In the official Mahatma Gandhi District of southwest Houston, there’s an Indian restaurant whose menu ranges from familiar dishes such as chicken masala and biryani (rice) platters to more exotic “Indian Chinese” choices.
And there’s an Indian restaurant that uses separate sets of cooking equipment — one to prepare vegetarian items, one for menu items containing meat.
And there’s an Indian restaurant that mixes its own dry spices on site while roasting made-to-order, Indian-spiced whole turkeys for Thanksgiving.
And there’s an Indian restaurant that the NASA Johnson Space Center tapped to cater lunches for its many South Asian employees.
But while the Gandhi District percolates with dozens of South Asian restaurants along the Hillcroft Avenue corridor, it may come as a tasty surprise that the eateries described above are actually a single family-owned, family-run restaurant in a shopping center that contains other Indian restaurants.
That one place is Neeta’s Indian Cuisine at the northwest corner of Hillcroft and the Southwest Freeway in the Southwest Management District.
Naturally, it’s where you will usually find the suave Neeta Patel at work — with husband Dinesh, daughter Nidhi, occasionally sons Neil and Shiv amid their college studying, and cooks.
Neeta and Dinesh were gracious and approachable as they served eat-in and take-out customers one recent afternoon. (Take-out is most of their trade).
But after running and owning the restaurant for 13 years, they have a “go big or go home” approach to doing business.
“People like how we treat them. We give everybody special attention,” Neeta said.
“All food is art work,” Dinesh said.
As mentioned, the menu includes many items familiar to people accustomed to ordering Indian food: Appetizers such as samosa and pakoras, which are fritters stuffed with vegetables or other goodies; main dishes such as kababs and meats cooked in clay ovens called tandoors, breads such as naan and paratha and roti, and vegetable dishes such as chana masala, which is chickpeas in a complex, spicy sauce.
On the other hand, the menu offers less familiar specialties such as a fried fish appetizer, sweet corn soup, a grilled goat ribs entree and egg keema, which is grated eggs cooked with chopped onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, chilis, herbs and spices.
Neeta assures that she can adjust the spice levels to each customer’s taste in virtually all the dishes.
Now for that Indian Chinese food, a cuisine that has been offered in multiple restaurants in Houston over the years but which remains a novelty to even some of the most adventurous diners here. Apparently it’s more popular in India as a departure from usual meals than it is in China as a departure from usual meals. On the other hand, the neighboring countries, which are the most populous in the world, have many regions with unique food specialities influenced by each others’.
Imagine familiar Indian food tweaked with red chili sauce and/or soy sauce and sweet and sour sauce. Now you have the general idea of Indian Chinese food. There’s even an east Asian noodle dish choice as well at Neeta’s.
Neeta’s offers beer and wine. The front counter is decorated with images from multiple religions (“We celebrate all festivals,” said Dinesh) and offers a peek into the kitchen. The dining area, which usually seats about 60 people, is flanked by saffron-colored walls, reflecting the sacred color of Hinduism, whose culture dominates India.
Neeta and Dinesh are from the same city in southern India. She was trained to cook as a child, but it was his dream, after working in the hospitality industry in Ohio, to open a restaurant.
“Everybody said to him, “You should do it,’ ” Neeta said. “And then we came.”
Open 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
— by Alan Bernstein