If you like Indian food, you have no trouble finding it in cities like Irving or Richardson, where Indian restaurants are plentiful. South Arlington, not so much, and that gives Spice India an edge. This new Indian restaurant doesn't have much competition in its spot along South Cooper.
Spice India is also unique in that it follows the fast-casual mode. You order at the counter, and a server brings your food to your table. In theory, this can streamline your dining experience, and when Spice India gets it right - which is most of the time - you get good Indian food, prepared-to-order, promptly served.
Ordering at the counter can be complicated if you don't know what you want. Owner Praveen Gupta and his family are helpful with guidance, but it's a large menu. Even those who are familiar with Indian food may need to scan the board on the wall or one of the paper menus before getting in line.
The menu is broken into sections such as appetizers, breads, and entrees, both vegetarian and non-veg. We selected something from each category and added a couple of warm Indian breads.
With just about every menu item at Spice India, you can specify your level of heat from mild, medium or hot. We chose medium and were pleasantly surprised by what a solid hot kick we got; but if you don't appreciate hot foods, definitely stick to "mild."
Veggie samosas were a cheap snack: only $1.99 for two fried pastries filled with a mixture of peas and mashed potatoes. The mashed mixture was quite spicy; we cooled it by dipping the samosas into a small bowl of mint sauce on the side.
Non-veg entrees ran from classic dishes such as chicken tikka masala ($8.99) - boneless chicken in a mildly spicy cream sauce - to shrimp, lamb and goat. A mixed-grill medley ($13.99) included a baked chicken leg with thigh attached, skewers of chicken and minced lamb and a couple of small shrimp. The presentation was misleading; the meats were piled together, making the portion look smaller than it was. But there was enough for two to share. The flavors were bright and spicy, especially the minced lamb, but most of the meats seemed overcooked and dry.
Mixed vegetables ($8.99) were like a spicy veggie stew, with potatoes, cauliflower, green beans and peas in a fiery red sauce. Eating it straight was intense, but it was perfect when calmed by a spoon of accompanying white rice. And we loved using the sauce as a dip for our bread. Plain naan ($1.50) gave us two rounds, like puffed-up tortillas, airy and stretchy with a little crunch; and aaloo parantha ($2.99), a thick round whole-wheat flatbread fortified with mashed potato, diced onion and cilantro.
Barbecue hounds will remember this space as home to the ill-fated Tollie's Barbecue, and will even recognize the rustic interior, which Spice India hasn't changed. It's slightly disorienting to see the barbecue-esque brick columns and thick lacquered wood tables at an Indian restaurant, but it's a refreshing change of pace and a step up from the many Indian restaurants that do not focus on décor.
Gupta was a consultant before opening Spice India, but had family members in New Delhi who operated restaurants. His responsiveness helped alleviate the gaps in service, such as missing items in our order, which he expedited quickly. And things will change even more when he executes his plan to add a buffet option at lunch - making both ordering and delivery a moot point.