On the back side of one of two buildings that make up the Village at Pleasant Valley Shopping Center — on the northwest corner of the intersection of Rodney Parham Road and Interstate 430 — there is a large restaurant space that once housed a Dixie Cafe.
When that chain-let went out of business, an Indian-Pakistani restaurant, Mehfil Indo-Mughlai Pak Cuisine, took it over. Mehfil didn't last long, and we were surprised to learn that another restaurant of the same genre, Handi Fine Indo-Pak Cuisine, followed in its wake.
The new folks did a little sprucing up of the main dining area, which is pleasant, spacious, well-lighted with a black-and-white color palette enlivened by some artwork — on the "entrance" wall, the Taj Mahal with a flag of India and a not-quite-so-specific scene with a Pakistani flag. The waiting area is gorgeously caparisoned and actually far nicer than the dining room but as far as we can tell, customers are only allowed to wait, not eat, there. There is a bar area and what appears now to be a private dining space on the other side of it.
The cuisine is similar but not quite the same as Mehfil's. The menu seems to skew a little more Pakistani than Indian but both are well represented. Most dishes come with descriptions, although some — particularly the five "Chef Special" items (Nihari Beef, Nihari Chicken, Haleem Beef, Haleem Chicken and Paya Mutton) — remain mysteries. There are also nearly a dozen items of chaat (Indian street food), a couple of which we successfully tried as takeout items in September, not long after Handi opened.Gallery: Sampling Handi
We can recommend Handi's Lamb Karahi ($16.95 for half pound, $26.95 a pound via the online menu), fairly tender chunks of lamb in a tomato-based curry with ginger, garlic, mint "and other traditional spices in a traditional Pakistani Karahi pot," served with rice. We asked for ours mild, and the dish was flavorful without flame, but we wish we'd asked for just a little bit of heat because while the dish wasn't dull, it wasn't as lively as we'd hoped. (The linguistic link between "Karahi" and "Karachi," the name of Pakistan's largest city, can't be a coincidence.)
We also enjoyed our Butter Chicken ($12.95), very much an Indian dish — boneless chicken in a reddish cream curry sauce, with an actual pat of butter melting on top as a garnish, something we have never previously seen. Intrepid Companion asked for this to be about a 2 on a heat scale of 1-5 or maybe it was 1-10, at least enough to give it a kick, but perhaps the kitchen was erring on the side of caution because it had barely more of a kick than the lamb dish.
We were only modestly pleased by our appetizers — Vegetable Pakora ($4.99), mixed vegetables coated with spiced gram flour and deep-fried; Vegetable Samosa ($3.99), two conical deep-fried pastries stuffed with peas, potatoes and onions; and a mix-and-match, one each, of triangular, not conical, chicken and beef samosas ($3.99).
There was only a hint of garlic in our garlic naan ($2.99), white-flour bread baked with garlic and butter; we might have done as well to save the extra dollar and order the plain naan ($1.99), which we got with our buffet lunch (see below) and which was perfectly adequate.
There is nothing low-common-denominator about Handi's lunch buffet ($11.99); everything we had was perfectly prepared, hot (and we mean heated from below, not cold) and spicy — considerably spicier than our dinner fare, including all three meat items: lamb curry, chicken tikka masala and tandoori chicken. (We also sampled the eggplant aloo, but we have a thing about the texture of eggplant and basically gave up after a couple of bites.) For dessert, we scooped up some of the gulab jamun ($2.99 if you order it off the menu), chewy sweet balls in a syrup that was surprisingly hot (heated) for coming off a buffet.
We recommend spending the $2.95 to order the mango lassi as a beverage, a sweet (but not too sweet) kind of yogurt smoothie, which in addition to tasting good helps mollify Indo-Pak spices.
Service for dinner was good and friendly but not 100% professional. We got decent service for our buffet lunch, including the delivery or our beverage and a basket of hot naan — once the waiter figured out that we were not sitting together with the customer who proceeded us through the door.
Handi Fine Indo-Pak Cuisine
- Address: Village at Pleasant Valley Shopping Center, 10700 N. Rodney Parham Road, Little Rock
- Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday (closed Monday)
- Cuisine: Indian, Pakistani
- Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D
- Takeout: Yes
- Alcoholic beverages: Full bar
- Reservations: Not noticeably accepted
- Wheelchair access: Yes
- (501) 904-1115 | handilittlerock.com