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All-you-can-eaters know that the Indian lunch buffet is the master of all buffets. Urging you to try a little korma, some chutney with that, and certainly the tandoori chicken, it’s perfect for Indian food novices and fans alike. Sadly, many Indian lunch buffets didn’t survive the pandemic, with restaurants like Arvada’s Namaste India and Berkeley’s Spice Room shutting down their all-you-can-eat options in favor of a more predictable à la carte menu.
But in the Highland neighborhood, a curry-tinged war rages. For the last two years, two Indian lunch buffets—let’s just call them the Big Two—have set out their chafing dishes right across the street from each other. It begs the stuff-yourself-silly question: Which Indian lunch buffet is the best Indian lunch buffet?
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In the red corner, the reigning champion of Denver Indian buffets, the quarter-of-a-century-old Little India. Gorging us on its lunch buffet since before we even knew what Netflix was, Little India’s fourth location opened on the corner of 32nd and Lowell in January 2021.
And in the blue corner, the challenger, the northern Indian and Nepalese Himchuli. Making its debut in December 2016 in the former Coral Room space, Himchuli got in on the lunch buffet game from its conception, with a focus on vegetarian and vegan dishes.
I visited the Big Two at prime lunch buffet time (12 p.m. sharp, when offerings are heaping and fresh) to treat ourselves to a saag-, naan-, and pakora-filled feast—and to crown the best of the best Denver Indian lunch buffets. Here’s how they stacked up.
During a time that may not exactly go down in history as the golden age of restaurant service, the staff at Little India and Himchuli were friendly and helpful. Little India’s floral painted mirrors, woodsy interior, and amber pendant lights add to its warm feel, while Himchuli’s tinned ceiling is cool and sleek. But it’s Little India that has the bigger space, and the thoughtful touches make it feel a little more elegant.
Winner: Little India
The buffet set-up is definitely larger at Little India. While Himchuli’s takes up a small corner near the front of the restaurant, Little India’s buffet gets a larger wall at the back. The restaurant also offers a few more options, like more fruits and veggies at its version of a salad bar, plus additional sweets.
Winner: Little India
Buffet life is hard for fried fare. Pakoras and samosas typically need to be eaten pretty darn quickly after taking a dip in bubbling oil to keep their crunch. And while Himchuli’s onion pakora can get a little soggy later in the lunch hour, the fairly resilient crisp of its chickpea-based batter makes for pure snacky comfort. Little India’s veggie pakora and samosas are a little cooler and blander in comparison.
Little India offers not one, but two types of naan and rice each: garlic or plain naan and saffron or regular basmati rice. But what Himchuli lacks in choice—there’s only one rice available in the spread and they automatically bring you plain naan—it makes up for in its light, fluffy flatbread that’s unlike the oilier versions you get at many Indian restaurants. Slightly sweet and charred on one side, Himchuli’s naan is so good that you’ll want to eat it by itself. (But it’s great for scooping up saag, too.)
Winner: It’s a draw. Himchuli has mighty fine naan, but Little India goes the extra kilometer with the saffron rice.
Both restaurants have around four featured vegetarian options each day. On a recent Monday, Little India had sautéed spicy green beans, saag, dal makhani, and a deliciously creamy vegetable korma. On a Tuesday, Himchuli laid out a spicy zucchini curry, chana masala, dal soup, and the best I’ve eaten in a long time. As a bonus, on the third Tuesday of the month, Himchuli’s buffet is completely vegan.
Winner: Himchuli, because it’s all about that saag.
Tandoori chicken can often be a dry disappointment, but not at either of our contenders. Himchuli’s tandoori chicken is saucier and spicier than most, while Little India’s is large and meaty. But Himchuli’s chicken tikka masala was a disappointment, loaded with too much cream and too little flavor. Little India’s chicken curry was much more satisfying, with a hint of cardamom and coriander mixed with warm cloves.
Winner: It’s another draw. Little India’s chicken curry trumps Himchuli’s tikka masala, but that saucy tandoori sticks with you.
Winner: This is an easy one: both ring in at $16.99.
Just as there’s no need to choose between saag and korma at our beloved Indian buffets, we don’t feel we can pick between these two great contenders. After all, no one loses when naan, tandoori chicken, and stretchy pants are involved.
Read More: the Best Indian Food in Denver
18 of the Best Indian Restaurants on the Front Range
Love This, Eat That: What to Order at Indian Restaurants Besides Tikka Masala
How to Cook with Indian Spices, According to a Colorado Pro
6 Denver-Area Eateries Slinging Divine Indian-Inspired Drinks
Total Vegan Indian Restaurant Is A Haven for Plant Eaters
Why You Shouldn’t Skip Dessert at Spice Room in Highlands