The menu focuses on regional dishes from all over India, so you in one meal you can experience a wide range of dishes, such as: Jaipur bhindi masala (okra); spicy fish curry from the east; Kashmiri lamb from the north; fiery Tamil chicken from the south.
From fenugreek and eggplant to onion fritters with ginger, garlic and mustard seeds to vegetable biryani and paneers, Curry Mantra’s menu is a vegetarian’s dream come true with abundant options for adventures in texture and spice.
Good to Know
Curry Mantra offers wine and beer only, so if you want to get your cocktail on, best have a small one at home first and stick to Maharaja Pilsner with dinner.
On Friday and Saturday nights, there is live, classical Indian music, complete with sitar.
The restaurant holds special classes from time to time on Sundays. Recent ones have included sari wrapping and henna art. Call to ask about future events.
For a superlative value, there is a lunch buffet Monday-Friday ($9.45) and on Saturday and Sunday ($11.45)
As seen on the Food Network
If you are booking a party of 10 or larger, please call the restaurant directly at (703) 675-7194 to confirm.
A common complaint among Washingtonians is that it’s difficult to find excellent Indian food aside from that found in high-end, special occasion restaurants. Well, look no further than Curry Mantra in Fairfax, Virginia. Even a grizzled city-dweller who refuses to traverse the river will gladly become a regular knowing what’s in store there.
You quickly disregard the strip mall setting when you cross the threshold into the 105-seat restaurant, being immediately transported into a lush world of pinks and oranges. Mosaic tiles, rich draperies with gold and burgundy passementerie, colorful embroidered bolsters on magenta and paisley upholstered banquettes and sitar music playing in the background all conspire to impart a sense of warmth, tranquility and authenticity.
Owner Asad Sheikh, who opened the restaurant in 2011 and expanded it this year, is a gregarious host, effusive in his welcome and clearly proud of his heritage -- a fluorescent sign in the main dining room highlights India’s historical timeline. (“Mughal Empire: 1526-1764”; “Partition of India: 1947”). The meaning he ascribes to the word “mantra” in the restaurant’s name is magic; he wishes to introduce his guests to the wonders of curries from all the states in India. To that end, he employs two chefs, one from the north of India and one from the south.
A meal at Curry Mantra gets off to a lovely start with pappadums served with three smashing sauces: sultry baked tomato, tangy tamarind and refreshing mint and cilantro. (Save them for further dipping, especially with an assortment of tandoori breads, like garlic naan, paratha and roti.)
Bright orange tandoori wings with sautéed onions and chilis come to the table sizzling and smoking on a hot platter. They are simply terrific, intensely spiced with a kick that sneaks up on you pleasantly. Dense, dark, cumin-spiked spinach and potato patties are earthy and zesty and another must-have appetizer.
There are so many diverse dishes on the menu that narrowing them down is a challenge. Goat biryani, braised chunks of bone-in goat steamed with saffron-laced basmati rice and nuts, is de rigueur. For a vegetarian option, the saag paneer, cubes of homemade cheese in a bold spinach puree, is a good way to go.
A dessert kulfi of frozen condensed milk, pistachios, cashews and saffron, if you have room, is a blissful way to end a terrific meal. Two meals, actually. You’ll be having those marvelous leftovers for breakfast, if my experience is typical.
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