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Published July/August 2010
After falling in love with Indian food during a visit to the subcontinent a few years ago, I found myself driving to Raleigh, Durham and Cary to get my share of samosas and saag paneer. Not anymore. There’s a new breed of Indian restaurant in Chapel Hill – no cross-county driving required.
3140 Environ Way (East 54) | 240-7490 | www.dineatsaffron.com
Saffron, which opened in May at East 54, is shaping up to be the most opulent Indian restaurant in the Triangle. Its Morrisville location was recently sold to new owners but has been hailed as the best since it opened in 2006.
The décor at the new Chapel Hill location was designed to impress – mirrored columns, stained glass, a carved wooden dining pavilion – and much of it was handcrafted in India. The brief, elegant menu goes well beyond the usual chicken tikka masala, with more exotic fare like gobi musslam (whole cauliflower in spiced tomato sauce) and lots of seafood.
“A lot of Americans are now traveling to India, so they get a taste for authentic Indian food,” co-owner Prashanth Jathan explains.
Swing by Saffron and taste for yourself.
Insider tip: Having a special dinner? Rent Saffron’s secluded private dining room, which seats 25 to 30.
504 W. Franklin St. | 929-6188 | www.mintunc.com
When Raj Arora first arrived in the United States nearly three decades ago, most Americans thought of Indian cuisine as something out of an Indiana Jones movie – “you know, monkey brains,” he says with a laugh.
Now, almost every night of the week, Arora’s West Franklin Street restaurant is packed with diners devouring North Indian specialties like goat biryani and chicken korma. Arora and his business partner, both trained as chefs, have worked to make a menu that appeals to American tastes without straying too far from their roots. “We’re trying to send the message that Indian food is not spicy,” he says.
Besides the food, one of Mint’s main draws is the ambiance, with plush booths, modern art and an inviting bar.
“We get a lot of dates, a lot of couples,” Arora says, smiling.
Insider tip: Come for the weekend buffet brunch, complete with special drinks like mango lassi.
1301 E. Franklin St. | 967-6622 | www.tandoorindian.com
Open since 1989, Tandoor is Chapel Hill’s oldest Indian restaurant. But this East Franklin standby has recently undergone a transformation so big it might as well be an entirely new place.
The dim lighting and strange nautical touches (the whale hanging over the bar was a remnant of Tandoor’s past life as a seafood restaurant) have been replaced by vivid orange and pink walls, flowing curtains of sari fabric and Bollywood music videos playing on a flat screen TV.
“This feels like you’re in India now, rather than Chapel Hill,” says Terry Melville, the restaurant’s designer.
Fans of Tandoor’s food will be relieved to find the menu of North Indian classics mostly unchanged, although there are a few new specials – try the Bollywood Thali, three meat dishes served with rice, bread, yogurt and dessert.
Insider tip: On Monday and Tuesday, beer and wine is half priced. CHM