Almost every week I get an email from readers asking about my favorite Indian restaurants in DC, so I finally decide to make a list and post it here. I know this is a top three category but I have more than three favorites and so here they are --
(Also, one of my all time favorite places, The Bombay Club, celebrates 20 years this year - 2008! That is a major accomplishment for any restaurant. Hats off to Ashok Bajaj, owner and all-round winner.)
Top 4 – Upscale
Indique Heights (2 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase; 301-656-4822) After tantalizing Washingtonians with unique takes on coastal Indian food, the owners of Indique did it again with Indique Heights. This stylish new Indian restaurant in metro Washington, DC serves magnificent coastal Indian food. An inviting interior boasts custom-made Indian wood furniture, classical Indian artwork, fuchsia and burnt orange silk window coverings, and vibrant red, green, and silver glass patterns on the ceiling. An elegant white marble fountain graces the swanky dining room. I love their lavender-hued pomegranate martini. My favorite dish is their signature fiery Syrian lamb with cardamom and coconut. Chef Vinod K.N’s expertise in southern Indian cooking can be experienced in the Calamari Ullarthiyathe a spicy preparation of calamari with shallots, ginger, hot peppers and mustard seeds; in the mussels stewed in gently spiced coconut milk; in the fiery hot chicken Chettinand cooked in toasted telecherry peppercorns, coriander and anise. And save room for the best gulab jamun in town (flambéed at your table).
Rasika (633 D Street NW; 202-637-1222) Shimmering silk panels, crystal curtains, exotic art, stone floors and earthy colors adorn this Penn Quarter jewel. An open kitchen allows you to watch your dinner being prepared in ovens and griddles. A temperature-controlled cellar is stocked with well chosen selections that pair splendidly with the spicy dishes. Rasika’s much written about crispy spinach chat steals the show. The chef’s style is fresh, authentic flavors in elegant style.
Passage to India (4931 Cordell Ave., Bethesda; 301-656-3373) In India the saying “Yeh to haat ki baat hai” (It is in the hands) is used to describe chefs whose food is delicious. Chef Sudhir Seth’s cooking proves the saying. In addition to familiar favorites, order the new vegan dishes on the menu – Kaikari Porial, prepared with spiced carrots, or Toroi diye Ghugni, boasting flavorful zucchini; they will not disappoint. Seth’s cooking brings in authenticity and class to each dish. The silky spinach with corn (Saag Makai), the inspired chicken in butter tomato sauce (Murgh Makhani) and the hard to prepare flat Indian cornbread (Makai Ki Roti) all help make this my choice for a true taste of home. The antique maps of the Indian subcontinent on the walls and elegant metal doors with colorful enamel inlays will certainly lead you through a passage to India.
The Bombay Club (815 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-659-3727) Bill Clinton used to call the kitchen of the Bombay Club to order vindaloo and cold beer! Located close to the White House, the Bombay Club is a popular choice for power lunches – Mel Gibson, Maureen Dowd, Tom Friedman or Nelson Mandela may be sitting close by. Spices are used with restraint in the regional Indian curries, but the flavors flow. Their signature Green Chili Chicken is finger-licking good. Pimm’s Cup and Mango Bellini cocktails stand out. An attentive staff, live piano, Sunday Champagne brunch and tranquil ambience make this a charming place to relax on weekends. Recently, there is a new chef at the helm and the menu is constantly changing and getting better and better.
TOP 3 – Easy on the wallet.
Woodlands (4078 Jermantown Rd., Fairfax, 703-385-1996). Woodlands is one of the few all vegetarian Indian restaurants in the area. They have an excellent Sunday buffet -choices range from traditional South Indian delicacies like tamarind rice and red lentil curry (sambhar) to a Indian street food favorites like pav-bhaji – mixed vegetables cooked over an open skillet and served with warm buns and gol gappas – tiny flour crisps filled with spiced potatoes and chickpeas. Mini rice-and-lentil crepes (dosas) at the buffet are prepared and served fresh at the table. Woodlands also serves a aromatic cardamom tea, a perfect way to end an authentic meal.
Bombay Curry Co. (3110 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria; 703-836-6363). The Sunday buffet (around $9) at this reasonably priced restaurant frequently showcases seasonal produce. The tandoori chicken wings forgo the traditional marinade and are prepared with a delicious secret house spice blend. The chicken korma with a sauce of cashews and coconut and the delightful bharta (prepared with sautéing charcoal roasted eggplants, onions and tomatoes) are all worth exploring. This is one of the few Indian restaurants that provides a children’s meal that includes Indian as well as American dishes. The same owners also own Delhi Club in Clarendon which I enjoy having lunch at.
Punjab Dhaba (7263-F Arlington Blvd. Falls Church, VA ,703-698-5262) Simple down home cooking with no frills and an interior that looks like an Indian college cafeteria. They offer a small buffet with traditional North Indian choices like chicken curry and chick pea masala. Punjab Dhaba is my personal favorite Monday night take out place - their sizzling tandoori chicken, hot baked naans and scrumptious gulab jamun (milk balls in sugar syrup) make any drab Monday feel worthwhile.