Inside its strip-mall location on South Cooper Street in Arlington, Spice India looks very much like a chain restaurant: flat-screen TVs mounted on the walls, big glossy menu posted over the counter where patrons wait in line to order their food. But Spice India is a family-owned affair, the first restaurant that the proprietors have opened in America after enjoying success with eateries in India. On a recent weekday evening visit, all the items we tried were marvelously spicy and flavorful –– in fact, some of the best we’ve sampled recently at a Tarrant County Indian establishment.
Our meal began with an appetizer called Ghobi Manchurian, a fiery Indo-Chinese delight that would’ve made an excellent entrée for vegetarians. Fat, crunchy cauliflower heads were breaded, deep fried, and tossed with juicy wedges of tomato, crisp bell pepper slices, and aromatic slivers of onion in a dark red sauce redolent of hot chiles, ginger, and cilantro, with a touch of tomato paste. It was positively addictive.
The dahi bhalle was another deep-fried appetizer but very different in flavor and texture. Mashed lentil beans were rolled into hushpuppy-sized balls and fried but very lightly. They came out soft and non-greasy, with the springy texture of angel food cake and an earthy legume flavor. The balls were covered in a rich, pale cream sauce laced with a red pepper hotness that made the item both rustic and decadent.
The sizable Spice India menu is pretty much equally divided between vegetarian and non-vegetarian entrées, each served with a generous side plate of hot, fluffy long-grain white rice. On the vegetarian side, we ordered the palak paneer (cheese cubes cooked in spinach). The menu advertised it as cottage cheese, but it wasn’t the salty, lumpy condiment that most Americans think of: These were firm, white square pieces with a smooth cow’s milk flavor. The spinach was simmered into a thick spicy green sauce that was so rich and creamy it almost made us forget we were eating (relatively) healthily.
On the non-vegetarian side, all of the chicken, goat, lamb, and shrimp items were zabiha halal –– that is, the animals were slaughtered and the meat prepared according to Muslim dietary laws. (Don’t send me angry e-mails, PETA activists. I’m just reporting the facts.) The butter chicken was every bit as silky and tempting as the name suggests. Large, lean pieces of chicken breast, which had a roasted flavor reminiscent of the tandoor, were mixed with a thick, savory, pale-red tomato sauce. Mixed with the rice, the butter chicken had the quality of a terrific homemade casserole with a curry kick to it.
The lamb curry was advertised as “South Indian-style,” which often means a heavier and more intricate use of spices, especially chile peppers and tamarind. The dish’s brown curry sauce was mouthwatering, with a tangy semi-sweetness that indeed suggested the tamarind fruit. The lamb pieces were more like tender, non-fatty mutton than choice cuts of lamb, but they worked well with the curry spices.
All of Spice India’s dishes can be ordered mild, medium, or hot, in terms of spiciness. We chose medium, and it was hot enough for the spice lover among us, although he said the flame in his mouth mercifully didn’t linger long after each bite.
For people unfamiliar with Indian fare –– or even for Indian connoisseurs who want to sample the chef’s versions of traditional dishes –– the restaurant hosts lunch buffets every Saturday and Sunday. No matter your experience level with this continent’s cuisine, do yourself a favor and take a lunch or dinner trip to South Arlington. Spice India deserves a loyal following.
6407 S Cooper St, Ste 100, Arlington. 817-557-9000. 11am-9pm Sun-Thu, 11am-10pm Fri-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.
Butter chicken …………………. $8.99
Dahi bhalle ……………………… $3.50
Ghobi Manchurian ……………. $7.99
Palak paneer …………………… $8.99
South Indian lamb curry ……. $9.99