One notable thing about Café Raj is that the kitchen is run by women. Not that I have a lot of experience with Indian food, but Ive never seen that before.
The food is North Indian and Pakistani (or so the menu says). They have a few things I havent seen before.
The Nimboo Pani was a lemonade with some rose water which turned it a lovely pink. I guess the rose water is unique to Café Raj as looking this drink up on the web, it usually just is water and lime or lemon juice with sugar and/or salt. The perfumy rose water was not overdone and this was a lovely drink.
Dishes come with a choice of EITHER naan or rice. There is a huge portion of the rice. I chose the naan which an old review posted on the window described as chewy and it was, in a good way. There were some nice char marks on it and it was decent enough.
There were some mushroom curries with garlic and ginger. I chose the lamb which had large chunks of lamb and was not overwhelmed by sauce or mushrooms. It was enough to make two meals for me. I chose a medium spice level which turned out to be tame.
They have little dishes of chutneys that can be ordered for fifty to seventy-five cents. I chose the tamarind-banana chutney where the sour tamarind hinted of banana. Other accompaniments included mango chutney, cilantro mint chutney, and mixed pickle (mango, lime, lemon, green chili and ginger).
They have a decent pot of homemade chai which had the faintest cardamom flavor. I would have liked more.
The only thing that disappointed was the kulfi listed as a frozen dessert ,made with milk, almonds, pistachios, green cardamom and cinnamon. It is house made. Having had some excellent kulfi recently, this wasnt. It was topped with some sort of unidentified sliced nut, maybe almonds. However, like the kulfi there was just no flavor. It was hard and grainy like ice cream that has freezer burn. Really unpleasant. If this was my first kulfi, Id never order it again.
Looking at the old reviews on the window circa late 90s, the onion bajia, Indian spiced onion rings are recommended quite often. Didnt get these as Im avoiding fried things these days.
There are a lot of the usual curries, birianis, and tandori grills. In addition to a large selection of vegetarian dishes there were a number of fish dishes with a choice of salmon or mahi-mahi. The man at the next table ordered salmon mulhli biraiani which was a HUGE dish of rice, spices, nuts, raisins and fish. It really was about four portions.
They have butter chicken and lamb rogham josh which is lamb in a melted cheese curry. They have quite a few dishes that have saffron, cashews, pistachios and almonds.
The review on the window said that the owner originally had a restaurant in Paris which might account for the Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine sur lie on the wine menu which otherwise listed a few Californian wines. Indian beers include Kingfisher, Golden Eagle and Taj Mahal.
The restaurant seems like a good fit for the neighborhood. If not amazing food, a good place if you are in the area and are craving Indian food. The place is always packed and they did quite a takeout business. The only Indians I saw though were the women cooking in the kitchen.
While I wasnt wowed, I wasnt disappointed either. While I dont know East Bay Indian restaurants very well, I would say it is better than Mehfil in San Francisco which was my old neighborhood Indian restaurant. For me, it isnt as good as Indus Village. The flavors were not as pronounced, the lamb not as tender or tasty. However, I might stop by again to try some of the dishes that I havent seen elsewhere.
The place has a nice vibe too. There are two sidewalk tables. The small restaurant seats about 50 with the front wall windows that look out on Solano. Walls are, well, cashew colored with a few Indian prints and a some Indian wood carvings. Theres rather soothing Indian background music. Prices are decent and portions are generous. Appetizers run from $2.50 - $4. Other dishes are in the $7 - $12 range with most in the middle. Service is prompt and very pleasant.
1158 Solano Ave
Albany, CA 94706-1639
11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Mon-Sat (no Sunday lunch)
5 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Mon-Thurs
5 p.m.-11 p.m. Fri-Sun
This is also a detailed review of Cafe Raj, and while a little too enthusiastic, IMO, covers the menu in detail and seems to fit the profile of the customers I saw there today and when I was driving by.