get lucky enough to find a fast and affordable place that's worth investing our cash and time.
Nandini Indian Buffet in Tempe is that place. The restaurant offers a lunch buffet that hits the trifecta of being quick, tasty, and affordable with a price tag of $7.99.
Nandini Indian Cuisine, 1845 E. Broadway Road, is the reincarnation of Royal Taj, and it's returned with something for any time-sensitive craving or dietary restrictions. Gluten free, check. Vegan, check. Vegetarian, check. All-in-etarian, check. We made that last one up, but we like to think of ourselves as "all in" kind of eaters. Plus, Indian food tends to feel like a guilty pleasure with rich and spice-heavy dishes. Fortunately, there is a lighter side as well.
The staff at Nandini's is courteous and helpful. Your water glass is never empty, and they seem sincere in their desire to give you a great experience. At the buffet you'll find a nice selection of Indian dishes from chicken tikka masala to dal makhani. When you return from filling up your plate, a basket of warm naan, a type of flat bread, is delivered to your table and waiting for your return. The naan at Nandini's is perfectly cooked with a slightly crisp exterior and soft, chewy interior.
From the buffet, the potato pakoras were a favorite at our table. The thin slices of potato were batter-dipped then fried, reminding us of beer battered french fries -- except so much better. You'll find four kinds of condiments on the buffet to accompany them: a coriander chutney, tamarind sauce, cucumber riata, and a mango chutney. Mix and match the dips and sauces to your naan or pakoras, or even drizzle any one over your dishes for added depth of flavor.
We appreciated the heat in several of the dishes. The spices were not too overwhelming, but enough to warm things up a bit. The kadhi pakora is a creamy sauce lovers dream come true. In this dish veggie pakoras were swimming in a creamy deliciously spicy yellow yogurt sauce. The spinach dish of palak saag was perfectly spiced with a mild creaminess to it. On the lighter side we really enjoyed the new-to-us dish dal makhani, which was made with black lentils and beans in a tomato base sauce. Chicken tikka masala was delightful as always, and the chicken vindaloo may have made a second appearance on a few plates at our table. A curried egg dish was interesting with a whole hard boiled egg in a curry sauce.
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And don't forget dessert. Try the mango lassi. It's a refreshing mango drink and is a little thinner than a smoothie but thicker than juice. Lassi is made with yogurt and fresh mango and is sure to cool you off as the temperatures start to rise, either by the heat of the Arizona sun or by the spices in the dishes. The rice pudding is full of flavor and delicious. The gulab jamun, whole milk cheese dumplings saturated in syrup, is a bit of an acquired taste. They lean on the extreme sweet side, and that gush of syrup when you bite into them is, well, gushing.
If you're new to Indian cuisine, a buffet is a fantastic way to learn about Indian food and find your favorites without spending a lot of money. Nandini Indian Cuisine's buffet is offered Monday through Friday from 11a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.