A couple of weeks back we had the oppurtunity of dining at the Dhaba. It is a restaurant that is alongside and owned by India Plaza, the Indian grocery chain in Tempe. The decor of the restaurant reflects Punjab, a province in North India. Punjab is well known for its street food, specially in dhabas. Dhabas are roadside eateries that line the highways in North India. They are frequented by truckers and travellers and their food is cheap, fresh and a no frills experience. India plaza has tried to recreat the dhaba experience right here in the East valley.
The decor and ambience of the restaurant truely reflects a Punjabi Dhaba. There is a rickshaw outside the gate as if some passenger has just pulled in. An Indian string bed or charpoy as you enter lends a welcome touch. I am not sure what the sitar (musical stringed instrument) or the brass lamps signify. They may be to give an Indian touch to the place though both the pieces are expensive and certainly not present in original Dhabas. The food is a mish-match of Punjabi food and North Indian food in general. On one hand the menu has some Punjabi staples like dal makhani, chole, rajmah and non-vegetarian dishes like dhaba chicken curry and murgh tikka. They have given fancy names like khara masala makhni murgh and tandoori kukkar to other favorites like butter chicken and tandoori chicken !!! Kukkar, as I know it, is a game bird like patridge or wild fowl. The tandoori kukkar at the Dhaba is actually chicken. But conspicuous by their absence are dhaba staples such as saag dishes like sarsoon and methi. I am not sure what Kashmiri dishes like rogan josh and Goan dishes like vindaloo are doing in the menu, but they distract from the Punjabi experience. There is an assortment of naans and other breads and a choice of rice. They also have specialty drinks like mango and sweet lassi, tea, coffee and a limited selection of wine.
On our first visit to the restaurant, we ordered roghan josh and tandoori khazana as our entrees and naan and paneer kulcha as the bread. The tandoori platter which featured clay-grilled pieces of chicken, shrimp and other meats was very well done. I usually give credit to a restaurant for doing the tandoori well. However neither the roghan josh nor the kulcha met my expectation. I have lived in North India and travelled extensively in Punjab so I know the dhaba food very well. The lamb in roghan josh was extremely tough to chew and the spices also were not right. Also the paneer kulcha was not kulcha at all. It was a naan with pieces of paneer stuck in them. I was expecting more authentic fare from the owners who happen to be from Punjab. On our next visit, we decided against being adventurous and ordered time tested dishes like tandoori kukkar and khara masala makhni murgh (I finally figured out it was butter chicken) along with plain naan and sweet lassi. I must say this time we were not disappointed. The chef certainly knows his tandoori basics!!! The marination was very well done and the resultant chicken pieces were succulent and tender. The spices were also just right, not the watered down red color version we get in most valley Indian food joints. The same goes for the butter chicken. A dhaba has to get its butter chicken right and The Dhaba at India plaza does it well. The decision to stick with plain naan was a good one after our previous experience with the kulchas. Both the owners paid a visit to our table for a little chat. The place is clean and meticulous and the same goes for the restroom.
Overall, a good experience as far as the ambience and dhaba experience specially for first timers. The price of the dishes is more on the higher side ($9-15 range). I would advise to go for the half dishes (some of the entrees can be halved) specially if only two or three people are dining. Also avoid the mutton or lamb dishes and go for the chicken, fish and shrimp items. They are worth their value in spice ! In general, I would recommend the Dhaba for special ocassions.
The restaurant is located at:
The Dhaba at India Plaza
1874 E Apache Blvd., Tempe, AZ 85281
They also have a website where you can check out the menu.