Mela Indian Restaurant has become a standard in downtown Asheville since opening its doors in 2005. Offering North and South Indian cuisine while incorporating local ingredients, imported spices and authentic recipes from the owner Anoop Krishnan.
From the plains of Punjab to the Malabar coast, the techniques, spices, seasonings and natural ingredients of Indian cooking have been refined over thousands of years, resulting in a cuisine unlike any other. Mela Indian Restaurant offers authentic North and South Indian dishes as diverse and vibrant as the peoples and regions of India.
-Anoop Krishnan, Owner
Mela is open every day of the week for lunch and dinner. The buffet offered at lunch is well known and offers a couple breads, chutney, two types of rice, a few salads, a couple entrées and dessert for $8.95. It definitely offers plenty to eat. While lunch is good and has a decent value; it just does not compete with the choices and freshness that you get ordering ala carte at dinner.
There is plenty to choose from on the dinner menu in a variety of styles and spice levels. A few of my favorite starters are:
CHOWPATTI RAGADA • Potato patties topped with curried chickpeas, tamarind, yogurt and mint chutney. Garnished with cilantro. A Bombay beach treat
CHICKEN PAKORAS • Strips of boneless chicken marinated with ginger, garlic, chili paste and spices and deep fried. Served with mint chutney
CALAMARI PORICHACHU • Fresh calamari dusted with curry flavored chickpea and rice flour batter. Served with mint and tamarind chutneys
PANEER PAKORAS • Strips of fresh paneer cheese dipped in a mildly spiced chickpea batter and then deep fried.
There are soups and salads to choose from and I have heard good reports on these, but have not tried any myself. Considering the quality the rest of the Mela menu offers – my guess is that you will be happy with your order.
Naan is a leavened oven baked flat bread. It has a light texture and Mela bakes their naan in a tandoori oven. If you do order on the spicy side of the menu naan is a nice way of calming the spice in your mouth a little. Besides that it’s delicious. There are several varieties offered so merely choose your favorite ingredient. Here are the choices:
GARLIC NAAN • A multi-layered bread flavored with garlic and cilantro
PESHWARI NAAN • Naan filled with nuts, dried fruit and raisins
PUDINA NAAN • Naan flavored with fresh mint
ONION KULCHA • Naan stuffed with onions
PARATHA • Whole wheat multi-layered bread baked in the tandoor oven
POORI • Whole wheat, deep fried puffed bread
Other side orders to consider are the rice, one of the chutneys or the raita. I believe one of each is essential, but of course I like to take left overs home to enjoy the next day. The mango chutney is my favorite, but again go with what you enjoy. The raita is also a good stand by when ordering spicy as a calming measure for your palatte.
RICE • Basmati rice flavored with spices
MANGO CHUTNEY • CILANTRO CHUTNEY
RAITA • Made with yogurt and cucumbers, mildly spiced
When it comes to your entrée there are some great choices. The main categories are tandoori oven specialties, chicken, lamb, seafood and vegetarian. Order what interests you most but pay attention to the spice level. If you can’t handle much spice you could end up drinking water and eating raita soaked naan the rest of the evening. Barring that you should find a pleasant authentic Indian dish that will tempt you in to a future visit to Mela. The following are my favorites. I like them for various reasons that range from spice to flavor profile to just plain freshness.
CHICKEN VINDALOO • Boneless chicken cooked with potato in a very spicy and tangy curry sauce (Hot!)
LAMB CHETTINAD • Boneless lamb cooked in a sauce made with tomatoes, onions, garlic, black pepper powder, cumin, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom
MADRAS JIHNGA MASALA • Prawns, shelled and deveined, cooked in a sauce made with onions, ginger, garlic, cumin, turmeric, tamarind, mustard seeds, coconut and spices
VEGETABLE KORMA • An assortment of fresh vegetables in a yogurt and turmeric sauce
The menu isn’t the only reason you may be drawn to this locals’ favorite. Large windows along the street allow customers to watch the Asheville street life during dinner when seated closer to them. But, if not, the atmosphere overall is charming. It features a beautiful traditional bar in a front corner of the restaurant where a cocktail can be ordered if you are waiting for your table. A full bar along with a concise but decent wine list is available. While service can be a tad slow at times, I find that the staff is usually attentive and very pleasant.
Whatever the reason, take the time to visit Mela for lunch or dinner when downtown. You will be happy that you did and realize why the locals love their cuisine.
70 North Lexington Avenue
Asheville, North Carolina 28801