It’s always a bit harder to evaluate a restaurant that serves up food buffet-style. As someone who cooks, I understand that the taste of food can change drastically when it sits atop a burning flame for longer than it should, and isn’t served as soon as it’s been cooked. Then again, as someone who eats, something about buffets make me happy. Take Las Vegas…when you walk in and see all of that food…it’s hard to feel like you want for anything in life.
So when I visit any restaurant that serves an “all-you-can-eat” buffet style of dining experience, I keep this in mind. Still, the customer is paying for the meal, and food should be at least decent to good, right?
Discovering Curry Village
Some time ago, I had purchased a restaurant.com gift certificate for this restaurant without actually knowing where or what “Curry Village” was — so on this night, I called up some friends to join me. Within minutes of arriving, however, we were informed that they were no longer honoring these gift certificates, which in and of itself, should not be allowed given that the customer has already purchased the certificate for usage without an expiration date. I knew of the 15% off special that this restaurant was offering on Yelp, and decided to go with that instead of making a ruckus.
(Incidentally, restaurant.com saw the tweet regarding this little mishap at the restaurant and immediately exchanged my gift certificate for a voucher at their site for the same value; now that is awesome service!)
Curry Village is much larger than it initially appears from the outside as there is an additional dining room past the buffet area that can seat another 20 or so without a problem. We were seated in that area, and those of us that got there first tried a taste of all the appetizers they had laid out and were offered a hot and delicious cup of chai tea while we waited for the rest of the party to arrive.
Everything we tried in this section was fresh and quite tasty. What is not shown in my photos is the huge jug of mango lassi they make available for unlimited consumption, which was also delicious! This drink is such a great compliment to the spice-filled meal that was to come.
Now bear in mind that I don’t consider myself to be an Indian food connoisseur. What I do have experience with, is living with a woman who lived in India for over 10 years and cooked up some of the best food I’ve had in my life. That was how I was introduced to “Indian cuisine” — and since that time, I rarely find anything available in the United States that comes close to that taste. I found it in London and Dublin, Irelend — but so very rarely in the U.S. So, much like Korean food, if it’s Indian food, I tend to cook it at home–within my limited knowledge.
At Curry Village, I found several things that were as authentic as I expect it to be, based on the cooking I have experienced. The wide array of choice available in the buffet line was impressive; it included some familiar items like Chicken Tikka and Biryani rice along with jasmine rice, but also a Paneer vindaloo of sorts with lamb offerings and several different types of curry — and some vegetarian options as well.
The curries offered tender chunks of meat in them — and the seasoning was quite nice to go with some rice. All items were kept at a reasonably warm temperature, though none could be piping hot — I imagined that all the dishes would taste even better when freshly cooked.
Indian daal is one of my favorite things in the world. For those that don’t know, this is a soup with a porridge-like consistency that is made of lentils, cooked with many of the typical Indian spices. The Americans have chicken soup — and I suspect daal is much the equivalent of that to Indians. The curry village daal was good, if not a bit thicker than I was used to, but with some cilantro chutney, this was something I’d come back for time and again to pour over rice and eat to my heart’s content!
With two kinds of rice available — both Jasmine and Biryani — the choice is yours. I usually enjoy jasmine rice, but I gave the Biryani a try and it was tasty, even on its own, sans curry or additional toppings of any kind.
But there is one item that was better here than any other restaurant I’ve been to in this country: the NAAN!
I kid you not – the naan here was so freshly made that my fingers could not handle the heat, never mind my mouth. Just cooked, it’s served to your table and the staff continues to offer more freely throughout the night. If not for needing to taste every single thing in the buffet line, I could have feasted on this and the daal all night long, but for the sake of reporting — I had to try it all, and alas, there was not much room for naan though I still ate three pieces! The naan at Curry Village is exemplary of what naan should be — it was neither doughy or hard; it was freshly served and with the ideal amount of buttery goodness on it! Everyone at my table loved this.
I love paneer!
If you don’t know, this is a fresh cheese that is made out of whole milk — and truly simple to make but so commonly unimpressive at restaurants. Curry Village offers it in a vindaloo sauce and I had two servings of this! Definitely try it if you have not had it before; it is not a pungent cheese but really melds in nicely with various sauces, or is also fabulous on its own!
On this visit, I had the opportunity to taste some complimentary fresh cooking out of the Curry Village kitchen — and while I had thought the buffet to be rather good, especially for $14 for dinner — the fresh cooking was simply delicious. The fresh chicken tikka was so tender and juicy, which is a true rarity when it comes to chicken breast chunks (one of my least favorite meat parts though I love chicken thighs) — and the salmon was full of fish oil and flavor! Freshly grilled, I’d ask for this each time as it was absolutely perfectly cooked and seasoned! They also offered us freshly made lamb chops which were tasty, but my least favorite of the three offerings.
I’m really not a dessert person. More often than not, I’ve been known to say, “If I had room for dessert, I’d eat more food!” but in my effort to at least taste everything, I hit up the dessert section of the buffet which had several items I had never seen before.I skipped what looked to be yams but did dig into what appeared to be macaroni and cheese in color but was actually kheer — a mango-based dessert with chunks of pineapples kept on ice. I will say that it was the most refreshing end to the meal and if I had any room left in my stomach at all — I’d have had three more servings of this!
There were also two rice pudding type of desserts, white and green — and both were decent — and the round white ball I had picked was “interesting”; I still have no clue what was in it, but it’s safe to say that the mango dessert was my favorite!
The staff kept our chai teas full and hot, with water glasses kept filled at all times. All five of us at the table agreed that the food and cost at Curry Village was more than reasonable, and that we would definitely return.
Curry Village is a good spot for a group of 4-6 friends to come for a tasty meal that is relatively easy on the wallet, at only $14 for dinner, and less for lunch. With a huge array of choices on the buffet line, you really won’t want for much else at the end of the meal. Having tried their fresh food, and having tried a slew of Indian restaurants in San Francisco offering sub-par food, I’m comfortable saying that Curry Village serves up truly good Indian food.
Located at 1386 9th Ave. between Judah and Irving, Curry Village is open for lunch and dinner, seven days a week, until 11 PM. They offer a wine and beer selection, which some might need to cool their tongues off, especially if you ask for the hot sauce, which the owner chef prepares fresh for you in the kitchen. Service was extremely attentive and the extra mile the staff went to have me taste their fresh food was much appreciated. Parking can often be very difficult in this neighborhood, but I daresay it’s worth it to gorge here for one night with good friends!
At the time of this review (02/26/2011), while they no longer honor restaurant.com certificates, they do offer a 15% Yelp discount, which brings your dinner buffet to a little over $12 per person; that’s a deal that is hard to beat!
Addictive Factor: 7/10
Overall Rating: 8.1/10
Disclaimer: they were not pleased I was taking photographs, so they did find out that I’m reviewing their restaurant on San Francisco Food.
Grace Keh is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to San Francisco" and the critic, editor and photographer behind San Francisco Food. In her regular day job, she consults for corporate clients in marketing and event strategy. Once the sun sets, she's on the hunt for great food in what she considers to be one of the world's greatest cities, San Francisco.