I was a little hesitant to try the lunch buffet at Passage to India in Encinitas after reading some of the reviews on Yelp, but I have to say – I was pleasantly surprised. I’m not an Indian food connoisseur and my experience with authentic Indian food has been slightly limited.
The closest I have come to visiting India is a two-week photography trip to Nepal where I sampled the cuisine at many of the Indian restaurants. I actually prefer Indian food to Nepalese food, but now I am getting off subject.
The decor at Passage to India is what I would expect of a traditional Indian restaurant. Although the lighting is dim, I enjoyed the elaborately carved tables and chairs, colorful fabrics and intricate chandeliers.
We chose the lunch buffet for $12 (you can find a coupon on their website for $1 off this price) so we could sample as much as possible and it would have cost the same amount or more just to order an entree. By this time it was a little after noon on a weekday and we were the only customers in the restaurant. That’s not usually a good sign.
Let me just say that I was dining with a friend who has traveled through India and knows a thing or two about good Indian food. We both loved everything we tried and wished we had the room in our stomachs for seconds.
The buffet is not huge, but I actually prefer that at a buffet so I don’t feel the need to overeat. I love how they included the Indian names of the dishes with an explanation in English underneath. One of my new favorite side dishes thanks to this restaurant is Gajar Halwa, which is grated carrots cooked with milk, cinnamon, cardamom and nuts. The seasonings gave the carrots a delicious sweet potato flavor.
A few favorites from the buffet were the Gajar Halwa, Raita, Mint Chutney, Tamarind Chutney, Chicken Curry, Saag, and the Aloo Mattar (potatoes and green peas in gravy).
I didn’t find any of the dishes to be spicy, but I didn’t try the Tandoori Chicken, the Dal Makhani, Rogan Josh (lamb cooked in traditional gravy), the pickled carrots or the hot sauce. The Mint Chutney had a little kick to it, but nothing that will come close to burning your mouth. I have a feeling they make the buffet dishes mildly spicy, so if you like spice, you may want to order something from the menu and specify that you like it hot!
Passage to India has two locations in San Diego with restaurants in Encinitas and Rancho Bernardo.