There are nights for exploratory dining (best new restaurants in Boston, anyone?) and then there are evenings for revisiting favorite local gems. Top among those? The best Indian restaurants in Boston. Rare is the city resident who doesn’t boast about his Indian go-to (or the best Boston sports bars, for that matter) as the far-from-simple pleasure of perfectly executed samosas and naan are hard to overstate. Here are the city’s top eateries serving Indian cuisine and a handy Boston craft beer guide you’ll want to consult when in need of washing all that curry down.
Best Indian restaurants in Boston
First sign you've gone upscale: the waiters take your order on a tablet. Then there's the decor, all ornate wall panelings and modernist lighting. But well-to-do trappings aside, Mela ultimately distinguishes itself with some of the finest Indian cuisine in the city. Notable entrees include the duck jalfrezi and baingan bhartha; the seafood hot stone entree with salmon and scallop is a great first-date ice breaker. As for the brunch buffet—first marvel over the sheer vastness of the offerings, then hit up the minibar serving Indian-inspired cocktails. Prices skew a few dollars higher than what tandoori aficionados may be used to, but you truly do get what you paid for.
One of the standard-bearers of the city’s Indian cuisine scene, India Quality has been satiating BU students and Kenmore Square professionals for more than 20 years. Everyone has a different dish to which they swear loyalty. The rice puff appetizer? How about the spinach poori bread? Coconut korma? Chicken Goa? There's no lunch buffet but the daytime prices still allow those on a budget to dine for less, with the added guarantee that everything is hot and freshly made.
Terrific Indian food in a onetime Ritz Carlton? Incongruous but true. The Cafe at Taj Boston—housed in a dining room that once served both Winston Churchill and Benny Goodman—dishes up both iconic New England dishes and reimagined Indian classics. At both lunch and dinner you'll find elegant takes on palak paneer, chicken tikka masala and biryani; even the breakfast menu includes aloo paratha and mango lassi. The seasonal rooftop brunch buffet, available during the warm-weather months, breaks up its raw bar offerings with a few Indian tapas.
Come for the views, stay for the maas ke sule. Located on the second floor of an iconic Harvard Square building, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Cambridge action, The Maharaja is a bona fide date-night spot. The pleasures begin with the ornate place settings and quickly move onto the cuisine itself, which regularly earns "authentic" accolades from guests. The naan is both perfectly crispy and perfectly fluffy, while dishes like murgh malai kebab and bhindi do pyaza help you break out of your tikka masala rut. The lunch buffet includes both vegetarian and vegan options, and the staff will expertly guide you through any food allergy pitfalls.
The grand dame of Boston's Indian dining scene. A three-decade stalwart in Central Square—home to a plethora of other fine Indian establishments—Indian Pavilion doesn't do anything fancy, but it does everything well. Complimentary papadum begins the meal, which might (and should) include paneer pakora, chicken jalfrazee and one of the mango entrees (not as traditional, but quite delicious). The lunch buffet is inarguably one of the best deals in town, but if you miss it, you can order the combo entree at dinner to get your multi-fish hit.
Anyone unfamiliar with Dorchester might be shocked to know the area hosts such a preeminent Indian spot. Locals, however, simply smile at their good fortune as they spend yet another Saturday evening ordering in. Shanti executes every classic dish perfectly, from the garlic naan to the chicken korma to the lamb saag; even the chutneys are a touch above. And if you ask the staff to kick up the spiciness, they'll more than oblige (be forewarned). Shanti has since expanded to both Roslindale and Cambridge: the secret's out.
A onetime Nepalese/Indian favorite (Yak & Yeti) has morphed into an Indian-only spot destined to become the next neighborhood jewel. The dosa and biryani are two highlights, as are the dramatic kebab platters. A few Nepalese dishes, including momo and kothe, will placate those nostalgic for the former resident. Show up on a slow night and the staff might woo you with complimentary cups of mushroom soup.
Kashmir is often the first Indian dining experience for Boston transplants. It's been around for more than two decades, it's centrally located on Newbury Street and it boasts a terrific sidewalk patio for people-gawking. But don't be fooled by its popularity: This is a quality curry experience. Specialties include duck tikka masala, kashew mutter gobhi and achari goat, but the classics (vindaloo, korma) are just as ambrosial. End the meal with a mango ice cream and a final bit of sidewalk-gazing.
This is north Indian cooking for the mindful. The new Cambridgeport spot caters to vegans and gluten-free abiders, as well as sustainability advocates (all meats are halal and antibiotic-free). The result is a menu full of lighter, healthier-seeming Punjabi dishes that still deliver on flavor and spice. In-restaurant seating is available, but Surya is best for satisfying, guilt-free takeout.
Craving South Indian delicacies? Tanjore can satisfy your dosa needs. Start with one of five different varietals (masala, kheema) before moving onto a madras curry or chicken chettinad. North Indian classics also make an appearance, as does a beer list with several different Indian bottles. The $10 lunch buffet includes chai tea, naan (no flagging down a waiter for your bread) and goat curry, not often spotted as part of a noontime spread.
Don't let the simple interior fool you—this is the real deal for North Indian Punjabi food. Intrepid diners will work their way through the in-bone goat entrees, while the less adventurous can start with an egg curry. The lunch buffet deals in all the aromatic classics: chicken vindaloo, mixed vegetables curry, tikka masala and palak paneer. Don't skip the squeezed lime juice, the most perfect thirst quencher for this level of spice. Those looking for less-messy takeaway options can opt for a dosa or tandoori wrap.
All-vegetarian Indian? Don’t mind if we do. Dosa n Curry takes the guesswork out of ordering for the meatless set—not that omnivores will suffer. Uthappam, bhajji and dosa share menu space with a wide breadth of veggie curries, many of which aren't just vegetarian but vegan. There’s even a vegetarian doughnut to end the meal.
With Inman Square awash in inexpensive dining options, it’s easy to overlook the sizeable appeals of the lilliputian Punjabi Dhaba. This is roadside fare: dosa, chatt, pakora, tandoori and Western-influenced dishes like the Punjabi omelet sandwich. If you're feeling a little more peaked, spring for one of the under-$10 curry platters.
West Roxbury isn't exactly known as a bastion of fine dining, which only makes Himalayan Bistro's existence that much more appreciated. The massive Indian/Nepalese menu lets you mix and match your table's preferences, poori and saag paneer intermingling with momo and goat curry. Monthly menu specials let you sample lesser-known dishes like mint pratha and seafood timuri masala. The hot towels at the end of the meal are especially welcome during the winter months.
Jamaica Plain residents are lucky enough to have not one, but two great Indian restaurants in the center of town. Bukhara lures 'em in with mushroom samosas, then seals the deal with its tandoori specials and thali dinners. Vegan options, Bangalore specials and celebratory dishes like the tandoori rack of lamb pretty much mandate multiple visits.