In the growing maze of Eden Prairie strip malls, there are numerous restaurant choices, but few that seem genuinely appealing — especially for a quick lunch. Red Moon Chinese Cafe proved a lively surprise, and Little Sushi on the Prairie is a reliable option. Now there’s a third hidden gem: India Spice House.
Tucked into a stretch that features an insurance office and an oil change shop, the restaurant is easy to miss. But it boasts some standout dishes that are well worth the visit.
Redecorated just a few months ago, the restaurant is surprisingly cozy for a lunchtime visit, but that could be just because it’s dark. Standard Indian restaurant decor blends with warm colors and low lighting to make it a soothing, laid-back experience, complete with highly attentive servers.
The buffet (8 weekdays; $10 weekends) is on the small side, but since many of the dishes pop with flavor, it seems more than enough. The paratha bread — aggressively flattened and slightly oily — makes a palate-cleanser for the high spice level of the other dishes. The dal makhani, in particular, sneaks up on you in stages, until you’re feeling like a fire eater by the meal’s end. But in a good way.
Other well-balanced and nuanced selections include the chicken tandoori, chilli gobi, and egg masala. Unlike some other Indian buffets in town, India Spice House puts a good deal of effort into its sauces, and that’s a boon for either cooling down the meal or heating it up even more. The yogurt-based raita is a refreshing pick to dial down the spice, for example, while the coconut chutney is wickedly hot.
There’s also a mango puree, but if you’re looking for a stronger flavor pairing, opt for the mango milkshake ($2.99), which is similar to a mango lassi, but with a thinner consistency.
There are a few false notes in an otherwise delicious buffet. The inclusion of eggrolls is mystifying, considering that there are no other non-Indian selections. The eggrolls themselves are greasy and lackluster, and certainly don’t benefit from languishing in a steam tray. The goat biryani, too, is disappointing, since the meat is a little dry and flavorless.
But then there’s the paneer. Homemade, perfect in texture, this cheese elevates and balances the spicy tikka masala sauce that accompanies it.
My dining companion, on her second buffet round, chose to get only this option, piling the plate high with paneer. Small wonder: the cheese’s freshness is so satisfying that it puts many of the metro area’s Indian restaurants to shame. The consistency is sublime — firm as a well-made cheese curd, but without the squeak when you bite it. Are you tired of hearing about the paneer yet? Believe me, after you make the trek to EP for lunch, you won’t shut up about it either. Like the baklava at FilFillah, this is a signature item that alone is worth the effort.
Another distinctive aspect to the restaurant is its association with the grocery next door. With long aisles of Indian foodstuffs and advertising posters of happy Indian babies, it’s a nod toward an increasingly suburban Twin Cities Asian population. According to U.S. Census data (via the Metropolitan Council), the number of Asian residents in Eden Prairie is nearly 9.2 percent of the city’s total population, compared to about four percent in Minnesota overall (and up from the city’s reported 4.81 percent Asian demographic ten years ago). So, you might as well stock up while you’re there, particularly for goat meat and unusual fish (rohu, pomfret, and hilsha, for example).
With its intimate dining room and attached grocery, India Spice House is a modest, sweet find in the midst of Applebee’s and other chain restaurants. Just be sure to load up on the paneer.
India Spice House
Indian food & buffet in Eden Prairie
8445 Joiner Way
Eden Prairie MN 55344
HOURS: 11:30am-9pm Mon-Thurs & Sun; 11:30am-10pm Fri & Sat
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $5.99-10.99