Yes to Curry, Hold the Meat
The Cuisine: Southern Indian
The Place: Woodlands Pure Vegetarian
To the best of my knowledge, Charlotte's South Indian restaurants are the only establishments in town offering an exclusively vegetarian menu. This might seem limiting, especially to customers who love their "meat and three." But a constraint on raw materials can lead to new creativity in the execution of the finished product—as is the case at Woodlands Pure Vegetarian Indian Cuisine.
The interior of this East Charlotte restaurant is cheerfully if plainly decorated, and often hosts large family groups for festive meals. The dining room is spacious and brightly lit, with crisp white tablecloths and only a few small pictures and wall decorations distracting from the main attraction—the food. The menu is largely South Indian but contains specialties from other regions, including several Indo-Chinese selections. Don't skip the appetizers—iddly (steamed lentil and rice patties), pakora (fried mixed vegetables, cheese, or chili peppers), and samosa (fried minced potatoes, peas, and onions) are freshly made, never brittle or heavy. Mango lassi (a yogurt drink) has just the right consistency and acidity.
Memorable entrées include gobi Manchurian (crispy braised cauliflower in gravy, with a uniquely satisfying texture and flavor) and masala dosa (an oversize, paper-thin, crispy rice crepe filled with potatoes and onions). Among the breads, chapathi, garlic naan, and the impressively puffy poori and bhaturi are good accompaniments to nearly any dish. Curries have distinctive personalities and flavor—some spicy, some less so. Kadai bhindi (okra curry), palak paneer (spinach and cheese curry), and paneer makhani (a special-occasion curry made with tomatoes, onions, cashews, cheese, and saffron) are standouts. Our server admitted that the restaurant uses a different spicing scale with non-Indian patrons. If you like spicy food and do not appear to be of South Asian descent, ask for a higher level of hotness.
Meat eaters and vegetarians alike will return to this restaurant again and again. The hard part is deciding whether to get the same thing or try yet another intriguing menu selection.