I should not mix business with pleasure, but sometimes I can’t help myself. Therefore, as I type this, I am munching on leftover lamb rogan josh from Arun’s Indian Kichen in Coral Springs. Even straight from the fridge, the cubes of lean lamb are tender and flavorful, with the heat from the cardamom and curry sauce slightly muted, and the sweetness from velvety chunks of simmered onions a bit more pronounced. I have just slathered some cold sauce on a piece of warm naan crisped in my toaster, and it tastes better than any toast with jam I’ve had all year.
Arun’s Indian Kichen is a marvelous hole in the wall, predominantly a takeout joint. The food can be eaten on premises, delivered on cafeteria-style trays in plastic bowls and baskets, but it travels remarkably well. I’ve had two takeout meals in the past two weeks, but not all the food made it home. An order of samosas ($2.99) did not make it out of the parking lot, with two crisp and greaseless, flaky pastry pockets stuffed with an aromatic blend of herbs, spices and pureed potatoes.
Garlic naan ($2.50), flatbread that was freshly baked in the restaurant’s tandoor oven, became a partial casualty as I made my way south on the Sawgrass Expressway. Four oval pieces were studded with garlic nubs and dusted with fresh cilantro. It would have been a food crime to not eat at least one piece warm.
Arun’s is a hectic and slightly chaotic, family-run place that has built a devoted following since opening in its current location in 2014. Kichen is deliberately misspelled, co-owner Arun Sareen says, for the sake of procuring a web address that ended in “.com.”
Pretty much all the food, however, is letter-perfect. Bold flavors from Indian spices and local herbs are artfully simmered, sauteed and tandoor-oven baked into chicken, lamb, vegetables and shrimp. The surroundings are not fancy, with a steady stream of customers marching past a few no-frills tables to a counter with a sign that reads, “Order here pay here.” Arun Sareen and co-owner Anu Sareen, his wife, run the place and cook. His son, Yesh, also cooks.
The dishes are surprisingly refined, even when ordered on the spicy side. Butter chicken ($11.99) was rich, creamy and sweet, with clay-oven-roasted pieces of chicken folded into a tomato sauce blended with cashew paste and ghee (Indian clarified butter). Shrimp biryani ($13.99) featured a half-dozen plump jumbo shrimp in saffron-and-raisin spiked basmati rice. Dal makhani ($8.99) was creamy yellow, with small and delicate, simmered black lentils hidden beneath a bath of ginger, garlic, turmeric, cream and tomatoes. Chana masala ($7.99) had a golden brown color, with firm chickpeas and snippets of cilantro poking from a spicy and salty broth slicked with ghee and the Indian spice blend known as garam masala.
Sareen asks customers for their spice preference on a one-to-10 scale. “One is nothing, five is medium and 10 is obscenely hot,” he says. I ordered all my food at seven for two recent meals, and that level was perfect, bringing tingling to the taste buds and warmth to the soul but no disruption or destruction to my kishkes.
The restaurant is particularly good for vegetarians (but not vegans), with a third of the mammoth, 70-item menu meat- and seafood-free. Lentils, chickpeas, eggplant, mushrooms, spinach, cauliflower, peas, potatoes and paneer (cubed cottage cheese) are all given starring roles in the multicolored sauces. Baingan bharta ($9.99), eggplant cubes roasted in the clay oven, are mashed and marinated in a rich blend of spices and tomato. Meatless Mondays are made for this place.
“Fresh food — that’s what I have a passion for,” Sareen says. He came to the United States from the Punjab region of India just after the turn of the century and worked in numerous kitchens. In 2010, he opened an Indian restaurant a few hundred yards away on Sample Road and sold it when Anu arrived from India. A year later, they opened Arun’s. Many of his former customers found him.
Indian food can be notoriously uneven in South Florida, but Arun’s has achieved a level of consistency that is laudable. As someone who has lived in New York and London and enjoyed my share of takeaway curry after a night in the pubs, I can see why Arun’s has become such a hit. It is efficient, unpretentious and delicious. Arun and Anu are friendly and generous, packing complimentary rice, naan and dessert — gulab jamun, a fried dough ball soaked in overly sweet cardamom syrup — with many orders.
The restaurant has gained a wide following in part because of high ratings on Yelp. At one point, Arun’s was Yelp’s top-rated restaurant in Broward County and in the top 20 nationwide. I don’t pretend to know how the algorithms and advertising manipulations work, but when you search the site for top Broward restaurants now, Arun’s no longer cracks the upper echelon.
Yet the restaurant still has close to a perfect five-star rating from 768 Yelp reviews, with only 38 lower than four stars. I’m often wary and disappointed when it comes to Yelp hot spots, but Arun’s Indian Kichen is one case where the Yelpers have it right.
Arun’s Indian Kichen
10278 W. Sample Road, Coral Springs
954-227-1123 or IndianKichen.com
Cost: Inexpensive. Appetizers, soups, breads and rice sides cost $1 to $7.99, vegetable and meat dishes $7.99 to $12.99, shrimp and fish dishes $13.99. Desserts $2 to $2.50
Hours: Lunch 12-3 p.m. Monday-Friday. Dinner 5-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday, 4-10 p.m. Saturday, 4-9 p.m. Sunday
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Limited selection of beer ($2.75) and wine ($3.75 glass)
Noise level: Busy kitchen with steady crowds streaming up to front counter through small, no-frills dining area
Wheelchair access: Ground level
Parking: Free lot