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Some Like It Hot At Royal India

Lentil soup at Royal India.
Courtesy photo

Royal India kinda beats to its own drum. Open for a couple of years, the venue is trying a little too hard to cast its spell over prospective diners. The second you enter, a deliciously intoxicating and exotic aroma captivates you. This is very good. Then you gaze around and almost feel like you’ve entered a Bollywood set. Bits of India saturate the place to an almost kitsch level. It is a little overwhelming; it’s one thing to represent the reflection of a culture, but almost another to become a mockery of it. Regardless, stay and enjoy. This place has some killer food.

Spiral beams and looming arches abound in Royal India while some of the walls have statues displayed in niches. Bold colors and fabric adorn the large open space with many chandeliers that just need to go – a little too bright and a little antiquated. In any ethnic restaurant, the true telltale sign of how good it is lies with its patrons. Royal India is loaded with folks who clearly know their Indian culture, right down to their authentic saris and turbans. Add the staff with their gorgeously melodic dialects and genuine charm, and you’re in Punjab.

The menu is replete with exotic appetizers, leavened soft breads made on the interior wall of the tandoor (clay oven). Biryani specialties (rice and vegetables sautéed with raisins, almonds and coconut – you can also add meat) and curry, curry, curry! Also a very nice feature was the plentiful varieties of vegetarian dishes.

The appetizers came on with a rush of flavors, textures and rich aromas. Curry infused lentil soup ($5) brought the usual dish into a whole different stratosphere. A must-have is the samosas (two crispy stuffed pastries seasoned with mild spices and deep fried – $4) with either potato or minced meat and peas. The former captured our attention with delicate nuances and subtle bursts of flavor.

A chicken tikka kabab (boneless chicken breast marinated in yogurt and delicate spices and herbs – $20) came off as a sort of Indian-inspired fajita dish, not delivered on skewers as anticipated but on a cast iron plate that sizzled with crackling juices and steam. The succulent chicken melded well with the crispy bed of cabbage underneath, although some pieces were perfectly cooked and some morsels were bone dry.

Royal India's curry & chicken.
Courtesy photo

If this was not enough to feast on, the entrees ignited the table with luscious combinations of texture and seasonings. Chicken tikka marsala (boneless chicken roasted in a clay oven and cooked with a blend of tomato curry and spices – $18) and lamb rogan josh (boneless lamb cooked with a curry sauce of onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes and almonds – $21) satiated our taste buds and had us clamoring for more. Both dishes had generous portions with ample balsamic rice for depth. The chicken boasted bright flavors, perfectly complementing the rich curry. The lamb was a dazzling banquet of tender meat and spicy curry, sending even a heat-seeking palate clawing for water. Mind you, that is the way we asked for it, and that was how it was delivered. A word of advice: When they ask if you want it “Indian hot or American hot,” go American.

Although Royal India was greeted with a bit of a smirk, once the food hit the table, they had us sitting up straight and eating out of their hands. Our server was a mesmerizing combination of mannerisms and grace, explaining each dish perfectly. One warning: Trading out used flatware never really happened, and we used the same for each dish. Fresh utensils might require a request.

If you really want rich, fabulously authentic Indian food, Royal India will fulfill every promise with preparation and magnificent flavors. Kid friendly if you can get them to try it.

The good - the food was astounding.

The bad - ease up on the decor.

Details »
  • City: San Diego
  • Phone: 619-269-9999
  • Name: Royal India
  • Address: 329 Market Street