THE GASTRONOMER

Indian food aficionados on a tight budget, look no further. Cambridge’s Inman Square is home to one of Boston’s finest-and cheapest-Indian locales, the Punjabi Dhaba Indian Café.

This self-proclaimed “Indian Highway-Side Café” might lack the ambiance of an upscale eatery, but the food far exceeds more pricy venues. Heralded as the best Indian food in Boston by several local magazines, I am not alone in my adoration of this eccentric eatery.

With sizeable entrees averaging five to ten dollars, crowds flock to Punjabi on a nightly basis. The authentic, though chaotic, atmosphere usually includes a long line to order at the counter. Finding a table among the scattered seating is always a difficult task, and navigating your tray around the crowd even harder.

Atmosphere aside, Punjabi’s menu offers aesthetically prepared dishes bursting with delectable flavors. Piping hot entrees are served on metal trays, divided into sections for the main dish, rice, and sides. Patrons may customize the spice intensity of their dishes to any level - my recommendation is to go for the hot.

A popular choice is the Chicken Tikka Masala ($6.95), a chicken dish featuring a creamy tomato sauce that is flavorfully spiced and accompanied with a cool yogurt sauce. Those in search of a lighter dish should try one of the tandoori (grilled) chicken specials, available in a “weight-watchers option” as a smaller portion ($7.95).

For the vegetarians amongst us, Punjabi offers a wide variety of options. Most include some sort of cheese and a vegetable, such as the Saag Paneer ($4.95), a mouth-watering spinach, cheese, and cream combination. If you are looking for a real Indian specialty, try the Chole Masalewala ($4.95) to experience the wondrous combination of chickpeas, tomatoes, and spices.

The weakest part of the menu is the lamb entrees. The sauces, while tasty, cannot compensate for the tough cubes of meat. Given the low prices, it is not surprising that the meat seems to be of lower quality. My suggestion is to stay with the chicken or vegetarian options.

No dish at Punjabi is complete without a fresh piece of nan ($1.50) and a cool mango lassi ($1.95). Nan, soft and fluffy pita-like bread, is the perfect accompaniment to any sauce dish or great as an appetizer in itself (try the garlic option for only 45 cents more). Then wash down your meal with a mango lassi, a smooth mango yoghurt smoothie, which will provide your startled taste buds with much needed relief.

Punjabi Dhabi offers a pleasant experience for anyone looking for an affordable and authentic Indian meal… that is, if you don’t mind crowds, limited space, and loud Indian music videos. While it is located outside of Harvard Square and requires at 15 minute walk or a one-stop trip on the 69 Bus, Punjabi Dhabi, in the exciting Inman Square, is an eating experience that should not be missed.

Ratings:

Overall: 4/5

Food: 5/5

Atmosphere: 3/5

Cleanliness: 4/5

Punjabi Dhaba
225 Hampshire Street
Inman Square
617-547-8272
Open 7 days a week, 11 am to Midnight

—Contact Staff Writer Carolyn A. Sheehan at csheehan@fas.harvard.edu.