When talking with a friend whose parents immigrated from southern India about the region’s best Indian spots, she said Rangoli is near the top of most lists. People know it and love it: the Auburn Hills restaurant has been around for about 20 years, it caters Indian weddings, and it’s earned a few “Best of” nods along with other media attention.
Though there’s a whole new crop of Indian restaurants around metro Detroit that also deserve a look, I had heard similar praise for Rangoli, but never made it up to Auburn Hills, mostly because it’s a far drive from where I live and there’s so much excellent Indian food between home and there.
It turns out the 35-minute hike from Detroit to Auburn Hills is worth it. One gets the sense Rangoli is to the region’s Indian food pantheon what Al-Ameer is metro Detroit’s Lebanese cuisine, and there’s good reason for its popularity. Among those are dishes like the tandoori lamb chops, which come Frenched and are rendered sweet with a slight bite from soaking in a mint-papaya marinade, then receive a slathering of a mango-apricot chutney.
Rangoli’s malai kofta offers big soft balls of potato and paneer in a rich, heavy cream and onion sauce that may be made with sweet potatoes and cashews. A server described it in simple terms – “cheese balls dunked into the onion sauce” — which manages to nail and undersell it at the same time. That’s the essence of its malai kofta, but it’s much more of a mellow-and-complex dish than that suggests.
Another busy one (and, hey, what isn’t when it comes to Indian cuisine) is the Hyderabadi Biryani, which includes super fragrant mound of basmati rice with fried onions, mint, saffron, and what tastes like handful of cardamom, clove, garam masala, and other spices. The dish holds about a quarter of a bird’s worth of tender, fall-off-the-bone chicken. It arrives with a side of raita, a pleasing whipped yogurt-based side with cucumber, onion, roasted cumin, and cilantro that adds contrast with its cooling effect and crunch.
The Chettinadu chicken is equally excellent. The super tender nubs of chicken bob in a sharp gravy, and though a manager declined to offer any hints about what’s driving the dish, there’s clearly chiles, black pepper, onion, and tomatoes, and the plate is built off of an awesome coconut and fennel seed curry.
Among the appetizers is the keema samosa, a meat pie packed dense with a salty, moist mix of minced lamb and peas with a flaky crust. It does everything that a samosa should. Be sure to ask for the bread box with naan, garlic naan, and other varieties of dense, flat, but layered and flaky, flavorful offerings.
Like many Indian restaurants in America, the menu is broad and covers a lot of turf, including southern cuisines, which are typically spicier, and northern dishes, which are milder. The malai kofta is a northern staple, while Chettinad is in the south. Hyderabad, also a southern state, is renowned for its biryani, and Rangoli shows why.
I missed the chicken 65 this time around, as well as the Indo-Chinese classics like Szechuan noodles or chicken Manchurian. Rangoli also offers a list of dosas, and signature bangers like chicken xacuti, a Goan dish.
The menu also caters to diners with restrictions, offering a range of vegan and gluten-free options, as well as plates that fit with Jain principles, and a menu that is billed as “heart healthy.”