Namaste creates veggie-friendly dishes for every palate

Nestled in a nondescript Lakewood strip mall, Namaste (3355 South Wadsworth Boulevard) is easy to overlook. But that would be a big mistake, because this little venue dishes up some of the best Indian/Nepalese food in the metro area, with at least a dozen vegetarian entrees -- not counting the Nepali corner of the menu or the vegetarian thali special with baigan bharta, saag paneer, alu gobi, daal, an appetizer, kheer, rice and naan for $15.95.

Despite the strip-mall location, the atmosphere in the dining room is fairly formal -- white cloth napkins, burgundy tablecloths, thick carpeting and quiet, attentive service. The staff dresses neatly, in button-down white shirts and black pants for the men, and beautiful, traditional Indian clothing for the women.

For starters, you can't go wrong with the vegetable samosa; $3.50 nets you two of the flaky, deep-fried pastries stuffed with curry-enhanced potatoes and peas and lightly dusted with salt. The hot, soft filling steams out of the golden-brown crust as soon as you cut into it, wafting the scent of turmeric and other curry spices over the table. Other vegetarian appetizers include vegetable pakora ($3.95), onion bhaji ($3.50) and chana chatpat ($3.95); you can also get a bowl of lentil soup for $2.95. The saag paneer ($10.95) is a popular dish, and with good reason: Namaste's homemade paneer is creamy and firm, and blends wonderfully with the herbed-and-spiced, finely chopped spinach. But you can also get matar paneer ($10.95), featuring paneer and peas and paneer in a spiced curry sauce. I ordered that on a recent visit, and the creamy cheese practically melted in my mouth, contrasting beautifully with the firm peas bursting between my teeth; I could taste the sweetness of tomato and the slow burn of the spice hovering on my lips. Namaste allows you to choose your spice level, and I've found that medium is about perfect -- it's a subtle heat that sneaks up on you before you taste the full complexity of the flavors. (You can see the bright green peas floating in the curry sauce on the right-hand side of the photo above.)

My husband got more paneer in the malai kofta ($10.95): cheese and vegetable balls sauteed in an onion-and-cream sauce (on the left in the photo).To soak up the sauce, there was a perfectly cooked dish of basmati rice (hiding a caraway seed or two for flavor), as well as a basket of freshly baked cheese naan ($2.75).

The entree portions are large, but the leftovers re-heat well for a next-day lunch. The rice is never lumpy nor clumpy, and the food sometimes tastes even better, since the spices have had the chance to mingle more fully.

Namaste also serves Nepalese fare, with such vegetarian options as vegetable momo (steamed mixed-vegetable dumplings served with tomato chutney) and vegetable chow-chow (stir-fried, thick Tibetan noodles mixed with vegetables and served with tomato chutney), both $9.95. Many of the vegetarian Indian options also appear in the lunch buffet, which earned a Best of Denver back in 2003 -- and is still a winner.

Namaste, indeed.

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