Last year, we produced a new Best of Big D feature, highlighting the very best in everything: from burgers to roadhouses, from pedicures to high school athletes.
As one of the judges of the food and drink categories, I found no realm harder to judge than that of Indian food.
There are four reasons for this. One is that “Indian food” covers an astonishing variety of different cuisines. The regions of India have culinary styles as different from each other as the regions of Europe. Some are wholly vegetarian, while others specialize in kebabs or goat. Picking one place in Dallas to represent all that is a wild challenge.
A second challenge is that much of our best South Asian food is, in fact, not Indian at all. For whatever reason—migration patterns, maybe—the Dallas area is even stronger on the foods of India’s smaller neighbors. SpicyZest is one of America’s best and only Sri Lankan restaurants, Nepalese food is a big deal in Irving, many acclaimed “Indian” spots in the area are in fact Pakistani, and you can try spectacular Bangladesh-influenced pizzas at SauceBros.
Third, a lot of Indian food in the Dallas area sticks to Americanized classics and buffets. Unlike in New York, where Unapologetic Foods is winning awards with full-flavor Indian cooking that matches its name, or in London, where “Indian restaurant” can mean anything from a cheap takeout bite to a Michelin-starred extravagance, in Dallas the genre is still mostly associated with buffets. Even if you skip the buffet, you’ll be asked to choose a “spice level.” Unapologetic Foods leader Roni Mazumdar recently said in an interview with journalist Anand Giridharadhas that he thinks spice levels are a vestige of India’s history of involuntary colonial servitude to the West: “I think we have grown up feeling tremendously inferior because of our colonial past. So we are trying to measure up.”
Fourth, D Magazine published its comprehensive, ultra-regional 2017 guide to the Indian restaurants of Dallas, and some have closed. Among those we have lost in the last six years: Godavari, Andhra Mess, Underground Indian, India Haat, Punjabi Dhaba (not to be confused with the same-named spot in rural Alvord), and Iravat India’s Bistro. Kitchen of Kuchipudi just rebranded as Hashtag India (yes, really).
Despite those hurdles, Dallas has a whole lot of good Indian food, which led me to the fifth and final challenge: crowning a champion. After a few weeks of nonstop Indian lunches, I feel good about our pick, Urban Tadka. But I’m writing this accompanying list to more fully explore the bounty of Indian food in our region.
The all-around pick: Urban Tadka
Is Urban Tadka the very best Indian restaurant in Dallas? I don’t know, but it is probably the Indian restaurant that will please the most people.
There are a number of reasons for this. First, Urban Tadka is fairly close to Dallas proper. Second, its menu is wide and diverse, including both unusual Punjabi specialties and world-renowned dishes. Third, the kitchen’s execution is consistently excellent. Dishes take a little longer to arrive because they are being made fresh.
What’s good? Just about everything, but look for paneer dishes, a particular specialty here. Don’t miss lamb or goat saagwala, with tender cubes of meat in a fabulously complex sauce of pureed spinach, mustard greens, and spices. (The addition of mustard greens makes this more complex than typical saag.) And look for printed cards listing additional specials.
Urban Tadka, 1800 Market Place Blvd., Ste. 190, Irving.
The northernmost outpost: King Restaurant
King has undoubtedly the most eccentric location of any Indian restaurant in North Texas: it’s situated in McKinney’s Adriatica development, a mixed-use center designed to look like a fake Croatian city. King has enormous two-story columns guarding its entryway, and inside, the fake Croatian architecture includes a Latin slogan emblazoned over the fireplace. Still, King has a remarkable array of Punjabi and vegetarian specialties, many of them paired with terrific flatbreads. This is the restaurant I most want to revisit (we’ve since learned that the ownership and menu have changed since last), even though I’ll have to drive from Oak Cliff.
King Restaurant, 6851 Virginia Pkwy., McKinney.
The cool kid fusion foods: Desi District
Taco-dosa fusion, gulab jamun cupcakes, and other innovative street snacks are the go-to orders here. I like the Delhi Belly wrap, which features deep-fried paneer cubes, veggie slaw, and a cutting sauce. Desi District is an energetic, delicious look at the kind of irreverent innovation happening in Indian food’s youth movement. This isn’t fusion to please Americans: it’s fusion by Indian cooks, for Indian diners, and everyone will find it delicious.
Desi District, multiple locations.
The hidden gem: Spices of India Kitchen
This quiet spot on Shady Grove Road in southern Irving features Keralan food, from India’s southern coast. Expect fish fries and other seashore dishes, executed with attention to detail. I enjoyed the dal curry, complete with slices of fresh hot peppers, and a flavorful bone-in goat roast (less saucy than the goat curry). Sides include plain rice, biryani rice (bold yellow with star anise pods and green cardamom), and Kerala-style lacy paratha bread. Expect paper plates and plastic forks.
Spices of India Kitchen, 833 E. Shady Grove Rd., Ste. A, Irving.
The even more hidden gem: Kerala Kitchen
Like Spices of India, this spot serves Keralan (far south Indian) specialties. But Kerala Kitchen one-ups Spices of India on its out-of-the-way location: inside a gas station on the far north edge of Carrollton. Visit for unfancy but flavorful cooking served on sampler trays, or order takeout.
Kerala Kitchen, 3600 Huffines Blvd., Carrollton.
The thali titans: Vrindavan
Even the New York Times has noticed the ample thali platters at Vrindavan, which was one of our favorite new restaurant openings of 2022. Each day, the restaurant serves a different sample platter of around 20 snacks and dishes. If you like some of the elements on your tray, you can ask for seconds.
Vrindavan, 2550 Preston Rd., Frisco.
The Chinese fusion champ: The Monk’s
This Irving location of a Houston-based chain looks a little worse for wear—yes, all the menus are peeling—but the Desi-Chinese fusion food here is a welcome addition to our area’s culinary landscape. Expect classic Chinese stir fries and noodle dishes but with a South Asian seasoning mix. At my server’s recommendation, I started my first visit with “street-style” noodles, tossed with a mix of cabbage, carrots, onions, peppers, and your choice of protein (I picked tandoori chicken), plus a masala seasoning mix. It’s a delightful, bounteous bowl. There are green chile noodles, too, along with Nepalese momos, tikka fried rice, and veggies tossed in Szechuan pepper sauce.
The Monk’s, 411 E. Royal Ln., Ste. 180, Irving.
The chaat champions: Taj Chaat House, Bombay Chowpatty, India Chaat Cafe, Rajwadi
Chaat—delicious little snacking street foods, often made by piling new garnishes and sauces onto old classics—is its own genre of Indian food. Some of my personal favorites: sabudana vada (tapioca fritters) at Rajwadi, a stall inside an Irving grocery; stuffed naan and samosa chaat at India Chaat Cafe; Bombay Chowpatty’s pav bhaji, a sort of vegetarian sloppy joe; and the legendary dosas at Taj Chaat House, an Irving institution that might have the most loyal customers of any Indian restaurant on our list. At Taj Chaat House, the menu is so long I recommend bringing extra friends to try more items. I wrote about Dallas’ chaat scene in 2017; six years on, it might be time for an update.
The fast food friend: O’Desi Aroma
This local mini-chain boasts three locations, and expansion has driven menu changes from a more adventurous beginning (they used to sell “waffle bruschetta”) to a more fast-casual present. But that fast-casual menu is terrific. Get a combo lunch special, with your choice of curry, your choice of lentils or chickpeas, and an enormous mound of rice for $12. On a recent visit, I chose chicken kadhai—with a sweet-spicy tomato base and generous helpings of bell pepper and onion—with a lovely side cup of dal. The portion was huge, the food was flavorful, and the chicken was perfectly tender; it clearly hadn’t been sitting in a tub waiting all day. For a fast-casual value meal, I was impressed.
O’Desi Aroma, 8448 Parkwood Blvd., Ste. 500, Plano; 1620 N. Hardin Blvd., Ste. 1800, McKinney; 6450 N. MacArthur Blvd., Ste. 110, Irving.
Honorable mentions for buffets: India 101 and Our Place
Restaurants are never at their best when they’re serving a buffet, but India 101 and Our Place, two very experienced spots in northern Irving, come pretty darn close. At Our Place, the appeal is the tradition of it all: excellent stews, fluffy bread, and everything you expect, done right. At India 101, the dining room is brighter, more modern, and more polished. The buffet, too, includes surprise twists, like an extensive chaat station and tandoor grill.
I still think that anything you’ll find at a non-buffet restaurant will be fresher and better—especially on texture since freshly cooked food doesn’t sit in a tray, softening up—but if you’re going buffet, these are your two best options.
Wait, did you forget…
- Mughlai? On my last visit, the buffet was rather sad. Items weren’t being kept as fresh as I’d expect from a restaurant with an exalted reputation. Maybe it was my fault for going with the buffet, which is never the best option.
- Gopal Vegetarian in Richardson? It’s a good specialist in Gujarati vegetarian thali, worth seeking out if that cuisine interests you. But I didn’t want the list to go on forever, and Gopal is not always the friendliest spot to first-timers.
- Kumar’s in Plano? This was one of my favorite Indian restaurants for many years, and a good spot for a BYOB meal. But Kumar’s recently moved across town to a new location, and I haven’t gotten to visit their new spot yet. When I do, we will publish an update.
- Kalachandji’s? Because the Kalachandji’s menu tends to be so specific to its individual chefs, its food often runs a range of styles and could better be described, maybe, as global vegetarian. For what it is (or isn’t) worth, the native South Asian diners I know in Dallas enjoy Kalachandji’s much less than American-born customers do.
- Mai Colachi, Al Markaz, BBQ King, BK Khan, or Beba BBQ? They’re all great! But they’re also all Pakistani. That is another list.