A generational change is occurring in the Dallas area’s Indian restaurants.
Eager to reimagine the genre, a young cohort of restaurateurs are reimagining everything from dining rooms to desserts. They banish buffet tables and play contemporary music. They embrace fusion foods, street snacks and stylish plating. The results are frequently delicious.
Over the last few months, I’ve eaten my way along this wave from Oak Cliff to The Colony, and spoken to some of the owners, including a restaurateur who’s just 21 years old. The resulting picture is of a South Asian dining scene pursuing both innovation and fun.
This trend isn’t new. Back in 2015, Kumar’s brought Plano a menu full of sassy commentary (”Plain Rice: well, not gonna try explaining this. $2″). But a burst of recent openings has made Indian and Pakistani fusion one of the biggest, most exciting trends in North Texas.
Here are some field notes on new-generation South Asian restaurants, and how they’ve dared to think outside the buffet. Eat your way through the list and discover fusion delights like butter chicken pizza, gulab jamun cupcakes, chapli burgers and cardamom tres leches cake.
Windmills is the first American location of a Bangalore-based brewery-restaurant-jazz club fusion concept. Founder Kamal Sagar is a renowned architect in India, as well as an avid music collector, and Windmills combines his passions, with eye-catching interior design, live jazz concerts, good beer and Indian-Texan fusion food.
If this already sounds unique, wait until you see the menu. Everything is here, from Kerala beef fry and potato tikki chaat to chicken fried steak and bone-in ribeyes. Dishes are plated with spectacular flair. In other words, there’s nowhere else in Texas like Windmills, and no other restaurant that so boldly fuses together so many ideas and cultures.
But everyone else is racing to catch up.
5755 Grandscape Blvd., The Colony. windmills-usa.com.
The spicy chapli kebab burger at Adda in Richardson, with ground lamb, seasoning and a slice of raw onion on a sesame bun.
In the Dallas-area Muslim community, Adda was 2021′s most talked-about newcomer. Much of the buzz centered on its modern interior design and “contemporary Desi” fusion foods like tasty karahi tacos and the exceptional, memorably spicy chapli kebab burger.
Traditionalists in online chat groups griped about Adda’s price point: With dishes like New Zealand lamb chops ($22), the restaurant proudly stakes its claim as a high-end destination. We’re happy to pay up, for three reasons: Adda is a distinctive and good place to eat, its portions are ultra-generous, and we must fight the prejudiced, corrosive belief that some cuisines should be cheaper and less creative than others.
If you’re not ready for fusion, Adda serves more traditional specials at lunch, to cater to non-Asian customers from nearby offices. That’s not the experience we recommend.
744 S. Central Expy., #230, Richardson. theadda.io.
Desi District's colorful split-level dining room in Irving.
Enjoy the whimsical sayings painted onto the walls of this “modern urban market” while you order kati rolls, Nepalese momos, paneer burgers, “tosas” (combination taco-dosas) and super-rich gulab jamun cupcakes. The cupcakes and tosas aren’t just novelties — they’re pretty great.
“We like to experiment with fusion food in addition to sticking with the authenticity,” says co-owner Sheetal Liddar. “We are working on tacos. We will be spinning more fun tacos and trying to do artistic tacos.”
The original Irving store, a local favorite since 2017, is now rapidly expanding into a regional chain of combination restaurant and grocery store. Liddar says Desi District’s ideal next location would offer tosas and other fusion foods to bar-hopping revelers in a nightlife area.
Locations in Irving, Little Elm and McKinney; butcher shop in Plano; Frisco location opening soon. thedesidistrict.com.
The Rasmalai Gateau, foreground, and Mughlai Kulfi are served at Minerva Indian Bistro in Plano.
(Jason Janik / Special Contributor)
Minerva Indian Bistro
Minerva’s menu spans Indian, Pakistani and Indo-Chinese dishes. But look at the drinks card and you’ll find even more surprises: a robust mocktail program of non-alcoholic drinks and, on the back, a list of delightful, creative desserts. Many of these are the inventions of owner Adil Jawed and his team.
Rasmalai gateau, a brilliant fusion of a traditional Indian dessert into the form of a tres leches cake, was one of my favorite bites of the past year. Cardamom, saffron and pistachios add flavor to the cake, and rose water tints the icing a blushing pink.
Jawed, 21, remodeled the 6-month-old restaurant with his wife; her father is currently executive chef.
“My wife and I painted the place ourselves, we laminated the menus ourselves,” he says. “There are some things that are unique to us, but I feel like we innovated in a way.” Some of Minerva’s new tricks include an original masala spice mix and naan made without yeast.
“I’ve been born into the culture, but what we do is very different.”
3825 W. Spring Creek Pkwy., #206, Plano. minervaplano.com.
Eccentric wall artwork at What the Biryani, in Irving, asks the question we've all been wondering: "What the food?"
What the Biryani
Yes, that’s the real name of an Irving restaurant that opened just under a year ago and also sports wall art reading, “WTFOOD.” The pristine white interior has cutesy HGTV-style touches like a neon “Namaste” sign and small decorative metal bicycles. The bathrooms, labeled “Wonder Women” and “Batmen,” sport bouquets of flowers in old whiskey bottles.
The look may be new-age, but the food is rooted in tradition, centered on a mind-boggling 18 kinds of biryani, from basic veggie and boneless chicken to delicious ground goat kheema and mirapakaya, which features the protein of your choice coated in a sharply spiced green chile sauce. Parathas here are especially flaky, crisp and delicious. Fold them around an appetizer like “saucy garlic” paneer.
If you’re tempted by dessert, skip the choices here and make the 10-minute drive to Desi District.
3601 Regent Blvd., #150, Irving. whatthebiryani.com.
Far East Pizza Company
This Richardson ghost kitchen puts classic dishes like butter chicken and paneer masala on thin crusts. Indian-style pizza isn’t new in Texas: Bombay Pizza was a downtown Houston landmark a decade ago, and India Chaat Cafe on Frankford Road has long served a basic pizza. But Far East is the new leader in the field.
Far East is also ultra-friendly to vegetarians. My favorite pie is the Veggie Spectacular, with paneer, cauliflower, red onions, Thai basil, tomatoes and an Indian-spiced cross between pesto and chutney. The butter paneer pizza has a good balance of flavor, too.
A new rival to watch is Fun Pizza Kitchen in The Colony.
1500 N. Greenville Ave., #110, Richardson. fareastpizza.com.
Anari chicken with pomegranate seeds, yogurt, ginger, chili and fenugreek, from upscale Indian restaurant in Bishop Arts, Âme.
(Ben Torres / Special Contributor)
Âme, a 2021 opening in the Bishop Arts District, adds Indian spices as a gentle garnish atop Dallas’ favorite food group: Sunday brunch. Customers can order a spinach-paneer omelet with side cup of tikka sauce, biryani spice-battered fried chicken and waffles, or a diner-style plate of eggs, potatoes and chapli kebabs.
With opulent interior design, this is the most Americanized of the restaurants in this column, but the food is my least favorite. A cup of masala chai at Âme has enough sugar to double as dessert, and of the foods, only the chapli kebabs are particularly bold on flavor. The fried chicken was good, but my table wistfully imagined using tadka, a technique of blooming spices in oil, to give it a Nashville-like hot glaze.
The Bishop Arts brunch crowd might see things differently. If your friend says they “don’t do Indian food because it’s too spicy,” take them here.
418 N. Bishop Ave. amerestaurantdallas.com.