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Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants.

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July 21, 2008 7:30 AM

Eater Feeder: Simba's Chicken & Kabob Indian Cuisine

Posted by Nancy Leson

This first installment of Eater Feeder -- restaurant recommendations from All You Can Eaters -- comes from Wendy Woldenberg, a high school art teacher from South Park. As a Fulbright scholar, Wendy traveled throughout north and south India in 2003 and remembers that time as "a culinary feast" for her artistic senses.

Chatting by phone, she explained that she first came to know Simba's in its earlier incarnation as Mehra's Indian Cuisine, a White Center joint where she wasn't crazy about the physical space but regularly ordered takeout -- until one day last year when she tried to call-in an order and no one answered. Heading over to investigate, she says, "I found a closed sign -- and I almost cried." Cut to recent months when her husband came home from work after eating lunch at Simba's in Pioneer Square. "I think I found our restaurant," he told her, and when Wendy hightailed it over to check the place out, she recognized the owners immediately. "I've already been there five times this summer," she says of her new favorite lunch spot. Here's her letter of recommendation:

"I would like to bring your attention to a fabulous restaurant. It is called Simba's Chicken & Kabob Indian Cuisine (421 2nd Ave S).

I found this restaurant when it was open only a short while in White Center, and it was then called Mehra's. It was ALWAYS empty, and after some turmoil in that location, they uprooted, changed their name, and moved to their current Pioneer Square location.

There are several reasons why Simba's comes out above the rest. First and foremost, the sister/brother owner/operator team each hail from different sides of India. Mehar, the sister, is from Hyderabad in South India and Gurinder, the brother, is from Jalandhar in North India. The restaurant, especially at their lunch buffet, is a wonderful fusion of North and South cuisine as not seen anywhere else on this side of Lake Washington. For instance, you will find Sambal and Idli (South Indian) along side Mango Chicken and Saag Aloo (North Indian), and a delicious combination that makes.

Another thing that sets Simba's apart from her Indian rivals is that this food is actually healthy. They use all fresh ingredients every day, and they do not re-use any part of their lunch buffet the following day, as is common with most Indian restaurants. In keeping with the health aspects, Mehar and Gurinder use no milk or cream in their dishes. I had to question this one a few times, because the dishes sure taste creamy, and most Indian restaurants rely on dairy to bulk up the dishes.

Whenever I eat lunch at Simba's, I am struck by the Indian dishes they offer which are not on other Indian restaurant menus. For instance, have you heard of Bitter Melon Potato Curry? How about Cabbage Matter Masala, Black Garbanzo Masala, Veggie Malai, or Chile Chicken? When I inquired further, I found that Mehar learned these dishes (and so many others) from her mother while growing up, and each of these dishes also helps to cure various ailments (most likely in the Ayuvedic tradition, though I forgot to ask). Since Mehar's five children are still in India, she considers her customers to be her children, and strives to keep them healthy and happy.

There are a few additional pluses for this restaurant. Simba's has their liquor license and a full bar. The restaurant is quite beautiful -- it has wood floors, huge picture windows, high ceilings, and an upstairs bar that overlooks the downstairs. Their lunch thali includes an endless cup of delicious chai. They are open for lunch and dinner every day but Sunday, and best of all, they have a "dinner box" for $4 which is a take-away meal one can purchase between the hours of 3:00-6:00, which they gear toward bachelors!

I am a huge fan of this place; I have never written a letter on a restaurant's behalf before. I have never had a free meal at Simba's, and I never will! I noticed that they haven't been reviewed before, and so they are a bit off the radar. I want them to survive and thrive. From the looks of the lunch crowd, they seem to be doing pretty well."

Thanks for the recommendation, Wendy. Anybody else been to Simba's? What do you think?

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