Not so many years ago, people who craved the spicy, exotic deliciousness of Indian cuisine had one choice — Passage to India, the 16-year-old restaurant at 6140 E. 21st St.
And although that's a perfectly good choice, the arrival over the past two years of several new Indian/Pakistani restaurants — including Maharaja at 3008 W. Central and Zaytun at 2020 N. Woodlawn — has been a great thing for fans of tandoori chicken, curry, naan and saag paneer.
The latest entry on the scene is Kababs, which owner Syed Jillani opened a few months ago in the former Red Mesa Grill space at 756 N. Tyler.
It's the first Indian restaurant for the far-west side, and its expertly made and beautifully presented food makes it one of the best in town.
ON THE MENU: Kababs offers a daily lunch buffet and in the evenings a menu of Indian and Pakistani specialties made with vegetables, chicken, beef and seafood.
Customers also can order off the menu during lunch if they choose, but not on Sundays.
Two things the restaurant doesn't serve: alcohol, which is a disappointment to those who like cold beer with their spicy food; and lamb, a common ingredient in Indian cooking but a pricy one that Kababs avoids to keep prices down.
DON'T-MISS DISHES: Kababs' lunch buffet, served out of chafing dishes lined up along two long tables, offers rotating Indian and Pakistani specials, including chicken curry, beef kebabs, tandoori chicken (those marvelous, orange-hued mini-wings and legs, mixed with grilled onions and peppers) and lots and lots of naan. Kababs is not stingy with the naan — a chewy Indian bread — and that's a good thing.
On several lunch visits, the buffet was fresh and constantly replenished. In the evening, when customers order off the menu, Kababs excels at presentation. Chef Jillani piles the colorful food high on classic white plates and dresses it with attractive and flavorful garnishes.
We loved the tandoori chicken kebab, which features four generous portions of chicken that's been marinated with garlic, ginger, chili, yogurt, cloves and masala spice. The chicken had a nice smoky flavor and wasn't skewered but rather piled with onions, lime and herbs. It was a lot of food for $8.99.
Having sampled the chicken curry (which is made with a spicy but not cream-based sauce) on the lunch buffet, we decided to order the shrimp curry, flavored with turmeric, ginger and spices. A serving was $9.99, and it was well prepared and delicious, if not a tad salty.
We also ordered the classic Biryani ($8.99), a rice dish flavored with herbs and spices, mixed with chunks of marinated, grilled chicken and served with a flavorful yogurt sauce. The rice smelled and tasted of cinnamon and curry and all kinds of Middle Eastern exoticness.
We started the meal with servings of both vegetable ($2.99) and beef ($3.99) samosas, triangle-shaped pastries filled with ground beef and herbs and vegetables and herbs, respectively, and deep fried. They were lick-the-plate delicious and inspired us to also try the spiced onion pakoras ($2.99), which our server described accurately as onion rings only better.
AMBIENCE: The interior is small but cozy and well-decorated, with a mix of tables and chairs. The overhead fluorescent lights are a bit much in the evening.
PRICE RANGE: Affordable. Most entrees are around $8.99. Appetizers are less than $5. The buffet, $7.99 on weekdays and $9.99 on weekends, is a little less expensive than most in town.
SERVICE: Good. The managers and wait staff are attentive and friendly, and the food appears quickly.
3 1/2 forks out of four
Where: 756 N. Tyler, 316-351-7777
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Sundays; 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.
Type of food: Indian/Pakistani
Alcohol: No Smoking: Not allowed Reservations: Accepted