Located in the heart of the Mahatma Gandhi district, Raja Sweets was a 2013 feature on the Travel Channel with Andrew Zimmern. This 28 year old establishment is by far the most authentic Indian restaurant in Houston. As an "eater", I have always believed that if you're looking for good Indian food, eat where the Indians eat. If you want good Japanese food, eat where the Japanese eat. If want good soul food, eat where the soul is... etc..
I knew I was in the right place because Raja had a steady stream of customers during my visit and most were heading straight to the plentiful and radiantly rich dessert display.
Raja's is definitely a place I will return to with my family. The service and food were impeccable and the cultural experience made me feel like I was on vacation in another country.
I am a dessert junkie and any opportunity I get to sample the sweet treats of another culture I go all out. I first heard of Raja while watching an re-run of "Bizzare Foods" with Andrew Zimmern on the Travel Channel and I when I realized his location I immediatly grabbed my pen and pad and wrote down everything he tried. I knew I was going to visit and wanted to have the same experience as Andrew.
When I entered I was drawn to the glass case that contained the sweets and the fried street foods. I was fascinated by the bright orange funnel cake looking "things" in the window and had to have one. Jalebi is made by deep-frying a wheat flour (maida flour) batter in pretzel or circular shapes, which are then soaked in sugar syrup. They are particularly popular in the subcontinent during Ramadan and Diwali.
The fried street foods were amazing and crunchy. I love crunchy, which is probably why all my crowns are chipped..but I digress. I tried them all..
I have had tons of samosas in my life time but these were perfectly crispy and had unique balance of potatoes and spice. The Pakora was scrumptious, there's nothing like some good ole deep fried vegetables. Makes me feel like I'm getting back at the system when I eat fried, healthy stuff. I sampled a piece of the Chaat, which is a deep fried, mildly spicy wheat flour bread. I could have easily just eaten these 3 things but that's totally not how I roll.
In addition to the sweet treats, Andrew also tried the more "hearty" Indian delights. So, I had to do the same. You get so much food at Raja. This is the place to eat "family style" so bring them.. you'll need them to help you eat everything. We tried 2 meals: the Chicken Curry with Rice and Chick peas, and the Lentils with Naan and Cauliflower.
The Naan here is like none other. I didn't get to go into the kitchen but there must be a tandoor back there, as there is absolutely no way that a regular oven was doing that... because I have one of those. They sale Naan for a dollar per round. People where coming in just to buy it and after tasting the warm, pliable and soft bread, I totally get it!
The chicken was juicy and flavorful, the lentils were perfectly seasoned and the rice was tender and had the perfect hint of jasmine. The difference between my visit and Andrews was that I took home a to-go plate of both savory and sweet.
I couldn't decide what sweets I wanted, as I am a horrible decision maker, so I just ordered one of everything. Here is what I learned from that choice: Indian desserts are SWEET. Goodness gracious, almost everything was soaked in syrup, made with syrup, or breaded and syruped. I personally (with the help of a couple loyal followers) tasted every single dessert and I will be honest with you..we spit some of "Raja's sweets" out.
The Gulab Jamun was good, but I could only handle a teeny tiny piece. The bread ball soaked in syrup was simply too sweet for my taste! Some of the Burfi was doable, those flavors that were more muted like cashew and almond were tolerable but he pistachio was a no-go!
The Chum Chum was a no-no. I am not sure if it was the saffron, lemon juice, coconut or milk that lost me but something wasn't right and the only thing that made the chum chum sandwich better was the cream. The Jelabi was good, sweet, but good. It's sticky but reminded me of a fried, sweet, candied funnel cake. I literally couldn't eat another thing after this and still have this WHOLE box of sweet in my mini fridge. If want some..call me..