To order Thaaja’s salads, wraps and bowls, start by selecting a base: romaine lettuce; a white or whole-wheat tortilla; rice with cumin and cilantro; or flatbread that is made in-house daily and spiced with garam masala and turmeric.
The meal is priced according to the protein, which comes next: chicken ($6.95), steak ($7.90) and lamb ($8.55; the most popular), all spiced with cumin, coriander, garam masala, curry powder and other seasonings; tofu ($7.45); and paneer dusted with paprika ($7.45). The well-spiced poultry and generous dominos of cheese were my favorites; the boneless pieces of New Zealand lamb shoulder had an earthiness that proved distracting.
Opt for add-ons such as roasted chickpeas, corn (also paprika-dusted), onion, chopped tomatoes and shredded lettuce before moving on to the final sauce station. The best of the six sauce choices might be the cool-then-zingy Triple C (cilantro, coriander, cucumber) and the creamy coconut. Vindaloo, called Vin D’Lou here, was a one-note bust. None of them are particularly hot, but that was Kumar’s goal. “I didn’t want the food to be too spicy,” he says, “so it would be more user-friendly.” An order takes two or three minutes to complete.
There’s little in the way of sides, except for chips and the Thaaja roll ($2.75), which is modeled on a samosa. The small, sad-looking rectangle of baked pastry filled with spiced peas and potatoes wouldn’t be out of place in the hot case at the 7-Eleven next door; it does a disservice to Indian cuisine by being on sale here.
A far more successful riff on a traditional favorite is the slightly sweet, slightly tangy mango lassi shake (16 ounces, $2.75), which is satisfyingly thick. Beyond fountain sodas and bottled beverages, there is a small selection of beer, wine and spirits ($5 to $6). When warmer months arrive, the eatery will set up outdoor seating so you can down your drink of choice alfresco.
— Nevin Martell
Thaaja Indian Food Bar 1335 Second St. NE. 202-289-4200. www.thaaja.com. Hours: Mondays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.