On any given day, if you were to ask me what I’m craving, there is a 90 percent chance I would say, “Indian food.” The first time I tried it I was in college and I hated it. It wasn’t until about six years ago my former boss told me I had to try it again; that we would make a lunch trip to Baba India for me to try whatever I wanted from the buffet.
From that time, I’ve never looked back, and I think I’m still making up for lost time.
My palate for Indian food has varied only slightly over the past six years and, with what originally started as opting for chicken makhani, has made its way to ordering pretty strictly paneer dishes and — more specifically — shahi paneer or paneer makhani depending on the restaurant. My all-time favorite Indian dish is shahi paneer and I will order that from Indian restaurants where I know they’ll get it “right” (with shredded paneer — how I like it). Otherwise, I’ll happily stick with paneer makhani. And garlic naan is a must, too. In my opinion, an Indian restaurant must excel in three areas: accuracy in spice level, freshness of food (paneer especially), and quality of naan.
While Cincinnati may have a number of really good Indian restaurants (seriously, this city is not lacking in that department), these are my top five favorite — the upper echelon of Indian in Cincinnati — in order:
- Delhi Palace (Silverton) – Given how much I love and crave Delhi Palace, it has undoubtedly become my favorite Indian restaurant in the area. The shahi paneer is what dreams are made of, and everything else we have had on the menu has been great. We absolutely love this place and try to get there as much as we can to satisfy our Indian cravings (which happen often).
- Shaan Indian Cuisine (Oakley) – Out of my top five, we live closest to Shaan, and therefore eat there the most. That is a good thing, given they have a “frequent flyer” card — every seventh meal is free. The food is great and the service is even better. Plus fantastic naan and a $7.99 lunch buffet, which is all-you-can-cram-into-a-to-go-box.
- Brij Mohan (Sharonville) – Brij Mohan’s “vegetarian” categorization didn’t faze me, as I eat paneer dishes anyway. I was more concerned for my dinnermate, though, as he typically eats chicken dishes. All concerns were expunged when I got a text message the following day reading, “Just had [Brij Mohan leftovers for] lunch. That place was realllllly good.” I totally agree.
- Swad Indian Restaurant (North College Hill) – I’ve admittedly only been here once, but I really enjoyed it. The service was outstanding (got a free dessert, even), food was good, and the naan was some of the best around. None of this should come as any sort of shock, seeing as they are the same owners who were behind the original Dusmesh. If we lived closer, we’d have been back by now.
- Ambar India (Clifton) – Once upon a time Ambar was the standard to which I compared other Indian restaurants — until I had the top four of the list, anyway. The food is always good, fresh, and flavorful, and the naan is great, too. I still really like this place but as I said, there is so much good Indian food around here.
Honorable mention: Baba India (Oakley), Deep India (Clifton), Tandoor (Montgomery)