Nawaz Indian Cuisine Serves Solid, No-Frills Indian Cuisine in West Phoenix

One hopes that Nawaz Indian Cuisine, way out in the suburbs on West Dunlap Road, can limp along until the light-rail line reaches the restaurant later this year. Nawaz isn't the best Indian restaurant in the Valley. But this casual Indian eatery has plenty of options to appeal to fans of authentic Indian cuisine. Nawaz offers a variety of appetizers and entrées, from vegetarian sautés to chicken curries. Main dishes are more than reasonably priced, and service (one orders at a counter, and food is delivered) is friendly enough.

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Nawaz offers nothing in the way of ambience. A long metal counter fronts an open (and not especially tidy) cooking area; four-top tables are covered in vinyl and pushed against the wall of a long, narrow dining room. The menu offers tandoori specialties made with chicken, lamb, and paneer (soft, white Indian cheese) marinated in yogurt, chiles, and spices. Chicken, lamb, and seafood also figure in a long-ish list of curries and stews. There are nearly a dozen vegetarian options as well. Most of the dishes I sampled -- goat cooked on the bone, minced lamb cooked as a kebab, and reddish hunks of paneer -- were tasty and deeply imbued with flavor.

I was pleased to discover that Nawaz's cooks aren't timid with spices. I recommend an order of flatbread naan (Nawaz offers it in plain and flavored varieties) or roti flat bread to cleanse the palate between courses. An order of garlic naan came soft and puffy and glistening with ghee, fresh from the oven. These became essential for sopping up vibrant sauces throughout the meal.

Things didn't start out so well: An order of mixed pakoras was a disaster. A crunchy chickpea batter coating large chunks of spinach, onion, and chiles was utterly flavorless and served cold. On a later visit, the vegetable samosa, accompanied by a dipping sauce rich with tamarind and cilantro, proved a better starter. This hearty fried pastry was crammed with savory spiced potato filling, its crisp triangular shell giving way to soft, oniony mashed spuds. Masala dosa, a crisp rice crepe surrounding a potato curry spiced with onions, was an even better appetizer, lightly crusted at the edges and scented with a slight edge of cilantro.

From here, I dove directly into entrées. A generous portion of sharply fragrant, rice-based goat dum biryani was well-seasoned and delicious, although the bone-in chunks of seared goat were mostly bone. The moist biryani base contrasted neatly with fluffy grains of rice, and a blast of cardamom offered a refreshing note. I did better, goat-wise, with the masala, which packed plenty of chile heat along with garlic, fennel, and ginger in a thick sauce binding fork-tender meat.

An order of chicken vindaloo offered melt-in-your-mouth meat drenched in an unexciting tomato sauce and far too much cinnamon and cloves. Lamb vindaloo was deeper and more complex, a deliciously spicy combination of chunks of meat and potatoes in a sauce seasoned with garlic, ginger, and chiles. Mutter paneer was a nice accompaniment, offering creamy cheese cubes in a mild spinach sauce dotted with peas.

Chicken korma offered a luxurious gravy that reminded me of an exotic Romesco; it conquered the dry texture of the chicken. Seafood options are limited to chepala pulusu, a tender white fish cooked in tangy tamarind sauce. A seekh kebab (listed on Nawaz's menu as a "Sheek kabab") is a stunner. Ground lamb mixed with garlic, ginger, and a ton of coriander and cumin is formed into mini meatloaves cooked crispy on the outside, hot and moist and spicy inside. Daal curry, a lentil dish served over rice, came fragrant with coriander, mustard seed, and other sweet spices, creating a savory-sweet, creamy gravy for the tender lentils.

Alas, Nawaz was out of rice pudding each and every time I visited, wishing to end my meal on a sweet note. Here's hoping this solid, no-frills Indian joint will survive in its west-side location, where convenience is often more important than cuisine. I still want to try that rice pudding.

Nawaz Indian Cuisine 1957 West Dunlap Road 602-944-2187 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily

Vegetable samosa $3.99 Masala dosa $5.99 Mutter paneer $7.99 Goat dum biryani $10.99

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