• Gabrielle Faust

A Taste of Southern India in South Austin

I absolutely love Indian cuisine, especially southern India. The bright notes of curry and saffron against slow cooked lamb, chicken, goat, and paneer -- to me it is the ultimate comfort food. Even mediocre Indian food makes me smile, especially eaten cold for breakfast. Yes, I'm that weirdo. However, when presented with a plate of authentic, exquisite Indian food, you are taken on a full sensory adventure across the ocean and into the hot jungles and crowded streets of the homeland from whence it came. This is Nala's: A Taste of Southern India.

I had driven past Nala's for a couple of months before deciding to stop in. Not because I was on the fence about trying the new location for this restaurant chain, but because it's rather hard to spot unless you're looking for it. Located just before the Brodie Lane/290 intersection, it is tucked away from the road behind a cluster of trees so you definitely need to keep your eye out for the brightly colored sign near the driveway. The interior of the restaurant is brightly painted and illuminated in a way that feels more like a traditional Mexican restaurant, at least to me, than Southern India. I went for dinner and it was spartanly attended. However, I do here they are bustling during lunch when there is a large diverse buffet which comes with complimentary naan bread and chai tea. In addition, on Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays, for parties of 10 or more people, you will receive complimentary champagne!

Now...On to my meal...

Service at Nala's is, how shall I say this delicately...awkward. I'm pretty sure it was the first time my waiter had ever waited tables. His nervousness was overwhelming and he seemed rather shocked that I knew what everything on the menu was and was quick to order. He even tried up-selling me to buy more dishes. That said, he was quite friendly and the food made its way to my table without delay. I ordered several items off the menu: the Fried Mushroom appetizer, the Shrimp Tikka appetizer, the Saag Paneer, and the Mutton (lamb) Sukka. All of which were delicious. The saag paneer was classic -- rich and creamy, yet not overly heavy, with the perfect ratio of spinach to paneer cheese and served with a fluffy bowl of jasmine rice.

The fried mushrooms were divine! Velvety in texture surrounded by a slightly spicy breading and served with a tamarind chutney dipping sauce. I could eat a whole plate of those mushrooms for dinner and be perfectly satisfied. But there was more! The mutton sukka was bright and bold with a hint of chili to quicken the senses through a luscious tomato cream sauce that cradled the perfectly stewed lamb. This came with the garlic naan bread, kissed in rich butter and roasted garlic to just melt in your mouth when accompanied by the sukka sauce. The shrimp tikka was good, but did not give me the same culinary hug that the main dishes did. The shrimp were overcooked, some of them outright burned. However, when dipped in the vibrant mint cilantro chutney that accompanied the appetizer, the shrimp were absolutely transformed. Honestly you could put that mint chutney on a shoe and I would probably consider eating it. Overall, the dining experience was, while awkward service-wise, an absolutely pleasure. In fact, I was planning when I could return to try the buffet before I had even paid my bill. That's a sign of a great chef.

So, if you're looking for a new Indian restaurant, definitely check out Nala's. There is also a location, the original one, in Cedar Park just north west of Austin. You will most definitely not be disappointed. Nala's in South Austin is located at 4894 US-290 W, Sunset Valley,TX 78735. Or you can visit them online for their full menu: http://www.nalasaustin.com/. They also deliver through Uber Eats and Grubhub for the couch-locked. :)

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