Indian food. It lives with its friends Korean, Mexican, barbecue and Vietnamese in a category called Maligned Cuisines of Las Vegas. People say we don’t have very good Indian food in this city, but the actuality is—unlike those other three cuisines—we just don’t have a lot of Indian restaurants. But there is great food, if you know where to look.
The small parking lot for India Palace, located east of the Strip, cannot accommodate the greatness of the food within. The lot is always full, even when the 16-year-old restaurant is not. A full parking lot and 16 years doing business at the same nondescript location is pretty much scientific proof that this is one of the best Indian restaurants in the city.
There’s something special here. Toward the back of India Palace’s gigantic menu, there’s a selection of southern Indian dishes, which are not as easy to find as more familiar fare like samosas, naan, curries and the tandoori meats from the north’s traditional clay ovens. The vegetable and lentil stew sambar is the foundation for some of these dishes, as fried lentil doughnuts (vada), deep-fried balls of potato and onion (aloo bonda) or steamed rice cakes (idli) are served to be dipped or drowned in the stew. It’s hearty, satisfying fare, and the same goes for the broad, flat pancake uthappam ($10.95), chewy and delicious with sambar and tangy chutney.
If you stick to better-known dishes, prepare to be impressed with utterly deep flavors. India Palace makes the tastiest version of chicken tikka masala ($14.95) I’ve experienced in Las Vegas, anchored by massive chunks of tender, smoky white meat from that tandoor, sublime chicken that holds its own against thick, creamy tomato sauce saturated in toasted spices like turmeric, cardamom, coriander and cumin.
The trio of sauces that land on every table—a spicy, red sambal-esque concoction, a sweet and sour tamarind sauce and an electrifying cilantro-mint chutney—to be eaten with crispy papadum wafers are spectacular. Go nuts on the naan ($2.50-$3.95) or whole wheat paratha ($2.95-$3.95), or really any appetizer, as long as you have enough stuff to dip in this holy trinity.
Besides chicken, there’s shrimp, fish, spicy cheese paneer ($15.95) and a minced lamb kebab ($16.95) from the tandoor. The menu is massive, loaded with meat and vegetarian options for days. If you want to be wowed, get down with the karahi goat ($15.95), in which big, bone-in chunks of rich, slightly gamey meat are simmered forever with ginger, garlic, yogurt, tomatoes, onions and spices and stir fried with bell peppers and more onions. This one will stick with you for days.
Combo dinner deals, lunch buffet, saag paneer on the side and pistachio kulfi for dessert—India Palace offers all the usual suspects. It looks and feels like any other local Indian eatery. But it tastes better, much better ... maybe the best.
India Palace 505 E. Twain Ave., 702-796-4177. Daily, 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.