Downtown's hot ticket

With a multi-page menu that offers taste bud-detonating dishes plus entertaining house cocktails—such as a boozy lassi or an Old-Fashioned that arrives under a smoke-filled glass dome—Haveli Bistro brings a lot to the table. And its tables aren't too shabby, either.

Brought in by co-owners Rahul Pinnamaneni and Hari Parupalli, who both hail from the restaurant-rich metropolis of Hyderabad in southern India, Haveli's tables are made from black granite. They create a striking contrast with other pieces of eye candy in this posh Downtown eatery, including padded white leather chairs, a broad gold-chain curtain, beaded metallic lighting fixtures beaming a warm glow and crisply painted white walls—one embellished with a mural sketch evocative of the Taj Mahal. Haveli, which obviously wears its modern sense of style on its sleeve, often fills the ears of its diners with the pulsing beats of electronic music playing at a pleasant volume.

The restaurant's lengthy menu isn't the easiest to navigate. But knowing that appetizers are larger than curries, and by focusing on Haveli's strengths—South Indian classics and boldly flavored Indochinese dishes—you're guaranteed a terrific outing.

Spicy fried starters that sidestep local Indian-restaurant clichés include the Chilli Fish animated by Sichuan peppercorns, hara bhara kebabs (spinach-fortified veggie fritters) and the devilishly hot Drums of Heaven—frenched chicken legs marinated and coated in a ginger-and-cinnamon chile paste.

Dosas aren't particularly rare, but Haveli's paper-thin, southern-Indian-style crêpes have delightfully crinkly exteriors, an especially tangy flavor (they're house-made with a fermented batter) and fillings such as spiced house paneer.

Cool off after a fiery curry, such as the outstanding chicken gongura boasting tender meat in a saag-like veggie sauce invigorated with sour gongura leaves, with the Bengali dessert rasmalai. Haveli makes one of the best in town.