Royal Sweets falls squarely into the category of "foodie find" -- but with five branches around Dallas-Fort Worth, finding it is not too difficult.
It's a unique concept that combines an Indian vegetarian buffet with a sweets shop featuring dozens of unique Indian pastries. The first branch opened in Irving in 1997, and there are now outlets in Richardson, Carrollton, Plano and this one in Valley Ranch, which opened in 2010. All offer the same options, including a vegetarian buffet at lunch and dinner, and a kitchen from which you can order various "chaats," or Indian snacks. Many customers pick up dinner to go, along with a box of treats from the pastry case.
The buffet ($8.99 weekdays, $11.99 weekends) is the safest route because you can see what you get and don't need to ask for advice. Ideally, you will want to go during peak dining times so that the food is fresh, with lunch fare being the freshest of all.
The buffet occupies a series of steam tables, and the variety is impressive: from rice dishes to vegetable stews to fried samosas to fresh fruit and desserts. If you are someone who likes vegetables and spicy flavors, you will be in heaven.
One table held a variety of stewlike vegetable dishes, their spices adding tints of deep red or gold. Chana masala had chickpeas, onions and spinach in a spicy curry sauce. Yellow lentil dal was creamy and mellow, even with its mix of turmeric and cayenne. Eggplant with mild red chiles was sweet and tender. Aloo gobi combined soft cauliflower florets with bits of potato. Each had its own unique mix of spices and heat; in one bite, you would get subtle warmth, and the next you'd get a little kick.
The favorite table among diners had fried treats: Pakoras were vegetable slices in a thick golden crust, such as potato and eggplant. Samosas were the signature triangular-shaped pastry filled with a spicy vegetable mix that included mashed potato, onion and peas. If you get these at a regular sit-down restaurant, they can often be as big as softballs, but these were smaller, more like the size of a pingpong ball, about two bites each, and so easy to pop in your mouth.
If you want to take a real walk on the wild side, order one of the dozens of "chaat" snacks such as the "mixed" bowl ($3.49); what a strange brew, with chickpeas and fried bits topped in a cold milky sauce. It was far more exotic than we wanted, but we didn't mind taking a risk.
A more successful gamble was the veggie burger ($4.49), a crazy experiment that we liked a lot. The "burger" consisted of a patty made mostly of mashed potato, fried until it developed a thick browned crust, then placed on a traditional hamburger bun with crisp iceberg lettuce, slice of tomato and the crowning glory, a slice of processed American cheese -- nicely done.
The sweets were amazing, with dozens of varieties in all colors and configurations, made mostly from milk and nuts. What's terrific is that you can order them piece by piece, ranging from $5 to $7 per pound, to experiment. Burfee (also known as burfi or barfi) is a confection similar to cheesecake, made with sweetened condensed milk, flavored with nuts and fruit, such as mango or cashews. Halwa is like fudge, made from ground nuts or shredded vegetables such as carrot; Royal Sweets has nearly a dozen flavors. It is easy to go nuts.
Like the other branches, the Las Colinas store has a dining room whose atmosphere could be described as busy yet casual, with tables and chairs lined up in front of the pastry case. Maybe too casual -- the staff could be more diligent about replenishing the buffet with clean plates. Although all are polite, they are not necessarily eager to help you wade through the menu. It's best to come with a sense of adventure and to leave with a box of sweets.