Just like the hot Indian men in my life (of which there are naan), Raja‘s Indian Cuisine takes the Indian cake in spiciness.
Having tried a couple of the other Indian and Nepalese places in downtown like Indyna Bistro and Kathmandu Kitchen, I was itching to try Raja’s. But to be honest, I was turned off by the subpar wraps they offer at Davis Farmers Market. Still, I was determined to give them a chance to make amends with my taste buds.
I didn’t swing by during their lunch buffet hours, which are Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. or Saturday from noon to 3 p.m., and missed out on their $7.95 plus tax deal. I stopped by around 6 p.m. and my friend and I were the only ones up there above the Education Abroad Center.
To ease our loneliness, the sweetest host/server was there to greet us, and let us wander over to the seat of our choice either inside or outside on the patio. Were he not over 50 years of age, I would have asked him if he came with an order of basmati rice or naan.
However accommodating he was, the interior of the restaurant is a bit off-putting and cold. The walls are painted slabs of white on green, or what look like an extremely poor interpretation of Rothko. So, I opted to sit outside on the covered wooden patio and watch bikers pass by on Third Street.
The nice man who doubled as host and server brought us menus and even checked to see that he handed them to us right side up. How many times have you been handed an upside down menu?
My friend settled on the baigan bartha, a clay oven roasted eggplant cooked with onions, costing $8.95. He also ordered vegetarian samosas, three vegetable-stuffed triangle dumplings, costing a mere $4.50. I decided on the chicken tikka masala, clay oven roasted and braised pieces of chicken in a masala sauce, costing $10.95. Enticed by the picture on the door, we also ordered a “mango lassi” drink.
We started with our vegetable samosa appetizers, which were really delicious and came with a sweet red sauce and a spicy green sauce. Too bad there weren’t more than three of them, but I can’t complain since it only cost us $4.50.
When the rest of our food came, in a timely fashion, the host/server brought us both regular and garlic naan, without us requesting it. The food portions were reasonable but what really struck me was the spicy chicken tikka masala. The masala was actually like a curry, thick and spicy, unlike the kind offered at Indyna Bistro or Kathmandu Kitchen. The first bite was very savory and I was surprised by the bold flavor. Where is that type of flavor in the wraps they offer at farmers market?
My one complaint is the texture of the chicken. I’m not sure if it was because it was oven roasted and braised, but it tasted more like hard fish than chicken. The baigan bartha was tasty and thick also, but not nearly as good as baigan barthas offered elsewhere. My basmati rice was mediocre and a little bit hard.
The mango lassi was also thick, which must be their secret mantra. It was very sweet and tasty and highly recommendable, but be sure to have a glass of water by your side.
There are a wide variety of options at Raja’s, including more than 16 vegetarian specialties, including my friend’s baigan bartha. By the time we left, there were more people trickling in to get a taste of Raja’s too.
Raja’s was an interesting choice, but I’m not sure I would jump to it again to appease my Indian food cravings. Though I would really like to take the sweet host/server man home with me.
ANN KIM can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. XXX
Raja’s Indian Cuisine
207 Third St.
Hours: Lunch: Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Saturday from noon to 3 p.m.; Dinner: Monday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Food and ambience quality
I’m eating here everyday
Almost like eating at home
Better than my roommate’s cooking
Only if I’m starving
$$$$ chancellor $20
$$$ professor $15-$20
$$ graduate student/alum $10-$15
$ undergraduate $5-$10 XXX