The Indian restaurant Santa Banta sits on a lively part of Moody Street in Waltham, next to Moody’s Delicatessen & Provisions and its new dining room, The Backroom. The Indian spot is co-owned by Rajwant Singh, 31, who ran a limo business; his father has owned Punjabi Tadka in Arlington for 20 years. Partner Dev Patil, who had owned another restaurant in Manchester, N.H., is also on the Santa Banta team.
A large brass figure of a dancing woman is at the door, the chandelier is made of glass balls strung together, tables are granite, stylish white plates are triangular, and most of the bowls and dishes that come to the table might have been featured in a Crate & Barrel display. Kingfisher is on draft and the South Indian lager Flying Horse is on the menu too. A dining room seats 45; an adjacent room that will open soon, offering Indian street food (chaat) and ice cream, will have 40 more seats. The place fills up later than most spots do, with long tables and trios of South Asian diners.
The food here — from many regions in India — is outstanding, even with some things lost in translation when the waiter explains a dish. A basket of tiny fritters comes to the table compliments of the house, golden bites of potato and peas that are mildly spicy, and fresh from the pan. The waiter tells us these are “bread rolls,” but they look like petit croquettes, and come with three little condiments: a red onion chutney, tamarind sauce, and yogurt with mint and coriander, all wonderful.
You could make a meal from the terrific breads ($3.95-$11.95). Plain naan is beautifully puffy, garlic naan is more intense, and peshawari naan is baked with nuts, raisins, and coconut. Aloo paratha, a thin dough stuffed with potatoes, peas, and spices, then griddled, is delicious.
Masala dosa ($7.95), a South Indian rice and lentil crepe made on a giant griddle and rolled up with potatoes and onions, is exceptionally crisp and nicely seasoned. It comes with a bland tomato-vegetable sauce and a coconut sauce, but doesn’t need a thing.
Chef Sunil Kumar’s tandoor chicken ($14.95), bright red with food coloring (is it time to lose this?), is moist on its bed of onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots. Punjabi tadka daal ($12.95) is a complex, warming, lightly spiced red and yellow lentil dish. Chicken tikki masala ($15.50), a top selling item, combines chicken pieces in a spicy, creamy, charred-tomato sauce. Tear off a piece of naan and use it to lick the bowl.
Lamb biryani ($14.95), with its rosy rice, nuts, and chunks of tender meat, is a delightful dish, as is ground lamb seekh kebab ($16.95), moist nuggets that come with cooling yogurt raita. A dish of palak paneer ($14.95), with homemade cheese, is dense with pureed spinach.
From the Indo-Chinese menu is gobi Manchurian ($15.95), fried cauliflower with sweet-hot onion-pepper garnish. Order your food with the spice level you prefer (Singh has an iPad to take everything down).
There are several ice cream flavors on the menu, which seem to rotate, including mango, coconut, vanilla, lychee, and tutti frutti, studded with fruits and a little too sweet, that many Indians know from home.
Santa Banta is the name of an unrelated website of Bollywood stories, games, posters, videos, jokes, and more. Santa and Banta are fictitious characters in ethnic jokes and Singh liked it that the name is well known to Indians. The logo shows a North Indian Sikh in a turban, and a bare-headed South Indian man. “We wanted to come up with something unique, memorable, which nobody has used before,” says Singh.
You may have to be Indian to get the significance. What is unusual here is a kitchen that turns out such good food from all regions, with an attentive waitstaff, and a dining room of South Asians who seem to agree.
458 Moody St., Waltham,
781-893-9988, www.santabantawaltham.com. All major cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Appetizers, soups, salads $4.25-$10.95. Vegetarian, meat, seafood, tandoor, rice $13.95-$19.95. Desserts $3.25-$3.95
Hours Daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Lunch buffet 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Liquor Beer and wine.
What to order Naan, garlic naan, peshawari naan, aloo paratha, Punjabi tadka daal, tandoor chicken, lamb biryani, gobi Manchurian, lamb seekh kebab, chicken tikki masala.