Benares Indian Restaurant is Worth the Splurge

I spend so much time searching for midtown’s cheapest lunches that I sometimes tend to overlook the quality of the food I eat. Yes, value is important, but occasionally it can be worth dishing out a few extra bucks for that something special. When it comes to Indian, I enjoy street carts and takeout spots like Minar as much as anyone, but let’s not kid ourselves – this is budget Indian food. After treating myself to the lunch buffet at Benares Indian Restaurant last week (56th St. and 8th Ave.), I was reminded how truly awesome good Indian food can be.

In April, Andrea gave a favorable review of the lunch special at Benares’ downtown location. For those of you looking to stay under $10, the midtown spot has a similar lunchtime deal – for $8.95 you get a takeout tray with two vegetable dishes, dahl, rice, naan and salad. For only a dollar more, you can replace one of those veggie dishes with tandoori chicken or chicken tikka masala, or spend two dollars more for lamb curry. At $12.95 pre-tax and pre-tip, the all-you-can-eat buffet is certainly the most expensive lunch option, but it was also the best way for me to sample everything Benares has to offer.

Available seven days a week, the buffet includes three appetizers, three main meat courses, four vegetarian mains, four chilled salads and two desserts (all dishes are changed up daily). Some Indian buffets have the nerve to charge extra for an order of naan, but the folks at Benares were quick to offer a basket of plain, garlic, or rosemary naan as soon as I sat down. I like to use the bread to mop up leftover sauces, so I just opted for plain.

During my visit, the buffet was a nice blend of familiar and unfamiliar dishes. I was excited to try interesting things like mughlai chicken (a rich, creamy curry) and aloo baingan (a potato and eggplant dish), but was also happy to see some more traditional favorites, like chicken tikka masala and lamb curry. After exploring all the options, I ended up with a plate like this…

I don’t think Indian food usually photographs well, but let me tell you, this plate was top-notch. Both the chicken and the lamb were delightfully tender and could be sliced easily just using a fork. The creamy sauces, like the masala, were thick and rich, not like the watered down stuff you might get from a cheaper restaurant. The curries complemented one another, each containing a variety of spices and swirling with flavor. The spicier items on my plate packed a nice kick – I think it was the diwani handi (a mixed vegetable dish) that I particularly enjoyed. The samosa was crispy and flaky on the outside, but warm and fluffy in the middle, just how it should have been. If there was one thing I wasn’t crazy about, it was the dahl, which just didn’t really stand out among the other highlights (of which there were many). How could I resist grabbing a whole other second plate?

As you can see, I ate way too much. The food was just so good that I couldn’t deny my mouth the pleasure. On top of that, service was excellent. The wait staff was super friendly and attentive – they were eager to answer any questions I had about the food and were constantly refilling my water. The food at the buffet was kept at an ideal temperature and was regularly stirred and refilled by the staff. Unfortunately, the price will keep me from visiting this buffet on a regular basis, but I’ll definitely be back for some takeout. I’m happy enough knowing that I can order a sizable tray of this for under $10.

Benares, 240 W 56th St (btw. B’way+8th). 212-397-0707

1 Comment

  • Dahl’s been dead for more than 20 years. I think you mean “Dal”.

    Otherwise good write-up and large pics so I could see the labels on the steam trays. I don’t know if I’d ever go on a weekday, especially with Minar literally 2 blocks away, but it may be good for a pre-bar lunch on a Saturday or something like that.

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