Fans of Indian food have been flocking to Akbar Restaurant in Columbia since 1995.
The restaurant has an extensive menu of such flavorful northern Indian specialties as chicken vindaloo (chicken and potatoes in a curry sauce) and saag meat (lamb cooked with spinach, coriander and herbs).
One of its most popular draws is the buffet offered at lunch each day. For $7.95 weekdays and $8.95 Saturdays and Sundays, patrons can sample a variety of chicken, lamb and vegetarian dishes, plus Indian breads and desserts.
On some days, the buffet attracts as many as 100 customers, said owner Satish Bahl. Because the restaurant seats about 75 people, crowds can be a problem.
Bahl and his partner, Vinay Wahi, grew up in the Indian capital of New Delhi and have lived in Maryland since 1975. In 1984, they opened the first Akbar restaurant, on North Charles Street in Baltimore.
Eleven years later, they opened the Columbia location.
"Columbia is more cosmopolitan than the rest of Maryland," said Bahl. "They like to try ethnic food."
Indian food is cooked with many spices, including cumin, coriander, cilantro, cardamom, turmeric, red chilies and a traditional spice mix called garam masala.
The resulting dishes can range from mild to blazing flavors. Customers can order their dishes with a spice factor of one to 10, Bahl said. Most patrons choose a number in the middle.
One way to sample a variety of dishes is to order a tandori mix, featuring several items prepared in the clay oven, plus traditional vegetables, rice and bread.
Another sampler plate is the Special Akbar Dinner, featuring tandori chicken, a traditional lamb curry called rogan josh and other traditional Indian dishes.
Beverages include a sweetened yogurt drink called lassi. Among the desserts are an Indian ice cream called kulfi, which is flavored with almonds, pistachios and rose water.
Newcomers to Indian food should not be intimidated by Akbar.
The service is friendly and the menu includes explanations of the dishes. A takeout menu also is available.
Where: 9400 Snowden River Parkway, Columbia; 410-381-3600
Hours: Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Modays through Fridays and noon to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; dinner 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Prices: Appetizers: $2.50 to $7.95; entrees: $7.95 to $15.95.
Credit cards: MasterCard, American Express, Visa, Discover, Diners Club.