Kheer with Krishna, grub with Ganesh.
by Emily Moroz
Avtar Singh is from Punjab, India, and proudly says he’s been working with food for almost his entire life. Owner and co-chef of Salt Lake’s oldest Indian restaurant, the Star of India, Singh is kind man with an endearing smile, and he still acknowledges the invaluable lessons he’s learned from his food-loving parents.
It’s clear Singh enjoys the business of feeding hungry people. He’s lived in the U.S. for over 27 years, coming first to work at a relative’s restaurant in California. Singh opened the Star of India in 1990 in Salt Lake at 200 S. 200 E. A fire in 2005 caused the Star to move to its current location on 4th S. near State, and over the past four months, the restaurant interior has been revamped.
Entering the cozy eatery, there’s a tinkling of music in the background and warm lighting. The Star has expanded east, making room for a bevy of comfy new booths. Walls previously adorned with simple artwork are now covered top to bottom in exquisitely painted murals: regal peacocks, dancing Sufis and portraits of Ganesh, Krishna and Bengal tigers backed by robin’s egg blue skies.
With the recent expansion, the Star installed a film projector and drop-down screen in the back. The lively space is a popular rental for business meeting and private parties. Singh motions to a refrigerated display case near the front door chock full of imported traditional Indian sweets. While a plate full of these would make your dentist cringe, one or two are a nice treat after a savory meal. One square inch of kalakand—ricotta, condensed milk and sugar “fudge”—is especially decadent, or try the gulag jamuns (deep-fried ricotta cheese soaked in spicy syrup).
Their lunch buffet is somewhat of a legend; at $10, diners can sample a full spread of appetizers, salad, chutneys, yogurts, pickles and four to eight different main dishes, prepared by Singh and his three chefs.
The Star offers at least four meat-free options—the vegetarian coconut curry takes the spotlight here. Start with a pakora and plenty of naan, typical Indian bread baked in the tandoor oven. Move on to keema matar, ground lamb simmered with peas, onions and delicate spices. Save some of that naan to dip into mouthwatering kali dal: black lentils, kidney beans and spices simmered in a cream sauce. In fact, stick with a cream sauce dish and you can’t go wrong; the Star of India’s chicken tikka masala (tender chicken cooked in a tomato cream sauce with masala spices) is stunning and warrants a second helping. For dessert, try the kheer—basmati rice, milk and sugar, chilled and served with almonds and fennel. Diners sip on mango lassi or, in chillier weather, a toasty cup of chai.
In addition to the $10 all-you-can-eat lunch buffet, Singh says they’ll soon also offer a smaller daily lunch special ($7), a more viable option for the takeout business crowd.
The folks at the Star know that parking anywhere near State Street can be troublesome. If you park at the Ken Garff building or Exchange Plaza they’ll validate. They offer tokens for street meters, too. (And, of course, they’re easily accessible by TRAX.)
Star of India, 400 S. 55 E.
Lunch Mon-Sat 11:30a-2:30p,
Dinner Mon-Thurs 2:30p-10p, Fri-Sat 2:30-10:30p, Sun 3-9:30p