As I sat down to eat a massive plate of Indian food at Taj Palace (in its new location on South Highway 97) a stray thought hit me: There is nowhere on Earth I've eaten at more than the Taj Palace. In February Taj Palace will celebrate its 20th anniversary in Bend and my friends and I have been hitting that buffet for each one of those years (except during COVID, and even then I might have if it was an option). I've eaten Indian cuisine up and down the West Coast, but Taj Palace has completely shaped my taste for it.
I hadn't been to Taj Palace since before COVID and I never would have expected to be remembered as a regular after so many years. When I walked into the much larger new location, owner/operator Pullareddy Lakireddy, AKA "Reddy," didn't just greet me, but walked up to me and embraced me like family. After almost a year of missing their deep bench of flavors and aromas, I'm not ashamed to admit that hug almost brought a tear to my eye.
As much as I was connected to Taj Palace's location downtown, the new spot in the old Red Dragon building near Wal-Mart is brighter, cleaner, with more tables, more parking and a larger and more expansive buffet.
"We are really blessed; we moved from downtown to this new location," says Reddy. "Because of plenty of parking and more than 100 seating capacity and a very spacious place."
With the wide variety of Southern Indian dishes that Reddy and his family grew up eating in the Velvadam village of Andhra Pradesh, there really is a dish for every palate. Most of the dishes in the buffet are pretty mild on the heat levels (although my mom got cooked by the Spinach Dal Curry), but those who are after something spicier can also order off of the menu and have the spice level curated precisely to their taste.
In the interest of science, I tried absolutely everything on the buffet while also asking Reddy if there were a few things on the menu that I should try that weren't available regularly on the buffet.
He brought me the Lamb Vindaloo (boneless with potatoes in a spicy sauce) and Chilli Chicken (boneless and shredded with ginger, garlic and onions). The vindaloo had a thick, delicious sauce that balanced the vinegar, coconut milk and ginger beautifully, the lamb so fresh and tender that it melted in my mouth. The Chilli Chicken was the exact level of spicy I was after and played as the perfect appetizer to my deep dive at the buffet. The onions and peppers were perfectly cooked and really highlighted the chicken in ways I wasn't expecting. Honestly, as much as I love the buffet, I might order off the menu every once and a while too, in order to try different things with a much more varied spice level.
But that buffet honestly tastes better than ever. The Spinach Pakora (spinach with chickpea dumpling) is the perfect crunchy palate cleanser. The Sambar (lentil veggie soup) hosts a myriad of complex flavors perfect for the cold weather. I have the same attack pattern for the buffet that I always do: spread out a thin layer of Vegetable Biryani (basmati rice with mixed veggies) across the whole plate and then add little mountains of food all over it. Aloo Gobi (spicy potatoes and cauliflower), Chana Masala (Garbanzo beans with a yogurt and turmeric-forward masala sauce) and the Spinach Dal Curry (lentils with spinach and tomatoes) get evenly distributed around the outer rim of the Biryani. Then in the center I go with Chicken Curry, Lamb Curry, Saag Paneer (creamed spinach, cheese and spices) and then, my very favorite, the Chicken Makhani AKA: Butter Chicken (boneless chicken in a creamy tomato sauce). Flop four pieces of nan off to the side and you have a feast.
I'm sure you have your own way of building your plate, but mine is scientifically perfect (so says my taste buds). The combination of the richness of the Makhani with the layered spice of the Aloo Gobi and the texture of the Biryani make each bite a completely different excursion into flavor profiles we don't get enough of in Central Oregon. After 20 years of eating Taj Palace I'm most definitely excited for 20 more.