Lunch in the Loop

Reviews of restaurants in the Loop.

Lunch in the Loop: Devour the Indian Buffet at Chicago Curry House

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.

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[Photographs: Dennis Lee]

How did I not know that Chicago Curry House existed? I guess that shouldn't come as any surprise. I didn't know duck chins existed until like last week. The world is so vast and I am so small. Small and hungry. Recently I've been giving the north Loop a lot of love, so I thought I'd head back down to the tail end, down to Printer's Row. Technically, Chicago Curry House is a few blocks south of Printer's Row on Plymouth—you'll miss it if you're not careful.

Unless you work in Printer's Row, Chicago Curry House might be a bit of a haul for you office workers, but if you're playing lunch hooky (you know who you are, you troublemakers), it's worth the long walk or short cab ride. There's really only one thing you'll need to get—a plate at the buffet ($10.95). I know there's some serious buffet haters out there, but you hold your wiggly tongues!

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Oh, the glorious buffet—the work-stopper, the nap-inducer. Chicago Curry House's spread runs through the accessible, like flaky fried samosas, all the way through vegetarian and meaty entrees. There's even a dessert at the end.

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While you're off piling food on your plate, a mysterious fairy will drop off flaky, hot, naan at your table, brushed with a bit of ghee. The charred bits are crisp like crackers, and the softer parts are doughy and perfect for soaking up any sauce on your plate. And just like any great Neapolitan pizza crust, those air bubbles are some of the best parts.

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When it's hard to make a decision, just do what I do, and put a lot of everything on your plate. This plate is actually kind of conservative. You should have seen what my buddy put on his—it was an architectural masterpiece.

In the way back of the photo is a samosa—fried, oily, flaky, and filled to the seams with densely starchy potatoes. On the left is moist tandoori chicken, which is surprisingly mild and not overly spiced (if anything, it's a bit under seasoned). Up front, is the goat stew I mentioned earlier, called khasi ko maasu. It's actually a Nepalese style stew, with meat, tendon, and all, still on the bone. You won't notice any gamy flavor through all the spices, and the fun is nibbling on all the bits and pieces. It's messy, but I like wearing my food as much as the next guy (I'm so charming on dates). And on the right is the rich butter chicken, cooked with plenty of butter and in a tomato cream sauce that's almost like a concentrated tomato bisque. That's where the naan comes into play—sop that sauce up like David Hasselhoff on a bender.

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Of course, it's hard not to go back; there's so many dishes, and you'll undoubtedly miss out on a few just because you'll be stuffed. On the left in the back is a dal makhani, a lentil stew simmered in a ginger and tomato sauce with garam masala, and on the right is palak paneer, a finely blended spinach dish with chunks of paneer (fresh cheese) in it. Paneer has always been interesting to me; it's like a mix between tofu and mozzarella cheese. Up front is the cumin-spiced papadum, which is almost like a tortilla chip except made from lentils or chickpeas instead. The whole cumin seeds are ultra-flavorful, but in a good smoky way. Papadums are more of a snack, but hey, at a buffet, there are no rules. No rules! Do you hear me, mom?

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Of course, to wash down all the spice, you've got a sweet mango lassi ($3.95), which is one of my favorite non-whiskey drinks in the world. I could just swim in them, but that's unsanitary and I'd get kicked out of the restaurant, plus I'd ruin the lassis for everyone else.

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For a Lunch in the Loop, $10.95 is an incredible steal considering the sheer volume of food you're allowed to consume. Chicago Curry House might be on a sneaky little corner south of Printer's Row, but if you're already playing hooky, you can take a nap in the pretty little park right next door. I'll probably be there too. We can spoon and everything.

About the author: After a failed attempt at starting a chain of theme restaurants called "Smellen Keller," Dennis Lee traveled the world to discover his true passion. Sadly, midwifery didn't pan out. Now he works in a cubicle, and screws around as much as possible. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter.

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