One of the advantages of being sent to boarding school in England was experiencing the food there. While England is hardly known for its culinary expertise, there are a number of popular cuisines that people enjoy when eating out, my favorite of which was Indian. I would often go out for Indian food on weekends or study breaks. It offers a huge variety of flavor-packed dishes for every palate. For this reason, I was glad to discover that Ithaca has a selection of Indian restaurants quite close to campus. What no one I asked could seem to agree on, however, was which is the best.
I decided to settle the issue by going to each of their lunch buffets and comparing them. The lunch buffets are each all-you-can-eat for around ten dollars, making them gentle on a college student’s budget while also allowing you to try a variety of dishes, including a range of vegetarian options. After a trip to one of these buffets, there is no need to eat for the rest of the day. I have ranked the restaurants from best to worst based on the variety and quality of the food as well as the atmosphere of the restaurants themselves and the overall dining experience.
Mehak is a tastefully decorated restaurant that was filled with students. The staff were polite, and the hum of ambient conversation served as a pleasant background while I enjoyed the large variety of options it offered. Sometimes I find myself thinking in Indian restaurants that many of the dishes seem similar, differing only slightly in superficial aspects, so I was pleased that each of the dishes served was distinct and allowed me to sample different aspects of Indian cuisine. My only complaint is that that despite the large variety of dishes, they were all tame in terms of spiciness, and one of my favorite parts of Indian cuisine is the almost painful feeling of spicy food that can still be felt hours later. Having said this, the food was of good quality and I left feeling completely satisfied. Of all of the lunch buffets, I would definitely recommend Mehak if you want a convenient, vibrant restaurant experience with a number of dishes to choose from.
Diamond’s, located near the Commons, is a bit harder to get to than the other restaurants. However, the advantage is that it feels like a part of Ithaca rather than an extension of Cornell. Diamond’s offers a decent selection of food and a lively atmosphere, and the staff was very friendly and knowledgeable about the different dishes. What makes it distinct from the other Indian restaurants is that its style is reminiscent of a diner, while the others are more traditional. While the booths are nice, the placemats smothered in local advertisements are tacky and distracting. The main disappointment, however, was again the complete lack of spicy food. Diamond’s is definitely not for those looking for a traditional Indian experience, however, eating there was an overall enjoyable experience, and I might return if I happen to be in the area.
Sangam is the opposite of Diamond’s in many respects. It is located more conveniently, just a few doors down from Mehak, and the restaurant itself seemed far more traditional in style, if not a bit plain. The staff was courteous and the quality of the food was decent, but there was far less variety than at Diamond’s. This was excused by the spicy dishes offered at the buffet. The poor presentation of the food and the inability of the staff to identify different dishes on the menu were bigger issues. My primary concern, however, was the complete lack of a welcoming atmosphere in the restaurant. It was practically deserted and the emptiness was emphasized by the faint music, barely audible, playing in the background, reminding me of being in an elevator. While the barrenness might have been circumstantial, I did make an effort to visit all the restaurants at roughly the same times. I might recommend Sangam if someone said they were specifically looking for spicy dishes and did not care about anything other than the food, but asides from that, Sangam would not be my first option.
Overall, I’ve concluded that Mehak has the best lunch buffet. It would be my first choice if I was suddenly in the mood for Indian, simply because it offers the best overall dining experience. It is located more conveniently, offers a wide selection of dishes, and provides an enjoyable environment to relax, eat and escape the stress of work.