My second husband hated curry spices and anything that looked like curry spices, so we never ate Indian food. For this—and so many other reasons—my second husband was an idiot. Fortunately, my third husband is not an idiot, and he likes curry spices. These are just two reasons why he’s better than either of the others, and that brings us to Punjab Palace in Riverside.
Punjab Palace is in a strange location, between a Toys R Us and a Michael’s craft store. The front of the restaurant looks like any other small, family-owned establishment you’ve been, but inside, the space is huge. The décor is India meets Riverside—two of the walls have arched insets with India-themed murals, several of which look suspiciously like images I’ve seen in my Windows wallpaper list. Colorful sari cloths cover the upper walls. At least three TVs hang from the ceiling, playing Bollywood videos and other Indian programming. You can pick up Indian-language newspapers and other publications at a table near the door.
The décor becomes irrelevant when you try the food. The first time my current husband and I went, we tried two combination dinners, mildly spicy, recommended by the waiter—the Mix Tandoori Grill and the Punjab Special would give us a good overview. We were a little worried when the meals arrived on metal cafeteria trays, but when we were done, we told each other “We have to come back here . . . it came on metal cafeteria trays!” As it turns out, only the combo meals are served on metal trays, but the food is so good, it doesn’t matter.
When you go, start with the Muligatawany soup. This lovely lentil, rice and chicken brew has two flavors, a delicate, tomato-y taste at first, then a second soft, spicy flavor after you swallow. For the main course, order anything with malai sauce, a creamy coconut yogurt concoction, usually served with chicken, shrimp and lamb. Describing malai sauce, though, is like saying sex is something you do in the dark—you have to do it to understand it, and once you do, there’s no going back. Every time I get malai sauce, I have to figure out whether I’m going to eat it or rub it all over my body. It’s that orgasmic.
Vegetarians also have a lot of options at the Punjab Palace. The Aloo Gobi is a personal favorite, a mix of fresh cauliflower and sautéed potatoes in a dry tomato sauce. The Shani Paneer—chunks of cheese in a spicy tomato sauce—is perfect over basmati rice.
Then there’s the naan. Naan is wonderful light flat bread right out of a clay oven, so crispy, soft and warm that I want to hug it. The naan comes in several variations I’m working my way through—so far, garlic is my favorite, but I’m expecting the cheese to be excellent too.
The hubby likes sweets more than I do, and if he has any room left, he always orders dessert. At Punjab Palace, all the desserts are great. Special mention should be made of the Gulab Jaman, a sweet milk cheese ball in syrup. It’s very good, light and sweet with an interesting texture.
Punjab Palace has a weekday lunch buffet for $6.95 (Sundays for $7.95), a good way to get an overall feel for the food until your next visit, when you’ll surely drag friends along so they can stuff themselves senseless too.
Punjab Palace, 10359 Magnolia Ave., Riverside, (951) 351-8968; www.punjabpalacecuisine.com. Lunch and dinner seven days.