Fast-casual Indian bowls at NaanStop

Indian Bowl Pic By Sucheta Rawa Crop

If you have walked into an Indian restaurant and felt overwhelmed by a mile-long menu, you are not alone. Indian food is traditionally designed to be enjoyed family-style, so ordering a la carte means you often get a huge bowl of curry to finish by yourself. If the restaurant offers thali (Indian version of bento box), then you can experience an authentic Indian feast portioned out for one.

An Indian meal always consists of an assortment of dishes including lentils, vegetables, protein, rice, bread, pickles, yogurt and dessert. The idea is to have a little bit of each rather than a big portion of one.

Thankfully, a new breed of fast-casual Indian restaurants have popped up around Atlanta, recreating the thali experience but this time in a bowl. Among these is NaanStop, with locations at Atlantic Station, Buckhead and Downtown. NaanStop first opened as a food truck in Los Angeles in early 2011 and soon expanded to open brick-and-mortar establishments in Atlanta. The concept was simply to make Indian food approachable.

Similar to other popular make-your-own establishments like Chipotle and CAVA, NaanStop offers a selection of prepared dishes so you can mix, match and taste a variety of foods.

But Indian food is complex in flavor, and just adding toppings in a wrap or a salad often doesn’t jibe. The rich, buttery and spicy curries stand on their own and when mixed together, often create a hodgepodge of flavors that confuses the palate. You need to follow some simple tips to order your bowl or plate.

Choose a base of white or brown basmati rice, or a fresh baked naan. This creates a carbohydrate layer that is essential to contrast against the strong flavors of Indian food. If you are skimping on the extra calories, get a fresh baby greens salad — though Indian cuisine is not considered to be low in carbs!

Next, choose one or two of the specialty curries and stews. The chicken tikka masala in a creamy tomato sauce is one of the most popular dishes at NaanStop. Another good protein option is the braised lamb in a tomato and yogurt curry.

Stick to one meat and add a couple of seasonal vegetarian options to round out the meal. The sauteed cauliflower with ginger and turmeric, and lentil and chickpea curries, are healthier options. If you like cheese, opt for paneer (cow’s milk Indian cottage cheese cubes).

You can pair your bowl or wrap with a side of spicy cabbage slaw or corn salad and garnish with herbal mint or sweet and tangy tamarind chutney for an extra kick.

Indian appetizers can be quite filling but at NaanStop you can select them by the piece or to share. My favorite is samosa — a crispy pastry stuffed with seasoned mashed potato and peas. The masala fries are like an Indian take on poutine, topped with sweet and spicy tikka masala sauce.

For drinks, NaanStop stocks Indian juices and sodas inspired by the tropical flavors. Order 100% pure and fresh coconut water and you get a straw stuck into a whole green coconut! With cold yogurt and pureed fruit, the mango lassi also makes for a refreshing beverage — especially during the summer.

The Atlantic station location also offers handcrafted Indian-inspired cocktails such as a tamarind and lemon Tama-Rita, and a shaken tropical guava, lychee and vodka Goa with the Floa.

And if you are too full after the big Indian meal, make sure to take home a chewy and moist oatmeal chocolate chai cookie for a zesty pick-me-up later.

Photo by Sucheta Rawal

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Categories: Blog, Peach Plate (blog)