For years, a small number of Indian restaurants in the Dallas area have served thali, the wide platters carrying multiple dishes alongside flatbread or rice. The thali makes a delightful lunch: it offers a sampler collection with wide variety, it can cover a number of food groups, it often includes sweets, and it even comes with its own distinctive style of serving dishes.
At Vrindavan in Frisco, however, the North Texas thali game has leveled up.
With the tagline “a royal vegetarian experience,” Vrindavan opened early this year in a former sports bar. They serve one kind of thali each day, but different days have different offerings; I visited on a Friday, which means I got served a Rajasthani thali featuring, according to the menu, 25 different components. I didn’t count, but the amount and variety of food is overwhelming. For the first time ever, I wished that my meal came with a chart. Pro tip: the sweets are at the corners.
Oh, and it’s all-you-can eat. As you graze on the varied dishes in front of you, staff will walk around, like the servers at Brazilian steakhouses, carrying pots of vegetarian stews and dal, asking if you’d like more.
If you’ve frequently enjoyed a good Rajasthani thali, I’d imagine you won’t need a diagram or feel overwhelmed. But newcomers won’t find the learning curve too challenging for this vegetarian feast.
You can expect a few kinds of dal, the spiced and simmered lentils. Handi paneer is a stew in which the cubed cheese simmers with yogurt, tomatoes, and ginger. Galouti kebab is a veggie patty not too different from falafel. I loved baigan bharta, the stew made with smoky grilled eggplant, so much that I requested and got a ladle of seconds. (I’m using the restaurant’s spelling; most sources add an additional letter to make it baingan bharta.)
Not everything was for me. Gatte ki sabzi, sweet yellow sauce around little round flour dumplings, was too sweet for my taste, and baati is a bread traditionally and deliberately made hard to have a long shelf life. But the roti, vegetable pakora, and variety of chutneys and salads compensated for that loss. I happily whiled lunch away filling my roti with eggplant, diced onion, and aachar (pickle).
Between the quick service, efficient concept, and generous feast, it’s easy to see why Vrindavan has a bustling lunch following. The best thing about lunching here is that, even granted that its kitchen serves 25-item platters, you can expect something different each day. Rajasthani thali is the menu on Tuesdays and Fridays. Visit on Wednesday and Saturday, and you’ll tackle a Brijwasi thali, with foods from the region immediately south of Delhi (in fact, from around the actual city of Vrindavan). On Thursdays and Sundays, the focus shifts to vegetarian fare from Delhi itself.
While preparing this quick lunchtime tale, I revisited former D dining critic Eve Hill-Agnus’ deeply researched, thorough, hunger-inducing 2017 guide to the Indian food of North Texas. But a note of sadness crept into my mind as I read: several of the restaurants she had singled out for their thali offerings are now closed. Kumar’s in Plano still serves vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions on weekends, and you can find thali on the main menu at Southern Spice and Taj Chaat.
Still, for sheer size alone, Vrindavan is raising the Dallas-area bar. I don’t think a better vegetarian restaurant has opened anywhere else in town this year.