This is the place on Soquel Avenue that’s easy to fly by on your way over the bridge to downtown, without ever knowing that what you’re breezing by is a cozy dining experience; the perfect place to sit and watch the sun set golden over downtown, and probably the coziest place to be on a cold day, sipping hot masala tea and watching pedestrians through the steamed-up windows.
But the warm ambiance and impeccable service (read: attentive to every last inch of your water glass) all melts to the background once a steaming dish of delicately spiced curry is placed before you: the food is to die for.
Last night a friend and I feasted from the dinner menu: we each chose a “dinner” option ($10.50), which comes with a heaping plate of rice, salad with yogurt raita, and two generous slabs of naan bread, hot and chewy. (A “dinner” at Royal Taj is large enough to leave even the hungriest patron walking out the door with a doggie bag.)
Royal Taj has enough lamb, chicken, and fish to satisfy the most voracious of carnivores, but we decided to go vegetarian. My Sag Paneer, not the most photogenic dish, was probably one of the most delicious, and highly recommended. One bite of this spinach dish betrays it’s richness, not just in iron. It’s made with homemade Indian cheese, Paneer which looks like cubes of tofu mixed into the wilted spinach, but pleasantly goes far beyond the realms of… processed tofu. Homemade cheese is an act of God.
I ordered the Sag Paneer ‘medium-spicy’ (Royal Taj will personalize each dish you order to your preferred level of heat—spice wusses: order down. It was the perfect amount of spice to wash down with my indulgent decision to order a mango lassi ($2), the traditional Indian drink made when mango pulp, yogurt and honey are blended to a smooth, bright orange perfection.
My friend’s Aloo Matar was a tantalizing dish of peas and potatoes cooked with herbs in a tomato broth, perfect served over the rice and and scooped up with hot naan.
The samosas, tandoori chicken, and traditional naan flat breads are also tried and true favorites at Royal Taj.
The lunch special ($8.95) is the kind of deal that will fill you up for the rest of the day and always includes an array of vegetarian, vegan, and meat dishes.
For more information on the Royal Taj and to see their menu and catering options, check out the Royal Taj website!