Ahwatukee Foothills News: Local Eateries

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Local Eateries

The Dhaba in Tempe offers Indian cuisine with a purpose

A friend dragged a friend all the way from Glendale to try lunch at The Dhaba Indian restaurant in Tempe last week.

A friend dragged a friend all the way from Glendale to try lunch at The Dhaba Indian restaurant in Tempe last week.

The globe-trotting first-time guest raved about the quality of the food as he checked out.

This happens a lot at The Dhaba.

Owner Raveen Arora accepted the praise with grace. But you can bet that if the customer had said that the spice level was a little off, Arora would have taken off like a shot to the kitchen.

Attention to detail and exquisitely prepared Punjabi dishes have created an intensely loyal, Valley-wide customer base for the cafe over the years. The home-style cooking, speedy service and daily specials at reasonable prices attract ASU faculty and corporate warriors for lunch. Dinner is a candlelit, unrushed affair—a special night out.

The Dhaba’s signature dish is the Kashmiri Chicken Tikka Masala—chunks of chicken breast marinated in spices and yogurt, then baked in a clay tandoor oven. The chicken is combined with a thick tomato sauce laced with a garam masala spice blend and a swirl of cream.

Variations on the theme can be had with lamb or shrimp (no beef or pork here). You can also keep everything vegan or vegetarian. Entrees are typically served with fragrant saffron basmati rice, but you’ll also want to order a basket of plain, garlic or onion naan (leavened flat bread) to soak up every last drop of the succulent sauces. The Dhaba uses two tandoors—one for naan, the other for meats.

Dinner patrons often start their evenings with bhatura chole, a deep-fried bread served with curried chick peas, or paneer pakore, fritters stuffed with soft Indian cheese. Newcomers—and even regulars—often order the Maharaja, a feast of tandoori chicken, tandoori tikka and curried chicken or lamb. A house salad, various sides, naan and dessert are included. Enjoy a chai or a Kingfisher lager (brewed in Bangalore) with your meal. The Dhaba also has an extensive wine list.

Desserts aren’t listed on the menu. But if you have room, ask your server about rice pudding, pistachio ice cream or other available treats.

Arora and his wife, Clara, founded Indian Plaza on Apache Boulevard near McClintock Drive in 2003. The plaza includes a salon, gift shop, marketplace and clothing boutique. The cafe at that time was mostly takeout, kind of an afterthought.

That changed in 2008 when their son, Govind, and two friends in the Thunderbird School of Global Management envisioned a more elevated dining experience as part of a class project. Raveen, who has a master’s degree in accounting from St. Xavier’s College in India, helped the trio develop a recipe for success: purpose before profits, people before profits, culture before strategy, and stakeholders before shareholders.

Raveen proudly points out that Govind now helms the Latin America group of Stanley Black & Decker.

But Raveen and Clara continue to live that simple business plan every day. They take care of employees, many of whom are students, by closing from 2:30 to 5 every afternoon, and closing at 8:30 after dinner. They offer interest-free loans to students who keep a 3.2 GPA or higher.

The cafe gives away thousands of meals and bottles of cold water to Tempe’s homeless every year. The Aroras also support the No Kid Hungry Campaign and numerous other good causes.

Raveen said he was inspired to leave business consulting and get into food service after collaborating with Mother Teresa on projects in the 1970s.

“God comes to the poor in the form of food” he said. “We do well by doing good.”

The Dhaba, 1872 E. Apache Boulevard in Tempe, serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The restaurant is open from noon to 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; the-dhaba.com.

– Reach Mike Butler at 480-898-6581 or atmbutler@timespublications.com.

 

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