Inexpensive, Incredible Indian

Gandhi's lunch buffet is popular for reasons of both price and taste.

Those of us in the journalism editing biz always tell reporters and writers to avoid using absolutes.

You know--saying that something is the cheapest or best or "only" is dangerous, because you can't possibly know everything, and there's a chance there's something cheaper or better, etc.

Therefore, I won't say that Gandhi Cuisine of India offers the best lunch deal in town. However, I will say that if there's a better deal out there, I'd be incredibly surprised.

I visited Gandhi Cuisine of India on a recent Thursday. I met Karyn Zoldan, the Noshing Around goddess, there to do a little, well, noshing.

Gandhi offers a large menu featuring a dozen curry dishes, a plethora of tandoori dishes (a tandoor, as the menu informatively explains, is "a barrel-shaped pit oven made from an amalgam of special clays, oils and natural holding agents"), breads, biryanis (jambalaya-like stews) and other entrées. Soups, salads and appetizers are also on the menu along with desserts and Indian drinks such as masala tea and lassi (a thick yogurt drink). Vegetarians, take note: There are 18 dishes offered sans meat.

But we were there for lunch, meaning we got to sample an array of these various dishes, joy oh joy! And all for the price of $4.95.

This, folks, is an amazing deal.

In addition to salad (standard lettuce, tomato, onion, etc.) and a soup labeled as "vegetarian," about eight dishes were available for sampling on this day. They included tandoori murgh chicken ($5.95 half, $10.95 full for an entrée), navrattan ($5.95, a vegetarian dish with eight vegetables and paneer--pressed cottage cheese--in curry), dum aloo ($5.95, baby potatoes in curry) along with potato and pea samosas ($2.25). They also had lamb meatballs in gravy, something that is not listed on the menu.

Everything, I am glad to report, was delicious. However, two dishes were exceptional: the navrattan and the meatballs.

The navrattan--the name means "nine jewels," according to the menu--was a taste treat. The mixture of veggies (including carrots, peas, lima beans, potatoes and cauliflower), paneer and curry was a winner. This is a dish you don't scarf; you eat it slowly and savor the various flavors, dominated by the curry and the cheese yet enhanced by the various vegetables.

The meatballs were my absolute favorite. The meatballs--sized to be eaten in two bites each--were served in a creamy, thin, brown gravy. The flavor was sweet and rich. (For the record, since the meatballs aren't on the menu, I asked if they are available for dinner and was told that they indeed can be requested.) I had three helpings.

Karyn was also impressed by the various dishes. She said that all the different entrées, with all their unique flavors, resulted in a taste "roller coaster in your mouth." She also noted that obsessive-compulsives should not eat at Gandhi for lunch, because all the different foods tend to blend into each other on the plate.

Everything I ate was a winner. The tandoori murgh chicken was a bit dry, but flavorful; the samosas were crispy and delicious.

The service also earns kudos. Various people with pitchers were roaming the aisles to make sure water glasses were refilled promptly. We also got refills on our masala tea ($1.50) with ease. Karyn and I truly felt comfortable in the nicely decorated space. The blue-green walls adorned with paintings and tapestries masked the fact that Gandhi is in an otherwise bland strip mall.

My meal at Gandhi was almost perfect, but I do have one complaint: The tablecloths, which are not covered by any plastic or other substance, were not changed between dining parties. As a result, I stared at a crusty remnant of a predecessor's meal while I ate. I understand that Gandhi serves a high volume of customers at lunch, but perhaps the folks in charge should consider measures--dumping the tablecloths or putting plastic over them, perhaps--to solve the crusty tablecloth problem.

Nonetheless, this is a minor complaint, one that will not stop me from returning to Gandhi over and over again to indulge myself in what may be the best lunch deal the Old Pueblo has to offer.