Exhaustive menu yields excellent eats at Awadh India Restaurant
Generally strong kitchen execution yields bold flavors from a massive menu at this eatery named for a historical region in the north of India
Awadh India Restaurant apparently values literacy deeply. Because words, hundreds and hundreds of them, fill its menu and website.
Working through that verbiage of this nearly 5-year-old (but new to me) eatery in the Carriage Place Plaza on Bethel Road can be borderline exhausting. A related consideration: Although it's possible that a kitchen can nail a dizzying list of items, I like to focus on signature dishes and what a restaurant can do best.
Verbosity aside, Awadh India Restaurant turned out to be extremely likable. It offers impressive food served in a comfortable room whose subdued jazz soundtrack and black tablecloths are offset by chile-red and mango-yellow walls, plus booths that might’ve escaped from a Mexican seafood restaurant. It also offers free papadum appetizers and pleasant table service — when servers aren’t preoccupied by the steady stream of takeout orders.
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While standards such as vindaloo, chana masala and chicken tandoori appear on the menu (and are probably well-prepared), this place’s name provides a clue to its apparent strong suit: the food of Awadh, a region historically located in the modern-day North India state of Uttar Pradesh.
Seekh kebabs pop up in many local Indian restaurants. I can’t say the same thing about galouti kebabs, a specialty of the Awadhi region.
After enjoying the dish from Awadh India Restaurant — think spicy, seared, fragrant little lamb patties that evoked the Indian answer to Mexican chorizo ($13.99 for five) — I began to daydream that galouti kebabs could actually become trendy.
You don’t see many veggie seekh kebabs around, either. The ones made here ($13.99) with minced vegetables (cauliflower, carrots, peppers, potatoes) and paneer were persuasively similar to their ground-meat counterparts.
These can join irresistibly spicy griddled paneer wedges plus “tandoori stuffed potatoes” (mashed potato-filled spuds) on the entertaining, if rather haphazardly plated, tandoori veg platter ($17.99), a served-sizzling, fajita-like vegetarian showcase.
Chicken korma ($14.99) is identified on the menu as a “house special” of “Awadhi style chicken.” I’d further identify it as a nuanced and terrific, cumulatively spicy curry dish whose peanut-butter-colored thick gravy is enriched with yogurt and faintly sweetened by ground cashews and golden raisins.
Like other curries here, the delicious korma comes with exemplary basmati rice, but is even better when eaten with some of Awadh’s many fine flatbreads. For a relatively uncommon treat, try the whole-wheat roomali roti ($4.99) — crepe-like sheets whose (texturally descriptive) name correlates to a Hindi word for “handkerchief.”
For a leaner curry, it’s hard to beat Awadh’s wonderful rarha style chicken ($14.99). Living up to its menu label as another house special, this cliche-skirting dish featured chopped and minced meat awash in a complex, tomato-based sauce fragrant with cardamom, ginger, onion and chile.
Biryanis are big in Awadhi cuisine and they’re big here, both figuratively and literally. For example, the lamb Awadhi biryani ($15.99) was one of the biggest and best Indian rice dishes I’ve sampled in many months.
Abundant chunks of tender meat — and a hard-cooked egg — were dispersed throughout fluffy basmati bearing saffron-tinted streaks and the heady flavors of clove, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, cilantro and substantial chile (I requested the entree spicy and it sure was). Excellent raita arrived on the side to help mitigate the oh-so-flavorful heat. More palate soothing can be obtained from a milkshake-thick, tangy and first-rate mango lassi ($3.50) or a Kingfisher Indian beer ($7).
Desserts can tame botanical heat, too. To avoid menu indecision, I suggest you just get the gajar halwa ($4.99), another Awadhi favorite. Among the best takes on this confection around — think deconstructed carrot cake without icing — expect a sweetness-restrained, hefty mound of shredded carrots, raisins and cashews to be served glistening with ghee and properly quite warm. And expect it to disappear before it cools down.
Awadh India Restaurant
2584 Bethel Rd., Northwest Side