Though there’s no shortage of Indian restaurants in town, after a few too many watered-down tikka masalas and bland buffets, we always welcome a new opening in the hopes of finding a real gem. Little India, which recently set up shop on South High Street in Little Italy, just might fill that bill.
On the inside, the space—formerly occupied by India Rasoi and, before that, Yemen Arabian Restaurant—looks no different than it did under previous tenants. The same fluorescent lighting, drop ceiling, and dark wall-to-wall carpeting make it clear that this BYOB spot (aka the proverbial “hole in the wall”) did not receive a makeover. Strange as it may seem, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, considering the quality of the food in such establishments is often inversely proportional to the décor. Here, only a few Indian prints adorn the walls—a promising sign.
Another good sign: On a recent visit, our waiter, who promptly arrived at our table to take our order, turned out to be the son of chef/owner Chandar Sheknar. We tend to like chef/owners because they have more skin in the game, and this one popped out of the kitchen to check on his customers and answer questions.
A mixed sampler of appetizers ($8) got us going. The platter included crispy lamb samosas, vegetable pakoras, and chicken poddy (think chicken tenders fried in a nutty chickpea flour), all of which disappeared in no time. For our main courses we ordered the goat vindaloo ($17) and the haldi jhinga ($18)—jumbo shrimp marinated in turmeric and served on a sizzling platter with onion, green pepper, and slices of fresh cucumber and carrot. The chunks of goat luxuriating in a tomato-based sauce were melt-in-your-mouth good, exhibiting a nice degree of heat. Though we would have liked a bit more kick, the plump shrimp were also well-executed.
We rounded out the meal with sides of chickpea curry ($4) and mixed raita ($3), as well as the gorgeously flaky lachhaa paratha ($3), a northern Indian flatbread made out of whole-wheat flour and ghee, or clarified butter. The chickpeas and raita were perfect in their simplicity, and we would never order another naan if all Indian restaurants offered up paratha like this one—flaky, full of flavor.
Ending on a sweet note, we opted for two standards—gulab jamun ($4) and Indian rice pudding ($4). Like doughnut holes soaked in a rich syrup of sugar and rose water, the gulab jamun was served warm, contrasting with the cold creaminess of the rice pudding. It was a thoroughly satisfying way to end our meal.
›› Little India 411 S. High St., 410-385-4900. Hours: Mon.-Thu. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-10 p.m., Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-10:30 p.m., Sat. noon-10:30 p.m., Sun. noon-9:30 p.m. Appetizers: $5-8; entrees: $16-22; desserts: $4.