Mela Indian Restaurant, Asheville, NC – Indian Food Just Doesn’t Get Much Better Than This!
Clearly the gods were with us. Rich and I arrived at Mela’s minutes before the lunch crowd overtook the place, and a parking spot opened up for us right next to the restaurant. Entering, we stepped into an inviting, spacious room and were greeted by a gracious hostess. Directly before us was a bountiful buffet bar of mouthwatering Indian specialties in which fully half of them were vegan! Everything is made from scratch at Mela, from as many organic ingredients as possible and locally sourced when available. Many of the dishes are naturally gluten free. The price for the buffet was $9.95. Add chai tea or a beer from the full bar and the cost is $12. One can, of course, order off the menu during the lunch hour.
Ordering the buffet was a no-brainer. With a profusion of colorful and fragrant temptations we could contain ourselves only long enough for Rich to order a beer and we were off to the buffet bar. By the time we returned to our seat, the restaurant was jammed packed with enthusiastic diners and filled with laughter and conversation.
Mela is no stranger to a steady stream of hungry diners, which is no doubt due to the excellence of the food coupled with reasonable prices. Mela was named the First-Place Winner for Best Indian Restaurant in Western North Carolina by the New York Times, and best overall Favorite Restaurant by Mountain Xpress Readers Poll two years running and Best Indian Restaurant since they opened in 2005.
The soups were a non-starter. Unfortunately, they both contained animal products, so we quickly bypassed that table. The salads, however, where quite another matter. Mela serves a kale salad that is right up there with the loveliest I’ve ever sampled. It is prepared with lemon and lime juices and a touch of sugar and tossed with raisins and cashews. Crisp, luscious and just the right consistency, the chef really knew what he was doing when he prepared this. Kale in the hands of a lesser cook can be overly chewy. This kale salad was perfect with just the right blend of sweet and sour. I would return to Mela’s just for this salad! For those who prefer a more traditional salad, a fresh mix of red and green lettuces were also available with a variety of dressings to choose from. There were quite a few chutneys to choose from as well from mild and sweet to very spicy.
Two rices were available. One was a basmati rice with subtle flavors of coconut, mustard seeds, curry leaves, ginger and Indian spices. The other was a rice pilaf with cloves, cumin, bay and cinnamon. The flavors of these rice dishes were almost imperceptible so no worries about overpowering the flavors of the entrees. The vegan bread, Appalam, also gluten free, was a crispy wafer made from lentils.
I’m a big fan of Indian Pakora, a variety of vegetables dipped in chickpea and rice flour batter seasoned with ginger, garlic and cumin and fried to a golden brown. Crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, what makes Mela’s Pakoras stand out is the variety of vegetables used. I tasted whole button mushroom caps, florets of broccoli and cauliflower and big pieces of bell pepper. Normally what I find in Indian restaurants is only a choice of one or two vegetables in their Pakora.
For the pièce de résistance we had Vegetable Korma, a delicious assortment of vegetables, among them zucchini, sumer squash, potatoes, broccoli, carrots and peas, prepared in a creamy coconut sauce with Indian spices.
We also had Cabbage and Carrot Poriyal, a very spicy dish of cabbage, carrots and peas flavored with cilantro and Indian spices. This dish is not for the faint of heart. It was almost too spicy, so be prepared should you decide to go for it.
Mela offers Indian cuisine at its very best. If the buffet is this good, I can’t wait to try their dinner menu! Mela is open seven days a week, Lunch Buffet: 11:30-2:30pm, and Dinner: 5:30-9:30pm or later.
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