There is a sad little restaurant on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, NC called India Mahal. I have driven past this lonely place for countless years. It looks like a hole in the wall.
It’s amazes me that they have been in business for so many years. I hardly ever see any cars in the parking lot. I’ve always wondered if anyone actually eats there. I don’t really know how long they’ve been in business. I wasn’t able to find that information in my limited research. I can attest that it has been open for at least a decade, at minimum.
I decided to put my curiosity into action and dine at India Mahal myself. I had a hard time finding someone who was willing to go with me. No one in their right mind would intentionally eat there, I was told by a few friends.
After talking it up for weeks, I finally had the chance to go over this past weekend. I went for lunch around 12:30. To my surprise, they offered a lunch buffet. I was even more surprised to find other customers inside. There were two couples eating lunch when we arrived. Another young gentleman came and went while we were there.
Once I arrived, I realized that I had never really taken a close look at India Mahal, at least not on foot. I’d always driven by in a moving car and only had glimpses of how it actually looked. When I parked and stepped out of the car, I was a taken aback by the worn appearance of the structure. It looked worrisomely small and aged. I couldn’t help in that moment but wonder what I’d gotten myself in to.
The interior isn’t as small as the outside would have you believe. Booths lined the outside wall and there were tables in the center of the room. Inside, it was fairly well decorated, to my surprise. It did seem very aged. The ceiling tiles had a few water stains on them and the vinyl seat covers in my booth had a few tears, exposing some of the inner foam. That said, I had honestly expected worse. The sanitation grade is a solid 95. I was pleased to see that.
I only saw one lady working in the restaurant. She was nice. She tended to everyone’s drinks and stirred the food on the buffet cart. She didn’t say very much and was rather quiet. In fact, the whole restaurant was very quiet. Too quiet. Some weird, repetitive music eventually began playing from overhead speakers, but even that didn’t add much life to the lifelessness inside the dining room.
I can’t specifically recount the names of the things that I ate. I don’t know what the dishes were individually called, as I ate from the buffet. There were worn handwritten place cards on the buffet line, but I didn’t pay enough attention to them. I got a variety of foods on two plates. Several were chicken and rice dishes.
So how was the food? I’ll be honest. It wasn’t very good. It was all rather bland. All of the dishes had very little taste, which is not what you would expect from an Indian restaurant. I’ve eaten at Indian buffets before, and it seems as though food prepared for the buffet has less spices in comparison to when you order directly from the menu. A light use of spices is to be expected on a buffet. The problem is, the food at India Mahal was super bland. The quality of the food wasn’t really an issue, just the lack of flavor. It wasn’t very satisfying. Also, parts of the rice were dry from sitting out on the buffet.
Overall, it was an interesting experience. I don’t quite know how to summarize it all. I read the reviews on Yelp and found it to have 2 stars out of 5. I would agree with that assessment. My experience fell short of liking it, which would grant it 2 stars from me as well. I’m glad that I finally went and tried it firsthand. Having said that, I don’t foresee going back to eat there again. The price was very good for a lunch buffet, but there are much better alternatives for a few dollars more.