Spicy, Not Surly – Sitar of India

Sitar of India – Downtown, Charleston, WV

Sitar of India

Dan says…

Sitar of India is one of those Charleston gems if you love ethnic cuisine. You can’t get anything like Sitar anywhere else in town unless you are invited to a meal at the India Center. Sitar has been open for more than ten years and recently changed hands within the same family. …

Lunch specials… I ordered Peas Pilao/pullao, a vegetarian dish, which is similar to Biryani. The difference is that all the ingredients are cooked together in a Pilao whereas in a Biryani the key ingredients a cooked separately from the rice. This is a very filling meal and still a bargain at $5.99, but it used to be $3.99, oh well.  The menu describes this dish as a “Aromatic basmati rice cooked with fresh green peas and lightly spiced.”  Lightly spiced is an understatement.  If you ask for medium is will be spicy and good.  Your brow will have little beads of sweat when you are done eating.  If you order hot the hair on your head will stand on end right before your head explodes.  The endorphin rush is almost worth the pain.  Almost.  It is serve with raita, which is a yogurt sauce to cool it down a bit.  If you are like me you will need a full order on Nan/Naan to take the heat away.  Nan is a unleavened bread baked in the tandoori clay oven and they brush it with ghee.  This is like crack cocaine to a carb addict.

Peas Pullao

Peas Pilao with Raita and Plain NanFour Forks

I have eaten at Sitar for several years.  It is very consistent and enjoyable.  I have tried too many things on the menu to count and they are all good.  The surly reference in the title is directed at a server who used to work under the previous ownership.  He was a good server, but quiet and very “matter of fact.”  If Sitar had a dining room that offered a little more intimate and private feel they would get a perfect rating, but for now it is a FOUR FORK experience.

Susan says…

Sitar of India inspired me to try some Indian cooking of my own.  I live in Teays Valley so it’s not very convenient to come back to Charleston in the evenings or on the weekends to enjoy their fine Indian cuisine.  I love the unique flavors in Indian food so much I ordered a couple cookbooks by Madhur Jaffrey and spent some time gathering special ingredients at the International Grocery so I could attempt to make my own.  Ron & I like pretty much anything sprinkled with curry powder (hot, of course), garam masala and cardomom.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to duplicate the delicately flavored sauces at Sitar, though.  I have tried about all the different sauce flavors.  You can get chicken, shrimp or lamb with the sauce that you like.    I prefer the chicken but have tasted the lamb and it was tender and delicious.  My absolute favorite thing I have tried there is the Chicken Tikka Masala.  However, it is only available in a dinner portion so I usually don’t get that at lunch.

Today I had the chicken curry, medium spicy, with nan.  The curry was $5.95 and the nan an extra $1.99.  My nose was running and my face felt hot a third of the way through which equals AWESOME.  I am not a spice fanatic, but if a thing says it’s spicy, I expect some heat.  I can’t seem to get much heat from the little chili pepper designated items on the Chinese menus, Thai food does a much better job with heating up the dish.  If you want full flavor and a sweaty brow – go Indian.  I heard Bobby Flay say in an interview once that Indian food is where the flavor is and I couldn’t agree more.

Just the smell when I walk in the door makes me anxious to dig into the pretty oval-shaped silver dish.  They have white linen tablecloths adorning the tables, comfortable chairs and cloth napkins.  I enjoy these fineries.   They bring you a papadam to get things started.  I liken it to a large Indian-style “tortilla chip”.  If you dare, put some of the Indian -style “salsa” on it.  It’s some type of onion chutney, I think, bright red in color, and very, very hot.  They left a pitcher of water on the table for us.  Smart thinkin’.

If you don’t like or can’t handle very spicy food, don’t worry.  When your order is taken you will be asked “how spicy?” to which you can reply “mild, very mild, just waive the spices over the pan but don’t pour any in”.  Misty (the girl who thinks milk is spicy) successfully eats there by using this tactic.

No matter what you order for your appetizer and/or entree.  You MUST, I repeat, MUST get nan.   (Sometimes spelled “naan”.)  This is a seriously yummy pita-looking round of bread baked in a tandoori oven.  They have many different flavors including one with peas and one with coconut.  I usually get the plain nan.  A colleague ordered the garlic nan and it was super-garlicky.  Good, though.

I have never tried anything at Sitar I didn’t like.  If you are at my table, I will stare you down until you ask if I’d like a taste of whatever you have just so I can expand my experiences in this cuisine.  Today, I tried Daniel’s meat samosas, his Peas Pilao, and Jeff’s garlic nan.  I have already tried Misty’s Aloo Matter (peas and potatoes) so she was off the hook today.

Five ForksUnique, elegant, delicious.  A bit pricy for me when you add up all the components: entree, nan and drink, but hey – supply and demand, right?  Capitalism rocks.  I give Sitar of India FIVE FORKS.



702 Lee St E
Charleston, WV 25301

Get Directions
(304) 346-3745

Sitar of India on Urbanspoon

31 responses to “Spicy, Not Surly – Sitar of India

  1. I love the chicken na’an! I’m not very adventurous, so I eat that every time. I used to eat it with aloo tikki, until I gave up fried foods.

  2. Five and half forks for Sitar on your scale of one to five! After eating at Indian restaurants the world over (well not in India;) I can confidently say Chicken Tikka Misala at Sitar is THE BEST. If you want intimacy and privacy, take it home. You’ll usually be rewarded with a larger portion, and it’s not nearly as embarassing to lick the container clean of that addictive sauce. Now just bring back the lunch buffet. . .

  3. Amen to the buffet!

  4. Agreed, Sitar is a Charleston gem. Like Fuji’s used to be, it is exceptional and you’ll be hard pressed to find better anywhere. . . I’ve tried.

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  7. I’m a regular Sitar customer and its always been one of my favorite places. I’ve encouraged all of my friends to give it a try, even the meat and potatoes people, BUT my experience this past weekend has changed my opinion. I was there on a busy night and was SHOCKED at the rudeness of the staff. I have never seen a restuarant treat their patrons like this. The place was very busy when I arrived. I intentionally came before the rest of my group, thinking I’d order a glass of wine and wait for them. After 20 mins, no one had stopped to get my drink order. When I finally flagged someone down and asked to order a drink, I was told that he was not the person who takes orders and that I’d have to wait for the person who did. There were 3 people working on a busy weekend night: one taking orders, one taking money, and one cleaning tables. When the person taking orders finally showed up, he said that our table could place ONE order and ONE order only, so I had to wait until the rest of my party came to get a drink. Just seconds after the last person in our group showed up, the server came over and said we could order right now, or we could wait until other tables were done ordering. We waited since our third person had never been there and hadn’t even gotten to look at the menu. We ordered our meals and a bottle of wine because we could see that refills weren’t going to come easily. Later we ordered a second bottle of wine and the server seemed annoyed with us. Later still (but at least 40 mins before closing time), we asked for a second pitcher of water and was told that we couldn’t have it because it was closing time. Not only was it not closing time, but there were still at least 5-6 other tables eating. Our bill came to at least $80, but we weren’t even allowed to have a second pitcher of WATER. We left totally disgusted.
    I found out later that some of my friends were there that night and had a similar experience. One of the people from their party was late and their table had already ordered. When the late person showed up, he was told he couldn’t order because his table had already placed their order.
    That is totally ridiculous. Most restuarants would be thrilled to be so busy, but instead this one has chosen to understaff their restaurant and be UNBELIEVABLY rude. I will not be suggesting this place to anyone else.

  8. Yup same thing has happened to me. It is insane how rude and nasty they are there. Twice. And my friends were treated horribly recently too.Why does anyone continue to go there? I haven’t been in a year or so and never plan to go back.

  9. I am really bummed to hear people are receiving crap service at Sitar.

    I have experienced less than attentive service, but nothing like what is described in the comments. If so, they certainly would not have received as high a rating.

    I usually go at lunch, maybe that is why I have been lucky.

    I hope they shape up and start treating all customers like they appreciate their business, or they may not have their business for long.

  10. I have always loved the Sitar. I have had dreams about it when I was in other parts of the country for extended periods of time.

    Today, I ordered a vegetarian appetizer platter for lunch. I haven’t ordered anything deep-fried from Sitar since they changed ownership, and I was disgusted.

    Not one element of the platter was worth eating. The samosa was rubbery, and still doughy inside. The vegetable pakoras, which used to be golden brown and delicious, were bright red-orange and had bits of blackened…something in them. The paneer pakora was tough all the way through and hard around the edges.

    I’m wondering if they’re now purchasing these things pre-made and frozen; I’ve always loved their appetizers in the past.

    A huge disappointment.

    *edited by moderator -Dan

  11. I’ve been going to the Sitar for years and have had some similar experiences when they are busy – rudeness and the like.
    However, the food is just TOO good to allow very rare poor service to overshadow that. Again, it has been very rare. In fact, service is usually very fast and because we are regulars, we do get treated nicely.
    I’m actually going to the lunch buffet today with my 3 year old – he luvs it!

  12. p.s.
    I’ve made an effort to eat at different Indian restaurants around the country… and so far.. NONE can touch the Sitar.

  13. One of my favorite places to eat in charleston.
    Chicken Tikka Masala

  14. The Chicken Tikka Masala is definitely wonderful. It was my “gateway” food into Indian cuisine. I usually try to stay away on lunch buffett days for fear that I’ll never leave. lol.

  15. Service has improved quite a bit. Best place to eat in town!

  16. I’ve been eating there since the place opened.

    For a while they had this waiter guy that was really rude and somewhat incompetant and they got rid of him.

    Then they got a younger guy to run the register and a couple younger waiters and the service was the best it’s ever been. They even added some new dishes to the buffet which was great.

    However as of 1/10 they seemed to have completely replaced all their waiters and the service is terrible. I have eaten there 3x in the past 2 weeks and there was an awful wait to be seated even though tables were open. Actually had to wait for them to wash silverware. and had to scarf a pitcher of water from another table, no napkins. One time got NO WATER the whole time I was there. Hard for indian food eating.

    Also the buffet replentishing is slower than usual. Actually been late for work because was waiting to get something off the Buffet.

    Really sad to see the change back for the worse.

  17. demosthenes.or.locke

    Ate the buffet today and despite it being very busy the buffet was being replenished before anything ran out. I sat near the buffet and was keeping an eye on it after reading hollow’s comment.

    I think the level of service depends on who is working that day… the food can’t be touched within 200 miles of charleston for indian food so I don’t have a problem rolling the dice on waitstaff service.

  18. Huntington is 200 miles away?

  19. I went to Sitar Friday evening for dinner with a couple friends. Everything with the service was alright until the end – when we were completely ignored – after we recevied our entrees, our server didn’t come back despite our efforts to stare him down and wave occasionally. One of us had to go to the counter to get take-out boxes and our check.

    The food was delicious, as always, except my Biryani was not at all spicy, let alone spiced to the Medium level I requested.

    I, too, am willing to gamble on questionable service because I love the food so much!

  20. Back again there today. Plenty of empty tables and staff running around but waited for almost 10 min and never got seated.

    They seem to have twice the staff as before the place changed hands, but they can’t get it together.

    Ended up going over to the Sahara.

    Oh and while the food is ok at Sitar I have to say I think Nawab on 4th avenue in Huntington is way better.

  21. Sproston Green

    Hollowdweller I think you’ve got something against Sitar and I’ll leave it at that. I’ve experienced erratic service but never have had a bad meal there. And Nawab is in no way better than Sitar and it’s less healthy too. It’s more of a Central/South Indian based restaurant with less spice and more coconut milk. Nawab does have more choices on their buffet though and they are a good restaurant but they aren’t Sitar but they do offer better service I’ll give you that.

  22. I’m a long-time Sitar junkie. I have noticed since the January 2010 change-of-hands that the Health Department inspections are not as good as they used to be. I have also noticed that the chutney and tamaran containers look like they never get cleaned (nasty). I wish I knew what’s going on with the place.

  23. Sproston Green ,

    Have nothing against Sitar. In fact since my last post here they seemed to have got it together.

    However today I went there and once again the place was in chaos. To be fair it was after 12:30 but several items on the menu were never refreshed while I was there and ONCE AGAIN. Nobody every brought me any water!!!!!!

  24. What is this “change of hands” people keeps speaking of?

  25. hollowdweller

    I hear third hand the owner sold it to another family member. They fired all the indian waiters and got white guys that are a little rough.

    Since my last posts nearly 2 mo ago they have gotten better, the lunch menu is more varied and the food is about 100% better.

    However the water situation still sucks. I ate their yesterday and I NEVER got any water. I heard another guy complaining too about it. Meanwhile there were a bunch of waiters and bus guys complaining about stuff.

    They have a sign “if you seat yourself you will not be served”

    But honestly they should just let people seat themselves and dedicate the staff to making sure everybody has a drink. The place is not huge. Surely 1 person could survey all the tables and make sure the customers have water!

  26. Sproston Green

    It looks like the’ve gotten some “Indian” staff running show again and the guy putting up the weird signs is no longer working there thankfully. This place has the most potential to be a great Charleston restaurant but they can’t seem to make it happen for some reason. Nawab in Huntington has service that blows them away but the food isn’t quite as good. Too bad the two couldn’t join forces.

  27. hollowdweller

    Back again. They have expanded their menu even further and better!

    Also got much better on water but today I went and NO WATER and the employees were having an angry loud argument that kept going from the kitchen to the dining room that was rather distracting.

    There seems to be some tension between either the management and non indian staff or the indian non indian staff.

  28. Update-

    The place is better than it has ever been now. Get water every time. No waiting. They have greatly expanded the menu to include way more items. Got rid of the shady waiters! Way to go!!!!

  29. Oh, I love this place. Used to eat here all the time, but now that I live in Huntington and my husband hates indian food, not so much. In fact, the last time was a year ago. I’ve eaten the same thing every time: Lamb Saag (spinach and spices), naan, and their ice cream with pistachios.
    I’ll be going back soon, I’ll post if anything changes. I loved their waiters, though. I always loved it when they set my food down with a nice “yes, please”

  30. I really like the food at Sitar, but the service and staff people/owners are rude . They made a HUGE deal over a coupon that we wanted to use, and made us split a bowl of rice and then charged us for a second bowl. I mean, rice is cheap?! Why would they do that? I wont be going back.

  31. I concur with you on the food- amazing. Just keep your order simple. Very authentic- and I’m an Indian food junkie.

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