Note: this post was originally from June 26, 2013, but was updated after a recent visit in July 2022.
I love Indian food. I know exactly when my love affair with Indian food started. I was in grad school in 1993, and my German ex-boyfriend visited my family and me for Christmas. He had a craving for Indian. I looked up Indian restaurants in the phone book, and we headed off to what I am fairly certain was Cafe Tandoor on Cedar Road in Cleveland Heights. The Saag Gosht (lamb with a seasoned spinach sauce) sounded good to me, and I’ve been a fan ever since. It may not look pretty, but it is delicious.
Since then I have tried many Indian dishes with varying enthusiasm, but I always come back to my Saag. Sometimes I go crazy and order Chicken Saag, but most restaurants don’t have it on their menu. I have since learned to appreciate many other Indian dishes, such as Butter Chicken, Tikka Masala or Malai Kofta.
The fact that I met the owner of the restaurant last summer (2012) during an NEO Food Tour and she was absolutely lovely helps me want to support the locally owned independent restaurant even more (she and her husband also own Taste and used to own the Atma Center).
I was craving Indian the other day and decided to visit the very same Cafe Tandoor that started it all for a late lunch. They also have a location in Aurora that I visited numerous times when I lived with my parents for brief spell in 2001 as well as one in Westlake for you West Siders.
I love their garlic naan, which is topped with garlic and butter, but I didn’t order it this time around. It is best shared with others. I was recently here with a bunch of people and we ordered almost every variation. I love the Peshwari (here: pishwari) naan as well, which is topped with ground cashews & pistachios and sometimes coconut flakes.
I usually start my meal by ordering the chicken pakora and vegetable samosas. I ate half of each and took the other half home. They were accompanied by a nice variety of yogurts and chutneys. Chicken pakora are boneless pieces of chicken mixed with spices and chick pea flour and deep fried. The breading was so light I didn’t notice it at all. The chicken pakoras were not too spicy and just a wee bit dry, but the chutney moistened them up sufficiently. Samosa are triangular pastries filled with potatoes, peas, cashews, raisins and spices. The samosa was as delicious as ever. They have to be my favorite Indian appetizer.
As I stated before, I ordered the Saag Gosht. I ordered it mild, because I am a big baby when it comes to spicy food. It was not overly spicy and perfectly seasoned. The lamb was not too fatty or too dry. It was succulent and paired well with the spinach.
I ordered a mango juice and a chai (Masala tea). The mango juice was refreshing and was a nice palate cleanser. I was less enthused about the chai. My best friend’s mother makes a delicious, well-seasoned chai with black tea and Indian spices such as cardamom. This one was sadly lacking in any kind of flavor, and the addition of sugar did not help it much.
If you like fish I highly recommend ordering the Bombay Fish Curry, which features catfish simmered in garlic, ginger, lemon and spices in a tomato-based sauce. I ordered it through Deliver Me Food and loved it. Unfortunately, they seem to have taken it off the menu. The last time I went I ordered the Butter Salmon Curry, which is similar to Butter Chicken but features salmon in a fresh, creamy tomato & butter sauce. It was quite tasty. My friend ordered the Tandoori Salmon, which was phenomenal. It came on a bed of onions and peppers, which she left but several of us enjoyed.
My one friend ordered the Sagg Paneer and got it a little spicy. She loved it. Sagg Paneer is just the spinach sagg sauce and Indian cheese (paneer).
Our waitress did a great job with our group of 7 last week – especially since it was her first day on the job. She kept our water glasses filled, we all got the meals we ordered, and she was really nice through it all. She also kept me supplied with cans of ginger ale after I finished my pre-dinner cocktail.
The only negative about the place is that, unless otherwise noted, you have to order rice separately. An order of Basmati rice is $3. I splurged and ordered the Saffron Pullao (Basmati rice steamed with spices & saffron threads) for $4.
Cafe Tandoor is consistently voted Cleveland’s Best Indian Restaurant in the Cleveland area Hot List and has been in business for 30 years, so if you haven’t tried it, I suggest you do.
2096 S Taylor Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118
They also have locations in Aurora (96 Barrington Town Center) and Westlake (30030 Detroit Rd.)