Half market and half restaurant, Teji's offers authentic cuisine worth getting giddy over
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., April 2, 2010
Teji's1205 Round Rock Ave., Round Rock, 512/244-3351
Sunday-Thursday, 10:30am-2:30pm, 5-9pm; Friday-Saturday, 10:30am-2:30pm, 5-10pm
When I go into an ethnic restaurant that I've heard good things about and I'm one of the very few non-natives dining there, I tend to get a little giddy. I know that the chance for authenticity just increased several-fold, and I'm on the right track. Such was the case during several visits to Teji's in Round Rock. Teji's sits in an L-shaped strip center on what they call "Round Rock Avenue"; don't let them fool you, it's really FM 620, about a quarter-mile west of I-35.
Teji's is half Indian grocery store (the left side) and half small Northern Indian restaurant (the right side). About 10 tables grace the dining room, and it's a hybrid process. A waiter takes your order and delivers the food; you do the rest. Silverware and drinks are at one end, bottled drinks in a cooler at the other end. You place your order and wait in a torturous state as the smells from neighboring plates drift your way. Plates are Styrofoam, and tools are plastic; this helps to keep the prices as low as they are.
Opened in late 2006, Teji's is owned by Lakh Bir – the tall, outgoing, and very friendly gentleman who's usually working the front counter. It seems like there are as many to-go orders as there are dine-in customers. A lot of folks call their order in using the online menu and then grab and go. Teji's has plans for starting a delivery service soon (something the nearby Dell employees will definitely love).
We started one meal with the mixed vegetable pakoda ($5.49), a plate full of shredded vegetables dipped in a spiced chickpea-flour batter and crisply fried. Dipped in the spicy tamarind chutney, they are wonderful. Samosa chaat is also a winner ($5.49): two crisp potato-and-pea empanadas topped with a spiced chickpea gravy, yogurt, spicy green chutney, and sweet-sour tamarind chutney. These are almost a meal on their own. We are suckers for pani puri ($5.99), six crisp, flaky puffballs; you break a hole in the side, fill it with the accompanying spicy masala "water," and pop it in your mouth.
Chicken korma ($7.99) is creamy and nutty, with a rich sauce with hints of cardamom and saffron, almonds and cashews, yogurt and cream. The chicken chunks are large and slightly overdone (a problem in many Indian restaurants). Butter chicken ($7.99) is the same chicken chunks in a spicy garlicky-ginger tomato cream sauce, accented with fenugreek leaves; this is an excellent version of the dish. If you love fenugreek (and who doesn't), go for the chicken methi ($7.99), a tasty creamy yogurt curry heavy on the fenugreek leaves. Lamb vindaloo ($8.99) is tender chunks of lamb with equal amounts of potato in a thick, spicy, vinegary onion sauce. It could have been spicier for us, but we loved it.
We split a mixed grill ($10.99) of tandoori chicken, grilled yogurt-marinated chicken chunks, grilled marinated lamb chunks, and some ground lamb and chicken shish kebabs. First off, all of the meats are deliciously marinated and flavorful. They could all have been cooked much less and would have retained some tenderness and not been quite as dry. We should have gotten some raita to lubricate the meats a bit, but you live and learn.
Vegetablewise, we've tried the eggplant bharta ($6.99), smoky, roasted, shredded eggplant with peas and onions, all coated in a thick, spicy, sweet-sour sauce. Bhindi masala ($6.99) is okra cooked in a decidedly un-Southern tomato and onion sauce, loaded with Indian spices. Flavorful aloo gobhi ($6.99) is cauliflower mixed with oniony potatoes, accentuated by ginger, cumin, and coriander. Teji's basmati rice is cooked in the proper Indian style, with every single grain separate.
When you get to the breads section of the menu, order them all. The garlic naan ($2.50), onion kulcha ($2.50), and keema naan ($3.49, loaded with a ground lamb stuffing) are all cooked in the tandoor oven. One side is puffy and just crisp, the other side well-toasted and lightly charred: perfectly done. We both thought it might be the best Indian bread that we've had in Austin.
On weekends, Teji's offers dum biryani from Hyderabad – sealed rice pilafs with spices and nuts, cooked with either chicken (Saturday-Sunday) or goat (Friday). We saw lots of them being eaten, and they looked great, but we haven't tasted them yet. If you feel like dessert, try the kulfi ice creams in the freezer case, or there are the traditional choices: fried milk balls in syrup, cheese in sweet milk, and rice pudding.
Teji's is small and funky, but it's the friendliest spot in town. You eat on Styrofoam, but the food is excellent and inexpensive. The Nepalese chef is blessed with mad cooking skills, and everything we've tried has been outstanding (though the tandoori grills were tough and overcooked). This much I do know: I will return for more.