Here's a place that I was bound to try sooner or later. It is, after all, just a block away from work for me and perhaps the nearest Indian food near South Coast that isn't Royal Khyber (not that I have a problem with Royal Khyber...just that it's a little too expensive and fancy for a workaday lunch). I could be wrong here, there is probably another Indian joint somewhere around the Santa Ana and Costa Mesa border. In any case, I wasn't expecting greatness from this place, just good, cheap grub. Maybe some basmati rice, some tandoori chicken, for no more than a few bucks.
I got what I expected, no more, no less. The restaurant itself is surprisingly large, with a dining room that was easily the same size as India Cook House in Irvine, except with cheap white plastic lawn chairs, equally cheap vinyl tablecloths, minimal lighting, stark white walls, and the weirdly noticeable absence of Indian mood music.
As soon as I entered, I was in a small line with other South Coast office drones, each of us still wearing our dangling ID badges. This line led up to counter with a small row of steam tables which were attended to by a pair of hispanic ladies. As each docker-wearing patron's turn was up, one of two of the servers, would ask "For here or to go?" If you said "to go", your food will be put into styrofoam containers, the kind with a flip-top. Say "for here" and it's a sytrofoam plate for you.
Each lunch meal consisted of a scoop or two of yellow basmati rice. Actually, it seemed as though the rice wasn't basmati at all, but regular jasmine rice rendered yellow with turmeric. The rice was clumpy, which wouldn't happen had it been actual basmati. Then it's up to you what you wanted as the entree to go with it.
I opted for the Express Meal #1 ($3.50), which turned out to be a single leg of tandoori chicken, the rice, salad or raita, and a piece of naan. The salad was really just a heap of shredded cabbage marinated in vinegar. The naan wasn't crispy since it came out of a heap from steam table tray. And the rice was clumpy, as I previously mentioned. But the chicken leg was surprisingly tasty. With burnt edges and the marinade penetrating deep into the flesh, I looked like a primal beast, gnawing it while my fellow cubicle brethren dunked naan into styrofoam cups of curry.
There's nothing particularly special about Niki's, but as far as an alternative to Jack-in-the-Box and Subway, it ain't bad.
Niki's Indian Food
3705 S Bristol St
Santa Ana, CA 92704
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