Taj Mahal – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Taj Mahal Cuisine of India on Carlisle

Don Shirley: “How is that?”
Tony Lip: “Salty.”
Don Shirley: “Have you ever considered becoming a food critic?”
Tony Lip: “Nah, not really.  Why?  Is there money in it?”
Don Shirley: “I’m just saying you have a marvelous way with words when describing food.  Salty.  So vivid one can almost taste it.”
Tony Lip: “Hey, I’m just saying it’s salty.  Salt’s cheating.  Any cook can make food salty.  To make it taste good without the salt, with just the other flavors, that’s the trick.”
~ The Green Book, 2018 “Best Picture” Academy Award Winner

In the hundreds of restaurant reviews to have crossed my path in my decades of restaurant appreciation, I’ve  seen many adjectives used to describe to Indian cuisine, but never the term “salty.”  Critics tend to use such hackneyed terms as “exotic,” “diverse,” and even “mysterious” to describe the cuisine of the Indian subcontinent.  When my friends Nader and Elaine dined with me at Taj Mahal Cuisine of India on the day after my Kim and I watched The Green Book, I had to wonder how Tony Lip would have described Indian food.  Spicy?  Maybe.  Different?  Probably.  Delicious?  Absolutely!  Salty?  Never!  Indian chefs do not cheat!

My Friend Nader Khalil Enjoys the Bountiful Buffet

Indian cuisine is widely regarded as among the very best in the world.  In fact, nearly 400,000 respondents to a Ranker poll taken in February, 2019  ranked Indian food third greatest among the world’s best cuisines.  Only French and Italian food ranked higher.  This means Indian food was more highly esteemed than such popular choices as Chinese, Spanish, Thai and Mexican food.  Some scientists might even argue that Indian food possesses qualities you won’t find in Western cuisines–qualities which make it incomparably delicious (ergo so irresistible, you can’t help but love it).  They actually support this assertion with data gleaned from an analysis of more than 2,500 Indian food recipes.

It all comes down to the unique approach Indian cooks and chefs take, an approach entirely contrary to what their Western counterparts take.  While many Western cuisines attempt to pair ingredients that complement one another, Indian chefs tend to combine ingredients that contrast other ingredients.  For example, in Western cooking a chef might pair ingredients that make a dish sweet or piquant.  In Indian cooking, a chef would pair ingredients that don’t complement one another.  An Indian dish made with cayenne will very likely not include another piquant ingredient, but might very well include tamarind for bitterness, cilantro for zesty freshness and ginger for warmth.

Garlic Naan

One of the city’s very best practitioners of Indian culinary arts is Taj Mahal, a Duke City mainstay for nearly a quarter century (established in 1996).  “The Taj” as many of its habitues call it, is comfortably ensconced in a quaint split-level space almost equidistant between the University of New Mexico and I-40. You’ll want to get there early to score a table on the top floor because the stairway is in “this stairway ain’t big enough for the two of us” dimensions. The top floor is also where the buffet is laid out in gleaming metal trays displaying a colorful array of dishes.   Just above and to the right of the buffet is an “I love me wall” proudly demonstrating numerous “best of” awards.

Thousands of Duke City diners who over the years have voted The Taj as Albuquerque’s best Indian restaurant certainly aren’t wrong. It really is that good! My friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott has been telling me so for years.  As with all memorable Indian restaurants, The Taj is equally adept at vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, but where it really stands out is with its naan, be it the garlic naan or the standard offering.  Naan may be the only bread that can compare to my mom’s tortillas though I certainly wouldn’t tell her that.  Visit The Taj for its buffet at lunch, but make it a point to visit at dinner and order off the menu.

Mutter Paneer

14 May 2018:  Another palate-pleasing category at which The Taj has no peer is with dishes showcasing paneer, the soft, crumbly cow’s milk cheese. Paneer is a fresh, never-aged cheese not made with rennet which means it’s safe for vegetarians to enjoy.  The Taj doesn’t just give you token bits of paneer.  There are chunks of the stuff in dishes in which it’s featured.  The mutter paneer (a vegetarian dish that combines paneer and green peas in a rich, thick curry) is a must-have.  It’s a deeply satisfying, soulful dish so rich that you’ll need to ladle it over rice to cut that richness.  Don’t be surprised if a soft swoon escapes your mouth as you enjoy it.

2 May 2019:  In a hilarious episode of The Big Bang Theory,  Sheldon brought home a take-out portion of Kadai Paneer for his dinner and proceeded to describe it in his inimitable manner to his pulchritudinous neighbor Penny:  “That is the intoxicating aroma of Kadhai Paneer. A perfect culinary representation of the freedom this evening holds. Not only is it Indian cuisine, which Koothrappali loathes, it contains a generous helping of peanuts, which would reduce Wolowitz to a wheezing 97-pound blister. And finally, its main ingredient is paneer, a farmer’s cheese that would cause Leonard to render any room uninhabitable within minutes.”  From Sheldon’s description you might not believe Kadai Paneer is one of the most delicious of all Indian dishes.

Kadai Paneer

Kadai paneer‭ has its genesis in Northern India and derives its name from the cooking vessel in which it’s prepared.  A “kadai” resembles a deep Chinese wok and similar to the wok, is used for deep-frying.‭ Kadai paneer is a type of cheese curry consisting of fresh paneer,‭ ‬onions,‭ ‬cream, bell pepper slices,‭ ‬fresh tomatoes, cumin and a variety of other spices.  It’s a mouth-watering vegetarian favorite with broad appeal.  Aficionados of Italian cuisine like it because it because the tomato sauce is reminiscent of a marinara though differently seasoned.  Mexican food devotees love it because it’s got a bit of piquancy.  You’ll love The Taj’s version because it’s absolutely delicious.  It’s everything you want when you’re looking for a dish that will make your taste buds very happy.

2 May 2019:  Writing for Munchies, Hilary Pollack exhorted, “When I die, bury me inside a vat of saag paneer.”  That wouldn’t make Popeye the Sailor Man very happy, but if you’ve had The Taj’s saag paneer, you can understand her enthusiasm for the dish.  Saag paneer may well be the most delicious spinach dish ever conceived by any culture.  It’s primary ingredients are spinach and paneer, but it’s such seasonings as fenugreek, cayenne, ginger, garlic and a little lemon juice that make it so delicious.  I suspect, but haven’t confirmed that the Taj’s cooks might also drizzle a little yogurt onto the dish to enhance the creaminess of the dish.

Saag Paneer

Step into Taj Mahal Cuisine of India and your senses are immediately captivated by the aroma of exotic spices wafting toward you.  Those aromas are a precursor to the delightful deliciousness of the meal awaiting you.  The Taj is quite simply a magnificent restaurant.

Taj Mahal Cuisine of India
1430 Carlisle Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 255-1994
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 2 May 2019
COST: $$
BEST BET: Kadai Paneer, Saag Paneer, Matter Paneer, Garlic Naan
REVIEW #1111

7 thoughts on “Taj Mahal – Albuquerque, New Mexico

  1. We were there 3-days after it opened way back when. It was a disorganized mess that day from which it quickly recovered and we made Taj Maj(h)al a regular stop. After several years the “hot” food such as vindaloo (which they cal by another names suddenly became not hot). We could ask the right person to bring a dose of the “good stuff” to add to the food If the right person were not there this would not happen. We haven’t been there for some while so based upon your comments we will return though nothing will replace India Kitchen.

  2. You have a great memory, my friend. For 16 years this has been my favorite Indian restaurant in town, and it is wonderful how consistently tasty their lunch buffet is. Curry Leaf, Taste of India and Namaste are really not that far behind but Taj is still the king. Thanks for the shout out.

  3. I guess I missed reading this review. Not sure why. Maybe(?) still at a loss for my “first” (actually 2nd to Indie (Jones)) Bestie, Paddy Rawal’s OM https://www.nmgastronome.com/?p=19021 out my way. Anyway, my last entry to this ABQ Taj was when it was an Italian joynt!
    In addition, Gil’s intro of Green Book may have left me cold to continue reading as I was green as to what the Green Book was all about. OMG! If ya missed it, ya gotta now find/see it, e.g. http://tinyurl.com/y4dszwlt !!!…especially if ya have an unintendedly, but stereotypical view of Blacks AND Brooklyn/Bronx Italians. This kinda docu-drama is…IMHO…a play on comedic/heart warming stereotypes resulting in multiple…initially unacclaimed…. Academy Awards.
    Alas, my “younger” co-audience missed most of “nuances(?), while I had to become PC and try to stiffle my laughing.
    Don Shirley has been my FAV jazz pianist…with all due respect to Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, Theolonious, Nero etc., as serendipitously found in the early ’70s; I still have 3 LP Vinyls!
    Best ear candy Favs include:
    Anyway, look forward to eating at Taj as one of my “exercise cohorts”…just two weeks ago…suggested the buffet as being The Bomb.

  4. Hey Gil,

    Thanks so much for reviewing Taj Mahal; one of my favorite Indian restaurants in ABQ. I agree with your assessment of saag paneer. I would encourage lover’s of this dish to try to make it; it is not difficult. Paneer is easy to find (or make yourself – not hard either, and quite satisfying) these days.

    BTW, I am working on a website to help Indian food lovers cook Indian food. We are in alpha testing mode and expect to go live (hopefully) on or around 7/1. You will find it at http://www.myindianstove.com after launch.

    A fun rabbit hole to go down about why Indian food tastes so good is to read an article published in the WaPo in 2015. For those interested, here is the link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/03/03/a-scientific-explanation-of-what-makes-indian-food-so-delicious/?utm_term=.4ea7eafa6e9d

    Thanks Gil for your intrepid eating adventures and then sharing them with us.

  5. I have eaten here once a few years back greedily making my way through the lunch buffet trays. All were very good I remember. But I’m neither a food historian or connoisseur on matters of Indian cuisine. It all taste good to me. But, like China, there are great regional differences I understand. Take, for example, this excerpt from a Johnathan Gold review:

    “Mayura (restaurant) specializes in the cooking of Kerala, the strip of southern India that touches the Arabian Sea, a cosmopolitan region, shaped by a thousand years of spice trading, whose food is influenced by Nayar Hindus, Muslims, Syrian Christians and even an ancient community of Jews.”

    Gil, perhaps your friend Nader can illuminate us with a brief primer on regional differences if perchance he is an Indian connoisseur?

    1. An accomplished former chef, Nader can tell you everything about the foods of his native Egypt, but not as much about Indian food.

      Now residing in the Duke City is a food writer who’s embarked on an ambitious project involving Indian food. Alonna, have you got anything you can share about your project or maybe a better response to Tom’s question than I can give?

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