I have argued before that we are currently in a new era of Indian food in the Twin Cities metro. Indeed, I’ve gone on about it on more than one occasion (most recently, here) and so I will spare you yet another replay of the whole dissertation. Suffice to say, there’s been a quantum leap in the last few years in the quality of Indian food available in the metro area and that the mainstream food media in the Cities has been all but completely quiet about it. This development—the former, not the latter—took us by surprise. When we arrived in Minnesota in 2007 the Indian food scene was quite bleak. In those pre-blog times we tried a couple of the North Indian places everyone recommended to us and were never moved to go back. Then in 2014 I first attempted a survey of the scene to see where things stood then and had to abandon it after the second stop. The last half-decade or so, however, has seen an influx of white collar Indians to the area and specifically people from the South Indian states. This has been reflected in the offerings at Indian groceries around town and in the arrival of a number of restaurants that are parts of franchises that operate elsewhere in the country where large populations of Indians can be found: Bawarchi, Hyderabad House, Kumar’s, Godavari. All in all, a new Indian food scene has emerged, one that exists in parallel with the old one of North Indian curry houses, which continues to be what the local food media and non-Indian reviewers on Yelp etc. largely focus on.
This older North Indian restaurant scene is barely represented in my rankings below. I will tell you before you get much further that if those restaurants are what you are interested in you will be disappointed in this post. Ditto if your regular Indian restaurant order revolves around chicken tikka masala/butter chicken, saag paneer and dal makhni. I have not eaten any of those dishes in the meals that have gone into these rankings and cannot tell you how well the restaurants in my rankings prepare them. A good butter chicken, saag paneer or dal makhni is a good thing but too many bad experiences in North Indian restaurants in the US have soured me on trying them here.
No, my rankings are dominated almost entirely by the newer places—and a couple of re-tooled older places—that focus on South Indian food of the non-vegetarian kind, with an emphasis on the cuisines of the states of Tamil Nadu and what used to be Andhra Pradesh (now divided into Andhra Pradesh and Telangana). Unlike the North Indian places that cater largely to a non-Indian clientele, these restaurants cater to Indian diners and predominantly to South Indian diners. These restaurants are also located where these diners are—which also helps partially explain the local food media’s blindness to them: not in Minneapolis or St. Paul but in the suburbs, particularly the western suburbs. There’s a built-in quality control here that ensures that what comes out of the kitchen is closer to what it would be in India than in the North Indian restaurants (where cream and nut pastes and food colouring continue to rule the day).
A few more caveats: First, while I’ve eaten at some of these restaurants more than once, both before and during the pandemic, others I’ve only been to once and/or only had takeout from. Also, the rankings below don’t include popular Nepali restaurants like Gorkha Palace, Everest on Grand or Himalayan. I do hope to get to them in 2021. Nor do they include Rosemount’s excellent Sri Lankan restaurant, House of Curry–for what it’s worth, if I was making this list as a South Asian one, it would be in Tier 2. Nor have I been to a Pakistani place in the north metro that I’ve heard tell of. I’ll try to get to it in 2021 as well. Also missing here is Malabari Kitchen, the Kerala restaurant I’ve reviewed before but which has been shut since the pandemic began. And I couldn’t have gone back to Copper Pot or Gandhi Mahal—even if I’d wanted to—to see if my feelings about them might change: the former has closed permanently and the latter was burned down during the protests after George Floyd’s murder. As for Hot Indian Foods, I’m afraid I like the idea of them more than I’ve liked any of their food. If I’m missing any of your other favourites please don’t take it personally. As it says at top, this is a very subjective list.
Okay, let’s get to it. Rather than rankings per se I have five tiers of restaurants for you, in alphabetical order within tiers. The two restaurants in Tier 1 seem to me to be clearly better than those in Tier 2. There is a much smaller gap between those in Tier 2 and Tier 3. There is, however, more daylight between Tier 3 and Tier 4 and a much bigger gap still between Tier 4 and Tier 5. For more detail on each of these places click through to read my fuller reviews.
Godavari opened in the late summer in Eden Prairie. It is the Minnesota outpost of a Massachusetts-based operation that focuses on Andhra food. Indian Masala has been open longer in the southern part of Maplewood that turns into Woodbury and has an equal focus on South and North Indian food—they’re also the one East Metro restaurant here (it appears there is not as much of an Indian population in the eastern suburbs). Both served up food about which we had almost zero complaints. Indeed, we liked the food at Indian Masala so much that I haven’t dinged them as I have a couple of others for their lack of South Indian vegetarian options to match the non-vegetarian selections (yes, I am not consistent). I look forward to picking up more of their food through the pandemic and finally dining in person once all of this ends.
Kumar’s is the closest to us of any of the other places on this list. They’re not the most consistent but they have a wide menu and in non-pandemic times their unlimited weekend thalis are a very good deal and experience. The owners also operate the Mantra Bazar grocery a few storefronts away. Hyderabad House is much further away but frankly, we enjoyed our recent takeout from them more than any meal we’ve had from Kumar’s; but not enough for this to overcome their very limited vegetarian selection. Don’t serve me Andhra or Chettinad meat dishes and ask me to eat them with shahi paneer or malai kofta; if not for a gutti vankaya curry they’d be in Tier 3. Kabob’s, which is the next closest to us after Kumar’s, is actually my favourite restaurant on this list. This for their rotating weekday lunch thali which is probably my favourite meal in Minnesota (for both food and nostalgic food-adjacent reasons). When the pandemic ends that is the first thing I will eat inside a restaurant (I really hope they make it). Their a la carte menu is good too but I’ve had some misses there. (As a plus, a meal there comes with convenient grocery shopping at the adjacent TBS Mart.)
Bawarchi, like Hyderabad House, has a lopsided menu with many very good non-vegetarian South Indian dishes but not a single vegetarian option to match. As with Hyderabad House the menu is probably dictated by the franchise but it is what it is. India Spice House—like Indian Masala—balances South and North Indian options on its menu. We’ve only had the South Indian stuff and while it was mostly all good nothing really jumped out. They too come with an adjacent grocery bonus,
Actually, these places in Eagan might be closer to us than Kabob’s. They were among the first stops when I restarted my slow motion survey of the local Indian restaurant scene in early 2019. I liked them fine then but they pale in comparison to the places in the top three tiers. Still, I’d happily stop in for their lunch buffet if in their neighbourhood and hungry. For a planned meal though I’m going to any of the places above.
I include these two because I went to them early in the survey in 2019. I only tried their buffets. Their offerings at dinner may be better but nothing I ate at their weekday lunch buffets made me curious to come back to check. Not terrible but I can’t see any reason to go to these places over the others except the convenience of their location if you live in Bloomington and Kabob’s is too small and pokey a space for you.
For a look at some of the dishes we’ve enjoyed at these restaurants over the last year or two launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for some final thoughts.
If you’ve eaten at some or many of the places I’ve listed and you disagree with my estimations of them—whether relative to each other or in the abstract—do write in below to give me a piece of your mind. You could certainly argue that as a Bengali I overrate the South Indian places in the same way, if not to the same degree that most Americans overrate North Indian restaurants: from a lack of grounding experience. And if there are places you really like that I’ve not listed at all that you think I really need to try, do list those as well. As noted, in 2021 I’ll be giving the Nepali places a whirl and also trying to get up to the Pakistani place(s) I’ve heard tell of in the north metro.
Over to you.