You have to admire pioneers in the restaurant business like Pho Republique, which took a big risk in 1999 by opening in a half-gentrified corner of the South End. Cafe Mamtaz, an Indian take-out-only restaurant, seems similarly brave, opening last year in residential South Boston, an area dotted with modest pubs serving boiled dinner and fried seafood, like the nearby Original Kelly’s Landing. While the Franklin Cafe and St. Alphonzo’s hint at gentrification, many locals still seem to prefer debased American-Chinese greasy-egg-roll joints when they want something, ahem, exotic — next to which Indian food must seem like it’s from Mars.
Actually, Cafe Mamtaz mostly works the cuisine of Northern India, including Persian-influenced Mughal dishes, plus the odd vindaloo and tikka masala. Excellent fried starters include irregularly shaped, crunchy vegetable pakoras ($4.99), served with the classic onion, tamarind, and cilantro chutneys, and meat samosas ($4.99), pyramidal turnovers of ground spiced lamb. The tandoor, a charcoal-fired clay oven, produces naan ($1.99), a leavened flatbread and staple starch, and meats marinated in spiced yogurt and roasted on skewers, like lamb shish kebab ($11.99), which taste like flattened, sweetly spiced lamb meatballs. Vegetable entrées include malai kofta ($10.99), crisp-coated potato/vegetable/paneer fritters in a golden, creamy sauce studded with raisins and cashews. Dal makhani ($10.99) is a rich, buttery, herb-accented stew of soft-cooked spiced lentils. Some entrées venture into Pakistani territory, as in murg kadai ($10.99), with large chunks of boneless chicken, onion, tomato, green peppers, and fresh ginger; others venture toward the owners’ native Bangladesh, as in shrimp curry ($12.99), sauced in a complex mixture of aromatics and spices in the mild Bengali style.
By default, most dishes are served quite mild: you must speak up if you favor the heat of chilies. All are accompanied by rather plain basmati. Additional heat and depth can also be added with mango chutney ($1.99), while raita ($1.99), the tangy yogurt/cucumber/mint condiment, can cool capsicum fire. Beverage options include yogurt-based lassi ($1.99/sweet or salty; $2.99/mango) and masala chai ($1.49), spiced milk tea. The lone two-seat table seems more a lounge for customers awaiting take-out than dining. Beyond its intrepid spirit, this restaurant deserves credit for turning out a lovely variety of fresh-tasting dishes from a fairly tiny kitchen. If they’re smart and bold enough, Southie denizens will rip another page from British Isles pub culture and start making Cafe Mamtaz’s outstanding takeaway curries a regular feature of their evening rounds.
Cafe Mamtaz, located at 87 L Street, in South Boston, is open daily, 11:30 am–10 pm. Call 617.464.4800.