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Top 5: Indian Restaurants

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After naming a Southern Indian eatery as my top vegetarian-friendly restaurant pick, I started to think about what makes an Indian restaurant good. I'm a huge fan of bread, so fresh, golden bubbly naan is always important, as are creamy paneer, high-quality meats, perfectly seasoned curries, and crispy samosas. A good lunch buffet and equally satisfying dinner menu are significant qualifications if you're going to be ranked as one of the best. With these thoughts in mind, here are my favorite spots to chow down on one of my favorite cuisines.

5. Mogul While attending classes in Clear Lake last year, I became fascinated by Mogul's. My first time in was for dinner, and I was impressed by this quaint spot hidden behind a Jack-in-the-Box. I stuffed myself full of naan and raita and feasted on various vegetable options. After that I explored the lunch buffet, which was filled with surprisingly spicy offerings. They changed up the buffet line offerings regularly, and I never got tired of noshing on mini samosas, green beans, and poached paneer in velvety curry sauce.

4. Udipi Café With several locations in Houston (and even one in Dallas), Udipi is an excellent choice for a fast, cheap vegetarian lunch buffet. The navratan korma, bursting with fresh vegetables and spices, is always a favorite dish, as is the palak paneer. And although I prefer to visit when I can gorge myself on all the buffet dishes for under $10, I also like to get dishes to take out and enjoy at home.

3. Kiran's Chef Kiran Verma is doing some pretty interesting stuff with traditional Indian spices and flavors. Take, for instance, her riff on Duck a L'Orange cooked in a tandoori oven and served with a ginger-spiked orange sauce. The luscious, never overcooked lobster tail served with a honeyed garlic butter is another favorite. With a large selection of items appealing to vegetarians and omnivores alike, Kiran's is an excellent place to take diners new to the Indian scene.

2. Shri Balaji Bhavan A multiple Best of Houston winner for Best Indian Restaurant, this inexpensive strip-center vegetarian gem stays busy from lunch through dinner. And it's easy to see why once you taste the authentically prepared and deliciously spiced Southern Indian delicacies such as the dal, lentil-flour dosas, and fat samosas. So good.

1. Indika When I had the chance to do a chef chat with chef/owner Anita Jaisinghani, I found out that she takes a lot of pride in her food, making sure that everything is perfectly prepared and sourced from the best possible places. You can taste it in everything from the crispy crabmeat samosas to the mildly spiced snapper. And if you haven't experienced Sunday brunch, you must go at once, if only to sample some of the best coconut pancakes in town. If I had to choose my top 5 restaurants of all time, Indika might still top the list. Yes, it's Indian cuisine, but more than that, it's just amazing food.

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