There are Indian lunch buffets, and then there's what Masala Hut offers in Anaheim. The place is small: just four tables, three aisles of groceries, a freezer and a wall covered with black-velvet paintings of rural Indian life. Right next to the counter is the buffet, six trays representing the subcontinental version of a meat and three: usually just chicken tikka masala and tandoori, plus four vegetarian options. It pales in comparison to every Indian buffet I've ever tried in OC, the opposite of what a lunch special is supposed to be.
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Try the entrées, whose flavors are brighter than anything I've encountered resting in chafing trays. The tikka masala is as creamy as a spicy bowl of Fage; the chana masala is the best interpretation of garbanzo beans outside of falafels. The specials come served in little Styrofoam cups, the better to take them home. Masala Hut rotates its buffet offerings according to the whims of the nice people who run this Indian grocery, and everyone is always apologetic if a customer's regular order isn't up that day. "Sorry, we don't have aloo gobi today," a young lady once told a Latino trucker. He didn't mind; he gorged that day on cauliflower instead.
The buffet is so good, in fact, that I never noticed an actual menu until I grabbed a to-go pamphlet one afternoon. Entrées veer toward the North, so there are biryanis, rotis, samosas and vindaloos. I love the goat curry because there's simply not enough goat dishes in the world, but also great is the garbanzo dish with a fried bread puffed like a chef's toque. There's even more food to go in Masala Hut's produce aisle and freezer section; I especially like the saffron-spiked almond milk in a bright-yellow can.
But when it comes to a drink, forsake the mango lassi for once. Masala Hut is the only restaurant in OC I've ever seen publicly advertise a milkshake made from chikoo, the fruit known in English as the sapodilla. It tastes as if you're drinking custard pie—more, please!
Masala Hut, 1731 W. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 922-9210; masalahutoc.com.