A Taste of India at Palatable Prices

If eating establishments were judged only by decor, Niki's Tandoori Express wouldn't make anybody's list. But most of us know that it's the food that really counts. And this dinky restaurant is up there with the big boys when it comes to Indian gourmet.

Located in an inconspicuous mini-shopping center in Santa Ana, Niki's is one of those rare places that serves excellent Indian food at a price that rivals the Carl's Jr. next door to it.

Owner Arvinder Gill said that by keeping the menu manageable and consistent, the restaurant is able to concentrate on serving quality dishes, fast.

"When I opened the place three years ago, my main objective was to provide good Indian food to go, at an affordable price," Gill said.

Yeah, you can sit at one of 10 small tables and enjoy the walls--one mirrored and one displaying a Greek pastoral scene--but the majority of this restaurant's patrons take their meals out.

At the heart of the menu are the five combo dishes, which range from $4.55 for your choice of a chicken entree, a big chunk of naan (Indian bread) or rice and a salad or raita (yogurt cucumber mix), to a three-entree choice at $6.55.

Chicken is one of the main components of Indian food, and Niki's does it great. They serve four styles, including tandoori (skinned and marinated in yogurt and roasted in a clay oven), tikka (boneless tandoori chicken kababs); shahi (lean, boneless chicken that's cooked in a cream sauce with fresh ginger, potatoes, onions and green chili) and curry.

A la carte, these dishes vary from small servings that cost $2.95 to extra-large servings that cost $10.95. The extra large easily serves an entire family. He also offers a delicious, inexpensive treat called Shammi Kabab, a patty of boneless chicken seasoned and deep fried for $1.50.

Also included on the menu are a couple of vegetables entrees that may convert even the most die-hard vegetable hater. The spinach is fantastic, and the vegetable curry is definitely worth a late-night run.

Niki's Tandoori Express, 2031 E. 1st St., Santa Ana. Open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 8 p.m. (714) 542-2969.

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