Saran Indian Cuisine appears low-key at first glance. It’s one of several storefronts in a strip of diverse commerce that’s under development on the 5100 block of Lee Highway in Arlington. But the fare and atmosphere inside is worthy of high praise.
Saran is owned by Ravinder and Karan Hazrah, who opened the restaurant in 1998. Their 100 percent vegetarian menu features offerings from every major region of India. As such, vegans, meat-eaters and vegetarians alike could enjoy a balanced meal at Saran, which has 70 different menu options. The restaurant’s website says they like to think of their food “as a journey.” But before going on the journey, you have to squeeze into the strip where the restaurant is located, if you drive there.
And the parking lot of that strip is pretty lean. Even though finding parking isn’t usually a problem, there’s only space for one-way traffic in the lot and the parking spots give just enough space to get out of your car and no more.
The look of the inside of the restaurant, though, lends itself to any type of social gathering. There are hardwood floors, burgundy cloths with white napkins decorating the tables and cozy, if generic, paintings of the different regions of India on the walls. You could take a date there for a special occasion, meet a client or friends there for lunch or just roll out of bed after a late night for brunch and feel comfortable inside.
For this sort of cuisine, Saran’s lunch buffet, which runs everyday from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., is a steal at $9.99 per person on weekdays and $10.99 per person on the weekend. Their varied buffet is the same most days, with vegetable pakoras, palak paneer and chana masala serving as some of the staples, but it has enough options for most people to create a balanced meal. They offer tandoori naan to sop up the savory, sometimes spicy-without-being-overbearing, sauces their buffet menu items leave behind. The naan has dairy, but it can be substituted for a whole wheat roti at no additional cost.
Saran has a ton of reasonably-priced options for a late lunch or dinner if you go there when their buffet isn’t offered. They have a page-long appetizer menu, with well-executed standards like samosas ($2.99), paneer pakoras ($7.99) or vegetable pakoras ($4.99) and aloo tikki ($3.49). There are also three variations of lentil soup, dal ($3.99), spinach and dal ($4.49) and sambar ($3.99), and vegetable biryani with basmati rice ($8.99) for those looking for lighter fare. The dal soup in particular has a smoky, but light, earthy but savory taste that is very engaging.
The chana masala ($8.99) and palak paneer ($8.99) come highly recommended – and with good reason. The chana masala is savory, pleasantly acidic and substantive, while the palak, which can also be made with peas or potatoes for all you vegans, is sweet and creamy without being mushy.The bhindi jalfrazi ($9.99) and the baigin ka bartha ($9.99) are also recommended dishes and are great options for non-native veterans of Indian cuisine who are looking for something different from the norm. The baigan ka bartha, in particular, is satisfying, yet addictive; it’s sweet, mildly spicy and slightly smoky.
Saran Indian Cuisine – with so many menu options diners could return several times and discover something new – is one of Arlington’s best kept secrets.
Saran Indian Cuisine • 5157 Lee Highway, Arlington • 703-533-3600