You’re driving home from work. It’s late. It’s raining. You’re tired. You envision your fridge and you frown. Pasta? Dull. Chicken nuggets? Eh. You curse yourself for not throwing something in the slow cooker before you left home. You admonish yourself for abandoning your Instant Pot in the recesses of your basement. You calculate how long it would take to rinse it, read the instruction manual, and scrape the freezer burn from some long-forgotten pork chops.
You abandon this line of thought.
Your child kicks your seat and asks what’s for dinner.
And then, up ahead in the distance, you see it — a drab strip mall. But somewhere deep within is the glint of promise. You fumble for your phone. Fifteen minutes, they say. Fifteen minutes, and sweet relief awaits.
Lexington’s Little India Express is in Commuter Dream World: It’s at an intersection close to Arlington, Burlington, Lexington, Winchester, and Woburn. Idle in traffic for a bit and dare yourself not to turn down the radio and call in some vindaloo.
Many locals get their Indian fix at Royal India Bistro, a cozy sit-down spot in Lexington center. It’s very good, too, though the curries tend to be richer and thicker. This place is a naughty, fast little secret. Little India Express is the takeout version of Waltham’s Little India, a larger, proper restaurant.
You will not linger at this version, because the place looks like a cross between the RMV and a convenience store. It is perfectly clean and friendly, but the aesthetic focal point is a cash register.
No matter: It is excellent. Pay the cashier, take your bags, and tear into your cartons like a pack of animals.
Start with the cauliflower. Our family just discovered Gobi Manchurian, and for anyone who considers cauliflower a wan version of broccoli, try this and banish thoughts of soggy vegetables from your mind. Cauliflower florets are dipped in spongy, white flour batter, deep-fried, and tossed in a spicy sauce that mixes red chilies, soy, green and red peppers, and ketchup. The puffy batter is the perfect sauce dispenser; our only complaint is that there are too many peppers and not enough pieces of cauliflower. The sauce is so good you’ll slurp it long after the veggies are gone. Dunk a triangle of naan into the plastic carton to extract every bit.
Samosas are great, too. So often leaden, greasy vessels for grayish spuds, here they’re light and fluffy — airy little footballs of spicy potatoes and peas (or ground lamb). Dip them in a thimble of tangy mint chutney.
My kids get chicken pakora, the Indian version of chicken nuggets, more or less. The fritters are dipped in a spicy chickpea batter; again, the batter is thin and crispy, not dense and greasy. There’s actual chicken meat in there, too, not pulverized mush.
Do you ever feel deceived by your vindaloo? So often it’s overly buttery, overloaded with potato chunks, and short on actual meat. Not here. We go for the lamb vindaloo, which has generous wedges of tender lamb, burbling in a thin, reddish, vinegar-heavy sauce.
The other standout is baingan bhartha, a soft, roasted mashed eggplant dish that looks like baby food. Don’t let that deter you: This is an aromatic symphony of tomato, ginger, and garlic, with fresh pops of peas and coriander for textural intrigue. Swipe the mixture across your naan (just the right blend of flabby and crisp), roll it up, and bite into it like a sandwich.
Last tip: Order a tub of sweet mango chutney. It’s a condiment, but you’ll want to eat it solo, with a spoon, like ice cream — possibly in front of your fridge at 11 p.m.
There is no atmosphere at Little India Express. But food this good should be devoured in the privacy of one’s own home.
Kara Baskin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.