Whether you’re in the mood for a big plate of homey biryani or some unique fried chicken, or you have a hankering for puri, there’s an Indian restaurant or eatery for you. Houston has a wealth of terrific options, and these are some of our absolute favorites.
Load up at the Indian buffet if you’d like, but in our book, the chaat is too good to pass up. Among these street food–style snacks, we especially love the dahi vada, lentil dumplings sunk in a dazzling sea of tangy yogurt and spiced tamarind and coriander chutneys, and the kachori, the bulbous crisps called puri, stuffed with potatoes, chickpeas, yogurt, chutneys, and crunchy noodles.
Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays are vegan-only days at this fully vegetarian Indian buffet that’s gone carry-out-only because of Covid. The dishes on offer change daily, but the takeout plates tend to cover a lot of ground—basmati rice; curry with vegetables; scrambled tofu (which really does taste like eggs) or barbecue tofu; chana masala; roti; and a small dessert (delicious chocolate cake, mango or strawberry rice pudding). You can add samosas, vegan brownies, and more à la carte items to your order too.
With endorsements from Andrew Zimmern and the late Anthony Bourdain, among many, many others, chef Kaiser Lashkari’s casual spot for Indian, Pakistani, and American fusion is a must-visit. The super-crispy and masala-spiced fried chicken is a must, as are the tender mutton biryani, saag paneer, chicken in green curry, and garlic naan (we could go on). But save room for dessert: Our favorite is the almond custard, a light and velvety version of flan.
This popular spot specializes in Indian-inspired sandwiches, lite bites, and pastries—think buttery, chicken tikka–filled croissants, flaky goat keema puffs, and oh-so-rich malai chicken quiches. There’s also delicious cakes—black forest, pistachio, and strawberry among them.
A New York–based chain with locations throughout Texas, this bright little parlor serves up Indian ice cream that is smooth and just creamy enough, and it comes in tasty flavors such as sitaphal (apple) and fennel-and-cardamom. Get it in a cup that’s topped with soft, doughy milk spheres called gulab jamun, in a cone, or in a falooda, the milk-based drink with basil seeds and vermicelli noodles.
This tiny counter-service spot makes tasty vegetarian wraps and snacks. Standouts include the Masala Munchie Roll, gently spiced potatoes and onions inside a paratha, and the khandvi, a sweet-savory wrap filled with yellow lentils, coconut, ginger, and chiles, topped with sesame seeds. On your way out, pick up bags of masala popcorn and the homemade rice-flour bites called chakri.
Walking into this upscale Indian restaurant in the Galleria VI wing is like shedding the present and entering a circa-early 18th century Indian palace. There are wooden colonnades and a host of arches; cozy, velvet-dressed nooks in intimate lounges; hand-cut mirror walls; solid-marble everything; and cabana sheets fluttering in the breeze. The menu offers its own tour that highlights the distinct spices that define Indian cuisine; for example, an impressive lamb shank towers over saffron cauliflower risotto and pepper gremolata. You might detect a very minor hint of smokiness in the bite. Another more traditional dish is the rich dal makhani, in which lentils are cooked for 72 hours with tomato and smoked chili. It might remind you of another deeply comforting staple of Houston and Texas cuisine: refried beans.
Anita Jaisinghani’s fast-casual café, a hit since it opened in 2011, offers Gulf Coast–Indian fusion fare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Sure, an order of saag paneer and butter chicken might be the most basic of Indian food orders, but the punchy creaminess of the former and the gentle heat of the latter prove that even with traditional everyday dishes, Jaisinghani is a cut above the rest. If you’re ordering to-go, Pondicheri has a separate entrance and exit, and markers on the floor make social distancing a breeze.
At Sheel Joshi’s standout Northern Indian–focused restaurant there’s no buffet (not that this entirely matters these days), but the dishes sure do sing. The decadent cashew cream in his chicken korma is divine, but also consider ordering the Mangalorean dishes—we recommend the lamb version—with a curry that combines the sweetness of coconut and the fire of chile.
This sparkling River Oaks restaurant comes from chef Sunil Srivastava, the owner of the late Great W’Kana. Here, Srivastava packs a deep menu with what he calls “forgotten” Indian cuisine, from succulent lamb dishes to ultra-spicy vegetable pots. From the gourmand menu, the khargosh ki saounth (braised and smoked rabbit with korma sauce) steals the show. Of course, the biryani is worth it too.