Haandi Indian Restaurant is tucked beneath a dark red awning on Fairmont Avenue and offers up a great Indian buffet for lunch every day. Weekend buffets cost a few dollars more but for a weekday lunch in Bethesda, Haandi is great for lovers of Indian food and first-timers alike.
As with any buffet, the key is to avoid anything that was once fried (the vegetable patties were well-spiced and flavorful but had grown chewy with time) but the selection of other dishes makes it a winner. There is a great variety to sample for both vegetarians and omnivores alike. Service is perfectly fine but nothing to write home about, which is no problem with a buffet; Naan appears on the table quickly and water glasses never stay empty for long.
There are a handful of vegetarian-friendly dishes available here, making Haandi (or any Indian restaurant) a fine choice for a mixed crowd of diners. The navhattran khorma, mixed vegetables, were perfectly spiced in a sauce rich in both creamy texture and vibrant flavor. Palak paneer, generally an excellent vegetarian dish of soft cheese in a base of pureed spinach, was almost entirely flavorless. Chana masala, Chickpeas in a lightly spiced and almost sweet tomato base, are another great vegetarian choice. These outshine the palak paneer ten-fold and aren’t too scary to a first-timer. Haandi also appears to offer one additional vegetable dish each day and today it was green beans and potatoes in a mild tomato sauce.
The chicken makhini was perhaps a little dry from sitting out but, regardless, it was flavorful and the sauce was not spicy, making it a good starter dish for anyone new to Indian food. Murgh tandoori – chicken legs and thighs, seasoned and baked in a clay oven – is another great dish for someone new to the cuisine. The red color of tandoori cooked meats isn’t related to their spice level; tandoori meats are richly flavored with smokiness and a hint of paprika but aren’t hot. Kadhai chicken is tender dark meat marinated and cooked in a dark red sauce with peppers and onions for so long that it shreds itself if you look at it too hard; It is another mellow dish with a mellow spice level.
Naan here is plentiful, light, and airy. It’s not overbaked and crumbly, as it can be at many Indian restaurants, and softer naan means less delicious sauce going to waste! The raita, a yogurt sauce with cucumber, is a light condiment that’s great for cooling the palate and makes a lovely salad dressing. Most Indian places offer a spicy mix of pickled vegetables and there are as many variations on this dish as there are stars in the sky. Haandi’s are quite hot but balanced with a delightful citrusy lightness that makes it hard for a lover of achar (a generic name for these pickles) to put these bits of bright yellow cauliflower down.
Indian fare isn’t known for its sweets. Still, Haandi offers a nice cool rice pudding with a touch of cardamom as well as a warm carrot halwa (shredded carrots and raisins cooked in milk and sweet spices for hours) to finish a meal off.
A recent lunch bill looked like this: $11.95 buffet plus a $3 iced tea (ouch! Stick to water), tax and tip gets the thrifty diner a filling and delightful lunch for $19.
4904 Fairmont Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814