READERS' PICK: One of the most consistently good Indian restaurants around, Gandhi is a great place to explore one of the oldest and most varied cuisines in the world. With creamy kormas and spicy, tart vindaloos, as well as unique tandoori oven-baked specialties, you can travel across the subcontinent in a single meal, from the hearty Moghul dishes of the North to the lighter fare of the Madras region. Entrées are served on a platter with rice, yogurt raita and katchumber relish. Vegetarian entrées include dal (beans) and the guarantee that no meat stocks are used in those rich sauces. Try one or more of the varieties of naan (flat bread) that typically accompany an Indian meal. If you've never tasted a lassi (yogurt shake served either sweet or salty), this is the place to do so. Indian cooking also has an exceptional range of exotic desserts, well-represented here by the kheer (Indian rice pudding) or sinfully rich ras malai. After a meal at Gandhi, you'll be singing, "Who's sari now?"
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Sher-e Punjab, 835 E. Grant Road. It happens that our favorite place to enjoy Indian food also happens to be the newest. Sher-e Punjab, at Grant Road and Park Avenue, has a brilliant freshness that shines through in every dish. Even the plentiful lunch buffet doesn't lose any of its sparkle (probably because it's so popular that nothing sits long enough to lose its steam). The chicken masala, marinated in yogurt, lemon, lots of garlic, coriander, cinnamon and ground red chile, is lively, moist and full-flavored; and the curries are out of this world. The naan (Indian flatbread) is a graceful conveyor from plate to mouth for all those savory dals and paneer you'll find scattered throughout the menu. We've also become big fans of Sher-e Punjab's vegetable samosas, triangular packets of deep-fried pastry with a savory stuffing of potatoes, cumin, ginger and coriander. In addition, the staff is warm and welcoming, and more than willing to assist you in deciphering the menu if you happen to be a novice. Eating at Sher-e Punjab is a slice of nirvana, indeed.