The Compleat Rainey Street: G'Raj Mahal Cafe

Through the rest of July, I’ll walk through every open door on Rainey Street. See the directory here
G’Raj Mahal Cafe
91 Red River St. (facing Davis Street, across from Clive Bar). 512-480-2255,
Hours: 5 p.m. to midnight Tuesday-Thursday. 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday-Saturday. 5 p.m. to midnight Sunday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 07.29.12
I brought a scout team from Men’s Health magazine to G’Raj Mahal in 2010, and they balked at including it in their trailer food roundup because it felt too conventional, too much like a restaurant. A punishment for succeeding in a business at the mercy of weather and seasons and the obtuse traffic of a bar district.
G’raj Mahal is a restaurant in every sense except that it isn’t. It’s a battery of tables served by a concession stand kitchen. Tables under an awning with sheer white drapes to hide the rough edges, ringed by a bicycle sculpture like a fossilized rattlesnake. Misters line the inner pavilion, blowing so thick that their manufactured humidity intensifies the summer sauna, and you’ll be thankful for the sheen of perspiration the curry brings in the tropical twilight. A waiter brings water and chai and menus for an Indian repose that will cost you at least as much as a sit-down Indian food experience and more than twice an Indian lunch buffet. But this is the price you pay for eating on the fringes of Rainey Street, across the street from Clive Bar and within shouting distance of Bar 96 and Lustre Pearl. It’s a waystation for fueling the hours ahead, if that’s the plan.
The aromas coming from the trailer are the universal siren calls of garlic and onion. From there, you get tikka masala, saag, curries, vindaloo, masala, tandoori kabobs and biryani rice bowls. You might start like any Indian dinner, with a yogurt sauce called raita ($2), a modest basket of toasted naan bread ($2) and a gnarled handful of fried pakoras ($3), little knobs of onions, yellow curry, lentil, spinach and crunch to draw in the gentle cumin of the raita or the minty green whisper of chutney or the twang of a drippy tamarind sauce.
See the menu here.
None of these gentle openers will prepare you for the deep antique yellow patina of curry and fury from rogan josh, provisioned with a half-dozen chunks of lamb for an eye-widening $14 a bowl. That’s ridiculously overpriced for an ungarnished paper bowl of curry with rice. This time, they didn’t dress it up with crowns of tomatoes and onion and herbs the way they did when I came here with a national magazine team. Funny how that works.
But the lamb is more tender than its presence in a stew might suggest, and half-moons of sauteed onions wake up the gentler alcoves of flavor the curry and pepper leave alone. It’s a head-clearing experience, this exotic cauldron of yogurt, curry and spice. And while I might blanche at paying north of $20 for an Indian trailer dinner, at least the flavors and cooking are fresh, completely in line with an Indian sit-down dinner, finished with sweet and creamy chai, even if the dinnerware is plastic and paper.
For planning purposes: Table service is good and all, but it took almost 30 minutes just to get cashed out during dinner rush. A good time to take advantage of the BYOB thing.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
► Javelina
► Clive Bar