Owners Mohan Singh and Sukhdarshan Singh have run the unassuming Indian restaurant Tandoori Chicken at several locations across the area for more than two decades. But don't let the restaurant's run-down exterior in a Metairie strip mall fool you. The food here is a testament to Indian cooking rich with tradition, flavor and spice. The small eatery fills with the warm scents of cumin, cardamom and clove.
To start, vegetable samosas are surprisingly light triangular pockets of flaky pastry with cardamom- and cumin-scented potato and chickpea filling. Bright orange shrimp pakora are fried until crispy and taste of fennel and coriander.
Meals here can be slow at times, but when rounds of blistered naan arrive, it's worth the wait. Though the plain and garlic versions are perfectly fine, keema naan, filled with spicy ground lamb, is the real star. A dunk in a cooling cilantro-packed chutney soothes the burn.
Spice is unleashed with abandon here, from the fiery chickpea stew chana masala to the earthy, soupy lentil daal, where notes of coriander and cumin impart tingly lingering heat. Even palak paneer, the creamy spinach dish studded with cubes of fresh farmer's cheese, arrives with the warmth of garam masala but also leaves behind an unexpected sharp heat.
The restaurant's namesake is represented in full force, with pieces of meat served the characteristic bright red hue emblematic of Kashmiri peppers and turmeric. The tandoori mixed grill is a good way to sample all of the options, which include lamb, fish, shrimp and chicken, but some of the items were dry.
Thick hunks of lamb come swimming in a warm yellow curry. The curry is on the thinner, soupy side and begs for the accompanying fennel seed and cardamom pod-flecked basmati rice. Butter chicken is a standout, arriving in a bright crimson sauce thick with chicken flecked with bright green cilantro sprigs, an irresistible mix of warm spice and buttery chicken. Less successful was a watery raita, which was thin and milky.
Indian cuisine has amassed a following across the world, and returning to those dishes can feel like a homecoming. As with any food that evokes feelings of comfort and ritual, there is something reassuring about restaurants such as Tandoori Chicken, where tradition still has a seat at the table.