Indian food might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of ethnic food in the U.S. The States — and Austin in particular — are better known for amazing Mexican food, excellent Italian restaurants, and in more recent years, exceptional sushi bars. But Indian cuisine has been influencing what you eat for longer than you know.
The first Indian restaurants in the U.S. rose to fame in the 1920s, which means there have officially been 100 years of Indian food in America. But even before then, some staples of the American spice cabinet made their way here from India: Black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and mustard seed are all Indian spices.
To celebrate this rich history and its spicy centennial, head to one of these hot spots and try some of the best Indian food in Austin.
Where to Find the Best Indian Food in Austin
Good Indian food is made with generous measurements of aromatic spices, balanced with rich sauces of coconut milk, cashew paste, or cream. Traditionally, the cuisine is served spicy, but most Austin Indian restaurants will allow you to customize the spice level from zero to five stars.
In general, Texans aren’t afraid of a little heat, but even if you consider yourself a spice wimp, try your curry with at least one star. The rice and the rich sauce help cut the spiciness, and removing the heat completely (by ordering your dish with zero stars) can dramatically change the flavor profile.
Similarly, if you like it hot, proceed with caution before ordering a five star curry. Indian kitchens know how to bring the heat. And to prove it, here are nine of the hottest Indian restaurants in town.
1. Jaipur Palace
9900 S IH 35 Frontage Rd., Suite P900
Jaipur Palace is in the Southpark Meadows neighborhood of South Austin. The restaurant specializes in Rajasthani cuisine (from the Northwest region of India), so it’s a great place to try raita — a cool, and creamy yogurt sauce.
Order raita with paratha, a traditional flatbread, for a simple appetizer, or get it as a side dish, and eat it on top of tandoori chicken. This sauce helps balance out the spiciness of the meal, so it’s a good way to tone down your dish if you’re starting to feel the burn.
Don’t be afraid to try things you’ve never heard of at this Indian restaurant. Their commitment to authenticity is how Jaipur Palace manages to serve up some of the best Indian food in Austin.
2. Asiana Indian Cuisine
Another spot in South Austin, Asiana Indian Cuisine is in the Circle South Ridge neighborhood. Chicken tikka masala is one of the restaurant’s specialties, so this is a great place to try the classic Indian dish. (Although, some claim that tikka masala is actually more British than Indian.)
If you’re feeling more adventurous or looking for a vegan option, their bagara baingan, featuring spiced eggplant, has a rich, creamy texture thanks to the peanuts, sesame, and coconut in the sauce. Asiana also offers several South Indian classics, including a variety of dosa — thin crepes made from a fermented rice batter — to pair with their mango chutney.
3. Spice Fine Indian Cuisine
Spice is in North Austin near Parmer Center, and not far from Round Rock and Pflugerville, making it easily accessible from some of the most popular Austin suburbs. The restaurant specializes in biryani, a spiced rice dish.
Try one of the two traditional hyderabadi biryanis on the menu. Both the chicken and goat hyderabadi biryanis are cooked with the dum method traditional in North Indian and Pakistani cuisine.
Using this traditional technique, Spice’s chef seals rice, meat, and vegetables in a clay pot and slow cooks it over a low flame. This gives the flavors a lot of time to develop and creates steam that keeps the dish moist.
Whatever you order, make sure to get a side of naan. Their plain, butter, and garlic naan are all baked in a traditional clay oven.
4. Bombay Dhaba
1207 S 1st St.
This food truck is parked in the Bouldin creek neighborhood, and if you work south of the river, it’s one of the best places for lunch.
Bombay Dhaba’s lunch platters feature whatever the chef dreamed up that day. You can choose from a vegetarian, chicken, or lamb and goat plate. Each comes with two curries, roti, rice, and a dessert. The set menu makes this a quick place to grab some takeout and head back to the office.
The food truck also features a variety of traditional Indian sweets, including rasmalai, a dessert made by cooking paneer (Indian cottage cheese) in sugar syrup, dipping it in cream, and sprinkling it with pistachios.
5. Tarka Indian Kitchen
This bright and casual Indian kitchen has multiple locations around the Austin metro area, including locations in Round Rock and Cedar Park. It’s a great fast food Indian restaurant with the option to order online.
Tarka’s goal is to offer fresh, healthy, and flavorful cuisine — all things that Indian food already does well — with lots of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. The restaurant’s entrées allow you to mix and match your choice of curry sauce, protein, and spice level.
Try the saag paneer for a traditional recipe that features lots of healthy spinach. Don’t be afraid to go a little spicier than you normally would. The creamy sauce and the paneer cheese will both help tame the fiery flavor.
6. Star of India
2900 W Anderson Ln., Suite 12D
Located in North Shoal Creek, Star of India isn’t a great choice for ambiance, but it’s bursting with authentic Indian flavors.
While the restaurant offers something for everyone, it specializes in traditional vegetarian dishes like vegetable samosas (deep-fried pastry filled with spiced potatoes and peas) and daal makhani (a black lentil curry). It’s also a great place to try an authentic cup of masala chai — the inspiration for chai tea lattes everywhere.
Check the website before you go. They often run specials that can save you $5-$10 on your meal.
3616 Far W Blvd.
Technically, Saffron is a Nepalese restaurant not an Indian restaurant. Located between India and China, the food of Nepal combines both countries’ culinary traditions. And while the restaurant follows traditional Nepalese recipes, they source most of their produce locally.
Saffron’s menu features multiple recipes that highlight the role of mustard seed in the region’s cuisine. (Mustard seed residue is ground into the clay pots of early human civilizations, and may be one of the oldest and longest used spices.)
Try the mustard flavor in the oven roasted Brussels sprouts tossed with creamy mustard sauce or the char-broiled chicken choila made with virgin mustard oil, a traditional Nepalese dish.
Travel back to India for your entrée, and try the achari aloo lamb. It’s made with pickled spices for a tangy heat that’s traditionally associated with the Punjabi region of India.
8. Clay Pit
Located between Downtown Austin and West Campus, Clay Pit is the best Indian food in Austin for anyone who likes their dinner served with a side of ambiance.
There are no strip malls or drop ceilings in sight. Instead, this restaurant has brick floors, stone walls, and a cozy bar and lounge. Unlike most Indian restaurants, Clay Pit also serves up cocktails tasty enough to compete with some of the best bars in Austin. Try something with their house-made mango-ginger infused vodka.
This is a good place to experiment with updated interpretations of Indian classics, like the curried mussels appetizer or the stuffed chicken breast in korma sauce entrée. Don’t skip the restaurant’s dessert menu, which combines European patisserie with Indian flavors to create dishes like mango cheesecake and chai-spiced crème brûlée.
9. Whip In
Whip In in Travis Heights is one part convenience store, one part Indian cafe. It has a quirky South Austin vibe with a casual bar area and an outdoor patio.
The kitchen offers everything from classic Indian fare to more eccentric recipes that combine Indian flavors with Tex-Mex classics. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the Kashmir Frito Pie with black beans, spicy beef chili, melted cheese, cilantro chutney, and sour cream. Or order the goat burger with mango chili aioli, fontina, pickled onions, and arugula.
If you prefer more traditional Indian food, try the bhindi masala with okra, tomato, onions, and roasted garlic and cumin seeds.
Spice Up Your Life With the Best Indian Food in Austin
These Indian restaurants prove a little spice makes everything nice. With plenty of options for flame roasted meat, fish, or vegan cuisine, Indian food is a great way to please a crowd (and get your veggies).
If you’re new to Indian cuisine or new to a particular restaurant, head over for the lunch buffet to try out a variety of recipes. It’s a great introduction to the cuisine, and a good way to figure out which dishes a particular restaurant does well.
The best Indian restaurants are scattered all around the city. So find a place in your favorite Austin neighborhood, and don’t be afraid to ask your server for recommendations. Most Indian restaurants are family-owned spots where they’re happy to tell you about their favorite family recipes.
Whichever restaurant you try, this list will lead you to the best Indian food in Austin. So get out there and start your search for spice.