Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Thali, Curries, Kebabs & Naan! Spending Time in the Mahatma Gandhi District

As I read on Twitter recently that Himalaya, one of my favorite restaurants in Houston, was turning ten years old, I thought it only fitting that I pay homage to the area of town where I spend most of my lunch hours. I work smack in the middle of Houston's Mahatma Gandhi District, which affords me the opportunity to explore the diverse options this little pocket of Houston has to offer. If you're reading this and have not given much of a chance to the various ethnic cuisines of the Middle East, I highly recommend spending some time in this part of town and seeing what it has to offer. Here are a few places I recommend:

Himalaya Restaurant - Only fitting to start with the inspiration for this post. Himalaya, despite its no-frills decor in a nondescript strip center, serves dishes that burst with flavor and is adored by industry insiders who sing the praises of animated chef/owner Kaiser Lashkari. One complaint I've heard from diners is the a la carte nature of the menu. Unlike many Middle Eastern restaurants, Himalaya does not include rice or naan with most of its entrees. Adding a small rice and naan to make what many consider a complete meal can push entrees into the $15+ range, which can certainly be considered a bit high for a "strip center" restaurant. I could wax rahpsodically about how the care, effort and from-scratch preparation put into Himalaya's food justifies the price, but I won't. If you're just looking for a good portion of delicious Indian/Pakistani cuisine, you don't need me to try to give you a hard sell on something out of your budget. Besides, I'm wordy enough! The best value on Himalaya's menu is at lunch. Their daily lunch special is $12.50 and consists of three curries (typically two meats and a vegetable), one appetizer that changes frequently, rice and naan. It is presented with each component neatly compartmentalized on a school cafeteria-style tray. It's a great way to get a true sampling of what Himalaya has to offer.

Chicken Tikka Masala at Himalaya

Bijan Persian Grill - Specializing in flavorful chicken, beef and lamb kebabs, Bijan has a great patio upon which to sit, snack on the complimentary naan-like flatbread (known as taftoon) with herbs, radish and feta, and wait for whichever menu option you've chosen from their vast menu. Most plates land in the $10-12 range and come complete with rice, charred tomatoes and onions. If you or one of your parties requires a Halal diet, Bijan is an excellent option as they serve exclusively Halal meat. They have also recently opened a location in Sugar Land, though I've yet to make it there.

Maharaja Bhog - A meal at Maharaja Bhog is truly an experience. A vegetarian Indian thali style restaurant, the dishes here are flavorful and vibrant. For those unfamiliar with thali, it is usually a meal of several small dishes that are replenished by attentive servers at the diner's request; a sort of sophisticated hybrid of dim sum/buffet if you will. The menu changes frequently, but you will usually find a dal dish, tremendously flavorful paneer, and some of the most interesting Indian desserts in town. Though not located in the center of the Mahatma Gandhi district, they are one farther exit down on Highway 59 on Gessner. One criticism I've seen of the restaurant is a varying price depending on weekdays or weekends. If you're looking for a special lunch, their $12.99 lunch thali is worth stretching your budget for every now and then.

I've encountered so many people who have so many misconceptions about the food from this part of the world. I must admit being skeptical myself at first, but there are many wonderful flavors and preparations in this type of cuisine and a unique mixture of textures and flavors. Don't take my word for it; experience it yourself.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Repeat offender Himalaya made the local news again recently because of rodent droppings, food being stored at improper temperature, equipment and utensils being stored in unclean conditions, and other unclean kitchen conditions. Two of the six violations were repeat violations. See the Health Department's full report online dated February 12, 2014.

This establishment is a pit. The food is actually below average, there is zero ambience, poor service, inflated bills and an abusive, arrogant owner. Run, don't walk to a better establishment. You have been warned. Do your research before deciding for yourself.