We don't know what it is about 123rd Street in North Miami, but it's home to some fantastic eateries. There's Ricky Thai Bistro, Primo Trattoria Italiana, Vega's Burger Bar and now Zaika Indian Cuisine ((2176 NE 123rd St., North Miami) can be added to the list. It is like a culinary star map from Bay Harbor Island's Broad Causeway to NE Sixth Avenue.
The words "Indian Restaurant" are plastered on the outside of the restaurant enticing drivers to this eatery somewhat tucked away in a strip mall. A sign on the car out front helps to ensure that you get the message. This is because good Indian cuisine in this town is a rarity. This past Saturday, when our curry craving was high, we found ourselves transported to the front door of this homey restaurant that has already built up a neighborhood following.
We asked our waiter how long the place had been open and he responded that it was just the "fourth Friday." We were especially pleased to find that on the back of the menu was a list of lunch specials. They are served from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. with an entree, a samosa or soup, basmati rice and a bowl of naan. A vegetarian lunch special will run you $8.95 and one with meat from $9.95 -$12.95. Since this was our first time in the establishment we got the staple dishes of a samosa and chicken tikka masala ($9.95) to taste the goods. They also have a hefty list of entrees from lamb curry to shrimp vindaloo that we are anxious to try.
The samosa was freshly fried with a crisp exterior wrapped around spiced potatoes and peas that still pop inside. It will easily be a staple on future orders. Served with the samosa is a sweet and tangy tamarind sauce that we suggest you keep on the table even after you devour this first course. Request it for other dishes and with the naan.
Next out was our chicken tikka masala and rice. The portion was large for a lunch special and allowed choice of spice level. The medium got us to the point where the sinuses begin to clear with each bite. It had tender chicken chunks in the spicy, creamy orange-hued sauce. It was perfection, far better than the versions we've ordered around the city.
A huge helping of just baked naan joined the table along with the entree and it called in for backup. After the pieces of chicken began to disappear from the dish we had bread to continue dipping in this most delectable sauce. The naan was pillowy soft at points with crunchy bits. In fact, this meal for barely over ten dollars left us so full and happy that we did what was necessary: ordered more food to-go and dessert. We got an order of the Zaika Malabari Chicken ($15.95) off the dinner menu, it was a southern coastal chicken curry with coconut that was equally delicious with a depth of spices. On the dessert menu was homemade pistachio and mango ice cream but we were most intrigued by the Gulab Jamun ($4.95) described as milk dumplings in a rose-flavored sauce.
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The perfect ending to this meal that exceed all exceptions for tasty and reasonable-priced Indian food in Miami were these wonder balls. Made from milk powder this duo was much denser than a donut in the sweet syrup sauce with rose notes. They were rich and decadent and one bite was all you needed, but, of course ,we finished both.
And since this restaurant, whose menu notes that the chefs come from the Taj Mahal Hotel in India, has perfected the basics, we can't wait to explore all of the other dishes that this month old restaurant has to offer.
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