If variety is the spice of life, one could hardly ask for a spicier lunchtime dining concept than the venerable Indian buffet. Tangy chutneys. Rich, savory masalas. Sturdy, unpresumptuous tandooris.
Feeling a tingle of hunger, I cast an offer of lunch into the newsroom and reel in Albert, a recently reformed vegetarian and a big Indian food fan in his own right. We will go to Royal Taj in Tempe, allegedly one of the better places for Asian cuisine in the Valley.
Located in a strip mall on the southeast corner of Broadway Road and McClintock Drive, Royal Taj is spacious, well-lit and utterly lacking in mood; a better place for a PowerPoint presentation, I think, than to explore the pleasures of foreign cuisine.
There’s a full bar, but I don’t imagine it ever gets the “Coyote Ugly” routine (certainly not from the gruff-looking gentleman behind it). We arrive late, around 2 p.m., and the place is completely empty. An attentive (and probably bored) waiter promptly seats us.
The waiter will find no respite from his boredom here, because Albert and I both opt for the lunch buffet. For $7.99, customers can help themselves to a dizzying variety of entrees, salads and desserts. As my sources informed me, this buffet is excellent. The chicken tikka masala, a creamy melange of tomatoes, bell peppers and butter gravy, is ridiculously good. I’d come back and have it for dinner ($11.95).
The tandoori chicken, sort of the Indian answer to barbecue and perfect for people with an aversion to spicy food, isn’t too dry (like at many places I’ve had it) and falls obediently off the bone.
There’s also a great saag paneer (creamed spinach cooked with cheese) and something I’ve never had before: a carrot halwa, which resembles a hush puppy and has a wonderfully understated sweet taste. For serious fans of saccharine, there’s the galub jamun, essentially a doughnut hole marinated in syrup.
Albert sticks with water. I have an Arnold Palmer ($2). Disappointingly, it’s made with pink lemonade.
$18.26 (minus tip)
Just the facts
Where: 1845 E. Broadway Road, Tempe
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (buffet) weekdays; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (buffet) weekends; 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. (dinner) nightly
Prices: Lunch buffet $7.99
Info: (480) 967-5234