Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
The Little Rock area seems blissfully awash in Indian food these days. What was not long ago a one-Indian-restaurant town has seen slow but steady expansion to a number of restaurants, markets and even a lunch truck.
This is a good thing, as Indian food is something one can never have too much of, like money or shape-enhancing underwear, and Indian food has the advantage over both money and underwear of being delicious. Still, one may wonder if there could be such a thing as too many Indian restaurants, a fair point, as the competition is growing around here. There's not much room for phoning it in.
What a delight, then, was the experience of dining at Taste of India in North Little Rock, a restaurant that seems dedicated to making a name for itself. It's situated in Lakewood Village, a bit off the main drag, not the most highly visible location. Only good food and good word-of-mouth could overcome the drawbacks of that location, so since they provided us with the former, allow us to proceed with the latter.
The atmosphere is pleasant and low-key when you arrive — no loud music, intimate lighting, good smells in the air. There are TVs spaced around the restaurant, high enough on the walls that you can ignore them and have a conversation if you like. The one behind the bar is for sports (cricket, the three times we went), the others a mixture of Indian and American shows.
We had heard criticisms about the service, but our experience on the whole has been good — on one memorable occasion, our to-go order was delayed and the staff apologized by throwing in a free dessert. The wait staff is professional and polite, helpful with suggestions for those not familiar with Indian cuisine.
The food itself is very good. Nothing we sampled tasted canned or warmed over, everything vibrant and fresh and at least mildly spicy. A bit of warning there: Taste of India, like other Indian restaurants, significantly dials down the heat for its American customers, but they do not go fully bland as some others do. In short, there are entrees not specifically labeled "spicy" that carry at least a mild bit of heat, so if you are sensitive, be sure to let your server know.
Our first taste of their food was a carry-out dinner of Aloo Gobi, a vegetarian dish of cauliflower and potatoes, and Chicken Vindaloo, made with potatoes and tomatoes in a spicy sauce. The chicken was juicy, the vegetables perfectly done, the sauces worthy of being mopped up with bread or just dumped over rice and eaten with the sort of abandon that one would not like to have videotaped.
Our second visit was a sit-down dinner at the restaurant, where we loaded up. We started with two appetizers. First was Papri Chaat, a cool dish of spinach, potato and a sort of puff pastry in a tamarind sauce. It's a light dish, refreshing, probably the least remarkable thing we've eaten there, but still a solid appetizer. Our other appetizer was another staple, fried vegetable samosas, which were hands-down the best we've had in town. Crisp-tender, not greasy, stuffed with potatoes and peas, and highly addictive.
We chose three entrees for this visit: Karahi Chicken, Jeera Aloo and the Tandoori mixed grill. The chicken was the focus of a fair bit of contention — both of us quickly realized we each wanted a full serving of the stuff, yet were grudgingly required to share. It's a bright and acidic curry made with fenugreek leaves and a tomato sauce, just the kind of warm and savory Indian food we prefer. The Jeera Aloo is a mildly-spiced potato dish, again delicious but not perhaps satisfying enough to eat on its own.
As to the mixed grill? It will murder you, if you're not careful. It's a big pile of chicken, shrimp, salmon and lamb, cooked in a tandoor oven and served on a sizzling iron plate with sauteed onions. Everything came out juicy and flavorful and hit us in the nose long before we could get it to our plates. Perhaps the only criticism here is that it could have stood a little more spice (and you can't order it extra spicy, as you can most of the menu), but it didn't really suffer from the lack of heat.
The menu is quite big, with lots of options for vegetarians. There wasn't a disappointment or misstep in anything we sampled.
Get a map to the restaurant, hours and other info here.