25 February, 2020, 22:53

Newly renovated Sher-e-Punjab adds full bar, booths, contemporary ambience

It's not just a facelift - it's a full redesign with the same food quality and consistency.

A long-standing favorite family-owned Indian restaurant tucked in a strip mall on Grant Road gave itself a welcome interior renovation this July, after more than 20 years in business. The cuisine, service, and value continue to excel, keeping the pan-subcontinental eatery busier than ever. Plus, now customers can skip the wait: Sher-e-Punjab delivers. Oh, and there’s a full bar.

Before the renovations, the interior space was almost like an upscale cafeteria, crammed with rows of white-cloth covered tables. It was so tightly organized that it was sometimes difficult to concentrate on the food (and no doubt the servers had a hard time maneuvering too). And yet there was almost always a wait at both lunch and dinner services, because of the quality of the flavors, the diverse menu, and one of the best buffets of any food genre in town.

Interior at Sher-e-Punjab

Interior at Sher-e-Punjab (Credit: Jackie Tran)

While Raj Singh opened Sher-e-Punjab in 1998, it’s Raj’s nephew, Manvir Singh that you’ll typically see at the entrance.

Manvir has worked in his uncle’s establishment for 10 years and is now general manager. Singh said the interior revisions are customer-driven.

“It was a surprise [that] Indian restaurants don’t have bars,” Manvir said. “It’s picking up. People who didn’t know about us are starting to know.”

The customer response has been favorable, he noted. He said that they tend to be “really impressed” upon entering the restaurant.

Now, it’s a pleasure to dine in at Sher-e-Punjab. Upon first impression, the restaurant appears smaller but much more inviting. The lighting is softer, the seating, with the addition of booths, is more comfortable, and the designers made use of a gentle color palette of beige and chocolate with some fun pops of color and texture.

Perhaps the most fun change is the full mirror-backed bar, lit with occasional strips of funky ’90s-style turquoise-colored LED.

Curry Lamb at Sher-e-Punjab (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Curry Lamb at Sher-e-Punjab (Credit: Jackie Tran)

The restrooms are easier to get to, especially for customers with limited mobility. The buffet moved to the back corner, and the designers steered traffic toward the host stand and cashier.

Not much has changed in the kitchen, which is a good thing.

The popular buffet is representative of the full menu, offering the favored vegan dal nakhani, and several vegetarian items like palak bahji and matar paneer. Buffet options for carnivores range from beef and chicken curry to tandoori chicken. There are samosas, naan, and basmati rice, raita, salads, and tamarind and herbaceous green chutneys. And you can have as many of those extra-sweet, syrupy gulab jamen balls and rice pudding as you want for dessert. And bonus – it’s only $10.95 plus tax.

Some of the best lunch and dinner items don’t regularly appear on the buffet line, like the extra-spicy specialty vindaloos, and mellower tikka masalas and kormas. Lamb is prepared in a variety of manners, including a locally hard-to-find preparation of aromatic spinach-based palak mutton. Vegetarian and non-veg family feasts range from $50 to $56 and feed four or more hungry people. Menu-only dessert options include mango and pistachio Indian ice creams.

Chutney and chile condiment dishes have been removed from the tables, but one of the three salt-and-pepper shakers is red chile powder (it’s labeled “spicy” so double-check what you’re sprinkling!).

Palak Paneer at Sher-e-Punjab (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Palak Paneer at Sher-e-Punjab (Credit: Jackie Tran)

The full bar menu isn’t boring either. On-tap beers include Orange Blossom Wheat from Tempe’s Papago Brewery Company. Its relatively low ABV and fruity notes complement even the most complex dishes that owner-chef Manuir Singh and his family can concoct. They also pour rarer Indian beers like the malty Power 10000 and hoppy Indiga IPA. And now customers can sit at said bar, either to wait to be seated for their meal or to eat right there.

While Sher-e-Punjab has been a popular option for decades now, it’s well worth a revisit to check out the vastly improved ambiance.

Singh noted that business has picked up since the interior space changes, but rest assured that all the other aspects that have made it a favorite remain consistently excellent.

Visit sher-e-punjabtucson.us for more information or head straight to 853 East Grant Road. Operating hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 4-8:45 p.m. The buffet is open daily during lunch hours. Reservations are recommended for dinner by calling 624-9393.

Angela Orlando is an anthropologist who owns Wandering Writers Workshops — retreats that take writers around the world. She’s into all things plant- and animal- and food-related, especially when cheese is somehow involved. She throws pottery and eats from her own handmade plates.