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Indian food done ‘just right’
Thursday, 05 May 2011
Photo by Wes Naman
Healthy fast food approach make for a colorful addition to Paseo del Norte strip

By Cristina Olds
Let’s just admit it — sometimes we like “grand unlimited all-you-can-eat” buffets. Saffron Tiger Indian Cuisine Express encourages diners to sample more than 20 buffet options for lunch ($8.95) or dinner ($10.95). And what a good way to try Indian food if you’re not familiar with it. There are no white tablecloths and the dishes are disposable, but the food at this Northside eatery is solidly Indian and satisfyingly savory.

The tagline describes the food at Saffron Tiger as “Indo-American cuisine,” and “not too spicy, not too mild ... just right."

During a recent visit, my dining companions and I could have handled dishes a little more on the spicy side, but the flavors were traditional and well-balanced. The website lists spices used in many dishes and their health benefits, such as, “cloves — a mild anesthetic, antibacterial and lowers cholesterol.” One selling point of Saffron Tiger seems to be that of a healthier fast food alternative for far Northeast Heights diners.

ImageOne friend noted Saffron Tiger was like the Indian equivalent of Panda Express, known for its fresh and fast Asian food. Saffron Tiger’s current owners are Elaine Gabrys and Tsering Kundeling.

My dining companions and I bellied up to the colorful and delicious-smelling buffet and dug in to sample a little bit of everything.

One of our favorite dishes was the Tiger Chicks, or chana masala. The tender chickpeas with a hint of citrus and coriander were traditionally prepared with complex garam masala spice, which is common in northern India.

I am not a huge carnivore, but I enjoy meat that’s tender and well-seasoned. The raja beef, tinted red from the sweet tamarind sauce, was flavorful and spiced to perfection, with complementary bell peppers and onions.

The samosas were a little less than lukewarm from sitting under buffet lights, but when we requested more of these tasty chickpea-battered veggie pastries, a new batch appeared. Delicious when dipped in a bit of sweet, dark tamarind sauce and cooled with the chunky mint chutney, these samosas filled with peas, cauliflower and potatoes were delightful.

ImageOur least favorite sampling was of the pickle dip. What was that salty, candied thing and what do you do with it? But do try the variety of other sauces and dips, especially some chunky mango chutney on a samosa for a decadent sweet and savory delight.

Combination meals would be a great idea for regular customers who want to avoid the bottomless buffet, after determining their favorite two or three entrees. Combos are served with a side of saffron rice with cinnamon sticks and garlic cloves or fluffy naan bread at an affordable $6.75-$7.75.

Ambience is along the lines of fast-food joints, and the music when we dined was frenetic techno/house/Bollywood/club, but the dining and cooking areas were clean and the paint job was jovial. We especially liked the gold, henna tattoo-looking designs in the windows and the giant lotus sign saying, “Namaste” above the ordering area. There’s outdoor patio seating and plenty of parking in this strip mall on Paseo del Norte.

Friend them on facebook for their specials. They ask for feedback from patrons, so if you have a hankering for something Indian that’s not mutton, goat, meatballs or on the menu, just ask. Saffron Tiger aims to fill a niche in the Northeast Heights fast-food scene with its vegetarian and health-conscious Indian options in this pleasant, albeit buffet-counter, space.

Saffron Tiger
6550 Paseo Del Norte NE, Suite D#1, 505.797.2854
Hours: 11a-9p, daily
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