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Fast and Fresh: Saffron Tiger serves outstanding, affordable Indian cuisine

Saffron Tiger is in Northeast Albuquerque. (Jason K. Watkins/For the Journal)

Some of the best Indian food in Albuquerque is hiding in plain sight in a strip mall off Paseo del Norte NE. The chicken tikka masala at Saffron Tiger Indian Cuisine Express is worth the trip alone; tender chunks of chicken breast marinated in Indian spices and then smothered in a blend of creamy tomato sauce is the restaurant’s signature dish.

The best parts of Saffron Tiger, though, are the speed and the price: A meal costs less than $10 and is ready in minutes.

Diners order at the counter and then pair their entrees with a variety of rice and side items.

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The chicken tikka masala is a must-try: A giant portion of white chicken meat is diced with curry and spices, then drowned in a rich, creamy sauce of tomato and onion with a hint of coconut.

The chicken tikka masala is diced white chicken meat with curry and spices. (Jason K. Watkins/For the Journal)

Try it with the yellow “tiger” (saffron) rice, or stick with classic white or brown rice.

Unlike with much fast food, you won’t worry about biting into pieces of gristle or bone – or worse, meats sweating for hours under heat lamps.

Vegetarians will rejoice at the meat-free options at Saffron Tiger.

The vegetable coconut curry is a delicious blend of onions, peppers, potatoes, coconut cream and spices, and it pairs perfectly with the tiger rice. It’s lighter than the chicken tikka masala but still filling, especially paired with the amazingly good garlic naan bread. Plain naan and chili naan are also available.

For an additional 99 cents, try the vegetable pakoras – labeled as appetizers but also good as a side item – which are four small, breaded clumps of vegetables and spices, deep-fried and served with one of three homemade sauces. I went with the mint chutney; a little bit goes a long way. They’re like miniature vegetable-laden hush puppies.

The crunchy pakoras were delicious, but because they were fried, they didn’t age well. They’re best when they’re hot, so ask your server for a fresh order, well worth the few minutes’ wait.

For an even faster taste of India, Saffron Tiger features a lunch buffet during the week ($10.49 per person) with loads of classics like meat korma, vindaloo, saag paneer, saag-wala, and nearly a dozen curry dishes. Options with chicken, beef, lamb, vegetables, and meatballs are available off the menu for each.

Tasty, traditional Indian food isn’t easy to find in Albuquerque, but the locally owned Saffron Tiger certainly stands out. Freshly baked naan bread, expertly prepared curries, and fresh meats cooked over an open flame make this a perfect option for a quick business lunch or even a healthy family dinner.

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