Indian cuisine has become ordinary in suburban America.
Whether it’s in Omaha or Orlando, eateries that serve nose-clearing curries and crunchy pakoras help to spice up the otherwise pedestrian dining options that exist in strip malls. Most of these Indian restaurants — tucked away next to cellular phone stores and dry cleaners — bring in droves of people for well-stocked lunch buffets.
It’s safe to say that your average American has acquired a taste for peppery vindaloo curry and tandoori-charred naan flatbreads.
That said, Boise has no shortage of Indian restaurants, and another one recently opened near Boise Towne Square mall to the delight of ethnic food lovers across the Valley.
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Masala Bistro, a locally owned eatery situated in a strip mall next to Wide World of Golf near the corner of Milwaukee and Emerald streets, indeed offers a lunch buffet (11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday) and even a dinner buffet (5 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.)
Some folks may recognize the spot. It’s been a revolving door of ethnic eateries over the years, most recently A Taste of Thai.
Diners will now find a large menu that focuses on the cuisine of northern India. Besides lots of Punjabi favorites, the selection also includes dishes from Goa and other parts of India.
The appetizer list includes the expected lineup of pakoras (fried fritters) and a few other small plates, including onion bhaji ($3.99), akin to onion rings but only better thanks to a spiced batter that gives the crispy morsels the lightness of tempura.
Vegetable pakoras ($3.99) are an excellent pick as well. The crunchy, fragrant fritters (made with chickpea flour, potato, onion, fenugreek leaves and cilantro) taste great dipped in the zesty tamarind sauce that comes with the deep-fried goodies.
Chicken pakoras ($4.99), on the other hand, aren’t as impressive as the veggie ones, mostly because the chicken tends to be slightly dry underneath the seasoned chickpea flour batter — nothing that a dip in the adjacent mint sauce can’t fix, though.
Carnivores will surely like all the saucy meats on the menu.
Chicken tikka masala ($12.99), ordered medium-hot, stays the typical course. Toothsome pieces of tandoori-cooked chicken breast come in a ceramic boat brimming with a bright-orange tomato sauce that smacks of pepper, garlic and spices. We made sure to tag on an order of chewy-good, charred garlic naan bread ($2.25) for soaking up the piquant sauce.
The flatbread also came in handy for dipping in the vindaloo lamb curry ($13.50), my personal favorite. Even though this dish originated in the coastal Goa region of southern India, it’s become a culinary mainstay all over the country. Masala Bistro makes good vindaloo, with a fiery, brick-red sauce pocked with tender morsels of lamb and potato.
After trying the aromatic goat curry ($14.99), a specialty of northern India, I might have a new favorite. Fresh, locally produced goat (an incredibly clean-tasting protein, by the way) gets cooked in a brown, gravy-like curry redolent of cumin, basil, fenugreek, fennel and black and green cardamom. It’s a little expensive but well worth the moola.
Entrees come with a side of steamed basmati rice.
I washed everything down with a super-creamy mango lassi drink ($2.99) made with pureed fruit and yogurt over ice.
Besides garlic naan, expect to find a litany of other Indian flatbreads such as northern-style roti ($1.99; unleavened whole-wheat bread), which works well for soaking up the fragrant vegetarian offerings.
Daal makhani ($9.99) is a popular dish in the northern reaches of India. Black lentils get slowly stewed with fresh coriander, cumin and other spices, infusing the melt-in-your-mouth legumes with lots of flavor. Diners also can get silky yellow lentils ($9.99; daal tadka) seasoned with ginger, chili powder, tomato and garlic.
Nonvegan diners would be remiss not to try the matar paneer ($10.99), a northern Indian specialty that’s made with cubes of house-made cow’s milk cheese and plump peas in a buttery pepper sauce accented with fenugreek leaves and garlic.
All in all, Masala Bistro puts out good food, yet service can be a little scatterbrained and unorganized at times.
Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Patrick Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Address: 8053 W. Emerald St., Boise
Phone: (208) 322-9497
Hours: Lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Saturday, dinner from 4:30 to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Menu price range: appetizers, salads and soups $3.99-$9.99; tandoori offerings, rice dishes and entrées (chicken, lamb, seafood and veggie) $10.95-$14.99.
Libation situation: A beer and wine license is in the works. Soon, diners will be able to score bottled domestic beers and imported Indian brews, such as Kingfisher and Taj Mahal, in addition to a few red and white wines by the glass.
Kid friendly? Yes.
Wheelchair accessible? Yes.
Opened: July 2016