Recently, I was in Hot Springs on a surprise trip and found myself tasked with obtaining food for the wife and her mother. It being a Sunday, many of my takeout favorites (such as King Kone) were closed, and so I decided to try an Indian place I had passed many times before: Taste of India.
I found online a menu, powered by GrubHub, but when I called the restaurant to place my order, the items I wanted were not items they served. GrubHub has allegedly created fake websites for restaurants across the country, and the company often posts different phone numbers from the actual restaurants in order to reroute calls through the GrubHub system and thus charge a fee to the restaurant in question, even if GrubHub doesn’t deliver the meal. Let this be a lesson.
At a loss, I drove down to the restaurant itself to place my order in person. Taste of India (1204 Central Ave.) is located on the first floor of the Econo Lodge Inn and Suites. The inside was spacious, with even a corner table situated low with cushions rather than chairs. At 6 p.m. on a Sunday, though, I was the only customer in the place, aside from a couple who left soon after I arrived.
Placing my order was an exercise in flexibility, for several of the things I wanted were simply gone. Taste of India does a weekend lunch buffet that is reportedly very popular, so much so it apparently leaves them a little short of victuals when the evening hours roll around. They were entirely exhausted of all goat and lamb, for example. I tried to order saag paneer, only to be told that the recently departed couple had just eaten the last of it. Five minutes after I placed my order, the kindly woman behind the counter re-emerged to tell me that the aloo gobhi I had wanted was also all gone and that, if I didn’t mind, they would substitute paneer tikka masala instead.
By the time I got back to the family, this is what I had managed to wring from my Sunday evening curry procurement efforts: two orders of garlic naan, two orders of roti, paneer kadhai, chicken xacuti and paneer tikka masala.
First, let’s talk about the naan and roti. For many Indian restaurants, an “order” of naan or roti constitutes a few triangles, sometimes not enough to see a meal through. However, at Taste of India, an “order” constitutes the whole round piece, about a foot in diameter, meaning that I had four half-circle slabs each of both naan and roti. The garlic naan could have been a meal in itself, it had so much flavor and heft, while the roti was glutinous and well-buttered.
The paneer tikka masala was decent enough, but the other two dishes truly shone. The paneer kadhai was a wonderful pairing of chunks of fresh cheese with green pepper and eggplant in a richly spiced tomato and onion sauce. Often, when I order curries, I take mine gangster hot, while the wife leans more toward the milder end of things. I had ordered this paneer kadhai at the “spicy” level, yet it fell well within the wife’s range for consumable food, meaning I didn’t get to have it for myself. However, Taste of India does offer their dishes at “extra hot” — something worth trying next time.
The chicken xacuti also proved to be amazing. The menu described it as flavored with nutmeg and star anise, but also present were toasted mustard seeds and curry leaves. This is not a curry I have seen at many Little Rock restaurants. Its flavor profile aligns more with southern Indian cuisine, while most curries typical of restaurants in the United States are of northern Indian extraction. But this one was delicious, with the chunks of chicken so thoroughly tender that they did, very literally, fall apart in the mouth. I was lucky enough to get a few bites before it disappeared.
Admittedly, this was not the most ideal take-out experience. I really wanted that aloo gobhi, but the lady did cut me a deal on its replacement, so I can’t complain too much. Driving home with heavily negotiated take-out from a first-floor Econo Lodge restaurant largely bereft of customers on a tired and rainy Sunday evening, I did experience a moment of trepidation, wondering if my curiosity had led me astray. But a few minutes later, with everything dished up, all my worries dissipated.
I’ll go back to Taste of India when next in Hot Springs. And maybe I’ll hit that buffet so I can try all of those things I missed out on this time around.
Taste of India
2014 Central Ave.
Hours: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. lunch buffet, 5-10 p.m. dinner Tuesday through Sunday.