- INDIAN MEETS ITALIAN MEETS MEX: The Indian Burrito, in a panini press.
Banana Leaf, perhaps outside of a number of taco trucks in Southwest Little Rock, was among the first wave of food trucks to start up in Little Rock — in 2011 — and one of the longest lasting. Whether husband-and-wife owners Shan Pethaperumal and Poorni Muthaian bring the Indian food truck out of hibernation, where it's been since November, for special events or regular service is an open question. But fret not, truck regulars: Delicious Indian food served quickly is now available on weekdays in the ground floor of the Simmons Tower on Capitol Avenue.
Banana Leaf took over a small space formerly occupied by Sufficient Grounds, next to Subway, late last year. Judging by a recent visit, it's already established a regular following. The small space, with only three tables, is set up for takeout. On our visit, Muthaian was manning the restaurant alone. Most of the day's offerings were premade and kept warm in steam tables. Our pick, the Indian Burrito ($6.99), took her a few minutes to assemble, using slices of tandoori chicken, basmati rice, cherry tomatoes and sauteed peppers and onions in a spinach wrap. All that went into a panini press. It was massive, filling and delicious, with just a touch of heat. Dipping it in a cup of cucumber raita made it even better. On the side was a cool (but spicy as well) marinated salad of lettuce and purple cabbage.
Banana Leaf's chicken vindaloo ($7.50) is a fiery dish, chunks of tender chicken swimming in an orange sauce of all the spices that make Indian food the best in the world: turmeric, cumin, coriander, garam masala and enough cayenne pepper that the sting lasts a bit after the bite. On the side was the same marinated salad that came with the burrito, and a mound of basmati. This is special rice. It's clean and surprisingly flavorful. The dish comes with two pieces of naan, and it's enough for two meals, though leftovers disappeared quickly on our desk.
Meanwhile, our companion declared her palak paneer ($7.50), a spinach curry made of garam masala, garlic and other toothsome spices and flecked with cubes of Indian curd cheese (paneer), to be among the best she's ever tried. It, too, came with naan, rice and a side salad, and was too much for one hungry person to finish.
The menu, as it was with the food truck, is stripped down with rotating specials. We're eager to return to try regular items like the chicken biryani ($8.50), chicken tika masala ($7.50) and the veggie chickpea curry ($7.50). Recent specials include a chicken kebab roll ($4.99) and grilled chicken salad ($6.99). Banana Leaf's Facebook page sometimes, but not always, posts the daily menu.
Pethaperumal and Muthaian come from the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where dishes like dosa (a fermented crepe), tamarind rice and fish curries are popular (restaurant dishes are typically served on a banana leaf in Tamil Nadu). We'd love to get some of those less familiar dishes in the rotation at Banana Leaf, though we get that it can be hard with such a small operation.
425 W. Capitol Ave.
Banana Leaf has a great selection of imported beverages, including some canned version of bubble tea and nonalcoholic ginger beer.
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays.
Cards accepted, no alcohol.