Delhi Palace (Tempe, AZ)

My visits to Arizona’s Valley of the Sun always involve a combination of trying to find the new and exciting places to dine, while occasionally indulging in an old favorite. In this case, we headed over to Tempe, AZ, where there, in a fairly nondescript strip mall a block east of Rural Road, sits Delhi Palace. Back in my undergraduate and graduate school days, Delhi Palace was the standard gathering place of not only my own friends, but my brother’s as well; a typical Christmas visit to Arizona could see as many as ten people gathering for the lunch buffet. But as folks age, move away, start families, etc, the annual gathering at Delhi Palace started to fade away, with my last visit with friends happening in 2015 (although a few of us migrated to a similar periodic gather at Haji Baba a few blocks away. This trip, however, I decided to call up my old friend Karla (a veteran of many previous Delhi Palace gatherings) and see how our old haunt was doing.

There’s always an experiential component to food, and similar to Pizza Congnition Theory, I think there’s a strong tie between the first Indian food you experience and your subsequent expectations. And while I had the occasional curry-spiced dish, Delhi Palace is actually the first place I really experienced Indian food, and a good number of my expectations and tastes for Indian food were based upon those early visits. Most of my mental images of “curry”, “tikka masala”, “biryani”, and “dal” are pretty much formed from those early experiences with the lunch buffet at Delhi Palace.

Since those early outings (in the early 1990s), I’ve been to probably hundreds of other Indian restaurants on multiple continents, and it was neat coming back to Delhi Palace to see how their lunch buffet stacks up with some of my more experienced expectations. And my experience on this visit is that it holds up quite well. I was delighted to see that the lunch buffet still featured two different “chicken curries”, one boneless (preferred by some diners), and one still with bones (which to me adds a lot of flavor and texture to the dish). They also have a very flavorful goat curry (not as common on buffets), good tandoori chicken, and a particularly flavorful chicken tikka masala. Over on the next segment of the buffet they had a good variety of dals, aloo, and biryani dishes as well (so the vegetarians in our group had a very good selection as well), and a good selection of soups (including a nice mulligatawny on this visit) and desserts. Really, aside from the spicing level being a bit more mild than I’ve become accustomed, this is still a top-notch Indian buffet, and I’m still a big fan.

But the other thing I always remember about my early visits to Delhi Palace is that after every pass at the buffet, the servers would come around with a basket of fresh naan, serving up some nicely crisp naan with tongs. It was the very place I first experienced naan, and it remains a favorite. The texture is good, the bread perfectly scorched, and the staff always bringing fresh naan out to the table.

Indeed, I was delighted with our visit to Delhi Palace. Those that have seen Tempe’s evolution over the decades know that the area around Arizona State has changed substantially (and going into overdrive once the light rail showed up), and surprisingly few places from “back in the day” when I was growing up are still around (although The Chuck Box soldiers on, albeit now dwarfed by the highrise buildings surrounding it). But Delhi Palace has, aside from changed prices, almost exactly the same experience as I had in the ’90s, and it’s still a great spot for Indian food. I’ll have to make sure to return more often when I’m in the area.

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