There are few institutions we hold more sacred in Boulder County than the Indian buffet. Not only do we have a relatively high concentration of restaurants offering up all-you-can-eat feasts with food from India, Nepal, Tibet and the Himalaya region, but these places tend to be reliably good. It’d take two hands, and probably some feet, to count the number of reliable Himalayan or Indian buffets we have at our disposal.
Taj Mahal III in Louisville is no exception. Actually, they may be the exception: their fare has won thousands of fans in the county, and enough to always rank near the top of the Indian category during Best of Boulder East County time; and enough to win the category last year. A trip to their buffet during a recent lunch hour reveals that Taj Mahal III does indeed do things exceptionally well.
The building is tucked away in an otherwise inconspicuous shopping plaza. As expected, the lunch rush was heavy when we went; most tables in the restaurant were occupied. Inside, the lighting is low but the energy is high with busy servers and hungry patrons. The designs are familiar, the booths are enveloping and the smells are enticing.
I grabbed a plate and plopped on just about one of everything on the buffet line.
First was a vegetable samosa and a few nuggets of vegetable pakora. What was remarkable about both was the audible crunch with which they were split. The shell on the samosa was slightly thicker than others, but not a hindrance. It kept the potato and pea mixture on the inside piping hot and nicely structured. The pakora were also crispier than typical, but the crunch made for a satisfying texture with the steamy cauliflower and potatoes on the inside.
What were also notable about the first bites were the two chutneys — tamarind and mint — that accompanied the samosa and pakora. The mint was robust with an invigorating kick of spice. The tamarind was deep and smoky, with a residual sweetness. Both chutneys were the perfect consistency — not too viscous, not too syrupy and with just a slight amount of texure.
The next items were a chicken tikka masala and tandoori chicken. The chicken tikka masala was a pretty standard rendition of the dish. It was well balanced with a bit of richness and sweetness, as well as deep underlying spice and brightness from the tomato. The chicken came in big ol‘ chunks that are really dangerous to anyone who can’t stop eating good things. The tandoori chicken had the typical bright red leather skin, but Taj Mahal’s had a pleasant char as well. The meat underneath was tender and fell off the bone.
Next was a plate of turkey meatballs in yellow curry. The meatballs were remarkably tender and light. The curry was sweet and mild, and made for good dipping with the naan. The naan, by the way, was much flatter and less billowy than other naans. It had a great char on just over half of the surface area on each piece, and so it added great smoke and flavor to the curry and to other dishes.
My favorite dish was the saag paneer: spinach cooked in cheese, cream and spices. What excelled in this dish was the addition of several large cinnamon sticks to the buffet tray. Those aromatics stayed with the spinach, and imparted a black pepper and cinnamon flavor to each bite. The alu gobi (cauliflower and potato) and mushroom matter (mushroom in onions and tomatoes) were also solid takes on staple dishes.
There’s no point in wasting time on bad Indian lunch buffets. Conversely, there’s merit in spending a little more time to get to a good one. Taj Mahal III is worth the investment.