Royal Sweets & Snacks caters to the Indian palette with its hot and spicy fast food, Indian desserts and the ubiquitous buffet.
Unlike a few other Indian restaurants where the flavors are muted, spices reduced and chilies diluted, Royal Sweets' food is what every non-resident Indian craves – tangy, spicy, street-vendor food from several different states in India.
There were two things that I appreciated right away. The restaurant was bright and airy, and the owners and servers were smiling and actually happy to see customers. That has been a pet peeve of mine at Indian restaurants – dark interiors and sullen servers.
It is a fast food joint that also has a buffet all day long. The food is completely vegetarian, but don't turn up your meat-eating nose yet; the food is delicious and the variety is stunning. I counted at least 12 vegetable dishes at the buffet, six or seven different snack items, not including various chutneys, desserts, salads, fruits and pappadums.
The buffet has such expected dishes as roasted eggplant mash, the veggie alternative to meatballs called malai kofta, a creamy curry with moist, flavored cottage cheese and vegetable dumplings, dahi vada (fried dough in yogurt sauce) and vegetable biryani rice.
But it also has the unexpected: kadhi, achari paneer (paneer cheese in sauce), vegetable jalfrezi and various lentils. The yogurt sauce in the kadhi was very aromatic with toasted mustard seeds, asafetida and curry leaves. The jalfrezi, a mixed vegetable roast, was a little heavy on red peppers.
And bring on a big appetite because the food variety doesn't end there.
The restaurant also offers street food from different states of India. Try the pav bhaji which is Indian vegetarian version of a Sloppy Joe. The bhaji is a mixture of thinly chopped tomatoes, onions, potatoes and seasonal vegetables cooked with butter, perfectly seasoned with garam masala (five-spice mixture), served with a butter toasted bun (pav). Try the batata vada (spicy potato fritters) and ragda patties (spicy potato cakes with chick pea ragout) made popular on the streets of Mumbai.
Do yourself a favor and don't order the aloo tikki and ragda patties on the same day – they are both variations of a spicy potato cake. The ingredients are a little different but I would suggest making a return visit and ordering the other so you can savor the subtle difference.
Most of what's offered is from the western state of Gujarat such as bhel and sev puri, papdi chaat and pani puri, various versions of crunchy flour chips with different fillings and chutneys. Eat them at the restaurant, as the take away version tends to become soggy and tasteless before getting them home.
The popular chole bhature, kachori, halwa puri from Punjab, and aloo tikki, samosa (empanadas), pakodas (vegetable fritters) from the northern Indian states are there for those who prefer the more familiar foods. If you've never tried Indian food, these items are the perfect way to break the ice.
The chick pea curry was a little spicy, but went well with the crispy Bhature or fried bread. The one thing I did not like was the paneer pakoda, which is Indian cheese deep fried in a batter of chick pea flour. It was dense and the cheese was hard and flavorless.
There also is a section on the menu that serves Southern Indian fast food such as idli (rice cakes), dosa (stuffed crepes), vada-sambhar (fried dough and sauce) and uttapam (vegetable-rice pancakes).
Most of these snack foods are really easy on the wallet at less than $5. The buffet, at $9.99 on weekdays and $10.99 on weekends, is a bargain given the amount of food available. Drinks are not included in the buffet price.
Fast food is ordered and picked up at the counter. And if you're unsure of what you're ordering, servers are eager to explain.
Be forewarned, the food is spicy and comes in portions that will fill you up quickly.
The restaurant also has a storefront where they sell desserts and savory finger food. Different types of salty and spicy mixtures — kind of like trail mix on steroids — are also sold. My favorite is the rabri — milk cooked slowly till all the solids come together in a thick condensed mixture and acquire an almost nutty flavor. Try them in small bites; they can be cloyingly sweet for the inexperienced palette.
But for those craving something other than baked goods and pastries, Royal Sweets offers homemade sweets that will make you nostalgic and bring a slice of the old country to you.
Royal Sweets & Snacks
Bottom Line: Satisfy your craving for tangy, spicy, finger-licking street food from India.
Where: 2025 Fowler Ave., Tampa
Hours: Sunday to Thursday – 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday, Saturday – 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. (No buffet on Mondays)
Credit Cards: All accepted
Reservations: None required
Children's Menu: none
Wheelchair Access: yes
Price: From $3 to under $11
Call: (813) 977-6000