Aladdin Sweets 11945 Conant, 313-891-8050; $: More than a sweets shop — though exotic confections are available — this little joint serves reliable Indian food, if you're cool with the plastic and polystyrene crockery and cutlery. The price point makes it the best bargain on Conant.
Ashoka Indian Cuisine 3642 Rochester Rd., Troy, 248-689-7070; $$: Raveena Reddy's Ashoka has an extensive menu, glorious interior decorations, and a wide variety of Indian foods from all over the India. Consider the Maharashtian-style fars bhaji, where green beans are cooked with freshly grated coconut in a thick, creamy sauce colored deep yellow by turmeric. The next plate over could very well contain bagara baingan, a dish with little round eggplants that are stuffed with peanut and sesame seed paste, served in tomato sauce seasoned with tamarind. Imagine someone behind you eating hyderabadi, a lamb dish with yogurt and tomato sauce, spiced by green chile peppers. The menu goes on and on like this, and there's even a section devoted to Indian-Chinese hybrids, a style with a sizable following in India.
Bengal Masala Café 9335 Conant, Hamtramck; 313-871-2711; $$: Occupying an old-fashioned greasy-spoon style eatery, this little café has carved out a neighborhood niche with its affordable fare and bargain lunch buffet. Curries range from reliable korma and biriani dishes to British-style balti or medium-spicy rogan choices. Friendly service and portions that'll have you leaving with a box.
Gandhi 11971 Conant St., Hamtramck, 313-366-7795; $$: With cloth doilies and quiet music, Gandhi is at the upper end of the dining gamut in Hamtramck's "Bangladesh Town." But, cloth doilies aside, the good food and dinner-tonight-lunch-tomorrow-sized portions keep the patrons coming. The chicken Kashmir, with its creamy banana sauce, and the fish masala, made with spicy tomatoes and chilies, are surprisingly affordable. Also good are chicken tikka and the suitably spicy chicken dansak. A strong selection of appetizers includes crispy, chip-like papadum, pakora fritters and "tandoori wings." The selection of breads includes everything from puffy discs of poori to pasty-like meat-filled keema paratha. A serving of rice pudding offers a sweet finish.
House of India 28841 Orchard Lake Rd., Farmington Hills, 248-553-7391; $: For quality food on a budget, House of India delivers the goods. You can get a four-course meal for around $10, with a variety of spices and flavors available. Choices range from the mild lamb sagwala with spinach to the spicier stuffed bhindi, with okra and onions. A good smooth mango lassi should wash either of them down well.
Krishna Catering and Restaurant 28636 Ford Rd., Garden City, 734-513-3663; $: On the leafy-green end of the spectrum, the restaurant end of this establishment can accommodate 100, with both a buffet and a menu of prepared vegetarian entrées. A la carte choices include bhel-puri, a puffed rice dish with potatoes and a tangy tamarind sauce, and masala dosa, a spicy rice-and-lentil pancake. The buffet table has exotic goodies like cashew barfi or delectable laddu, sweet little balls made with garbanzo flour and sugar syrup.
Madras Masala 328 Maynard St., Ann Arbor, 734-222-9006; $$: Even thought it's hard by a cluster of great Ann Arbor eateries, Madras Masala is easy for newcomers to miss. It's tucked away near a bland apartment tower and a blander parking structure. But people don't come for the view: The eatery's popular $8.99 lunch buffet (11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.) pulls a hungry lunch crowd in, with a menu that switches up daily, featuring three or four meat dishes, eight or nine vegetarian ones and usually two desserts. Should you order off the menu or come for dinner, the upbeat staff will serve you well.
Mayur Indian Cuisine 5113 Rochester Rd., Troy, 248-457-1914; $$ Mayur's reliable menu of Indian standards offers the usual crowd-pleasers, such as the doughy puffs of curry samosa filled with potato, carrot and curry, or chicken biriyani, with its basmati rice and blend of spices. What's more, with its affordable prices and extensive "south Indian" menu, Mayur offers diners a chance to try the lesser-known crêpe-style dishes of that region, including Mysore dosa, Baingan dosa and masala dosa. The lunch buffet runs 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. weekdays, noon-3 p.m. weekends. And, for the busy curry nut on the go, they offer a weekly vegetarian meal program, cooking home-style Indian food for you to take home and enjoy.
Peacock Tandoori Restaurant 4045 Maple Rd., Dearborn; 313-582-2344; $$: A cozy spot on a Dearborn side street, Peacock is one of metro Detroit's oldest Indian restaurants, dating back to the 1980s. The menu strikes a balance between meaty and vegetarian fare. On the veggie end is everything from the tender cauliflower-based tandoori gobi ($8.99) to the regal shahi paneer ($11.99), with whole baby potatoes in a creamy, spicy white sauce. Meat-eaters can get chicken, seafood, or even a mixed-grill lamb platter of meat cooked in mint-coriander sauce, in a yogurt sauce, and in a traditional clay oven ($14.99). The menu even has a smattering of south Indian dosas, and the full bar serves Indian beer.
Priya 36600 Grand River Ave., Farmington Hills, 248-615-7700; 72 W. Maple Rd., Troy; 248-269-0100; $$: What does it say when a restaurant wins every readers' poll we've had for Best Indian Restaurant since 2004? How do they do it? Well, this Indian hot spot has fused the subcontinent's various regional cuisines into the fare that's made them our regional winner. The extensive menu sprawls across the subcontinent, featuring sophisticated dishes from the north and hard-to-find spicier fare from the south, including pulaos and biryanis from Hyderabad. Sure to please the palates of herbivores and carnivores equally.
Ruchi Indian Cuisine 29555 Northwestern Hwy., Southfield; 248-352-3200; $$: At Ruchi, vibrant colors and flavors abound, with a fair mix of dishes from the South and North of India. All dishes are cooked to order; that could mean waiting a few extra minutes for the dish to sizzle properly in the kitchen, but it's worth the wait. For a quick sample of Ruchi's fare, try the lunch buffet, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. weekdays, noon-3 p.m. weekends. Full bar and banquet facilities available.
Shalimar 307 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-663-1500; $$: This reputable Indian eatery in downtown Ann Arbor focuses on dishes from Indian's north and tandoori and Mughlai creations, encompassing vegetarian choices and meat-based fare, including the grand "mixed grill for two" ($35.95), featuring an array of chicken, lamb, fish and shrimp marinated and cooked in their tandoor oven. Tipplers will be pleased by the full bar.
Udipi 29210 Orchard Lake Rd., Farmington Hills, 248-626-6021; $$: Orchard Lake Road is home to several Indian restaurants, but Udipi is the only one dedicated to vegetarian cuisine. What's more, the vegetarian fare is spiced in the manner of owner Thilagam Pandian's native state of Madras, in southern India. You can start with a tamarind broth, rasam, progress to a dosa, a crêpe made of rice flour and filled to overflowing with tomatoes, potatoes and onions, and then sop the fiery oils from your mouth with a helping of naan bread. Of course, heat-seekers who've come for Indian food's fire-factor might also want extra tissue to wipe the satisfying tears streaming from their eyes.
This column was compiled with help from editorial intern Kelly Trevino. See any inaccuracies or outdated information in our listings? Let us know. Send corrections to us at [email protected], or via fax at 313-961-6598.