Indian food is one of those cuisines that don't typically boast a whole lot of variation from restaurant to restaurant; every Indian place I've ever been to (except for South Indian) serves vindaloo, tikka masala, korma and saag.
Thanks to the enormous number of spices and ingredients used in Indian cooking, however, there is huge variation from place to place in the execution of these dishes. One of the few consistently excellent dealers in this cuisine is Indian Princess.
With a brand-new second location in Hillcrest having recently opened, I had to try it out. The San Marcos location has long been a favorite of mine, but it's far enough away that I don't go too often.
The new location is on Fourth Avenue, between Washington and University, with free parking in a lot across the street. A long, carpeted corridor leads from the entrance to a dimly lit dining room decorated with pretty glass lanterns.
Some menu highlights include paneer pakoras, kadai paneer, boti kebab masala, and bhindi masala. I always think of lamb and vegetarian dishes as being Indian food's particular strength, and that's certainly the case here.
Paneer pakoras are fritters made from the Indian cheese (paneer). A mild, firm cheese, in this preparation it's battered with chickpea flour and fried to a crisp. Fried? Cheese? How can it be bad, right? Well, these are especially good topped with cilantro chutney, which helps to cool the hot exterior.
Another excellent dish is the kadai paneer. Here, cheese cubes are stir-fried in an Indian wok with bell pepper, onions, tomatoes and ginger. The sauce is rich and flavorful, with a sharp ginger kick. Don't pass this one up.
Bhindi masala is another mustn't-miss vegetarian dish, consisting of tender okra cooked with onions in a rich curry sauce. I hear some people don't like okra, but then some people also eat at Applebee's. Don't listen to them-okra rocks, especially in curry sauce.
Lamb gets a tasty treatment here in boti kebab masala. This dish features chunks of fork-tender lamb cooked in a tandoor (a traditional clay oven), then simmered in a rich and creamy tomato-based curry. It's one of my favorite Indian dishes.
All entrées come with a side of clove-scented basmati rice. Bread is not included with your meal but can (and should) be ordered separately. If you have a large party, you should try the Maharajah assorted breads, which will give you a chance to sample some of the more exotic options, such as the potato-stuffed paratha.
India Princess is open seven days a week, with dinner served between 5 and 10 p.m. A lunchtime buffet is served from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, with an expanded champagne brunch offered Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The weekend lunch buffet is actually quite good-a cut above most Indian steam table food. Prices are moderate to high, with chicken curries starting at $13, and tandoori seafood and lamb at $18 and up.