Anonymity is an important part of a restaurant reviewer's job: The idea is to get a sense of what the average dining experience is like, not to attract special attention by flaunting press credentials (plus I have a secret fear that most servers wouldn't be that impressed by my Mercury business card anyway). At Tandoor, though, the average dining experience is so suffused with friendliness that midway through a recent visit, I found myself explaining to the owner's friendly wife that I was dining alone on a Saturday night not because I'm pathetically bereft of a social life (which I'm sure she assumed, since she kindly kept me company for much of my meal), but because I was writing a newspaper article about the restaurant. So much for anonymity.
Luckily I'd eaten at the place before, and can verify that any diner here can count on friendly service and excellent Indian food, whether you tell the owners that you're a food writer or not.
Just off the bus mall, the easy-to-overlook Tandoor is a hole-in-the wall just around the corner from the equally good, equally unobtrusive Mediterranean restaurant the Hush Hush Café.
Inside Tandoor, cool mint-green walls and tasteful decorations soften the hospital-cafeteria-esque neon overhead lights and sterile tile floors. A flat-screen TV at one end of the room plays Indian music videos or Blazers games, while a polite chalkboard welcomes you to the weekday lunch buffet: Please seat yourself, enjoy your lunch. Use fresh plates.
Lunch buffet options change daily—you'll find dishes like hard-boiled egg curry, tofu mutter, and curry and tandoori chicken, but whatever the daily selection is, Tandoor promises at least three vegetarian options in the rotating lineup. The buffet'll run you $7.99 (or $5.99 to go, but you lose the crucial "all you can eat" element), and includes salad, dessert, and a basket of fresh-cooked naan, some of the best I've had in town.
The exhaustive dinner menu features dishes from northern and southern India—chicken, shrimp, and fish from the tandoor oven, curries (including a full page of veggie options), sambhar, veggie pakora, and more.
The food is a step above most of the Indian food I've had in town. Everything is fresh and distinctively flavored, without the blandness and mushiness that can characterize more lackadaisical efforts. It tastes healthy, too: Even the fried food is far less greasy than you'd expect. The spicy fish fry, for example, made with marinated trout, was light and flaky beneath its crispy crust. The dhania ghost, meanwhile, featured tender lamb and lots of it, stewed to perfection in coriander and other spices, great with bites of fresh mint naan (or try other flavors like chili and cheese), cooked to order in the tandoor oven.
Dining downtown can be a bit of a trial, between parking and the omnipresent construction. It's hard to recommend this place enough, though—and they are conveniently located just off the bus mall, so you can avoid parking-induced rage blackouts. The friendly south Indian couple that runs the joint also does catering, and will happily accommodate special requests—they seem genuinely committed to serving the best food their country has to offer. All that's left is for you to take them up on it.