There Will Be Feasting at Indian Wok

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When I started questing for great restaurant finds in the Northwest Houston area, high on my priority list was a great Indian lunch buffet. I was used to being able to hit one up inside the Loop at least once every few weeks. The first place I found was a loser, but I struck gold on the second one.

Unless you're familiar with Indo-Chinese fare, Indian Wok's name sounds like one of those dreaded places that do more than one cuisine, and do neither expertly. Do not fear, though. Just think of it as fusion cuisine. You might not know there is a type of wok used in Indian cuisine called a karahi (many variants on this spelling exist).

The food here reminds me of the excellent home-style cooking that a family friend would sometimes invite us over to share. The lunch buffet is $9.99 on weekdays, and a placard under advertised their Grand Weekend Dinner Buffet on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Not many places offer a dinnertime buffet, so this is great to know.

Indian Wok seems rather small, mostly because they have a big, private, dining room that takes up about a third of the joint. It's also not real attractive inside. Oh, they've tried to spruce it up with better tile and chandeliers, but it still is a strip center location and really looks like it.

Indian Wok is in the same center as the oddly-named "family entertainment" place called "It'z" near the Aerodrome. I never see clientele from It'z come here to eat. It's a shame, because once you've been here a few times, the staff recognizes you on sight. I like those kinds of places.

The lunch buffet is good, but it is the dinner entrees that always make me really happy. They are served in individual bowls so that you can go with several people and share them family-style. The rice is dotted with interesting spices that you may want to avoid, like whole cloves and bay leaves. I am always happy when I see curry leaves in my food, and I eat those up.

They do not hold back on the spice level, and while that thrills my palate, those who don't like hotter items should ask for some guidance. (Chicken Tikka Masala is a good introductory dish if you just want to dip your toe in the water.)

We recently ordered Malabar Fish Curry, which was good and a little tangy, but we've had better at other Houston Indian restaurants. There are better dishes to have here.

If you do like spice and eat meat, get the Lamb Varutha Curry. It is cooked Chettinad style. The cuisine from this region has the hallmark of being pungent and spicy. Everything seems just right about this dish; it's not too hot, and incredibly flavorful without being overwhelming. The portion is right as well, as I usually have some left over.

The Manchurian cauliflower is bright-red, and believe it or not, most recipes I found use ketchup to get this color. The flavor, though, is nothing like it once it's been seasoned with coriander, ginger and other spices. It's a can't-miss dish, and one that would be appreciated by vegetarians.

The naan (especially the garlic naan) are always good. Like most naan, eat it when it is fresh and hot, or it will toughen as it cools. Still, we ate every slice, even those last pieces.

So, if you're in the area, don't be put off by the lackluster location. This is a hole in the wall that you want to go into.

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