I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to Indian food (for obvious reasons). Like most people, I don’t always like to cook it, and sometimes enjoy going out and eating it at a restaurant. I’ve lived in Ann Arbor for over a year and am sad to say that the Indian restaurants here aren’t horrible, but also don’t “wow” me like other Indian restaurants I’ve been to in the state. It’s disappointing, really. I mean, the Indian community here in Ann Arbor is huge, and yes, they have quite a few Indian restaurants in the area. However, they just don’t really live up to what I expect out of an Indian restaurant.
- The first place REB and I tried to eat at when we moved here was Shalimar on Main Street. The people who own Shalimar also own Bombay Grille in West Bloomfield Hills, which really should have been my first clue. Bombay Grille is TERRIBLE. I’ve never had such horrible service in my entire life. Waiting 15-20 minutes to be seated when the entire place is desolate, and then waiting another 15-20 minutes before even being served water is completely unacceptable to me. So I was a bit apprehensive when we decided to check out Shalimar. I can sadly say that the exact same thing happen to us yet again. Granted, it was a busy night so we had to wait a few minutes for a table – no big deal. We were sat by the window so we could look out onto Main Street and were also seated by the bar. So 15 minutes rolled by. Then 20 minutes, and we hadn’t been served water, any menus, nothing. I looked up and noticed all the servers (all students) hanging out by the bar talking to each other. Not one person noticed we weren’t being waited on. Finally, the BARTENDER (who was already busy caring for the people sitting at the bar) came up to us and said she’d take care of us and was incredibly nice and apologized over and over again. She even gave us free dessert since we were so unhappy with the service. The food overall was OK, but the place is entirely too over-priced for any one’s wallets – yuppy of Ann Arbor or not ($12-16). This can really add up if you get appetizers, mango lassis, a tandoori dish, etc. The service alone is the one reason I will not return to this restaurant and since then, have advised many people to do the same.
- There was a place we checked out yesterday called Mahek Indian Cuisine on Washington. It’s located across from The Blue Nile, which is an Ethiopian restaurant. I was really looking forward to Mahek because it was a new place I’d never heard of. The smart thing was to check out their lunch buffet, because 1). it’s cheaper and 2). it gives you a good idea of what kinds of foods they serve on their menu. Yes, you can just look at a menu online, but seeing the food in person is what makes me think it’s appealing or not. The place is a good sized restaurant and not a lot of people were in there. We checked out the buffet before deciding to stay. The entire thing was made up of fried food passing off as curry. Ick. Last time I checked, deep fried cauliflower was not a curry my mom prepared in my house. It looked like General Tso’s Chicken if you were at a Chinese buffet. We ended up not staying.
- REB and I were a bit nervous to try anything else, but kept our search going. We had found a place called SeaJoys, which was also on Main Street next to Sabor Latina Mexican Restaurant. This place was really good and owned by a family. The food came out in actual Corning-ware bowls and the servers and hosts were family members just dressed as if you were going to their home for dinner. It was the ultimate comfort food place and I found that extremely appealing. The food was priced very reasonably (between $7-10 per entree) and it was never over crowded. Unfortunately, the economy has forced the restaurateur to shut down and Seajoys is no more.
- Our quest continued. I had once taken my coworkers (since some of them had never had Indian food before) to Raja Rani on Williams and Division. We went there for the lunch buffet (which by the way is the way to go when you’re trying Indian food for the first time) and I can’t really say I was impressed, but may be it was because we had gotten there in the middle-to-end of their buffet time. I wasn’t giving up on them though, because their service is really good and the atmosphere in the restaurant is really nice, clean and sophisticated. REB and I went back, but this time for dinner so we could order real entrees. We were pleased to see they had a Vegetarian Deal for Two, which included: two appetizers, two curries (of your choice), rice, naan, and dessert – all for $30. In case you didn’t already do the math – that’s a STEAL Everything was pretty good though we had asked for a high spice level and didn’t really receive it. But the service was really great. It can be a bit pricey ($10-15 entrees), but it’s worth a visit, though it’s not my first place of choice.
- Another place to check out is Madras Masala on Maynard by the big Borders downtown. This place can be a bit iffy. Sometimes their buffet is spot-on and looks amazing, and other times (like yesterday) they’ll have a few Chinese dishes (?!?!?!) in their buffet. We’ve been there a few times for dinner though, and for the most part it’s pretty good. I think the main reason I like it, is because it caters to a lot of South Indians (which I am) so it’s really the place to go if you want dosa, vada, potato masala (for the dosa), etc. The atmosphere isn’t horrible either, but sometimes they rock out the Indian techno music, which in my opinion isn’t exactly dinner music. Some of the servers can be a bit flaky or frazzled if it gets too busy in there, but the food more than makes up for it. It has the right amount of spice and if you ask for something spicy, they’ll make it that way (with a warning to boot). It’s also located right next to the Maynard/Thompson parking garage, which makes walking to where you parked a cinch. The prices are on the high end ($10-15), but if you’re getting good food it’s worth it. I think the buffet is probably the best way to enjoy it though. One thing to keep in mind: when you leave, you end up smelling entirely of curry, which can be a bit overwhelming for some.
- The final place I’ve been to is a small almost market-like place on 5th (off Liberty) called The Earthen Jar. It’s right next to Jerusalem Garden. This place is all vegetarian and also serves some curries that are vegan, so this is a plus for a lot of Ann Arbor residents. It’s basically a buffet-to-go type place. You pick up a carton, go through the buffet and fill it up and then pay by the pound ($4.99/pound). They have quite an assortment of food there, too. You can choose to eat there because they have tables set up, or you can leave and go back to your office or home. It’s a very small place, but the family that owns it is very nice and extremely helpful if you’re new to Indian cuisine. They offer other items, such as samosas and naan behind the counter, which they’ll warm up for you if you can wait a few minutes for them to do so. I filled up an entire to-go box, as did REB, and we couldn’t even come close to finishing everything. It didn’t look like we had a lot of stuff in there, but we did. You only grab 1-2 serving spoonfuls of different curries, and it ends up being enough to feed up to 3 people. Unreal. This is a place I definitely recommend, especially for people on the go.
So there you have it. I know there are some other places I’ll need to check out, but these are the ones I’ve been to so far. I don’t mean to come off sounding mean or like a you-know-what, but Indian food is something I know very well and make myself. If I want to go out and enjoy it without having to cook it, I want to go to a place that will prepare it the way I expect so I keep coming back. Overall, the places here in Ann Arbor aren’t quite as good as some of the places in Farmington Hills, West Bloomfield and East Lansing. But the places here I DO enjoy going to, I have frequented back to and will continue to do so. So check them out and see how your experience goes!