Ethnic food can often be a safe haven for vegans and vegetarians while dining out. We have a decent variety in Little Rock, and a good example would be Taj Mahal. This beautiful restaurant has been serving fresh and delicious Indian food to the city for several years now, and I have frequented the lunch buffet and dinner many times. When I went for lunch a few Sundays ago, I was pleasantly surprised to see the restaurant had gone through several interior changes. Gone was the small buffet line to the edge of the dining room, replaced by an entirely new room lined with hot plates full of curries, samosas and salads. The interior decor had taken on a new sense of lush elegance, with the walls lined with beads and the ceiling punctuated with beautiful lighting.

The restaurant was packed with families and couples, all enjoying the wonderful atmosphere and delicious food. We were seated and brought fresh, hot naan bread and water while we inspected the line for the buffet room, and I was happy to see so many options. Of course, the selection was at least half vegetarian, but there were a great many items for vegans as well. To start, I went for the salads. I am always happy to see salads undressed at Indian restaurants, as some put yogurt sauce on them (something unappealing to dairy-avoiding vegans). The salad station was stacked with piles of fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and lettuce. These cool items always make a nice counter balance to the deep flavors and spices in the curries. In addition to the salad, I was drawn to a large warming dish filled with halves of beautiful petite eggplants simmering with onions and tomatoes. It was heaven. The eggplant was cooked to a lovely, creamy consistency, and the surrounding vegetables just added to the overall dish.

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As with most buffets, you want to try as much as you can, so I went back in search of a samosa and some curry. A huge plate of steaming samosas filled with potatoes and peas had just been brought to the room, and the smell was amazing. I grabbed one and completed my plate with Chaana Masala (chickpeas simmered slowly in a thick sauce) on top of fragrant rice. This was definitely the highlight of the meal. The flavors packed into this sauce were so deep and rich that every bite was enjoyable.

If you are new to Indian food, I would highly recommend Taj Mahal’s buffet. The items are fresh and well tended to by the staff, and you can sample many delicious dishes and get an idea of what flavors you enjoy the most, while the beautiful dining room is a lovely place for a romantic evening out in West Little Rock.