Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
When I told my coworkers I needed to rock another review, my coworker Chris immediately dug through his drawer of take-out menus, and handed one over to me. "Ever try Baba's Village?" I looked over the menu, scratched my head, and asked him, "Why haven't I heard about this place before? Let's go!" And so we went. The end. Good story, Dennis.
Baba's Village is just west of the river, putting it technically in West Loop territory, and not the Loop proper. But hey, I'm willing to fudge the details in the search for delicious food. Though I hadn't been, Baba's Village's name sounded familiar to me, which I later found was because it is affiliated with Baba Palace on Chicago Avenue (at least according to Metromix). New places I haven't heard about or seen are always fun for me; I really love going into a restaurant not knowing anything except for its name, because I like surprises, good or bad.
I'm a sucker for any dish with paneer, a fresh cheese that typically serves as the protein in Indian vegetarian cuisine. It's always firm and rubbery in a good way, like a dense fresh mozzarella, and its extremely mild flavor makes it a good addition to heavily spiced vegetarian dishes. I usually order palaak paneer (spinach and paneer), but the mutter paneer ($7.99) looked intriguing enough to get me out of my comfort zone.
Mutter paneer is a combination of peas, onion, ginger, and traditional Indian spices with paneer as the star of the show. The tomato-based sauce gives the dish brightness to compliment the mild cheese. With entrees, you get a choice between rice and naan flatbread, but rice seems to be a better compliment.
Palak goshat ($8.79) is one of the lamb dishes on the menu. I've never had lamb stewed with spinach, but it turns out spinach is a good bedrock for lamb, since spinach's natural flavor is mineral-like and a little grassy, and the lamb has a bit of fat. I would say that the naan is a better partner for this than rice, as bread has some chew to pair with the otherwise soft texture of the cooked spinach and stewed lamb.
Chicken makhani($6.99), also known as butter chicken, is a mild chicken dish in a rich tomato-yogurt sauce, which is irresistible to me. I always have to order it. This is an admirable version, creamy and mild with just a touch of spices as compared to some of the other plates we ordered.
The standard naan ($1.45 a la carte) is a generous portion that covers an entire dinner plate and it comes painted with a touch of butter. The flat bread is chewy and is pockmarked with delicious char from the oven. As you can see, the garlic naan ($2.95, pictured) has a ton of fresh garlic spread out in the middle, and if you eat it you'll keep vampires away within a ten mile radius. It's curiously two times the price of the regular naan.
The batura ($2.99) at Baba's Village is basically a fried version of naan; it's, of course, oilier and richer, and an interesting alternative. No big surprises here, though because it's fried, you don't get any charred pockets like you do with the naan.
Of course, you've got your regular mango lassi ($1.99), on the left, and you can definitely taste the mango pulp blended in with the ice-cold yogurt and milk. It's perfect to cool your scorched mouth off after a few spicy bites. But the real treat is the shardai ($2.95), which is milk, almonds and pistachios flavored with green cardamom. It looks like a mint-chocolate shake, but once you take your first sip, you can definitely taste pistachio and almond blended in. It's sweet and so addictive that I went back the next day just to have another one.
If you're aching for Indian food that's not too far out from the Loop, Baba's Village will definitely work to fill that void inside you.