Restaurant Review: Bollywood Tadka (East Brunswick, NJ)

An array of food here including chicken korma, eggplant baingan bharta. onion kulcha naan, and basmati rice.
An array of food here including chicken korma, eggplant baingan bharta. onion kulcha naan, and basmati rice.

On my original blog, I gave Bollywood Tadka a 4.5. That was a long time ago, after only one or two visits. Now that I am a regular, I have decided to up their grade. Yes, for the first time, I’m going to come right out and award a 5 out of 5 stars rating in the first paragraph of a review. Only two other restaurants have that distinction. The place is just that good. I live about a half hour away but would traverse much farther than that to eat here. There are actually quite a few Indian restaurants between here and there, including a close second favorite of mine, Neelam in Middletown. Both are excellent in their own right, but Bollywood offers a slight edge in flavor because of the use of one simple ingredient: salt. Yes, you can taste it in every bite, especially the fried appetizers. They season everything to perfection. Indian cuisine is a wonderland of spices. There are too many to name. Yet oftentimes, their restaurants forget the simple use of salt. That one tiny addition is enough to put this restaurant on a level that few others will ever reach.

Bhel Puri
Bhel Puri

Their meals are similar in taste and scope to Neelam’s, but their appetizers just blow everybody out of the water. You’ll be able to tell by what I list here that I have eaten at Bollywood quite a few times. There’s the ubiquitous vegetable pakora, samosa, and bhel puri, but also the chicken, shrimp, and fish pakoras are delightful as well. They are succulent—cooked and seasoned with expertise. Never dry or overcooked. I must also mention the complimentary papadum, which is crispy like a tortilla chip, never greasy, and yes, salty. The bhel puri, which the menu itself describes as an “unusual” mix, is slightly different every time you order it, with different additions made to the combination of puffed rice, lentils, tomatoes, and what looks like diced Chinese noodles. These are tossed with onions, coriander, and a tangy (sometimes spicy) sauce. The end result is crispy, salty, sweet, and savory. It is a highly unique dish. For those who want something a little softer on the palate, the Vegetable Manchurian offers fried vegetable balls in a thick, brown gravy.

Chicken Tikka
Chicken Tikka

No Indian meal would be complete without some mouth-watering naan bread. There is the plain one, of course, but I would recommend an onion kulcha instead, which is naan stuffed with tender onions and coriander. All breads come brushed with butter and seasoned with (you guessed it) salt. For the meal, my one go-to in any Indian restaurant is chicken tikka masala, which is tandoori-roasted chicken served in a creamy tomato sauce with spices. This is good here, as is the curry chicken. My favorite of the chicken dishes, though, is chicken mumtali, which comes served in a creamy brown sauce with raisins, cashews, and an egg. That egg enriches a dish already packed with richness and many flavors and textures. All their cream or yogurt based dishes quickly give you that full feeling. The korma is great too. For fans of grilled/blackened meats, the safe chicken tikka is always good, as is the special combo which includes tandoori chicken and shrimp, and also lamb sausages. A little spritz of lime on top, and its the perfect summer dish, and a lot lighter than the other, more hearty meals. For vegetarians, their eggplant baingan bharta is solid, as is their saag (spinach).

Now, we must get to the elephant in the room: the spice level. Many people are afraid of Indian food because they hear it is “too spicy”. But I have never found that to be the case. In fact, after a few visits here ordering my food spicy, I found it wasn’t hot enough. So I talked to the one waiter we usually get, and he told me to ask for it “Indian spicy”, where they would use green chili. I told him to go ahead and tell the chef whatever he had to in order to make it as hot as possible. He succeeded, and from then on out, I have fallen in love with every entree I have ordered. He and the other waiters actually know me now as the guy who wants it spicy. I think it was a competition at one point—making it hotter every time I went there. One visit, he even said, “You remember how you ordered it last time? Would you like me to go hotter than that?” Such a nice touch. I don’t even say it anymore. They just look at me and smile when I order. That’s another thing I want to mention. The service here is so incredibly friendly. There are usually the same two or three guys, and all of them are helpful with suggestions and can explain any dish if you have questions. They will make sure your food is cooked to your liking. Just great people all around. I wish I knew their names to give them a shout-out.

That’s a wrap on my review of Bollywood Tadka. I feel like there is more to say, but I would rather end there and entice you to give this place a visit. Indian food may be my favorite ethnic cuisine, and as long as this place is in business, I will be coming. I wish it was closer. I’d probably be there weekly if it was.

Bollywood Tadka is located at 415 Route 18 in East Brunswick, New Jersey.

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