Beyond the buffet: the longevity of the Taj Mahal is testament to its consistency at the top of the ABQ culinary scene

As bad as COVID-19 has been for restaurants in general, it may have been even worse for those offering buffets.

Suddenly, the common experience of standing side by side with other diners and sharing utensils over open food containers took on the appearance of a super-spreading event.

So, does this much-loved culinary tradition have a future in the post-pandemic world?

Apparently yes, judging by the scene at the Taj Mahal, the longtime Indian restaurant on Carlisle.

Over a recent lunch hour, a dozen diners gathered around the two buffet stations, serving up curries and trapping chunks of bright red tandoori chicken in tongs.

The small dining room was almost full. At the entrance to the kitchen, a team of truck drivers wearing reflective vests collected the take-out orders.

The scene testified to the enduring popularity of the Taj Mahal. Even after 15 years, the Taj Mahal continues to draw diners to its home, a light pink building lined with false columns near the Carlisle-Indian School intersection.

The Taj Mahal specializes in Punjabi cuisine from northern India. The Punjab was where the Indian tradition of baking in a clay oven known as a tandoor began. Far from the Indian Ocean, the region is known for its milk and rice dishes such as saag paneer and biryani.

The Taj Mahal’s menu is quite extensive, with subsections devoted to chicken, seafood, and vegetarian options. Prices are in line with other Indian restaurants in town. The menu items are listed in Hindi, so if you’re looking for butter chicken, don’t bother; on the menu of the Taj Mahal, it is called murg tikka makhani.

Among the more than a dozen starters, most under $ 5, is dahi bhalla ($ 3.95), a popular street food from North India. In the take-out container, it looks like a large serving of plain yogurt, but beneath the surface are deep fried lentil cakes that crumble easily, adding texture to the spice and chutney blend that register briefly. like sweet before a tantalizing burn sets in. .

Jehangiri Kofta, minced lamb meatballs in a creamy curry sauce. (Richard S. Dargan / For the Journal)

Likewise, an entree of jehangiri kofta ($ 16.95) seems uninspiring at first glance, just a cup of mastic-colored curry and cream sauce. Dig deeper, however, and you’ll find several minced lamb meatballs stuffed with cashews and raisins. The meatballs had none of the gaminess sometimes found in lamb and their rather leaden consistency was cut off by the sweet and salty sauce.

Murg Sagwalla, boneless pieces of tandoori chicken in a spinach and curry sauce. (Richard S. Dargan / For the Journal)

Taj Mahal offers a variety of chicken specialties like murg saagwala ($ 15.95), boneless pieces of tandoori chicken nestled in a creamy curry sauce loaded with spinach. The chicken was chewy and the sauce effectively reduced the acidity of the spinach.

Baigan Bhurta is the Taj Mahal’s version of a popular Indian vegetarian dish made with baked and mashed eggplant. (Richard S. Dargan / For the Journal)

A highlight of vegetarian dishes, baigan bhurta ($ 12.95) is baked, mashed and sautéed eggplant with onions, peas, and tomatoes. It was served in a rich yellow curry sauce flavored with garlic and ginger, and the peas still had bite.

Garlic naan is one of the many varieties of bread available at the Taj Mahal. (Richard S. Dargan / For the Journal)

Two large chunks of garlic naan ($ 3.50) were a perfect addition to entrees, speckled with oven-baked leopard and just firm enough to pick up on curry sauces. The order also came with a complimentary papadum, paper thin lentil crackers that carried a bit of heat.

Am Ka Kamaal, a dessert made with mango puree and vanilla ice cream. (Richard S. Dargan / For the Journal)

The intriguing selection of desserts, all in the $ 5 neighborhood, include rice pudding and mango cream. Aam ka kamaal ($ 5.50) was outstanding, with the tangy mango puree pairing beautifully with the vanilla ice cream which had melted slightly by the time we got there. Unfortunately, the pistachios promised on the menu were not incorporated into the dish.

I ordered online and the food was ready in 20 minutes. The order came with three containers of basmati rice, more than enough to accompany the entrees.

Almost everything on the menu is gluten free. There’s even a gluten-free alternative to naan.

The longevity of the Taj Mahal testifies to its constancy. It sits at the top of the Indian culinary scene in Albuquerque.

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