Ha, ha—Gregory Haidl is in jail! About time, frankly. But even if he's innocent of assisting in the forced sodomizing of a 16-year-old girl with a Snapple bottle, a juice can and a lit cigarette a couple of years back, Little Lord Fondle-roy deserves the slammer for pulling the ol' curry trick. According to an Oct. 30 Santa Ana police report taken after Haidl crashed head-on into another car, the boy blamed his elevated blood-alcohol level on spicy Indian food, an outrageous claim quickly repudiated by Santa Ana detectives. I admit some Indian food is spicy enough to rewire your brain for a couple of hours, but enough to cause accidents?! Take the Haidl test at the following Indian diners—and beware of Scion-driving white boys with angelic faces and the souls of Satan.
DINNER FOR TWO:
¢…….………………..…..Less than $10!
$$$………………………¡Eres muy rico!
ASHOKA CUISINE OF INDIA
Never has bread been so uplifting as it is here. The Kabuli naan, for instance, is a minor meal masterpiece, stuffed with sweet nuts, raisins and cherry bits that clash with the bread's smoky shell with the intensity of an India-Pakistan cricket match. But the vegetarian offerings are Ashoka's finest creations, unpretentious stews and purées that allow greenery to taste like greenery while pulsating with spices. 18041 Magnolia St., Fountain Valley, (714) 593-2968; www.ashokacuisineofindia.com. $$
Bukhara—Indian for "strip mall"— is situated in, of all things, a Huntington Beach strip mall. It's an intimate, superb representation of its genre, featuring healthy food, an extensive menu and, most important, many vegetarian choices. The assault on one's taste buds is breathtaking from start to finish. 7594 Edinger Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 842-3171. $$
What makes the Clay Oven stand out is the way it uses the traditional tandoori tools to expand upon the cuisine. You can't find a better swordfish in Orange County. It's so tender it flakes apart at the mere suggestion of a fork. 15435 Jeffrey Rd., Irvine, (949) 552-2851. $$
The butter chicken? Just like they make it on the Indian subcontinent: slathered in sauce, blackened and firm old-school-style, and spicy enough to gently sterilize your sinuses, which is just how we like it. And the naan, you ask? The naan is awesome. 1840 N. Tustin Ave., Ste. C, Orange, (714) 974-5500. $
Americans famished for a savor of liberty should trek over to India House, a tiny-but-posh Buena Park restaurant where the promise of freedom comes with a complimentary basket of naan. India House's buffet, an Electoral College of flavors, scents and options, offers the hallmarks of any outstanding Indian feast—smoky tandoori chicken, assorted curries and masalas, billowy basmati rice mounds—but the chefs also sneak in some surprises in a vegetarian key. 7775 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 670-2114; www.newindiahouse.com. $$
INDIA SWEETS AND SPICES
It's a sweet shop and a produce vendor, a place to rent videos, buy Urdu-edition newspapers and get a home-style meal in a pop-culture mini-bazaar that caters to your taste for Indian soul food. 14441 Newport Ave., Tustin, (714) 731-2910. $
ISLAMIC SOCIETY OF ORANGE COUNTY
During Ramadan, Fatima Rahman (known to all as Auntie Fatima) lords over the best religious-minded buffet around at Orange County's largest mosque, preparing Styrofoam cartons of delicious Indian food and the stray baklava. The rest of the year, Auntie Fatima prepares it only during Friday services. No faith in Allah required! 9752 13th St., Garden Grove, (714) 531-1722. ¢
LAXMI SWEETS & SPICES
What is it about Tustin and Indian-food stores? And why are they all so delicious? The produce is fine, but Laxmi also makes many Indian snack foods. Get the thali, a platter of two vegetables, a yogurt dish and fresh naan. And get the Indian spinach and eggplant for your two vegetables. 638 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 832-4671. ¢
The food is scrumptious, and their buffet lunch (open seven days per week from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) is accessible to those of us whose incomes are in inverse proportion to our big appetites. Dinner entrées include the stuff of dreams: a half-dozen lamb dishes in a variety of sauces and curries ranging from mild to fiery, tandoori quail, kebabs, lentil soups and fried samosas. 688 Baker St., Ste. 8, Costa Mesa, (714) 668-9661. $
NATRAJ CUISINE OF INDIA
With their fabulous buffet (the wisest way to eat Indian food), you could conceivably skip the rest of the day's meals. The restaurants garlicky naan goes well with whatever is that day's selection of spicy dishes. 24861 Alicia Pkwy., Laguna Hills, (949) 581-4200. $
NIKI'S TANDOORI EXPRESS
You can't go wrong with the combination plates or even the less-expensive "express meals," wherein you get to select one or more entrées served with rice, naan, and either salad or raita. 3705 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 850-0595. $
PUNJAB, CUISINE OF INDIA
When tandoori-style cooking is done right, it's among the most delicious you can find, and you'll find no greater example of it in Orange County than at Punjab. It is solid, delicious and affordable. You'll get flavor flashbacks thinking about the lamb boti kebab masala. 18687 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 963-6777. $$
RASTHAL VEGETARIAN CUISINE
The South Indian food served here ain't your Green Party fund-raiser spread of bland samosas and lukewarm lentil broth. Rasthal is the type of dive where kaju karela—a peppered, unctuous mush combining cashews with coconut oil and bitter gourds—is among the more conservative dishes, where a chile-laced farina called upma is celebrated with the reverence with which a Punjabi restaurant serves up tandoori chicken. 2751-2755 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 527-3800. $
The self-proclaimed "restaurant of the year" unabashedly serves upscale Indian cuisine in a setting more suited for coats and ties than T-shirts and jeans. The spicy chicken Madras features big chicken chunks and sliced tomatoes buried in a potent curry highlighted by freshly ground black pepper. It torches. 1621 Sunflower Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 436-1010; www.royalkhyber.com. $$
Brea's best Indian restaurant—okay, Brea's only Indian restaurant—decked out in fancy linen tablecloths and Ganesh water fountains, serves hot plates of tandoori, vindaloo, curry and kebabs at unfancy prices. 705 E. Birch St., Brea, (714) 990-8989. $$
More dining fun is available at www.ocweekly.com/food.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.