Long-time Woodlands staple Sitar Cuisine of India makes authentic Indian recipes approachable to curious customers with its all-you-can-eat buffet.

The restaurant opened in January 2000, and it has developed into a close-knit group of proven employees, regular customers and new faces, Manager Mohammed Rasheed said

As the restaurant tinkered with its services over time, it shifted to buffet style dining to make the exotic food more approachable to those unfamiliar with the cuisine.

"We noticed people like the buffet because when you come to an Indian restaurant, not everybody is an expert," Rasheed said. "A lot of people don't know what to order."

The buffet features cuisine staples such as makhani and rogan josh, tandoori oven specialties such as chicken tikka, and an array of desserts. Still, Rasheed said the restaurant offers a full menu and will even make the food to a customer's taste.

"People have been coming here for a long time, [and] we do appreciate that," Rasheed said. "To me it's more like family. If you come here and we don't have the options and it is something that you are craving, I will bring it to your table. I don't let anybody go."

Rasheed said patrons tend to be drawn to the restaurant for the authentic flavor of the dishes, which have been prepared by the same cooks for the majority of its existence.

"When we started we would make very bland food because we were in America, but the people didn't like that," Rasheed said. "When you come to an Indian restaurant you want to try all the spices, so we decided to keep it authentic."

The restaurant serves a handful of desert options such as Kheer, rice pudding flavored with cardamom and pistachios; Galub Jamun, a light pastry with dry milk and honey; and recently added mango flavored ice cream.

"We have recently started the mango ice cream machine," Rasheed said. "Most places, when they have a machine they serve chocolate and vanilla. We changed it to mango flavor."

The restaurant also offers catering services, features a party hall for group reservations, accommodates parties of all sizes and offers carry out.

Although Rasheed said the restaurant has no current plans for expansion, he recently expanded the India Gourmet Spices grocery store—located next door to the restaurant—which he opened in 2005 to offer Indian cuisine ingredients to epicurean customers.

"We have fresh vegetables there, fresh veggies, snacks," Rasheed said. "Otherwise you have to go all the way to Houston. People said, "it would be very nice if you have something." We had such a big demand, and I said 'You know what, we buy the groceries, we buy the wholesalers, why don't we have something."

Owner's recommendations

  • Tikka Masala – Meats cooked in mild tomato sauce with spices ($9.99 to $12.99)

  • Rogan Josh – Meats cooked in classic style from the Valley of Kashmir ($9.99 to $12.99)

  • Tandoori Chicken – Chicken marinated in yogurt, spices and herbs ($14.99)

  • Saag Paneer – Homemade cheese cubes in cream spinach ($8.99)

  • Naan – Leavened bread ($1.99)

India Gourmet Spices

The India Gourmet Spices grocery store opened in 2005 to meet customer demand for Indian spices from restaurant patrons. The store offers Indian spices, snacks, fresh vegetables, frozen foods and gift items. Recently, stakeholder Mohammed Rasheed expanded the store to include an extra aisle.

25701 I-45 N., Ste. 12 , The Woodlands, 281-364-0200, www.sitarcuisineofindia.net

Hours: Mon. – Fri. 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m. (lunch), 5–9:30 p.m. (dinner), Sat. and Sun. 11 a.m.–10 p.m.