Eating Berkeley’s guide to Berkeley’s Indian food scene (part 1)

Garlic naan. Photograph by Eunice Choi.
Eunice Choi/Staff
Garlic naan. Photograph by Eunice Choi.

If you haven’t indulged in Berkeley’s Indian food scene, you are totally missing out. But that’s all right. Many students who can name a favorite Indian restaurant will probably admit that before coming to Berkeley, they knew absolutely nothing about Indian food. Some might have eaten naan without knowing where it’s from (can’t blame them — carbs are delicious carbs, no matter what form they’re in), and others might be able to prattle off different sorts of curries, vindaloos or chaats. Wherever you are on that spectrum, we’ve got something for you: this guide to Berkeley’s Indian food scene.

Chicken tikka masala with naan. Photograph by Eunice Choi.

Chicken tikka masala with naan. Photograph by Eunice Choi.

Today, we’ll share three relatively well-known Indian places located on Southside and within five blocks of campus, with our opinions of the best among those three in different categories, including “best chicken tikka masala” and “fluffiest naan.” The categories are based on the most popular items to the general population, and the choice are in terms of food quality and service.

Restaurants in this comparison:
1. House of Curries, 2520 Durant Ave., Berkeley, CA 94704
2. Mount Everest, 2593 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, CA 94704
3. Indian Flavors Express, 2548 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94704

Best chicken tikka masala:

Mount Everest
Chicken tikka masala is undoubtedly the most popular and well-known Indian dish, although people in Britain say it is their national dish. The dish contains chicken pieces within a creamy, spicy tomato-based sauce and cooked in a tandoori oven. Mount Everest scores in this category because of its incredible authentic mixture of spices, tomato base, some heavy cream and tender, juicy cubes of chicken. Unlike many Indian places in Berkeley, Mount Everest’s use of cream, which Indian food aficionados usually aren’t huge fans of, is judicious. It balances well with the generous, flavorful spices in the deep orange sauce, which reflects a rich tomato flavor. The spices are not overwhelming but provide a pleasing aftertaste. If you decide to try this place out, the chicken tikka masala won’t fail you. Of course, the full, heavy flavor of such a sauce is only appropriately paired with naan or basmati rice!

Least oily/creamy sauces:

Indian Flavors Express
From our experience, Indian Flavors has come out on top with its restrained use of cream and oil compared to its competition. Sure, cream is yummy to some degree, and oil is unavoidable, but Indian Flavors Express does well in holding back on both while providing excellent curries and masalas. Perhaps the food is so flavorful and satisfying because traditionally, Indian dishes don’t use heavy cream to thicken the sauces. Try Indian Flavors Express for guaranteed good food while doing your health a favor. Sometimes, there really can be too much cream. Trust us, we’ve once tried an eggplant dish where the natural dark brown color turned light almond because of an outrageous amount of cream. Needless to say, the disappointed diners quickly abandoned the dish. So, kudos to Indian Flavors Express.

Garlic naan. Photograph by Eunice Choi.

Garlic naan. Photograph by Eunice Choi.

Fluffiest naan:

Indian Flavors Express and Mount Everest
A bit of knowledge: Naan is not consumed on a daily basis by Indian families, because naan is refined flour and inevitably unhealthy without moderation. Roti is wheat-based and is a healthier option. So even for those who dine at any of these restaurants and order naan every single time they dine, the advice is to not think that Indian families must eat naan every day and remain healthy. Eat in moderation and mix up with basmati rice or other!

In terms of naan, both Indian Flavors Express and Mount Everest are excellent — the naan is puffy and chewy with a bit of crispiness. While House of Curries isn’t terrible, the texture might be more “rubbery” than “fluffy.” Mount Everest’s naan especially always comes out glistening, piping hot and delicious. Both are great companions to curries and other sauces. We strongly recommend the garlic naan in either restaurant.

Ooh la la — date night, anyone?

Mount Everest
While Mount Everest’s dim ambiance isn’t exactly ideal for flirtatious conversations and formal attire, you’re at the right place if you both are crazy about Indian food. Think of Mount Everest as a more casual date — no dress code and definite comfort from getting your fingers greasy if you order naan (which you will). Indian food isn’t exactly cheap, but sharing two sauces, two orders of naan or basmati rice and one mango lassi will fill you both up while keeping generally around $15 per person. It’s not a cheap dinner for students, but it’s definitely a good one. We also have the waiting staff here, whereas Indian Flavors Express and House of Curries are order-and-pick-up.

Best bang for the buck:

Indian Flavors Express with its buffet. (11 a.m. to 3 p.m., $8.95 + tax)
An all-you-can-eat buffet under $10 — seriously? At Mount Everest, one order of chicken tikka masala is $8.99, but at Indian Flavors Express, you can easily pop in during lunch and have your fill of garlic naan, curries, sauces, tandoori chicken, rice, and all the chai tea you want. Sometimes the naan might be a bit dry and the assortment of sauces not exactly the duo of lamb curry and chicken vindaloo you had been craving since Saturday morning, but heck, college students rarely have the most ideal options when it comes to food. Come here to get a huge, awesome Indian bang for your buck in between classes and whatnot.

Best location:

House of Curries and Indian Flavors Express
Mount Everest is located near Telegraph Avenue and Parker Street, which is much farther than House of Curries and Indian Flavors. House of Curries is easy to see because it is located in a white wooden building structure that is directly across the plaza unanimously known as Asian Ghetto. Indian Flavors is a bit more discreet and not as well-known as House of Curries, but it is right next to Mocaccino Cafe and the Bancroft Clothing Company store, so it is the closest to campus.

Best mango lassi:

Mount Everest
Thick, creamy, smoothielike. Rich and definitely screaming “mango.” Sweet. Frothy on top. While we don’t seriously complain about the lassi at the other two restaurants, Everest’s mango lassi has a thick consistency that is not difficult to sip up with a straw. It is so filling that you should share one between two people to leave plenty of room for the entrees.

Best tandoori chicken:

Indian Flavors Express
The buffet alone gives access to Indian Flavors’ deliciously juicy, tender, well-marinated tandoori chicken. Each bite of the chicken was tender enough to easily tear away from the bone, and you can dip it into curries or eat it alone. Mount Everest’s tandoori — at least the one time we ordered a tandoori plate — ended up disappointingly dry.

Conclusively, Indian Flavors Express wins the most number of categories, Mount Everest scores in food quality and, while House of Curries is great, it doesn’t match up in terms of taste and quality.

The second part of this guide will include the Indian restaurants that are beyond campus!

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