It’s unclear how a blonde woman in a flowing dress with a stick and goat relates to vegetarian Indian food, but Rajdhani's stained-glass window is certainly interesting.
Pioneer Boulevard in the southeast L.A. County town of Artesia is known as Little India, for its densely-packed stretch of Indian shops and restaurants. Rajdhani is the latest, and best Gujarati-style Indian restaurant, serving a different set menu every day. It’s all you can eat, and at $10.99 per person, clearly one of the best restaurant bargains in Southern California. It’s also vegetarian, but don’t let that dissuade you; with the restaurant’s heavy volume, the food is all fresh, with vivid flavors. Eating there is also a fun experience. A stream of high-energy waiters zips through the dining hall, ladling and tong-ing food onto large silver platters known as thalis. Considering the price to quality ratio, expect a wait. We arrived mid-afternoon, and there was still an overflow crowd.
Each table sports the trio of mint chutney, pungent carrot pickles and tangy tamarind chutney.
The first item to hit our silver platters were Khandvi – cool pasta rolls made from chickpea flour, yellow from buttermilk, sprinkled with coriander seeds and shredded coconut. The tart, springy rolls were addictive.
With our meal, we received a bottomless metal cup of Chass – salty buttermilk. The flavor was a bit strong for my taste, so I never even would have hit bottom with a single pour.
Pico de gallo was the biggest surprise at our table. I’d never seen a plate of chopped tomatoes and onions at an Indian restaurant, but it was a pretty good topping for spiced lentil chips called papadum.
A nearly comprehensive photo of our thali meal, from left to right, involved Daal – spicy lentil stew; Kadhi – yellow spiced yogurt; Vaal – terrific white beans flavored with cinnamon and other spices; Palak Paneer – a rich spiced spinach featuring firm chunks of whole milk cottage cheese; and a smoky spice-fused blend of eggplant, gold and purple potatoes, and peas. Breads are puffy curry vessels known as Puri and ghee-painted wheat flatbread called Chapati.
I was very full, but in the spirit of adventure, I couldn’t resist the platter of Khichari that the Manager carried by our table. It was a boiled rice dish seasoned with yellow mung beans and thin, indeterminate seeds. It was certainly a downer after the powerhouse desserts, but still worth trying.
Cut open a musket ball-shaped pastry known as the Kachori to reveal the dense but delicious pigeon pea and green pea mash.
With our meal, we were each entitled to a single serving from a list of five desserts. Selection #1 was Gulab Jamun – warm doughnut hole-like orbs of fried milk powder, soaked in cardamom and saffron syrup. Excellent. Even better was Besan Halwa, a hot dish of gritty roasted gram flour, simmered in milk, sugar, and cardamom, topped with shaved almonds and pistachios.
Our lunch at Rajdhani was so good, I forgive them for not serving meat or seafood. The flavors were so delicious, I could have easily eaten there all day – according to the Manager, a common occurrence. I’m also excited that no two Rajdhani meals are the same. In a town packed with authentic Indian restaurants, Rajdhani is my current favorite, and I plan to make a speedy return.