The Iowa City area has seen many restaurants open in recent months, and one of these noteworthy newcomers is Haveli Indian Cuisine in Coralville (943 25th Ave.).
With upwards of 120 items on the menu, I’ll admit I felt overwhelmed on my first visit. But after being warmly welcomed on multiple occasions, I decided to play a game of diner’s roulette and taste the restaurant’s many offerings.
On a cold and quiet Sunday evening, the paneer pakora appetizer—essentially an Indian version of fried cheese curds—was delivered from the kitchen almost immediately. The cheese had clearly been made fresh, then fried in chickpea batter and accompanied by three outstanding sauces. The server, who mentioned that the trio’s preparation is laborious, identified the sauces: onion chutney heavily spiced with red chile; a dense and sweet tamarind sauce that counterbalanced the chutney nicely; and a thick cilantro sauce that was as palate cleansing as it was cooling.
The menu includes 15 types of sweet and savory naan—the traditional Indian flatbread. Haveli also offers naan baked with various ingredients, but there was very little ground lamb and cilantro served with the keema naan, and the ingredients with the house special—garlic, onion, potato and cheese—were also scant. I recommend sticking with plain.
The aloo gobhi—cauliflower and potato teeming with aromatics I couldn’t identify—made me, for the first time, fall in love with cauliflower. I requested my aloo gobhi to be moderately spiced, heeding the server’s warning that the very spicy option could be unmanageable. I don’t think I’ve ever had this lowly vegetable prepared with such intensely satisfying piquancy.
On one visit, my dining partner ordered the botti kabob, which takes extra time to prepare, our server explained. After some time, it arrived and appeared rather small for the $15 price point: Cubes of lamb kabob with some onion and green pepper slices scattered about the plate. But the appearance was misleading: It was the most tender and juicy lamb we had ever tasted. I am still thinking about it.
And while all the entrees that I’ve tasted have been delicious, there were multiple occasions when they didn’t come with all the sides that were indicated on the menu. But while the dishes may have been incomplete, they were tasty nonetheless.
On each of my visits, polite servers have tag-teamed the relatively small dining floor, while a couple young men diligently refilled waters, bussed tables and seemed to genuinely care about the dining experience. Their pace sets the overall mood for the restaurant—a relaxed and mostly quiet place, apart from the Bollywood music videos that oftentimes play on a TV.
If there is one thing detracting from the relaxed experience, it’s the seven security cameras that frame the inside perimeter of the restaurant. The white machinery matched the white tablecloths and paneling, which I’ll chalk up to a thoughtful decorator’s touch, but it seemed a bit excessive in a one-room restaurant with space for roughly 50 patrons.
I picture Haveli Indian Cuisine being a place to dine with a close group of friends. It would even be great for company who don’t know each other that well, but are looking to break the ice by enjoying a few bombers of Taj Mahal lager and ordering a bunch of items from the menu to share.
I recommend at least trying the $10 lunch buffet, but you should definitely try ordering something that’s 180 degrees different than what you’re kind-of-sort-of craving. You’ll likely be pleasantly surprised.
Love food? Kind of a chicken? Send restaurant review pitches to: Editor@LittleVillageMag.com. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 173.