One lesson I learned from eating at Taj of India was that appearances can be deceiving. Having run by the entrance, I was always a little skeptical about the quality of the food inside this dive eatery. With a small navy awning that covers the door and a shadowy atmosphere, the only aspect that stood out was the red neon street sign advertising “Indian cuisine” — not exactly enticing or reassuring. The questionable exterior shouldn’t influence your decision to eat here; Taj of India is a neighborhood gem.

The atmosphere felt very adaptable — a weird characterization, I know. While it has the potential to be a very intimate, elegant atmosphere for an inexpensive date, the space could also work wonderfully for a group outing or a quick lunch. No matter the occasion, the hole-in-the-wall feeling of the space is hard to beat.

The food was absolutely delicious. With a very wide array of dishes, multiple visits are going to be a must. The spices and rich flavors made each bite enjoyable. The traditional Indian bread, naan, was a treat and lived up to my expectations. If you are sensitive to spicy foods, I would recommend talking to your waiter, as most plates tended to be on the spicier side. As a vegetarian, I was very impressed by the substantial non-meat selection offered. I ended up eating the aloo chana masala, a terrific chickpea and potato dish complemented by rice.

Like most restaurants, there were some drawbacks. When I eat out at ethnic restaurants, I find authenticity to be absolutely necessary. Taj of India passed the test, although not with flying colors.

While exotic art was displayed on the walls, Indian music permeated the room and the very complicated menu was filled with Indian dishes, Taj still didn’t feel as though it gave a true glimpse of its namesake. Although the atmosphere’s authenticity was lacking, the food definitely made up for it.

The waitstaff also slightly detracted from the experience.  Their sense of complete confusion Sover who was actually our waiter led to some disappointment with Taj’s service. On one hand, the food was out in record time; on the other hand, waiting almost 30 minutes to have our plates cleared was not so great. But the staff’s kind, accommodating and patient attitudes balanced out these few kinks.

Although situated at the end of M Street, this midrange restaurant is a great place to go for reasonably priced, tasty Indian food. Considering the ease of getting a reservation on Opentable.com and the lack of large crowds in the restaurant, you will definitely leave satisfied. Eating at Taj will make you, as it made me, remember just how interesting and amazing Indian food can be.

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