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Chola Indian Restaurant: A Good Indian Eatery Gets Better

This entry is part of a series, Restaurants»

Hyderabad Restaurant

I enjoy good Indian food. Like many Americans who appreciate this great ethnic cuisine, I only had experience with the food here in the States. Authenticity is tough to judge without visiting the motherland, of course, and I have been fortunate to go “over there” to see and taste many dishes and get a sense of the real flavors of India.

Several years ago I reviewed Chola Indian Restaurant for Underground readers. At that time I found Chola to be enjoyable as a lunch buffet place, with authentic food at a reasonable price. I make no claim to extensive expertise in matters Indian, but I do remember well the food I ate in places like Bangalore, Mysore, Hyderabad and Secunderabad, and Delhi. My first experiences with Chola Indian brought back the aromas and character of my dining experiences in India so strongly that I could simply close my eyes and instantly be transported over 9,000 miles away.

In short, outstanding food.

The rest of the dining experience, not so much. Oh, there weren’t any drawbacks, no loud blaring music, grime or funny smells. Just nothing particularly memorable. Back then, it was a place to get a solid lunch quickly at a good price.

This all began to change about four months ago with an expansion of ownership. Mr. Umesh Murthy joined the owners operating the restaurant, and he brought along a new vision for Chola.

Umesh contacted me by email a while back, after reading our old review (Hey! Somebody reads my stuff!), and he invited me to visit Chola at my convenience to see what all is going on with their (dare I say) revitalization. Mr. Murthy has participated in businesses large and small over the years, and he brings a wealth of experience and solid ideas to Chola’s solid base of stability and quality product. In my other job I help businesses, large and small, with quality, productivity and marketing efforts, so I was especially intrigued by the specific opportunity to see the evolution of a restaurant in my neighborhood. I gladly accepted.

Besides, I was hankering for Indian food for lunch.

Polo Score

I met Umesh shortly after they opened for the day, and he introduced me to others working the lunch shift: Binu, Diana and more. (Sorry, I missed writing down all the names. Next time!) The first change I noted came immediately: Everybody was dressed in matching polos with Cholas embroidered discreetly on the left. A nice, professional touch. After a quick walk-through we took a booth near the front so Umesh could greet the diners while occasionally visiting with me. I walked the buffet line, gathering up some rasam soup, fried gobi (very red cauliflower; interesting), naan bread, rice pilaf, homestyle chicken curry, Chicken Tikka Masala, and one of my all-time favorite dishes, Lamb Rogan Josh. Oh, I got a few other bits too; everything looked great and smelled wonderful. Add a tall glass of iced tea and I was ready to start.

In between bites, and whenever the crowd would allow, Umesh and I discussed the new direction Chola is moving towards. What’s the best way to summarize? No big changes all at once; however, a continual and unrelenting push to improve is now the cultural overlay in the business. New training, more staff, and a philosophy that includes plenty of interaction with the diners. A sense of doing whatever they can to meet, and often exceed, the customers’ expectations. The word “delight” came up several times in the discussion. Not simply a focus on food, but providing a superior experience, is key.

We talked about the new marketing push that Umesh and the staff are making. Again, no huge splash party, no large (and wasteful) broadcast advertising campaigns. Rather, a controlled (and measured) approach, beginning inside the store with personal touches, comment cards that are aggressively followed up on, and other highly effective techniques. A smart path, and one that is already increasing traffic steadily.

Of course, you can’t market bad product. Not dining, anyways! So there’s a lot of attention to maintaining and improving the quality of the offerings at Chola. New dishes are being introduced in a carefully controlled way, assuring that the menu breadth increases with only positive impact on the dining experience. Case in point: On Tuesdays, Lamb Rogan Josh is now regularly offered on the buffet (at no extra charge). This is a dramatically tasty dish, and also much more expensive to offer than usual buffet dishes. It can be tricky to get right at well. Let me tell you, the LRJ I had was amazing! Very tender meat, with no “gamey” flavor (lamb can often be like that, especially if it’s not treated properly). Plenty of chile heat in the dish, without masking the other spices or the meat. Lots of sauce, which I like; I often spoon some of the curry sauces over the rice for an extra treat.

The rice pilaf was an extraordinarily pretty version. Light, white rice with some bits of vegetable. the rice grains were all separate and distinct, with many so long they actually curled. A nice side dish by itself, and a lovely base to pour some of the curries over.

There were a couple of other “new” dishes on the buffet the day I visited. Both were homestyle curries: Chicken and fish, to be precise. To the novice eye they may look pretty much like other curries on the buffet, but I noticed a distinct difference in color and aroma. The flavors were richer, more heat (but not strong), with big chunks of bone-in chicken in the one. It didn’t seem like there was any dairy (say yogurt) in these two dishes; if it was there, it was sparingly applied. I was out of storage space before I got to the fish version. (Next time I’ll run some more miles before going. I promise.)

There are salad items, fruit and desserts on a separate buffet table at lunch. Items included kheer, curd rice, chutneys and raita, and shahi tukra the day I visited.

Indian Dish

I had both the rasam and the sambar as I munched through several plates of lunch. These soups seemed to be pretty much as I remembered them, except when I looked more closely. Today’s versions had more body and ingredients, less broth. Plenty of tomatoes, lentils, etc. Heat and essence about the same, but satisfaction up.

One dish that I had for the first time was fried gobi. I like aloo gobi. This dish, however, was prepared something like a pakora, with a lighter breading. And the cauliflower’s coating was bright red! Tasted scrumptious; I had two servings.

Some folks say the American palate can’t take much spice and zest. Well, that’s no longer true (if it ever was), and certainly Texans are used to big, bold flavors. Chola’s doesn’t pull any punches with the spices, nor do they overdo them. It’s a nice balancing act, and they do it well.

By the way, if you find the spice and zest levels a bit challenging in this type of food, don’t let that stop you from visiting Chola! Umesh, Binu and the rest of the staff will gladly tailor to your needs. Well, of course, you say; in the evenings that’s easy, as the dishes are made-to-order. But lunch? Yes, they’ll work to match your tastes even then. Give’em a shot, you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised.

Ownership changes at a restaurant can be disruptive and harsh; it’s refreshing to see one that is beneficial and effective. (I’m sure there are still pinch points; no big change, good or bad, comes without challenges.) We’ll certainly be watching over the coming weeks as Chola works through its planned changes. We won’t be watching from a distance, either; no sense in passing up great eats…

Chola Indian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Chola Indian Restaurant, 2601 S Interstate 35, Round Rock, TX 78664. (Near the Home Depot and the Wal-Mart.) Phone 512.244.2222. Tasty and authentic Indian cuisine at moderate prices. Open seven days a week (starting at 11 AM), lunch and dinner. Lunch buffet or off the menu; a la carte in the evenings. Reservations not required. Vegetarian and vegan friendly, with free Wi-Fi. Special requests or requirements, let the friendly staff know.

Enjoy the (Better and Better Indian Eats) Heat!

Entries in this series:
  1. Cool River Café and Southwestern Poblano Soup
  2. Restaurant Review: Gumbo's Louisiana Style Café
  3. Restaurant Review: Chola Indian Restaurant
  4. Restaurant Review: Fujian Grand China Buffet, Austin
  5. Restaurant Review: Casa Garcia's Tex-Mex Restaurant
  6. Review: Mesa Rosa Mexican Restaurant
  7. Restaurant Review: Truluck's Seafood, Steak and Crab House
  8. Restaurant Review Update: Fujian Grand China Buffet Restaurant
  9. Restaurant Review: Pho Viet Restaurant
  10. Sunday Brunch Anniversary Celebration: Moonshine Restaurant Patio Bar and Grill
  11. Late-Lunch Steaks at the Blue Oak Grill
  12. Mama Roux: So Good There's A Song About It, Sort Of...
  13. Phil's Ice House, an Austin-Weird Place for Great Burgers
  14. Easter Sunday Dinner: A Poor Experience at a Usually Reliable Locale
  15. A Sedate Spring Lunch at Zed’s
  16. Looking for a Taste of Germany? Well, We Tried…
  17. Fresh and Tasty Tex-Mex, Prepared by a Grandma
  18. The HomeField (Grill) Advantage
  19. Dinner for One: Sometimes the Good Stuff is Right Under Your Nose
  20. Smoky Heaven in Round Rock: Johnny T’s BBQ
  21. Tex-Mex, Better’n Sex (Says So on the Menu)
  22. The Quest Begins Anew (Just Pho Me): Mai Lien Bistro
  23. A Little Bit of the French Quarter, Here in Central Texas
  24. Quick Bites: El Caribe Tex-Mex
  25. It’s Good, It’s Italian, and You Don’t Have to Go to Europe to Get It
  26. Casa G’s for Lunch (Hint: It’s Awesome)
  27. Chola Indian Restaurant: A Good Indian Eatery Gets Better
  28. Tacos are Brain Food, and Brainiacs Eat at El Taquito…
  29. Get Your Indian Food Fix the Easy Way: Tärkă Indian Kitchen
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  31. I Didn’t Know Sichuan, China Included Round Rock
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  39. Z’Tejas, a Wonderful Place for Brunch and Clan Revelry
  40. Dickey’s Barbecue Pit in Round Rock: Great Meat; As For the Rest…
  41. LongHorn Steakhouse Round Rock: A New Family Favorite
  42. Salt Lick BBQ in Round Rock: More Than Finger-Licking Good
  43. Drinks and Snacks on the Deck at McCormick & Schmick’s
  44. Going Back Pho More at a Local Favorite
  45. Swagat Indian: A Disappointment With a Few Bright Spots
  46. Branch BBQ in Wells Branch: A Local Secret?
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